Alice Bernstein and mastheads

As published in Mississippi Link.

Aesthetic Realism explains where racism begins
— and what can end it

As 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."
        Contempt, 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, Aesthetic Realism Chairman of Education, 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.

Ms. 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.
        This fact, 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 — a 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 — has 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 past.
       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 to learn how this can occur as soon as possible.