The Parable of Teaspoons & Bulldozers


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I was born in a land of plenty. A land in which it was once rumored that milk and honey ran down streets of gold. I have seen no streets of gold, had to endure rancid milk, and survive without honey to sweeten life. It has been both raw and funky and so it remains. There are people who are born with bulldozers. They have inheritances, family business, old money and connections; they will always land on their feet. Even the crooked among them will be righted and there is less impetus to play fairly if you were born with a bulldozer – you simply arrange things to your liking. Then there are those who like me are not born with bulldozers. They are born in debt, wading in cycles that want breaking, and burdened by trauma that goes untreated. These people are born with teaspoons.  I was born with a teaspoon so I am not without tools.

I am the descendant of horse eaters. They were born with teaspoons. I learned that poor North American African farmers who managed to own the scraps of land they farmed were loathed to be reduced to the position of share croppers who often found themselves in impossible situations. Share croppers worked land for others for the privilege of living on the land and being able to farm a small portion for themselves. They were usually given the worst plot of land and had to purchase everything necessary to work the land from the company store. The store would run a tab for the sharecroppers who lived in a perpetual state of debt. By contrast poor land owners would do all they could to insure they were not indebted at the end of a harvest. In lean winters they would eat their livestock including the horses rather than go in debt. They had a teaspoon and they were going to dig themselves out of the rude poverty in which they found themselves. I inherited their teaspoon and the progress that their effort with it wrought.

I, like most North American Africans my age, am the seed of dungeons and passages of no return. My ancestors came to this shore in chains and have spent centuries with teaspoons trying to dig our collective self out of the hole we have been cast into. We are in competition with those born with bulldozers for our share in the dream of America. A dream we helped to construct from the foundation up but armed with teaspoons we have had difficulty obtaining a share let alone a fair share. As inequity grows steadily in North America and around the globe those with teaspoons may feel that it impossible to ever find even ground. Caveats like pull yourself up by your bootstraps have little traction if you are born without feet. Systemic racism fuels invisible narratives that seek to constrain even the possibility of flourishing. In some homes those with teaspoons dine mostly on hope. That hope is precious.

We with teaspoons can’t waste time crying over the injustice of competing with those born with bulldozers. We must realize that we should not be in competition in the framework of a system that oppresses us by its very being. We must learn to define wealth, health, and progress for ourselves. We have no time to pay attention to shiny things destined for landfills. We must invest in self and other’s born with teaspoons. We are a set. We are coded as such by color, economic position, and the invisible line of class stratification. North American Africans are a new tribe born of enslaved Africans on American shores we have a common trauma, a common history, and are systemically locked in the bottom of the boat 400 years after the ending of chattel slavery in America.  We come to the table hobbled and delicate fearing the day when “the call” comes that reminds us we were born with teaspoons. Yet we are a mighty people. The intellect, fortitude, and sheer will it took to coalesce shredded and diverse cultures into something new and serviceable in a SorrowLand and to forge ground upon which to stand existentially is without parallel in recorded history. We are able. Never doubt that. We can’t lose faith. We must keep the teaspoons moving. Every victory propels us further and reveals a rung on the ladder that our descendants must scale to reach even ground. The examples of possible are many from inventors to the highest office in America – we are able.

With my teaspoon and determination I have found my way to the path my great grandparents cleared for me. I proudly embrace my lineage and overstand the instructions that came with my teaspoon.  I have decided to be a hero. I will widen the path. I will leave signs. I will till the dirt my family tree grows in with my teaspoon. I will plant seeds. I will throw the rope. I will be tall enough to offer shelter and shade. I will learn what I need to in order to build what I need.

Those with teaspoons must be tireless. No time for distractions or becoming mired in the wrong conversations. Self-pity is useless. Anger is good fuel but it will eventually burn you out. Persistence is a necessity as is determination. Self-love and generosity of spirit are essential these things will feed and sustain you. One must have a firm grasp on their own reality – they must by necessity become authors of their own fate.

There is a narrative offered for those born beyond the pale. If you are born with a teaspoon and are going somewhere in life you will need to clear that narrative from your path. The narrative offered for you says; you are less than able, you lack drive, morals, have no work ethic, no aesthetic, no aspiration, you are not worthy. This narrative also colors you as dangerous, possibly criminal, anti-intellectual, and ultimately other, the antithesis of what is good, right, proper, and worthy. If you accept for a moment the boundaries implied in the narrative crafted for you, precious time that could be spend in using your teaspoon to its best advantage will be lost due to your lack of clarity.

You must love yourself, understand that you are enough, you are worthy, and use your teaspoon to create the life you desire to live. If you want to be – you will find the way. Remember tales of tortoises and hares – the race does not have to go to those born with bulldozers. Those with teaspoons outnumber them.   The will of a thousand men with teaspoons out weight the will of one with a bulldozer. If you want to get somewhere – start now – don’t stop till you get there. Go.

If you have a bulldozer you can wait for opportunity. If you have a teaspoon you must learn to make it. If you have a bulldozer you can roll over obstacles on the way to your destination. If you have a teaspoon you need to find a way to dismantle obstacles, go around them, or turn them to your purpose. If you have a bulldozer you can afford sloth because you are well fed. If you have a teaspoon you are probably hungry so you must keep it moving – where you want to be is waiting – you have to get there.

Think carefully about what will serve the life you want. Think carefully about the effort required to achieve the dream of that life. Set long and short term goals. Be a model for those who come after you. Some journeys take generations. Be careful about what you leave for others to build with. Determination is a good gift – complacency is not. Don’t fear going where no one has gone – do what needs to be done to get there. Break cycles – they are like rip tides pulling us under.  Stand for something. Stand for yourself and your dreams and the right for those who come after you to have bigger dreams. Keep the teaspoon moving – push the envelope. Build what you need as you go. Keep your hands, and that teaspoon moving–pray because you are grateful for the teaspoon and hands– but keep your hands moving while you pray.