The Unspoken Truth: Achieving the American Dream- From “Super Negro” to “No Negro”

“… The American Dream is achieved through sacrifice, risk-taking, and hard work rather than by chance.”
-Adam Barone, “American Dream.” Investopedia, 21 Nov. 2019.

 

“‘Mr. Rickey, are you looking for a Negro who is afraid to fight back?’ asked the young [Jackie Robinson]. ‘Robinson, I’m looking for a ballplayer with guts enough not to fight back,’ explained [Branch] Rickey.”
– Conversation between Jackie Robinson, first black MLB player and                                  Branch Rickey, baseball executive. Christopher Kline, “Silent No Longer:                       The Outspoken Jackie Robinson.” History, 14 Apr. 2017.

 

“You niggers are wondering how you are going to be treated after the war. Well, I’ll tell you, you are going to be treated exactly like you were before the war, this is a white man’s country and we expect to rule it.”
– Blanton, Joshua E.: Men in the Making, in: Southern Workman 48                                    (January 1919), p. 20.

 

My Dear Readers,

As the month of February is winding down, I want to acknowledge Black (originally Negro) History Month. This is the time of year in which African Americans and the dominant group come together to showcase and learn about the contributions of its black citizenry.

What is psychologically impactful for many is that at the end of each February, the essential meaning of black history, its contributions, and achievements are put away, forgotten by some, and ignored by others until Black History Month arrives again next year.

“What would you do if you were stuck in one place and every day was exactly the same and nothing you did mattered? That about sums it up for me.”
– Groundhog Day. Dir. Harold Ramis. Columbia                                                                        Pictures, 1993.

Question…
What are the psychological impacts on black and brown children whose history is condensed and packaged during the 28 or 29 days of February then subsequently disappears only to be repeated year after year?

Question…
What are the psychological impacts on those same black and brown children who are inundated with symbols, ideologies, accomplishments, and achievements of the dominant group for the remaining 337 days per year?

Question…
What are the psychological impacts on black and brown children observing their parents, elders, and responsible others colluding with the dominant group in observance of Black History Month?

The answers to these questions are complex. Like a rooted tree that is not watered, when the psychological self is not reinforced on a consistent basis, it withers away to the point where it ceases to strive to live and is resigned to a life of existence and basic survival.

Since their arrival in American colonies, African men and women have existed in a constant state of psychological survival. They have had the similar value of a “beast of burden”, tied to the yoke and forced to plow the land for meager or no return. The “beast” plows the land in hopes of receiving the “carrot” that is placed strategically in sight and yet remains out of reach.

The “carrot” being offered to African Americans by the dominant group is the attractive and appealing American Dream. The American Dream is
the belief that “anyone, regardless of where they were born or what class they were born into, can attain their own version of success in a society where upward mobility is possible for everyone and it can be achieved through sacrifice, risk-taking, and hard work, rather than by chance”.

Although the intention behind the creation of Black History Month was well conceived, a community of psychologically weakened individuals is unable to consistently reinforce their history to their children while depending upon the dominant group to teach black and brown children their historical contributions and achievements from a white perspective.

This white perspective tends to single out certain African Americans and identify them as the Super Negro. These legendary figures were usually sports figures such as:

• Jackie Robinson – MLB Hall of Fame
• Kobe Bryant – NBA Champion
• Jesse Owens – Four-time Gold Medalist, Berlin Olympics 1936
• Wilma Rudolph – Three-time Gold Medalist, Rome Olympics 1956
• Arthur Ashe – winner of seven Grand Slam singles and doubles tennis titles
• Althea Gibson – winner of seven Grand Slam singles and doubles tennis titles

However, African Americans, when viewed through the white perspective, are separated out into the best or Super Negros and all other average or unknown African Americans whose accomplishments and contributions are intentionally ignored or diminished. These every-day people are seen as having less value, therefore are not worthy or eligible to receive the “carrot”.

This group is designated “invisible” and hence becomes the No Negro. These indivisibles or No Negroes make contributions to the dominant group, but those contributions are not considered noteworthy and therefore do not become “folklore” or “legendary” and quickly fade into the dust of time and history.

Let’s examine some of the contributions and achievements of those who failed to win the praise of the dominant group and now are relegated to footnotes in history.

• Jill Elaine Brown
• The 6888th Central Postal Directory Battalion
• The Red Ball Express
• Charles Walter David Jr.
Jill Elaine Brown

Although Bessie Coleman (1892-1926) is known as the first African American woman to hold a pilot license as well as stage a public flight in America, little has been stated about Jill Elaine Brown, who became the first African American woman to serve as a pilot for a major US airline when she was hired by Texas International Airlines at the age of 28.

Prior to this, she became the first African American female trainee to enter the US Naval flight-training program. A tireless fighter of racial and gender discrimination, she sued United Airlines after being rejected for employment three times.

Today she remains an advocate, model and mentor for women and African American aviators.
The 6888th Central Postal Directory Battalion

Led by its black female commander Major Charity Adams Earley, it was the only all-female, African American battalion overseas in France during World War II.
At the time, there were more than seven million American troops stationed in Europe. The task of sorting mail and delivering mail was difficult due to common names, soldiers on secret assignments and wartime conditions. At the time, there were more than seven million American troops stationed in Europe and receiving letters from home was an important way to keep up the morale of the troops on the front lines.
These enlisted women worked eight-hour shifts, seven days a week, despite having to respond to racism and segregation while performing their duties.
Major Earley felt that reacting to racism caused more problems than it solved and insisted that the 6888th Battalion look past the prejudice directed at them by the men retuning from the frontlines. Major Earley’s efforts lead to a US recruitment tour to encourage more women to enlist and were groundbreaking and eased the inclusion of African Americans and women into military service.

 

The Red Ball Express

This military unit was a large convoy of trucks, the majority of which was made up of African American soldiers who, during WWII supplied the Allied forces once they broke out of the Normandy Beaches in 1944. The Red Ball Express was created in August 1944 as a means of getting vital supplies to some 28 American and Allied divisions racing across France.
Each division needed 700 tons of fuel, ammo, food and other essentials every day. At the height of the Red Ball Express mission, some 5,938 vehicles carried 12,342 tons of supplies day and night.

The drivers would drive at high speeds through enemy territory to ensure the supplies would be there when needed. Up to 140 trucks were on French roads 24 hours days supplying General Patton’s Third Army 350 miles away in the east as well as the First Army 400 miles away in the south. Night driving had to be done without headlights to avoid being spotted by the enemy.

They modified vehicle carburetors, removing the governors so they could travel at speeds reaching 50-60 mph. They risked land mines and drove with shredded tires from roads littered with shell fragments and barbed wire. They drove in overloaded trucks that tipped and flipped, sinking into the mud of country roads, risking death due to enemy action and exhaustion from crashes due to drivers falling asleep at the wheel from lack of sleep.

In 83 days and at the end of the program in August 1944, about 412,000 tons of various items including gasoline, ammunition oil, food, mail and other needed supplies had been delivered by the Negro drivers of the Red Ball Express.

One British infantry brigade commander noted, “Few who saw them will ever forget the enthusiasm of the Negro drivers, hell-bent whatever the risk to get Gen. Patton his supplies.”

 

Charles Walter David Jr.

Steward’s Mate First Class Charles Walter David Jr. served aboard the US Coast Guard Cutter Comanche during WWII. The Comanche was assigned to escort a convoy in the North Atlantic which included the troop transport ship the USS Dorchester. During the night of February 3, 1944, a U-boat off the coast of Greenland torpedoed the USS Dorchester resulting in multiple casualties. David volunteered to leave the safety of the kitchen of the Comanche to dive overboard, with air temperatures below freezing, to help rescue the Dorchester survivors.

David assisted in the rescue of 93 people, repeatedly diving into the frigid waters and personally saving the lives of three Dorchester survivors and two of his own crew members, one being the cutter’s executive officer who had fallen overboard and was unable to pull himself up by diving into the cold waters and tying him up to be hoisted to safety.

Steward’s Mate First Class Charles Walter David Jr. died a few days later from pneumonia that he contracted during his heroic efforts to save the Dorchester’s survivors and members of his own crew. He was posthumously awarded the Navy and Marine Corps Medal, the nation’s third highest medal for bravery.
The Super Negro: Worship & Rewards

Following a life of service to the dominant group during which the Super Negro has endured countless incidents of macro aggression; death threats and physical assaults, micro aggression; everyday verbal, nonverbal slights, snubs or insults, and acts of rejection, similar to Jackie Robinson, the expectation is to endure and have “guts enough not to fight back”. In exchange, the Super Negro is permitted limited access to the group’s wealth and social standing.

As a reward for service to the dominant group and endurance of many years of abuse, selected African Americans following their death are granted godlike worship and legendary status.

Take notice of the awards given to those earlier mentioned in the Super Negro group:

• Jackie Robinson – Six-time MLB All-Star, MLB Rookie of the Year, MLB Hall of Fame, MLB All-Century Team presented by Major League Baseball and had “The Jackie Robinson Award” named after him.

• Kobe Bryant – NBA MVP, Four-time NBA All-Star Game MVP, 18-time All-Star presented by National Basketball Association and, The NBA All-Star MVP award will be renamed the “NBA All-Star Game Kobe Bryant MVP Award” in his honor.

• Jesse Owens – Four-time gold medalist at the 1936 Olympic Games and had “The Jesse Owens Award” named after him

• Arthur Ashe – Had “The Arthur Ashe Courage & Humanitarian Award” for Contributions Transcending Sports, presented by the ESPN, named after him.

