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The wisdom of the elders is still relevant

Melvin B. Miller | 4/3/2014, noon

“Never let your enemies define you!” That is sage advice often given by the elders to young black men generations ago. When understood, it enabled males to steel their psyches against the “slings and arrows” of aggressive bigots. Perhaps this advice could benefit the students who developed the #ITooAmHarvard campaign.

Anyone who gratuitously demeans another human being may thereby earn the plaudits of his companions, but he or she will have sunk to a lower level of human sensitivity. An awareness of this debasement is what protects the victim of the racial assault. Why react emotionally to the nattering of someone with barbaric manners?

Dr. Chester Pierce, a Harvard psychiatrist who experienced the Jim Crow laws in the South, has written about “micro-aggressions,” the racial insults that blacks must still endure since overt macro racial discrimination has become unlawful. He defines micro-aggressions as “subtle, stunning, often automatic and non-verbal exchanges which are ‘put-downs’ of the blacks by offenders.”

Even though the Jim Crow days are gone, the elders’ advice to “never let your enemies define you” still works. It is still the best defense against micro-aggression rather than to let the bigot believe that he or she has the power to cause a lack of self-esteem or confidence. Sometimes the old remedies continue to be the most effective.