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Posted by on Jun 29, 2014 in About Blackacre, Blackacre, Leadership, Motivation, Personal Motivation, politics, Poverty, Progressive policy, Progressive Think Tank, Public Policy, Race, Self Improvement, social welfare, Socio Economics, Uncategorized | 15 comments

To Merely Survive

Just the other day a colleague and dear friend of mine Mr. Jefferson, and I were having a heart to heart conversation. He advised me that his air conditioner recently broke and had to be either repaired or replaced. The unit was not under warranty and the scorch of a Texas summer makes air conditioning an absolute must.

During our conversation Mr. Jefferson stated that the repair or replacement would cost money he did not have and that the situation had caused friction between him and his wife. More significantly, he shared how he had grown weary, so very tired of always struggling; of barely surviving.

While I sympathized with his plight and shared one or two of my own, I do not worry about Mr. Jefferson. The brother is intelligent, hard-working and a good provider. He is blessed with a good wife and a strong family who love him. Moreover, he is one of the sharpest men I know. In a world of playas and pimps, gangstas and thugs, this is a good man who will prevail no matter the difficulty; regardless the circumstances.

But the conversation raises a number of important questions for and about our community. One of the things of which we are most proud is our ability to survive the worst that life has to offer. We are still here despite of or perhaps because of all we have endured, including but not limited to the Trans Atlantic Slave Trade, the inhumanity of slavery and the ethnic terrorism thereafter, the Civil Rights Movement, the “War on Drugs”, cum the “War on Us” and the more insidious travesty of black on black crime and gun violence. Ours is truly a unique voyage.

The survival instinct has been so internalized by African-Americans as to be part of our DNA. To endure, to carry on is our theme, our focus, our very purpose. In other words survive is not what we do. To survive is who we are.

But while survival is absolutely essential, is mere survival enough? We think not. A persuasive argument can be made that to barely survive is wholly inadequate.

For one thing mere survival breeds complacency. It is the rusty nail that allows us to complain and only complain sans any effort to improve our circumstances. It is the false sense of security and the unwarranted feeling of accomplishment. It is the unconditional surrender to the status quo; the habit of settling for and otherwise tolerating that which we abhor rather than pursuing that which we deserve.

Consider for example work. How many of us hate our jobs, I mean really despise them? Yet we remain in positions that devalue us by engaging in a pattern of inane rationalizations, false equivalencies, and faulty comparisons. “I’m blessed to have a job” we reason or “at least I’m not doing as badly as are they” we believe, the accuracy of which is beside the point.

To have a stable source of income while so many others are unemployed is indeed reason to feel blessed. And no one wants to be at the bottom of the pile. Yet a horrible job is still a horrible job and therefore provides no reason to be complacent. Nor does it obviate the responsibility of finding a more fulfilling way of earning a living.

And it matters not that someone else’s position is worse than ours. The standard of comparison is not the nadir but the apex. In other words if we must make comparisons, it should be to those who are doing well rather than those who are doing not so well.

In addition, bare survival is an opiate, as addictive as any street drug. It hooks us, making us fiend for just another hit of always struggling yet never advancing. It is a blindfold which blocks and distorts our vision, blinding us to greater possibilities. To merely survive causes us to focus on the pavement rather than marvel at the heavens.

Less than an attitude and more than a condition, naked survival is a position; a location that places us behind the eight ball rather than near the finish line. It is the trap of life scarring denials and unfulfilled dreams. It is a prison of chains around our hands and feet; shackles that stretch from the present generation to the past, the last to the first. To barely survive is a penitentiary which locks us up and straps us down; a cell block of despondency and a cage of despair.

And worst, bare survival does more than prevent us from achieving. It is a cruel and unrepentant thief who steals our hopes and dreams. It so tires and frustrates us, so depletes our physical, emotional and intellectual resources that we have nothing left to give. All we can manage is to survive, just barely, if that.

There is a real and material difference between surviving and thriving; between existing and prospering. And while basic survival is good and necessary, it is little to brag about. Hence, to merely survive is a cruel illusion. One either moves forward or slowly but inexorably dies.