• Wilma Rudolph – Had “The Wilma Rudolph Courage Award” for female athletes demonstrating extraordinary courage, presented by Women Sports Foundation named after her.

• Althea Gibson – Had “The Althea Gibson Cup” presented by the International Tennis Federation, named after her.

 

The No Negro: The Gaze at the Carrot & Differential Treatment

Similar to the Super Negro, the No Negro provides a life of service to the dominant group endures incidents of macro and micro aggressions with the hope of achieving the same rights and benefits of the dominant group. However, as there are too many and aren’t seen as having the same value, they can only gaze hungrily at the carrot and must fight for access to the wealth and resources controlled by the dominant group.

• Major Charity Adams Earley commander of the 6888th Central Postal Battalion and responsible for handling mail for millions of white servicemen upon her return had to stand off with the KKK with a shotgun while protecting her home and she had to fight for her benefits earned as a veteran servicing her country.

• Although black drivers of the Red Ball Express risked their lives delivering supplies to General Patton’s 3rd Army, he wrote in his dairy “I have no faith in the inherent fighting ability of the race.” Upon returning home, there were numerous incidents of black veterans being lynched while in military uniform.

• Steward’s Mate First Class Charles Walter David Jr. participated in saving the lives of 93 survivors. Approximately 672 men died and 230 from the Dorchester survived. Four men, all white received the Congressional Medal of Honor, the highest honor bestowed for heroic actions taken place under enemy fire. For sacrificing his life Steward’s Mate First Class Charles Walter David Jr. who, because of the color of his skin was restricted to mess hall duty, received the Navy & Marine Corps Medal, the nation third highest honor.

• Jill Elaine Brown throughout her role as a commercial pilot, safely transported thousands of passengers without incident. However, although she had the training, skills and experience she was repeatedly denied, due to her race and gender, employment by United Airlines. She sued the airlines twice in federal court and lost both times.
Concluding Words-Dr. Kane

“Boy, you be safe out in the world now. Remember, you’re colored. This is a white man’s world. Mind your business, stay out of white folks’ mess.”
– Mabel Sanders, Grandmother

My Dear Readers,

I am the child of the segregated south. Although I am northern born (Harlem, NY), I am southern raised (Newport News, VA). My grandmother’s father was a slave, whereas my grandmother was born free.

Although domestic terrorism is a new concept to the dominant group, it was a well-known concept to many African Americans including my great grandfather and the generations of my family that followed. Understanding the difficult times in which my grandparents lived, her words “stay in your lane and mind your business” were fitting even though African Americans have provided cheap labor in agriculture and factories and sacrificed our sons and daughters in service of this country yet, we are still forcefully excluded from sharing in the resources of this land.

Currently, factions within the dominant group are struggling to win the African American vote as the nation enters the presidential election. Historically, the concerns of the African American community have been taken for granted, with promises made and broken. While included in the political processes, once our votes have been received, we find ourselves once again being excluded from participation into the resources held by the dominant group.

Dr. Tressie McMillian Cottom, in her 2019 book, Thick: And Other Essays, suggests that “exclusion can be part of a certain type of liberation, where one dominant regime is overthrown for another, but it cannot be universal”.

The failure of the African American community is its willingness to sacrifice the psychological wellness of its children for the carrot of economic wealth that is gingerly dangled by the dominant group. It seems to passively accept the limitations imposed on it by the dominant group by allowing them to determine the acknowledgment of its history, achievements of its individuals as well as the community’s awareness of the psychological impact of this distorted history on its children being spoon-fed stories of the “Super Negro” or omission of the achievements of the “No Negro”.

Fortunately for the upcoming generation, the black millennials, many are choosing to go in a different direction. They have decided that the American Dream is a myth that can be snatched away at any time so therefore, “chasing the carrot” is not for them. They have decided that “staying quiet and minding their own business” is not for them. They have decided that allowing their achievements to be omitted is not for them. They are instead focusing on proving their humanity and ensuring that the dominant group and its infighting political factions make good on their promises.

My grandmother’s words were right for her time and her day. However, her day has passed.

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Black Millennial,
The past is what it was.
The present is fading
The future is not promised
Embrace your journey
As you walk the landscape
Walk your landscape, not someone else
Seek your dreams, not someone else
Holding the psychological self
As you embrace the unknown and uncharted….
Tomorrow

Dr. Micheal Kane

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“How would you feel psychologically if you were stuck in one place and every year your history was displayed exactly the same reinforcing the belief that nothing you did mattered? That about sums up Black History Month for me.”
– Dr. Micheal Kane

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Standing Alone… The Unspoken Truth

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In Our Corner: Self Hate and Pressure for Acceptance

“We’re men. Soldiers. And I don’t intend for our race to be cheated of its place of honor and respect in this war because of fools like C.J.”
– MSgt. Vernon Waters (character), A Soldier’s Play

 

“Remember, you’re the first colored officer most of these men ever seen. The Army expects you to set an example for the colored troops… and be a credit to your race.”
– Col. Nivens (character), A Soldier’s Play

 

“Any man ain’t sure where he belong, gotta’ be in a whole lotta pain.”
– CJ (character), A Soldier’s Play

 

My Dear Readers,

My, oh my…what a beginning for 2020! I recently returned from a five-thousand-mile, round-trip, journey to New York over a weekend to see the Broadway theater production of A Soldier’s Play. It is a WWII murder mystery story set on a segregated military base in Louisiana.

Following my earlier trip to see Slave Play, I was anticipating a second triumphant return to Seattle having experienced a play of similar brilliance but, what I experienced was nothing like I expected.

In Slave Play, I marveled at the playwright’s utilization of race, sex and trauma to shine a light on our society’s relationship with white supremacy, but A Soldier’s Play was different. It was more personal. It told how some African Americans internalized white supremacy then weaponized against one another. The pure self-hate and internal demand for acceptance being portrayed by a black cast, simply hit too close to home.

On the surface, A Soldier’s Play is about a black man’s desire to fight for his country during WWII. Underneath, there is the picture of the ongoing internal conflict with achieving status and acceptance while struggling with self-hatred and denial of dreams and opportunities.

A Soldier’s Play is invaluable as it seeks to portray the psychological landscapes of these men who struggle to be accepted as equals by whites while battling the internalized oppression and self-hatred that flows from their psychosocial wounds paralleling, with great accuracy, the struggle black men face today.

The play identifies the good, bad and ugly within the main characters Sgt. Waters and Capt. Davenport. Utilizing quotes from the stage play, I will seek to expose common themes and how those themes impact African Americans today.
Sgt. Waters:
Sgt. Waters is an African American holdover from WWI who, due to the military’s segregationist policies of the time, feels denied his place of honor and respect.

For him, WWII presents another opportunity to gain that respect and honor he feels he is due, and he is determined not to be denied his moment of glory and recognition. In the play, Sgt. Waters shares the following story of an experience in France during WWI:

“You know the damage one ignorant Negro can do? We were in France in the first war; we’d won decorations. But the white boys had told all them French gals that we had tails. Then they found this ignorant colored soldier, paid him to tie a tail to his ass and run around half naked, making monkey sounds.

Put him on the big round table in the Café Napoleon, put a reed in his hand, crown on his head, blanket on his shoulders, and made him eat “bananas” in front of all them Frenchies. Oh, the white boys danced that night… passed out leaflets with that boy’s picture on it.

Called him Moonshine, King of the Monkeys. And when we slit his throat, you know that fool asked us what he had done wrong?”

Sgt. Waters’ words and actions are clear indications of what he is willing to do to gain “honor and respect.” Now faced with a new war and thus an opportunity to gain “honor and respect”, Sgt. Waters is driven to oust any person he views stands in his way.

He subsequently targets a colored soldier, CJ. He plants false evidence to have him arrested, telling him

“Whole lot of people just can’t seem to fit in to where things seem to be going. Like you, CJ. See, the Black race can’t afford you no more. There used to be a time, we’d see someone like you singin’, clownin’, yassuh –bossin’… and we wouldn’t do anything. Folks liked that.

You were good. Homey, kind of nigger.

When they needed somebody to mistreat, call a name or two, they paraded you. Reminded them of the good old days. Not no more. The day of the Geechee is gone, boy. And you’re going with it.”

As a result of the stress being placed upon him, CJ commits suicide by hanging himself while being held in the stockade.
Later, Sgt. Waters, drunk and physically beaten, is found fatally shot in full military uniform and casted off on a muddy dirt road in the rain. As he lay dying, he screams at his killer:
“They still … hate you! THEY STILL HATE YOU!!”

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Analysis – Dr. Kane:
It would be a mistake to misjudge Sergeant Waters or depict him as evil. He simply wants the acceptance, honor and respect that has been historically denied to him and those of his race. Sergeant Waters is a deeply conflictive man. His hatred of the white man is only matched with the hatred of other African Americans who due to their ignorant behaviors are preventing his quest for glory.

He therefore takes it upon himself to protect the black race from acts of shame and humiliation. As demonstrated in story of slitting a young man’s throat and creating false evidence resulting in the suicide of another, he shows the extent to which he is willing to go to prevent the race from being “cheated of its place of honor and respect”.

One of Sgt. Waters’ characterizations is shame-based behavior. True to form, in his shame, he is depicted as feeling unworthy, defective and empty. In acting out those feelings, he repeatedly committed acts of racism and inflicted psychological trauma and humiliation on others. Something black men have faced from previous generations to today.

