Aesthetic Realism explains
racism begins —
and what can end it
BY ALICE BERNSTEIN
reports of brutal racial hatred – including the horrifying mockery at a
recent parade of the murder of a Texas man – are so vivid in everyone’s
mind, it is urgent that people everywhere know that Aesthetic Realism,
the philosophy founded in 1941 by Eli Siegel, the great American educator
and poet, explains the cause of racism and what can permanently end it.
The cause is contempt, defined by Mr. Siegel as "the addition to self through
the lessening of something else."
I learned, is ordinary: a child teasing another child; a wife sarcastically
interrupting her husband; a man thinking he is smarter and more sensitive
than his neighbor. And it is the basis of our economic system in which
a person’s labor provides profit for someone else. Contempt, Aesthetic
Realism explains, is the cause of every injustice – from ethnic slurs and
ridicule to the deadly forms of racism, bombs, war. Ellen Reiss,
Class Chairman of Aesthetic Realism, explains in the international periodical,
The Right of Aesthetic Realism to Be Known, why in our failed economy,
racism is on the rise:
A person who is white looks at a person
whose skin is darker and feels ‘I am better than you’ for one reason alone:
people want to think well of themselves, and an easy way of seeming to
think well of yourself is to make less of what is not you. Because contempt
for a person looking different is always contempt for a world we dislike,
racism can be more flagrant as people are made to worry about jobs and
money. The big thing people have not known about racial prejudice is that
it does not begin with race. It begins with the world itself, and how one
sees the world.
Miss Reiss explains
the fight in a representative girl, Heather, about how to see the world:
The purpose of Heather’s life – what
she, as a tiny baby … was born for – as to respect the world, like it.
That means, to feel things and people in all their difference from her
were related to her too: they could add to her, make her more herself through
wanting to know and value them. But within Heather and all of us there
was and is another possibility: the false, hurtful dealing with sameness
and difference which is contempt.
And Ellen Reiss
describes how a girl becomes a racist:
Heather heard someone use a crude,
demeaning word about a person of another race. That word appealed to her.
And the first time she used it … she had a thrill … of feeling that in
one swift utterance she had put in its place not only a person but the
world different from her … . The horrible way Heather saw black people
continued because her desire to have contempt for a world not herself continued.
Now she is 15. With some friends, she has spray-painted ugly words on a
church attended by African-Americans in her town.
The only alternative
to contempt is in this mighty principle which Aesthetic Realism is based
on: The world, art and self explain each other: each is the aesthetic oneness
of opposites. I am so grateful that as a person learns to see the world
and himself as having a structure of opposites, the difference of others
is seen as friendly; something to know and be fair to. Learning from Aesthetic
Realism how to criticize contempt and to see other people’s feelings from
within – as real and vital as ours are to us – is the most thrilling, scientific
education on earth! When people learn to see in this way, new kindness
will exist, people will feel honestly proud; and racism will end.
I am infinitely grateful to say, is true in my life. As a child, without
knowing it, I hoped to be important by feeling superior to others and this
desire made me unkind both to people I knew – like my sister, whose looks
and manners were different from mine – and people I didn’t know. I deeply
regret that I once called a little boy an ugly name because his skin looked
different from mine. The memory of his pained face fills me with shame
even after all these years. I don’t know how my life would have gone if
my parents had not begun to study Aesthetic Realism, but I thank reality
with all my heart that they did.
What my family
had the honor to learn in lessons conducted by Eli Siegel, men, women and
children are learning now in consultations in person and by telephone worldwide,
from the faculty of the not-for-profit Aesthetic Realism Foundation in
New York City: that our deepest desire is to like the world honestly, and
every person is a rich opportunity to do this – new chance for self-respect.
In these magnificent
sentences, Eli Siegel shows the exciting and beautiful relation of sameness
and difference in people of all races:
The very great technician, Nature,
while working in a space of not more than 25 inches or so – that is, the
human face – as come to have so many faces, feminine and masculine, child
and adult. They are all different. We can assume that every Paleolithic
face was different, also Neolithic, also Roman face, Chinese face, Greek
face, Mesopotamian face; and just how it’s done is remarkable. Any person
trying to imagine five hundred faces will find it very hard, but somehow
Nature has been able to have a tremendous … inconceivable variety.
And Mr. Siegel
so exactly and kindly explains the essential likeness in all humanity:
It will be found that black and white man have the
same goodnesses, the same temptations, and can be criticized in the same
way. The skin may be different, but the aorta is quite the same.
I love the study
of Aesthetic Realism for enabling the kindness and justice of these words
to become alive, real, warm, in every home and street; in every human heart.
This is the education that can make the horror of racism a thing of the
And so I urge
everyone to contact the not-for-profit Aesthetic Realism Foundation, at
141 Greene St., New York, NY 10012 (212) 777-4490; and see the website
at www.AestheticRealism.org to learn how this can occur as soon as possible.
*Note: Articles by Alice Bernstein
on Aesthetic Realism as the knowledge that can end racism, as well as on
the Aesthetic Realism explanation of what is really taking place in the
economy, have appeared in newspapers nationwide. She and her husband, photographer
David Bernstein, have the honor to study in classes taught by Ellen Reiss,
the Class Chairman of Aesthetic Realism.