In conclusion, we stand on the cusps of a great decision, whether to continue as we have or to make fundamental changes in our attitude and the way we approach life. Any passage, all crossings, no matter the distance, regardless the destination, notwithstanding the traveler is fraught with peril. This is particularly true of family, for which the trail of years has been populated by hardships every step of the way.

We are understandably weary and some are unwilling to change; to do anything more than to merely survive. But change we must. It must never be forgotten that some of our ancestors preferred the bare survival of slavery to the possibilities of freedom.

The question is what is the road to prosperity? We hope to answer this query in the next Blackacre blog.

Leo Barron Hicks, Founder and CEO
Blackacre Policy Forum


  1. I read an article today online:
    …living conditions on many U.S. Indian reservations are at about the same level as those in developing countries. The average life expectancy on reservations is only 43, and more than 75 percent of all reservation families are affected by alcoholism. In some areas, unemployment is close to 80 percent.

    Yet these folks are surviving as a people.

    Indians, Jaguars, whatever, are surviving as a species, yet is that all we are concerned about? Is there nothing to be said of quality of life for the individual?

    • Amazing information that really goes to the heart of the blog. Thanks for the information.

  2. Survival! Existence! Stamina or Endurance? Subsistence or Persistence? What are we really addressing? It seems to me that taking responsibility for our own lives is what each of us is responsible for taking charge of. Our lives are filled with challenges, but to consistently accept the minimum for everything in ones life to the point of having a limited quality of life for an extended period of time is not good.
    The record or history will show that we, if you are referencing our “BLACK” people, is that, we are all of that! We can endure more suffering than should be allowed. But if one takes their stamina as the crowning headpiece, then, “the race does not go to the swift, but to the one who endures? Surely, the writer was not talking about Survival, but more about persistence and a never ending sprit. I am of the sprit that we should want more than survival because we can accomplish so much more than survival. That sounds like going through the motions without any expectations of achievement!
    Illumination should bring about initiation, direction, dedication and duplication. Somewhere in this life, we have to move from doing the same thing. “Doing the same thing over and over again, and then expecting a different result” is the definition of insanity. So are we insane for continuing the same survival? There is no doubt that life is greater than passing the next stress test! Let’s make something GREAT happen! When the discussion about what will we do next come up, we have started on the road to the improvement of our lives.

    • Thanks Pat. I always appreciate your comments.

    • Thanks for the comment. I appreciate your support.

  3. I don’t think it is bare survival itself that causes the problems you describe. Bare survival is certainly preferable to a worse alternative! I think it is the personal acceptance of it as “good enough” that is the problem.

    There are many rationalizations that lead to this acceptance. And, any really good rationalization will always contain some grain – and possibly a large grain – of truth.

    So I think it is the rejection of complacency that is the most important.

    And what makes that rejection difficult? It awakens the need for creativity, and creatively generating alternatives to the status quo. Not all of those alternatives will work out, but none of those neither concieved nor tried will succeed.

    Talk about possibilities with your friends. Brainstorm. Risk. And have fun with it!

    • Agreed. I do not wish to diminish the need to survive. It is the psychological belief that survival is enough. It is the rusty nail of complacency that I worry about.

    • I could have given as an example the American Indians having been forced to Oklahoma by the U.S. Government. Oklahoma was a wasteland. At least they finally found the Gaming Industry to make a living.

      I could have given as an example the African American slaves, upon being “Freed” at the conclusion of the American Civil War 1981-1865. Most ended up wandering the countryside trying to find a place to live and work, or stayed with their previous masters working at low wages. And even then, they weren’t safe from the embittered White Southerners.

    • So true.

    • The one point you make is valid. Bare survival is better than the alternative.

  4. I love cats. I follow posts on stray cats and how to care for them. People will post ridiculous comments about will my cat or a stray cat survive the winter cold outdoors. Survive? Is that all we care about when it comes to humans and animals? Will the African child survive ok on beans and spring water? Yes! Great, their carried for. There needs are met. How about spending the winter outside yourself and I’ll throw you a blanket and some bread and beans and water daily. I bet you would have a wonferful life.

    • You threw me off with the cats lead-in. But I get the larger point.

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