Shame can be debilitating, toxic and extremely destructive. Shame works to separate the individual from the psychological self. It creates an internal crisis that attacks the inner core, triggering a shaming spiral of negative self-talk.

Shame can be defined in several ways:
• A painful emotion caused by a strong sense of guilt, embarrassment, unworthiness or disgrace.
• An act that brings dishonor, disgrace or public condemnation.
• An object of great disappointment.

Another characterization of Sgt. Waters is an extreme fear of humiliation.

Humiliation is the infliction of a profoundly violent psychological act that leaves the victim with a deep wound within the psychological self. The painful experience is vividly remembered for a long time.
This includes:
• The enforced lowering of a person or group, a process of subjugation that either damages or strips away a person’s pride, honor or dignity.
• A state of being placed, against one’s will, in a situation where one is made to feel inferior.
• A process in which the victim is forced into passivity, acted upon, or made to feel helpless.

Humiliation differs from shame in that humiliation is public, whereas shame is private. Humiliation is the suffering of an insult. If the person being humiliated deems the insult as credible, then they will feel shame.

One can insult and humiliate another; but that person will only feel shame if one’s self image is reduced. Such action requires the person who has been humiliated to buy into or agree with the assessment that shame is deserved.

A person who is secure about their own stature is less likely to be vulnerable to feeling shame, whereas the insecure person is more prone to feeling shame because this individual gives more weight to what others think of him than to what he thinks of himself.

In the mind of Sgt. Waters, both individuals CJ the “singin’, clownin’, yassuh –bossin” individual and Moonshine, King of the Monkeys had to die. The humiliation was open and public, and the pain of shame was too much to bear.

It is ironic that in Sgt. Waters’ quest to avoid shame and humiliation, his death was just that, shameful, humiliating and at the hands of those he deemed unworthy.

Upon being caught his killer stated, “I didn’t kill much. Some things need gettin’ rid of. Man like Waters never did nobody no good anyway.”

These words, which may have been spoken 80 years ago, continue to be the sentiment that is being displayed against African Americans today as they continue to be impacted by racism and the resulting psychological trauma.

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Capt. Davenport:
The military hierarchy, under pressure from the African American community and fearful of a possible race riot after the murder of a black soldier where the main suspects are the local Klansmen, sends a black investigator to look into the murder of Sergeant Waters. He is the first “Negro” officer that these men (including whites) have ever seen. He has been given three days to solve the murder. He has no authority and must be accompanied by a white officer when interviewing white witnesses.

Col. Nivens, the white base commander, wants him to quickly complete his assessment and be “in and out” of the military base ASAP. He seeks a quick investigation without finding any conclusions. He states
“The worst thing you can do, in this part of the country, is pay too much attention to the death of a negro under mysterious circumstances.”

In addition to being pressured to tread lightly and not solve the case, he is reminded by Col. Nivens that he is special and different. He is the first of his kind and carrying the responsibility to represent well. Col. Nivens states:
“Remember, you’re the first colored officer most of these men ever seen. The Army expects you to set an example for the colored troops… and be a credit to your race.”

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Analysis –Dr. Kane:
The characterization of Capt. Davenport is a representation of the concept of “The Talented Tenth”. This is a term that was designated a leadership class of African Americans in the early 20th Century.

The term originated in 1886 among Northern white liberals with the goal of establishing black colleges in the South to train black teachers and elites. The term was later publicized by W.E.B. Dubois whose intent was to educate the best minds of the race and disseminate them into the greater black community allowing for the uplifting of the race.

Capt. Davenport’s character is the first Negro officer these people have ever seem. He is viewed as the “top” or ‘crème de la crème” of his race. He is given an impossible task to investigate (quietly) without solving the murder of Sgt. Waters.

He is viewed with suspicion by whites and in awe by blacks. He is given three days to complete the task and is mindful that he must represent both the Army, that enforces segregation and mistreats blacks, and try to deliver justice to the African American community which is waiting hungrily for the results.

The character of Capt. Davenport continues to permeate the psychological self of African Americans today. Following sixty years since the ending of legal segregation, the strategies of the dominant group has also transformed. Although diversity has transformed to add inclusion, equity and social justice, African Americans continue to find themselves impacted by acts of racism and psychological trauma.

Thanks to the scriptwriters in the movie “A Soldier’s Story” and the theatrical production, A Soldier’s Play, both conclude on a “positive note”. The murder is solved, the military hierarchy is happy, and the African American community nationwide can celebrate another small victory.

The African American community is left with a sliver of optimism to hold onto in hopes of a better future.

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Concluding Words-Dr. Kane:
In this fictional story all ends well. The murder has been solved. No race riots. No more national outcry for civil rights investigations. The peace and calm of segregation and psychological traumatization of black soldiers and civilians can one again go back to normal.

In the film conclusion, the scriptwriters offer a slightly different, more accurate portrayal of black-white interpersonal relationships, a tension that exists to this very day: In an exchange between a white officer and Captain Davenport:

Capt. Taylor: I guess I’ll have to get used to Negroes with bars on their shoulders, Davenport. You know, being in charge.

Capt. Davenport: Oh, you’ll get used to it, Captain. You bet your ass on that. You’ll get used to it.

However, what is clearly left open are the questions about the strength of self-hatred and the pressure of acceptance by others that is truly captured in the scripts and holds true for African Americans today. Specifically, CJ referring to Sgt. Waters: “Any man ain’t sure where he belong, gotta’ be in a whole lotta pain.”

It remains to be real in today’s lives of African Americans who can endure, daily, fourteen subtypes of psychological traumas and eleven forms of racism.

The concept of the “talented tenth” was constructive and necessary when developed, but today, is a concept that is ill-suited and destructive because it demands that the individual sacrifice the psychological self on behalf of the impoverished community. Rather than bolster the community, the concept’s success is dependent upon disempowering the psychological self and creates insecurity and detachment and it weakens generation after generation.

What can be done? What can we do to model for our children and future generations? We can…. Walk the Landscape.

What is the Landscape?
The landscape is life.
One of the essential realities of life is that death is a certainty. What remains uncertain is:
• How we live our lives
• What we experience during our lifetimes
• The memories we leave with the individuals we interact with.

Life at the Crossroads
Waiting at the crossroads are possible experiences, submerged materials such as incidents, situations and conflicts that may surface directly in one’s path. Such materials demand to be addressed.

Interaction Points
These crossroads are interactions points where barriers, challenges, experiences with difficult individuals and opportunities are presented. At the crossroads:
• Choices are presented
• Decisions are made and directions are chosen
• Consequences for choices and decisions are foreseen.
• Wisdom is gained, lessons are learned, and both are utilized for future experiences
• Transformation through Self-Empowerment is achieved

The Journey of Self-Discovery is actualized upon understanding that:
• All decisions have consequences
• The fullness of life is measured not just by one’s success but by failures as well.

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“We cannot think of unity with others until we have first united among ourselves. We cannot think of being acceptable to others until we have proven acceptable to ourselves.”
– Malcolm X

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“Be willing to walk alone. Many who started with you won’t finish with you.”
– Shaniqua King

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“Truth…it’s about Walking the Landscape and in walking, one simply exposes one’s truth.”
– Dr. Micheal Kane

Until the next time,
Remaining … in Our Corner

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The Unspoken Truth: Slave Play, White Fragility, and the Difficulty in Talking About Race

“While it is true that white fragility is an insidious trauma injury to people of color, white people are not raised to see themselves in terms of race.”

-Micheal Kane, Psy.D, Clinical Traumatologist

“When you are told time and time again you’re not good enough, that your opinion doesn’t matter as much; when they don’t just look past you, to them you’re not even there; when that has been your reality for so long, it’s hard not to let yourself think it’s true.”

– The Post

“What does race mean to the person of color?  Everything.  From the first breath taken in life to one’s dying day.  Race is incarceration or freedom.  Race is a door that is open or closed. Race is living life thriving or surviving. Race identifies that the space you occupy has been ‘designated’ for you and reinforces for you that others will seek to hold you there for the rest of your life.  Race is everything.”

-Micheal Kane, Psy.D., Clinical Traumatologist

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My Dear Readers,

I am currently preparing to leave for New York City to attend another Broadway play, A Soldier’s Story. It is a murder mystery set on a segregated military base located in Louisiana during WWII. When I return, I’ll share my thoughts. But as I prepare to experience another play with a strong racial interaction, I find myself reflective of the last play I saw and wrote about in the most recent blog, The Unspoken Truth: Slave Play and White Fragility.

I continue to replay the exchange at the conclusion of the play in which two white theater attendees chose to intellectualize the experience and in doing so, denied themselves the opportunity to explore their emotions. The opportunity was lost due to their inability to recognize the general space they occupy as “white spaces.”

The playwright brilliantly utilizes race, sex and trauma to demonstrate the privilege being displayed by the white characters and its impacts on the black characters.  The common theme of the black actors was that racial trauma accruing from not being listened to by their white partners resulted in sexual dysfunction.

The production has been criticized as negatively casting whites as being racist. In response, the playwright Jeremy O. Harris states:

“This isn’t about every white person. This play is about eight specific people and if you don’t see yourself up here, that’s great, you aren’t one of them-you aren’t.”

 

Given this, we can accept that racism is taught and feelings about race are internalized within the psychological self.  Experience has taught me that “every white man is not my enemy and every black man is not my friend.” Experience has also taught me to choose to focus on what lies in a person’s heart and in their actions.

