Question 14.2

From a man on the street, black, disheveled, thin, “My man, my man, can you spare a dollar? C’mon I’m just hungry, man; I just need a dollar, c’mon man, just a dollar whaddya say?”

The response from the propositioned, also a black man, heavy, immaculately dressed in an obviously well tailored grey suit, “Sorry my brother, I haven’t got anything for you right now.”

From the housing, sustenance, and employment challenged beggar, “Every time one of my people calls me ‘brother,’ they hurt me. Every time man.”

Why didn’t the obviously well-off man give to the man he so casually called brother? Why did he use the term brother, and why does that term hurt the beggar each time he is called by it? The answer is one of perceived community. Sure, we would all like to nod our heads, solemnly asserting the wisdom of helping your fellow man, of feeling like we have to ‘give something back,’ of, in short, being our brother’s keeper. But the truth is, we could give a shit about our brother if he isn’t part of what we see as our community. For some, our communities are rather expansive. These are the genuinely good people who donate their time and money with jobs and actvism doing ridiculously altruistic things like the PeaceCorp and Teach for America and Greenpeace. For most of us, our community is limited to the loose network of friends, family and coworkers whom we identify with in a substantial, and most importantly, regular way. Would we turn down our best friend if he asked us for a dollar? A meal? A place to stay? Of course we wouldn’t, and to do so would seem unnecessarily cruel and injust. We feel a sense of responsibility to these people because they are like us, and they are humanized by their proximity.

So, maybe you give your dollar to each beggar in the loop who asks. Do you give them five dollars? A thousand? A meal, a place to stay? Again, the level of responsibility we feel for our fellow man is based on how much we can identify with him or her, how close into our inner circle they can penetrate, how safe we feel around them, and how easily we can walk blithely by. There is no real question of social responsibility, only one of community. To whom are we beholden? Who are are brothers that we will keep? Only those few we really see and hear and know. It has been said that it is hard to hate a man once you know his life’s story. I imagine it is equally hard to ignore a man on the same grounds, which may be why it is so easy not to hear the cries of the wounded, the screams of the oppressed, and the soft moans of the desperate.

We have no urgency

No rush

Only the frantic hurry of the


The voiceless

The unquieted mute

We have no urgency

We can not make allusions

I do not share your history

I am not your brother

And I am not your brother’s keeper

And whatsoever I do unto the least of you

I have not done unto me

We fear reprisal


But we do not believe in consquence



It’s sixty degrees outside

Seventy two inside and somewhere else it may be raining fire

Or showering forgiveness

I will never know

I only know the news

Reports of the new

The now reported as a when

There is no acknowledgement of history

Every moment a moment of past

I am not your brother

I share only because I have learned

And I have learned what I was taught

I have spent time on credit, with no hope of paying it back

I am in debt

I am temporally bankrupted

I have been tying up shoelaces and loose ends,

Trying to keep it neat

Trying to keep it real,

To make it real,

Keep it under wraps

In control

I am on top of things

Even as they pile up

I scramble

Reborn and then remixed

I manage

I sit upon my gold

Evea as it seeps into my pores

Like a reverse Midas

I am poisoned by it




By determination

Determined to push ahead.

The truth?

I don’t know what you mean.

I don’t understand your allusions,

Your sly references,

Your witty rejoinders

I am not in on the joke

I only laugh because I am afraid.