 

One’s Heart & One’s Actions

Harriet Tubman, the Underground Railroad conductor, is one of my heroes.  It was her determination, courage and sense of purpose that empowered her to lead hundreds of slaves to freedom.  Harriet Tubman stated: “God don’t mean people to own people.”

As much as Harriet Tubman is deservedly revered, what is ignored is that she could not have accomplished her objective of carrying those to freedom without the assistance of whites who like her believed that “God don’t mean people to own people.”

However, when slavery ended, the good white folks, content that the objective had been accomplished, stepped away, leaving the newly freed slaves to fend for themselves and to “pull themselves up by their bootstraps.”  Feeling that the mission was accomplished, the good white people became silent to the lynching and screams of the new free blacks as they endured domestic terrorism from Klansmen dressed in white hoods and forced segregation via black codes and state and federal laws.

It is the same as in the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960’s. As Martin Luther King stated:

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness, only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that.”

Many whites stood up to walk with him and others and in doing so, were jailed, beaten and killed as well.  When federal civil rights laws, equal rights in housing and employment laws were passed, the “good” white people stepped away once again, feeling that the objective had been accomplished away to allowed the newly franchised people to, once again, “pull themselves up by their bootstraps.”

However, when drugs, crime, unemployment, educational failure and high incarceration ravaged the communities of color, the good white people once again became silent. Today, the majority of the good white people remain silent.

 

What is Privilege?

It is an unearned right, advantage, or immunity granted or available only to a particular group.

In the situation shared by the “good” white people during the slavery era and the civil rights movement of the 1960s, privilege was the ability to remain silent, be content, and simply walk away while others, the only difference being color of skin, continued to suffer.

 

The Crevasse of Fragility: White Privilege.

It is difficult for white people to talk about race.

“That which is fragile must be protected and defended regardless of the traumatic impact upon others.” – Dr. Micheal Kane

A crevasse refers to a deep hole within the earth. One can say that a crevasse exists in the relationships between whites and people of color. One characteristic of this deep hole is the weight of “privilege” being held by whites and how the privilege impacts these relationships.

When a person of color enters a room full of whites, that person is immediately scrutinized, held in suspicion, or seen as a curiosity.  Whites do not do the same to each other because, they are not raised to see other whites in terms of their race. White is the normal; all others merit curiosity at best, suspicion at worst.

Without recognizing they hold the privilege of whiteness, they have created the “innocence of spacing.”   This innocence creates the ability of white people to walk among people of color without recognizing general spaces as “white spaces”. It may be via this innocence that white people engage in actions and behaviors that are not intended to be racist and yet, are traumatically impactful to the person of color.

Let’s explore the following three examples, using these descriptive terms: (WP) white person and (POC) person of color, and (TI) looking at the possible traumatic impact.

 

Example #1: Get Out of My House 

POC and WP have a close friendship for many years.  While enjoying an activity at WP house, they get into a verbal tiff, the first over their many years of friendship. However, to POC’s surprise, WP orders POC to leave his residence.  POC pleads with WP about this action, but WP stands his ground.  POC leaves.  Several weeks later, WP invites POC to return to his home.

  • Question: Was WP being racist for ordering POC out of his home?

Answer: No.  It was WP’s home.  WP has the right to determine who can be in his home.

Traumatic Impact– POC viewed the ejection as a flashback of past experiences of being rejected from “white premises.”

  • Question: Will POC accept WP’s invitation to return to his residence?

Answer– Being that people of color have a repeated history of being rejected by whites, the POC assumed that, a history of friendship, that WP’s residence was a “safe place” and as a result of being ejected, that assumption was shaken.

Traumatic Impact -POC may now have conflicts, perhaps not about the friendship but about putting themselves at risk of being further traumatized by being ejected from the house again.

 

Example #2: The Status of being a N.O.T. (Novelty, Oddity and Token)

 POC is invited to a formal luncheon in a prestigious forum in which POC is the only non-white person in attendance. Following the event, as the guests are leaving, WP sitting next to him turns to POC and with a warm friendly smile, and says, “Thank you for coming, you represented well.”  POC is stunned, accepts the “compliment,” and smiles graciously while receiving another invitation for another formal engagement.

  • Question: Was WP’s compliment racist?

Answer: Yes. WP did not turn to the other five table guests and thank them for coming.  Nor did he tell the five white guests that they “represented well.”

Traumatic Impact: POC may be responding to the trauma of invisibility.  This occurs when one’s talents and abilities are not recognized.  He realized that he was being stereotyped as extraordinary and as “one of the good ones.”

  • Question: Will POC attend the formal engagement to which he was so “graciously” invited?

Answer: No.  Having been stunned by the truth as to his value as a N.O.T., the POC could find himself suddenly “unavailable” to attend the engagement.

Traumatic Impact: POC realizes that being observed and scrutinized and being “on show” is emotionally draining and psychologically overwhelming.

 

Example #3: The Anger Man

POC is engaging in a dialogue via email with WP with the intention of going on a date to further explore the relationship.  In the dialogue, the POC’s communications style is direct and the POC refers to something that WP said that was racially insensitive as being hurtful and triggered past experiences of racial trauma.  WP responds with an apology for “insulting” POC. Several days later WP emails POC stating the date is canceled due to the email encounter being intense and angry.

  • Question: Was WP being offensive to POC by assuming that POC was insulted by the racially insensitive remark?

Answer: No.  POC stated he was triggered and hurt.  He never indicated he was insulted. The POC sought to provide understanding so WP could be aware. The POC knew that hurting or triggering them was not the WP intent.

Traumatic Impact: POC was triggered by words and in seeking to advocate for himself is once again being viewed as the angry black man.  Communication on both sides will terminate due to the fear of perception and labeling.

  • Question: Is there a right or wrong in this situation?

Answer: No, it is the fear of being misperceived and mislabeled.  The reality is both parties are being misunderstood.

Traumatic Impact: Unfortunate, because of fear on both sides, what could had been, will never be.

 

Common Themes in the Examples 

  • There was no intention of WP to create traumatic impact.
  • The actions of WP triggered memories of unresolved trauma within POC.
  • POC may respond in a manner that is psychologically restrictive.

 

Possible Lessons Beneficial for White People 

  • Focus on the impact of the actions rather than your own intentions.
  • Direct and open communication between WP can be viewed as advocacy and assertiveness, not something negative. Allow and expect the same between POC and WP.
  • Novelties, oddities and tokens are to be observed in zoos, not at the dining table.

 

Concluding Remarks: Transforming White Fragility to Empowerment

The examples reflect microaggressions that happen daily to people of color.  Microaggressions are brief, common, and daily verbal, behavioral, or environmental indignities. Whether intentional or unintentional, they communicate hostile, derogatory, negative or prejudicial slights and insults towards any group, particularly culturally, racially or ethnically marginalized people.

I recall a comment made to me by a well-respected white male professor 35 years ago who questioned a high grade I’d received on scholarly paper I had written.  He asked, “There is a rumor going around among the faculty that the female students are writing your research papers in exchange for sex.  Is it true?”

I was dumbfounded.  I was expecting praise and accolades for excellence and instead I was being insulted and questioned, as the only black male in the class, if I was sexually gratifying my fellow white female graduate students.

I bled that day; the traumatic wound was raw during my two years of graduate study.  Did this highly respected scholar intend to wound me?  No, but I was wounded, nonetheless. To me, by stating that there was a rumor going around the faculty about me, he caused me to question what exactly the faculty thought about me.

If questioned today, I am sure that faculty member and others who may have shared his opinions would deny their racism or the intent to harm.  However, the comment was racist and more importantly, regardless of the intention, the outcome and impact of the comment on me was never considered.

Harriet Tubman, in achieving her freedom standing at the line separating the slave state from the free state, remarked:

“I had crossed the line.  I was free; but there was no one to welcome me to the land of freedom.  I was a stranger in a strange land.”

I feel Harriet Tubman’s words stirring in my blood and spirit.  Harriet Tubman, the Black Moses of the enslaved, led the terrorized, traumatized and inhumanly mistreated to the “Promise Land” of freedom.  Amen!

However, she could not have accomplished her objectives without the help of white people and freed blacks that supported her cause.  I too have benefited from relationships with well-meaning and caring white people. The depth of my gratitude is countless, ranging from:

  • The female cafeteria worker who quietly fed free lunches to me, a scrawny colored kid in an all-white school, risking her employment.
  • The teacher’s aide who understood the importance of education and assisted me in obtaining my general education diploma before being discharged from the military.
  • The Associate Dean of the School of Social Work, Dr. Ted Teather, who patiently tolerated my immature student militancy and,
  • A fellow student, colleague and good friend who stood by me following the death of my beloved spouse

All of these individuals contributed to my success and life’s journey without asking for anything in return.

Although privilege is an unmerited right, advantage, or immunity granted or available only to a particular group, it comes as a responsibility that becomes a burden when the weight is balanced.

No longer can the privileged hide behind:

  • I pulled myself up by hard work
  • I did it on my own! No one ever gave me a damn thing
  • I sweated and earned my piece of the rock!
  • My ancestors didn’t own slaves!

 

What can White People do about White Privilege?

When instances of white privilege are clearly apparent, the ABC’s of Empowerment can bring relief to the physical, psychological and emotional self.

  • Advocacy-Speak to yourself, acknowledge your white privilege.
  • Balance-Psychologically step away and embrace your white privilege while weighing what you are thinking and feeling.
  • Calmness-While holding your psychological space, allow yourself to be centered and reflecting on ways to assist in the empowerment of others who do not hold the privilege.

“Just try new things. Don’t be afraid. Step out of your comfort zones and soar.”

-Michelle Obama

To those who choose to respond to white privilege and white fragility I say, it’s okay to be afraid.  Rather than be in fear, walk your landscape and in doing so, walk with your fear instead of living in it.

 

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Yesterday has passed, today is fading and the future has not been written.

Stay in the moment.

Experience the fullness of what life offers

today, letting go of today as you prepare for tomorrow.

-Dr. Micheal Kane

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You only are free when you realize you belong no place – you belong every place – no place at all. The price is high. The reward is great.

-Maya Angelou

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Standing Alone…. The Unspoken Truth

The Unspoken Truth: Slave Play and White Fragility

“The play shows the unconscious ways that white people take up space, that they don’t leave open for black people.”

-Jeremy O. Harris, playwright, Slave Play

“…[It’s] a whole bunch of stuff about how white people don’t get how racist they are.”

-Comments shouted by angered white woman to playwright Jeremy O. Harris during discussion session following play

“This isn’t about every white person.  This play is about eight specific people and if you don’t see yourself up here, that’s great, you aren’t one of them-you aren’t.  These are eight specific people that are in a play that is a metaphor for our country and therefore doesn’t represent every single person in it.”

-Jeremy O. Harris, playwright, (in response to the white woman’s criticism)

 

My Dear Readers,

As 2019 comes to an end, I would like you to join me in a recounting of my travels during the year. I’ve made two trips to Europe to research the psychological trauma experienced by African American soldiers fighting for democracy while under the command of white segregationist political and military leadership during World Wars I & II.

I also completed a 15,000-mile round trip journey to Ghana, West Africa where I stood at the Door of No Return at Elmina Castle.  It was through this narrow door that frightened and traumatized Africans were forced into the bellies of slave ships to be carted to the “New World” as human chattel.

Finally, I chose to do something very different and extraordinary to conclude the year. I took a 5,000-mile round trip excursion to see a Broadway play called Slave Play.

Slave Play, created by Jeremy O. Harris, boldly examines power, sex and history through the lens of three interracial relationships. In the play, Harris seeks to show how white people refuse to hear black people and how they don’t allow black people to work out the magnitude of their traumas in their presence.

Without giving too much away, the play depicts the lives of three interracial couples involved in a present-day therapy treatment program in which they act out their sexual dysfunction issues based on a treatment protocol known as Antebellum Sexual Performance Therapy (ASPT).  It is a radical role-play-based therapy intended to help black partners reengage intimately with white partners from whom they no longer receive sexual pleasure.

The scenes are set in the pre-Civil War South and move towards interactions set in the 21st Century.  They depict psychosexual power games between an enslaved black person and a white Southerner with provocative items such as bull whips being symbolically utilized during demonstrations of domination and submission.

During the first scene, there are three vignettes of seduction and copulation:

  • A female slave who seduces Massa Jim by throwing herself on the cabin floor and twerking.
  • A sexually frustrated Southern belle bounces seductively on her great big canopied bed and her very handsome servant has no choice but to service his lusty mistress.
  • A white indentured servant sexually gratifies his black overseer.

The ASPT concludes in the final act of the play with the three couples processing and talking through the experience. Though it is apparent that the therapy is supposed to focus on the black characters, the white characters wouldn’t shut up and allow them to process their thoughts. This demonstrates the playwright’s clear intent to show the failure of whites to receive information about the traumatic experiences that their black lovers so desperately want to share.

Unlike films of this genre, plays make the audience actively participating observers. The films usually focus on the white master or mistress’s inhumane treatment of humans whose only difference is the color of their skin.  Scenes of rape, brutality, violence, and unimaginable cruelty dominate and in doing so, often forces the psychological self of the white observer to retreat in horror, shame and, most importantly, denial of what is truth in American history.

The brilliance of Slave Play is that its focus is not on the physical torment of enslaved peoples but rather on encouraging the audience to listen to the psychological trauma that arises from those traumatized.

The play seeks to confront the past and yet also focus on the unhealed wounds of the present while not shying away from causing possible discomfort to its white audience. It is a willfully provocative and entertaining production.

 When White Discomfort Transforms into White Fragility

“This isn’t about every white person.  This play is about eight specific people and if you don’t see yourself up here, that’s great, you aren’t one of them-you aren’t.” 

-The words of Jeremy O. Harris, playwright, in response to numerous calls for the play’s removal from the theatrical stage.

During an interaction with the playwright, one white audience member angrily storms out the event, yelling that “I have undergone hardships ranging from rape to false arrest to single motherhood. How am I not marginalized?”

Is this woman and women like her marginalized? Given her statement, yes, she is. However, her words and actions reflect her inability to provide space for the expression of traumatic impact in the lives of others.  Her discomfort has now been publicity transformed into an example of “White Fragility”.

It would be a mistake to focus on the question “why are white people so fragile?”. Questions that lead with “why” are circular and distract from fully examining the foundation of the issue. With that in mind, let’s seek to answer the issues of white fragility utilizing the framework of “what”.

  • What is white fragility?
  • What is the foundation of white fragility?
  • What is the behavior of white fragility?
  • What is the expectation of white people towards people of color regarding white fragility?

What is white fragility?

White fragility is a form of aversive racism that encourages individuals to engage in interactions with people of color by overtly denying racist intent while acting in ways that feel racist to the person being impacted.

What is the foundation of white fragility?

White people are not raised to see themselves in terms of race or to see general spaces as “white spaces”.  Consequently, this insulation can render white people “innocent” of the concept of race.  It is this “innocence” that gives rise to white fragility.

What is the behavior of white fragility?

When the behavior is pointed out to the white person, the white person reacts, often negatively, to the concept that they are racist, and expects the person of color to be sensitive to their racial innocence, requiring the person of color to make them feel safe including:

  • A softer tone
  • Looking deeper for their intent
  • Disregard the impact of their actions
  • Never giving feedback again.

What is the expectation of white people towards people of color regarding white fragility?

People of color are expected to provide safe nurturing environments for white people, regardless of the psychological danger to themselves and if this is not provided, the person of color is regarded as unforgiving, unkind and oversensitive.

 

White Fragility and Insidious Trauma

People of color may develop feelings of powerlessness and hopelessness as they continue to be psychologically and emotionally impacted by white fragility.  This form of trauma is insidious due to its nature of constantly denigrating and demeaning the intelligence, skills, capacities, and the value of the lives of people of color.

Awareness of Reactions & Responses

Reactions to white fragility may create fight or flight responses which prepare the physical body, the intellectual mind, and the psychological self to react to danger.  However constant, repetitive triggering of these reactions also release hormones such as cortisol, which contribute to weight gain, heart damage, and other stress-related health issues.

 

Healing from White Fragility

When instances of white fragility arise, the ABC’s of Empowerment can bring relief to the physical, psychological and emotional self.

  • Advocacy– Speak up for yourself and don’t depend on others to do so on your behalf.
  • Balance– Psychologically step away and embrace your emotions while weighing what you’re feeling and thinking.
  • Calmness-While holding your psychological space, allow yourself to be centered as you deliver your external response.

 

Concluding Words

“White Fragility is the discomfort and defensiveness on the part of the white person when they are confronted by information about racial inequality and injustice.”

-Dr. Robin DiAngelo, author

My Dear Readers,

As I was exiting the play, I overheard the comments of two white males who’d also been in attendance. One asked the other “what did you think about the play?  The other individual responded, “It was interesting.”

Interesting.  Only interesting?  The question was a set up for denial of feelings.  Because the question did not focus on feelings i.e. “what did you feel about the play?” The person asking the question subsequently gave the respondent “a way out” from touching the foundation of his feelings.

This answer kept both the questioner and the respondent on the intellectual level and denied them, as well the white actors, the insight and willingness of exploring the foundation of the traumas being felt by black actors.

As I stood there absorbing the remark, I understood the benefit of traveling the 5,000 miles to allow the psychological self to experience a theatrical performance that provided the reality of psychological trauma of not only of those sold into bondage but also of those who continue to experience traumas 400 years later.

Sitting in that theater, if willing, one could conceptualize the commentary among buyers as they ignored the pleading cries of fellow humans held in bondage as they sold and bartered for them like cattle.  Interesting, indeed.

While it is true that white fragility is an insidious trauma injury to people of color, white people are not raised to see themselves in terms of race. This inability to see themselves in terms of race and consequently “innocent of race” does not prevent them from inflicting invasive and psychologically traumatic wounds that persist. So, claims of “my ancestors did not own slaves” does not absolve them of the guilt and shame of knowing that the white majority profited from slavery. Their denial of what is true only serves to reinforce their white fragility.

 

What can White People do about White Fragility? 

When instances of white fragility arise, the ABC’s of Empowerment can bring relief to the physical, psychological and emotional self.

  • Advocacy– Speak to yourself, acknowledge your white fragility and do so even when others refuse to do the same.
  • Balance-Psychologically step away and embrace your white fragility while weighing what you are feeling and thinking.
  • Calmness-While holding your psychological space, allow yourself to be centered as you deliver your external response and move forward to live the life you want and not the life you have.

New Possibilities

Life is a journey filled with new possibilities.

And sometimes because of the person you are, or have become, you find yourself in the right place at the right time for…

New possibilities

-Micheal Kane

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Because my mouth
Is wide with laughter
And my throat
Is deep with song,
You do not think
I suffer after
I have held my pain
So long?

Because my mouth
Is wide with laughter
You do not hear
My inner cry?
Because my feet
Are gay with dancing
You do not know
I die?”
― Langston Hughes

 

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“I, too, sing America.

I am the darker brother.
They send me to eat in the kitchen
When company comes,
But I laugh,
And eat well,
And grow strong.

Tomorrow,
I’ll be at the table
When company comes.
Nobody’ll dare
Say to me,
“Eat in the kitchen,”
Then.

Besides,
They’ll see how beautiful I am
And be ashamed–

I, too, am America.”
― Langston Hughes

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I will begin the New Year by returning to New York in January 2020 to see another Broadway production regarding the impact of trauma on African Americans.  This play, A Soldier Play, takes place on a Louisiana army base in 1944 where a black Sergeant is murdered and a black investigator must fight with his white leadership to find out the truth.

Blessings to all in the coming year!!

 

Standing Alone… The Unspoken Truth

The Visible Man: The Opening of Invisibility’s Old Wounds

 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’  But I tell you, do not resist an evil person.  If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also.”

Matthew 5:38-39 (NIV)

“So I say to you: Ask, and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.  For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.”

Luke 11: 9-10 (NIV)

“I had crossed the line.  I was free; but there was no one to welcome me to the land of freedom.  I was a stranger in a strange land. But I was free, and they (my family) should be free.

-Harriet Tubman, Conductor, Underground Railroad, Army Scout & Civil Rights Activist

Police Chief Gillespie: “Virgil-that’s a funny name for a nigger boy that comes from Philadelphia.  What do they call you up there?”

Detective Tibbs: “They call me MISTER Tibbs!”

-In the Heat of the Night (1967)

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My Dear Readers,

As we move towards the holiday season, we want to be thankful for what we have, for the blessings our Creator has bestowed and the lives we cherish. And yet there are those who are faced with difficult choices.

In my previous blog, The Perfect Storm Part II, I quoted the following from the Army War College written in 1936:

“As an individual, the Negro is docile, tractable, lighthearted, carefree and good natured.  If unjustly treated, he is likely to become surly and stubborn.  He is careless, shiftless, irresponsible and secretive.  He is immoral, untruthful, and his sense of right doing relatively inferior.  Crimes and convictions involving moral turpitude are nearly five to one compared to convictions of whites on similar charges”.

So, here we are in 2019…. not much has changed regarding how African American males are viewed by the dominant group.  Except now, given the portrayals in the media, the stereotype of black men being easily moved to violence has been reinforced.

Too many times we have witnessed black men being sanctioned in the sports arena or arrested and hauled off to jail due to their “violent nature”. Just recently, the media repeatedly played the “shocking” violent assault of a white football quarterback by an opposing player who was black.

The black player asserts that he was reacting to a racial slur made by the white player.  The white player denies doing so.  The league states there is no evidence of a racial slur being made.

In the end, the black player is out of football for the remainder of the season and will forever be seen as the perpetrator of a vicious assault and the white player will forever be seen as the victim.

These actions reinforce stereotypes that African American people endure daily. However, below is a story that will not garnish national headlines, even though its outcome and impact can have psychologically similar effects on the people involved.

Below is a story of a young man who has endured racial micro-aggressions and now must make the difficult choice of reacting or responding. Either way he must be willing to walk the landscape… alone.

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Dear Dr. Kane,

I am an African American man residing in a major city in the Midwestern United States. I am writing to you out of anger and despair. I recently read your blog about the black man who wanted to physically assault the next white man who insulted him and I find myself in a similar situation.

I am in the last year of my pediatric surgery residency. I have endured years of psychological abuse ranging from youthful bullying and taunts of “wannabe white boy” because I simply wanted to do well in school to more recently, the Associate Dean of my university screaming at me, upset about the trash not being removed from his office after mistaking me for a janitor. An apology would have been appreciated, but none was extended.  Instead, he acted as if it never happened.

During my undergraduate and now medical education, I have endured constant negative comments about my race, my abilities and my standing in my prestigious academic program.  One of my professors even inferred, in open class, that I was taking the seat of a “more deserving student” who now, due to diversity concerns, had been denied a promising career.

A new and ongoing situation is occurring, and I and I feel I can no longer take the abuse. I have clinical rounds every Tuesday morning and I usually arrive an hour early to study in a large lounge area scattered with multiple tables and chairs.  As I stated the room is quite sizable yet people walking by have the “tendency” to step over my feet and disturb my concentration while I am reading.

To resolve this problem, I placed two chairs around me creating a short detour and granting me space. While others have taken the hint and walked around, one person has taken it upon himself to challenge the boundary that I have created.

On several occasions, he has intentionally moved the chairs and walked through my crossed off area. I know what he is doing.  He is a white male who works in the lower levels of the facility.  He is asserting his white privilege.

As he walks past me, he gives me a sidelong glance, challenging me to confront him.  He only does this when I am sitting alone without the benefit of witnesses.

My friends suggest that I do what I feel and beat his ass and let him know who he is messing with, but I know that would only bring momentary satisfaction and endanger my career, so I hold it in.

When I get up in the morning, brush my teeth and stare at my reflection in the mirror, I don’t like what I see. I see a weak, wannabe male who is absolutely powerless and it bothers me. It angers me. I feel like I have reached my limit. I feel I must respond for my own dignity, my own integrity.  This abuse can go no further. I can no longer accept this disrespect.

Last week, I couldn’t sleep.  I got up early and went to the lounge and arranged a larger barrier of four chairs and a table as my border then sat there and waited for him… He never came.

My feelings have left me confused.  I was raised in the church.  I am a man of faith.  My pastor even told me to “turn the other cheek” but why should I, so he can spit on that cheek too? I want to beat him down so bad that I can taste it. Part of me feels I may have done it that day had he shown.  I know I would be arrested but part of me doesn’t care.

I am confused.  I don’t like feeling this way.  I have thoughts of hurting myself.  Can you help me?

Holding On By A String, Midwest, USA

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My Dear Young Man,

First, I want to thank you for taking the time to write.  Second, I want to congratulate you on your extensive and exhaustive journey to achieving your academic and professional goals.

In responding to your words, it is for you to decide your direction as to what path you will take. It is also for you to understand that as you walk the landscape, you will be walking alone.

Let’s look at some of the real problems:

Bruised ego

The ego is the part of the mind that mediates between the conscious and the unconscious and is responsible for testing reality and providing a sense of personal identity.  Yes, you have been challenged and now you are allowing the insult to be invasive and cause you to question your personal identity.

Question: Ask yourself, what is different now? After all these years of enduring insults, yet having the clarity of vision to keep forging toward your goals, what about this incident has you now questioning your personal identity?

 

Transference

Transference is the redirection of feelings and desires and especially those unconsciously retained from childhood and adolescence towards a new object. As a child and adolescent, you develop values, goals and objectives that are focused on educational achievement.  Your peer group did not value these objectives and as a result you suffered repeated rejection.

Question: Ask yourself, after all these years of peer rejection, what is going on in your life that even after reaching your educational goals, you return to bringing up and holding on to the wounded memories of your childhood?

 

Projection

Projection is the attribution of one’s own ideas, feelings, or attitudes to other people.  It is the externalization of blame, guilt, or responsibility as a defense against anxiety.

The white man that you are directing your feelings towards is insignificant.  He has no meaning in your life.  Although you “want to beat him down,” he doesn’t know your name.   You have the awareness that he is exerting his white privilege. This insignificant person is exerting what little power he has.

Question: Ask yourself, what do you see in him that is reflective of you?  Does his insignificance mirror your feelings of inadequacy and anxiety as you prepare to graduate from your medical residency and take your rightfully deserved place in the medical profession?

 

What are the alternatives?

  •  Lie in wait for your tormentor. He will return at some point to “assert his privilege”.  Provide him with a good ass whipping. Give him what he really wants, which is the designation as a victim of your uncontrolled violence and the opportunity to ruin your promising career.
  • Stop giving your tormentor power. Cease focusing on the “flea” by granting him power and control in your life.
  • Empower yourself. Make the issues about you and not about your tormentor.
  • Examine the issues that hold you in conflict. Seek to resolve the following questions:
    • What am I really reacting or responding to?
    • What unresolved issues of the past are impacting my present and could be sabotaging my future.
    • What is occurring within me, knowing the hard work I have done to reach this point, that I am now willing to throw it all away?

Disregard the stereotypical views in which the dominant group seeks to entrap you. Don’t become the ABC (Angry Black and Out of Control) person that the tormentor and others seek to drive you to be. Don’t become the mule aimlessly following the carrot and pulling his master’s plow. Instead, focus on the Self Protocol.

 

SELF Protocol (Self-Empowerment & Leaping Forward)

Become the person you want to be. Living the optimistic ABCs of Advocacy, Balance & Calmness requires you to be willing to process the repressed pain and to work towards healing your wounds.

Begin by utilizing the Five Rs of RELIEF:

  1. Respite: Take a breath. Psychologically step away from the incident creating distress.
  1. Reaction: Take a moment to embrace your emotions. Give yourself permission to feel what you feel. Your anger, frustrations, disappointment and so on.
  1. Reflection: Reach into the depth of your emotional and mental processes. Analyze what that reaction means to you and how you felt. Begin to shape and balance your thoughts and feelings.
  1. Response: Identify and separate your response into one that remains within self and one that is shared with those in the external environment.
  1. Reevaluation: Be patient with yourself. Have the willingness to explore, examine and review the steps as needed.

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Concluding Words 

“Thank you for coming to the event tonight Dr. Kane; you represented well.”

– Remark of white guest attending a formal event

My Dear Readers,

Although I have never met this young man, I know him well. His distress can be found in the lives of many African Americans.  The constant micro-aggressions (psychological and emotional) and macro-aggressions (physical violence) that can impact this group daily can become, at times, burdensome and lead to negative outcomes.

It may be that this young man, through the burdens carried from his past and the pressures he faces as he enters the professional world, has simply come to understand his reality:

  • He will never be fully valued or validated by the dominant group,
  • He will constantly be “turning the other cheek” regarding actions or comments made by others,
  • He will constantly be knocking on closed doors; doors that are easily opened to others, but he must be determined to keep knocking and,
  • He will be free to practice his profession yet be treated as a stranger in a strange land.

However, I hope the young man will hold to what is true; that within his ongoing journey of self-discovery, he has gained empowerment and unlike power, his empowerment can never be taken away from him.

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”I am an invisible man…. I am a man of substance, of flesh and bone, fiber and liquids—and I might even be said to possess a mind. I am invisible, understand, simply because people refuse to see me.”

-Ralph Ellison, Author

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Invisibility

When you look at me, can you see my invisibility?

Or is it all just in my mind, and is it me, myself, that keeps me blind?

Or is it that my feelings are so unjust,

or is it really the color of my skin that you don’t trust?

So tell me what it is that I need to do,

to prove to society that I am just like you?

To prove that I can walk the same.

And to prove that I too have a name.

But is it really me that you choose not to see,

Or is it the lack of everything you want to be?

Tell me now who keeps you blind,

Or is it all just in your mind?

Or is it all just in your hate,

the hate that you continue to generate.

 I will tell you now what it is you see,

it’s a reflection of your own invisibility.

-Unknown

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Until We Speak Again…I am…The Visible Man.

The Perfect Storm, Part II: All That Is Forgotten, We Remember

“You niggers are wondering how you are going to be treated after the war.  Well, I’ll tell you, you are going to be treated exactly like you are before the war; this s a white man’s country and we expect to rule it.”

-White New Orleans city official, speaking to returning war veterans and African-Americans raising money for the war effort

“As an individual, the Negro is docile, tractable, lighthearted, carefree and good-natured.  If unjustly treated, he is likely to become surly and stubborn.  He is careless, shiftless, irresponsible and secretive.  He is immoral, untruthful, and his sense of right doing relatively inferior.  Crimes and convictions involving moral turpitude are nearly five to one compared to convictions of whites on similar charges.”

-Army War College Report (1936)

 “Men, you are the first Negro tankers to ever fight in the American Army. I would never had asked for you if you weren’t good.  I have nothing but the best in my army. I don’t care what color you are, as long as you go up there and kill those Kraut sonsabitches.  Everyone has their eyes on you and is expecting great things from you.   Most of all, your race is looking forward to your success.  Don’t let them down, and damn you, don’t let me down.”

-General George Patton, to the 761st, a segregated black tank battalion, before going into battle.  However, that same afternoon, Patton wrote in his diary:

“The 761st gave a good impression, but I have no faith in the inherent fighting ability of the race.”

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My Dear Readers,

In my last blog The Perfect Storm: Power, Privilege, & Fear of Black Skin, I defined the phrase “sleight of hand” as the deceitful craftiness of a cleverly executed trick where the movements of the trickster are barely noticeable.  Within that context, I defined the trickster as the dominant group hiding in the shadows in silence while their anger, rage, and distrust is being misdirected towards African Americans via their assigned agents: the police.

2019 marks a significant time in my life. In early spring, I returned to France and retraced the steps of African American troops fighting in WWI.  This summer, I went to the home of my ancestors, visiting Ghana, West Africa and stood at the “Door of No Return” at Elmira Castle, through which millions of kidnapped Africans disappeared, either becoming slaves in the New World, or dying on the way.

I write now from Berlin, Germany, where I have been researching the contributions made by African American troops during WWII.  Psychological trauma arising from isolation, segregation, and abandonment are common themes that I have found in the experiences of African Americans fighting in segregated units on behalf of democratic principles denied to them at home.

During WWI, African American soldiers were not allowed to wear American uniforms or fight under the American flag. Instead, they had to fight under the   French flag, and all of their supplies, weaponry, and uniforms were provided by the French government.

American General John J. Pershing wrote in his memoirs that he “lent” the two African American divisions to the French and simply forgot about them until after the war.  However, Colonel William Hayward, the White commander of the 369th Harlem Hellfighters black regiment, states differently:

“Our great American general singly put the black orphan in a basket, set it on the doorstep of the French, pulled the bell, and went away.”

The two segregated combat divisions had to rely on the French for ground support, artillery barrages and air coverage.   They served with distinction, suffering a 35% casualty rate.  The 369th represented only 1% of the American forces in France, but held 20% of the front lines.  These soldiers were among the first of Allied troops to cross over into Germany.  Well respected by the French military, they received 180 individual awards of the highest French decoration, the Croix de Guerre.

Although the French gave its highest award for gallantry to African American soldiers on numerous occasions, no African American WWI soldiers were awarded the highest American award, the Congressional Medal of Honor.  Instead, African American soldiers were forbidden to participate in the victory parade in Paris, and they were quickly shipped home to be forgotten.

It was not until the administration of President George H.W. Bush, 72 years later, that racial bias against African American soldiers who served during WWI was even acknowledged.  An African American soldier, Corporal Freddie Stowers, was posthumously honored during the Bush Administration with the Congressional Medal of Honor.

 During WWII, the American government, having learned from the mistake of forcing African Americans to serve under a foreign flag, sought to maintain the concept of segregation within the military by assigning them as “attached units” to major white military units.  This allowed senior leaders to restrict the actions and activities of segregated units as well as to control or suppress the stories of their performance in war.

 

The Psychological Impact of Valor

The Congressional Medal of Honor is presented to Americans serving in the armed forces.  This award, created during the Civil War, is the highest military decoration that can be awarded.  The recipient must have distinguished themselves at the risk of their own life above and beyond the call of duty in action against an enemy of the United States or an opposing foreign force. Due to the nature of the medal, it is commonly presented posthumously.

By the end of WWII, 464 Congressional Medals of Honor had been awarded to Americans serving in armed forces.  Of these, none were presented to African Americans.  You can see the “sleight of hand” in the underlying message that is simultaneously sent to and informed by the dominant group’s stereotypical beliefs about African Americans:

  • They did not serve in combat roles or if they did, they did not contribute in combat.
  • They were not trusted by whites to fight in combat roles.
  • They were either cowards or psychologically unfit to be trusted in combat roles.

 

Sleight of Hand Trick-The Denial of Heroes

 Despite the information regarding the combat readiness and performance of African American troops serving under the French military during WWI, the American military during WWII took the following view:

  • African Americans were inferior in intelligence and unsuited for military service.
  • African Americans were emotionally unstable and vulnerable to cowardice and therefore unsuited for combat duty.
  • If African Americans were to be utilized for military service, they should be placed in labor, support or service positions.

The US government, the military, the mainstream media of the day, and the entertainment industry all avoided, ignored, and denied the truth regarding the combat contributions of African Americans.  There have been numerous news stories and movies that have featured stories about the American landings at Normandy, France and the heroics of American combat forces during the Battle of the Bulge in Belgium.  Despite the fact that segregated African American units also fought in these major engagements, there is minimal or no mention of their contributions.

The only movie released about the segregated African American WWII units was Red Ball Express, released in 1952. The movie tells the story of an African American  segregated unit delivering much needed supplies to support Patton’s quickly moving Third Army racing towards Germany.  The movie is told through the eyes of a white officer (Jeff Chandler) with minor supporting roles given to black actors.

The story of the real Red Ball Express is an important one, as it tells of the contributions of African Americans during a critical time of the war.  However, here is a sample of the “sleight of hand trick” at work.  This unit operated 5,958 vehicles carrying 12,500 tons of supplies per day for 83 days.  As important as it was, the movie reinforces the stereotype that the only contributions of African Americans in the war was in labor, support or service positions, disregarding African Americans serving in segregated combat units.

 

So what is known about African-Americans serving in segregated combat units?

 There were many segregated African American combat units serving in the Europe and the Pacific during WWII.  In addition to the Tuskegee Airmen, others include:

  • The USS Mason—A US Navy destroyer that whose crew achieved the distinction of escorting six major conveys across the Atlantic without losing a single ship.
  • The 4th Marine Division (Black Leathernecks)-a Marine Corps unit that suffered severe casualties fighting the Japanese on Saipan, earning a Presidential Distinguished Unit Citation
  • The 761st Tank Battalion—a US Army battalion quoted by its commanding general George Patton as having “no faith in the inherent fighting ability of the race.” The 761st Tank Battalion was in continuous combat from October 31, 1944 to May 6, 1945.  During that time they captured or destroyed 331 machine gun nests, 58 pillboxes and 461 armored vehicles.  In addition, they killed 6,246 enemy soldiers and captured 15,818 prisoners.  They liberated thirty towns and villages and two branch concentration camps.

The 761st Tank Battalion suffered a casualty rate of 50%.  Members of the battalion received the following decorations:

  • 296 Purple Hearts
  • 8 battlefield commissions
  • 11 Silver Stars
  • 70 Bronze Stars

 

The Silencing & Denial of Heroism

The commanding officer of the 761st Tank Battalion requested that the unit and one of its members who was killed in battle be awarded the country’s highest honors, the Distinguished Unit citation and the Congressional Medal of Honor.  General Patton, commander of the Third Army, and General Eisenhower, the Supreme Allied commander who would later become the 34th President of the United States, denied both requests.

It was not until 32 years later, during the administration of Jimmy Carter, that the 761st Tank Battalion received the Presidential Distinguished Unit Citation for Extraordinary Heroism.  It was 53 years later during the administration of Bill Clinton that Staff Sergeant Rubin Robinson Rivers of the 761st was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor for heroism and sacrificing his life to save his comrades.

 

In Service of Democracy: The Blindness of the Dominant Group

More than one million African American men served in segregated units during WWII.  Serving with distinction did not prevent them from being exposed to the racism and psychological trauma they faced when returning home.  Lieutenant Christopher Stureky, having won a battlefield commission and Silver Star during the war, shares the following experience:

“I stopped by an inexpensive store in uniform with combat ribbons and battle stars in full display. When I tried to order a hamburger, the white girl behind the counter said, “We don’t serve niggers in here.”

Following the war, African American veterans experienced numerous acts of violence stateside:

  • Mobs in the South beat African American veterans who were still in uniform.
  • In 1946 black veterans were lynched. One was shot and killed returning from voting.
  • In rural Georgia, two veterans and their wives were dragged from their cars by a White mob and shot to death. Their bodies were found to contain more than 60 bullets.
  • A WWII veteran was attacked by policemen in South Carolina and became blind as a result.
  • African American veterans were denied entrance into veteran support organizations including the American Legion, Veterans of Foreign Wars and Disabled American Veterans.
  • African-American veterans were denied access to GI home loans, educational institutions and postwar job training opportunities.

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Concluding Words-Dr. Kane

It is often stated that history is written by the victors.   In the case of African Americans, they are victims and it is left up to the dominant group, who hides in the shadows, supported by the military, print media and cinema makers to hide stories of their heroism and misdirect generations of African-Americans to believe those lies.

This Sleight of Hand Trick as this relates to African American veterans of WWII continues to unfold to this day.  In 2020, I will return to Belgium to explore the story of the murders of 11 African American soldiers captured during the Battle of the Bulge.  This war crime was well known by American white military commanders but was not made public until recently. Even today, the story of The Lost Eleven remains unknown to the majority of the African American community.

The Sleight of Hand Trick when done successfully can have traumatic and psychological long-term impacts.  As shown during WWI and WWII it was used to reinforce racial oppression and the forced subordination of African Americans while seeking to hold power, exercise privilege and exploit the fear of those who skin is dark, and is easily identified, increasing instances of psychological distress and physical harm.

DEDICATION

To the many African-American men who have come and gone before us, I say thank you. To the men of today, the struggle against racism, oppression and discriminatory treatment continues. Despite all adversity and all that has been thrown at us, we are still standing. Death awaits us all. However, while we are here, we can either stand as men or live on our knees. If we chose to stand as men, our FAITH will see us through.

-Dr. Micheal Kane

Until the next crossroads….. The Journey continues ..

The Perfect Storm: Power, Privilege, and Fear of Black Skin

“People understand officers have tough jobs and have to make snap decisions… but at the same time, they realize, we realize, that there are some officers who will occasionally use very poor judgment, violate policies and procedures and do things that are egregiously wrong.  We want to be able to stop that.”

-Fernando Costa, Assistant City Manager, Fort Worth Texas

 

“There was absolutely no excuse for this incident and the person responsible will be held accountable.  The officers, they try hard every day to try to make this city better.  I likened it to a bunch of ants building an anthill, and if somebody comes with a hose and washes it away, they just have to start from scratch.”

-Fort Worth Interim Police Chief Kraus making an emotional appeal to the public not to judge all the officers in the department based on one officer’s actions.

 

“Black people are being targeted. With every death by cop, there is the “usual dance” of public outcry, an official investigation, an individual officer tossed under the bus by their police department, a lawsuit, and eventually a financial settlement. But nothing ever really changes. In a few months we’ll be right back where we started with another life lost.”

-Dr. Micheal Kane Psy.D. Clinical Traumatologist & Forensic Evaluator

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My Dear Beloved Readers,

I have missed you so much!

During my hiatus, I returned to Paris, France to do research on the psychological traumas inflicted on African-American soldiers during World War I by the American government, including fighting in segregated units, not being allowed to wear American uniforms and being forced to fight under the French flag.

I also had the pleasure of teaching two workshops at the Year of the Return Conference in Accra, Ghana, West Africa.  While there, I visited the infamous “Door of No Return” at Elmina Castle, one of the many holding pits for African men, women and children captured by Europeans for the Trans- Atlantic Slave trade.

Nearly 12.5 million people were kidnapped and held in these castle dungeons along the western coast of Africa. When the time came, they were made to exit through these “Doors of No Return” and taken aboard ships bound for unknown places in the New World. I was psychologically impacted by what I saw and felt as I stood frozen, clutching the “Door of No Return” with shaking hands.

However, I will give Elmina Castle the attention it deserves in a future blog. Today, I want to focus on the sleight of Hand trick that is being played upon us, right in front of our “lying” eyes. Below is a story of being duped without realizing you have been duped.

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Dear Dr. Kane,

As I write this letter to you, I am so angry.  I am a professional black man.  I am well educated.  I own my home.  I am sick and tired of the daily abuse I must take from white people.

Recently while riding the local transit to work, a young white male intentionally bumped me and begin calling me the N word several times while the bus was in transit. The passengers and bus driver, who were all white, sat silently.  I felt humiliated, angry and traumatized from the incident.

It is not uncommon for me to be followed by store staff while shopping or looked upon suspiciously even when walking in the office building that I have worked for the last ten years.  When I moved into the neighborhood, the only welcome I received was the police knocking on my door wanting proof that I lived there.

I have been questioned by neighborhood crime watchers and followed by the police. I am frightened about being shot and killed just for the error of being born black.  I now have a protocol when a police car pulls me over:  I immediately place my hands on the dashboard, ask for permission to move when needed, and I do not move until I ask permission to do so.

One cop asked me in a hostile tone why I don’t like cops.  When I told him it was not about not liking cops, rather about having fear of cops, he smiled, removed his hand from his holster, told me that I had “nothing to be afraid of,” and to “have a nice day”.  He never stated the reason he pulled me over.  I was simply in the “wrong” neighborhood, the one I live in.

Really? How am I supposed to have a nice day? Am I supposed to pretend that nothing happened?  When I tell my white coworkers about these incidents, they become quiet, seek to change the subject, or tell me that I am either overreacting or that I am too sensitive.  Some avoid me, seeing me as an “angry black man.”  One person had the nerve to tell me that she misses the “old” me.  I don’t smile anymore.

Now, there is that shooting of the black woman by a cop while she was peeking out the window blinds in her own home.  This is the second time cop has killed a black person in their home.  And this time, an eight-year-old child was present!

I am angry with white people for their ignorance, angry with black people for doing nothing about it, and I am scared of the police because they have the power to kill me and get away with it.  I don’t feel safe in my home, in my car, on the bus and out in the community.  I don’t know what to do.

I feel like lighting up the next white person that insults me.  I am considering obtaining a concealed arms permit.   My parents believe that what I am feeling is really related to today’s political climate and that this too will pass.  They disagree with me having a weapon either on me or in the house.  I have never spoken to a therapist before.  What are your thoughts?

Not a Sitting Duck,  Seattle WA

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My Dear Readers:

As I listen to this young man’s words, I see the makings of a perfect storm: he lacks power, he is frustrated by those who hold privileges that he does not, and he is reacting to those who fear black skin.  The question is whether he is about to erupt, or whether he is willing to seek the ability to have “calmness in a burning house.” I want to thank him for sharing the ongoing psychologically traumatic experiences he has been enduring.   Let’s take a moment and examine what this person is feeling as well as his response.

The writing is indicative of a person who feels powerless, frustrated and angry due to interactions with the police and being stereotyped and made “invisible” by the dominant society.  His responses are to “light up the next white person that insults him” and obtain a concealed weapons permit.

My dear readers, just imagine this scenario as a television game show.  If so, the dominant society would be shouting and applauding the host’s announcement:

“Congratulations!  You have, by your actions, have just won the grand prize known as the “Angry Black, Out of Control” Trophy. This “ABC” prize is often awarded to black people who demonstrate the inability to control their emotions.”

So, what have you won?

  1. For carrying a concealed weapon (with a license) while interacting with the police. you have won a casket and the privilege of being escorted to your final resting place by six of your closest friends, your pallbearers.
  2. For “lighting up” someone, you have won a beautiful set of jewelry (handcuffs), accommodations and meals (incarceration), opportunities to meet with local celebrities (attorney, prosecutor, judge), celebrity status (media coverage) and expensive exotic items (bail bonding, attorney/legal fees, court costs and costs for anger management courses).

Should “Not a Sitting Duck” take the actions stated?

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This is the trapdoor that many African Americans allow themselves to fall through. They allow their reactions to be the response and derail all of their own hard-fought victories and accomplishments.

The Crossroads: Playing the Game or Running the Race Smarter Not Harder

One of the takeaways I have from standing at the Door of No Return is the full understanding of the endurance and sacrifice of my ancestors.   Despite slavery, segregation, Jim Crow, domestic terrorism, and other horrors, they never gave up on life.  They became skilled in learning to play “Massa’s game,” and in doing so, were able to achieve success while others sought their destruction.

Not much since then has changed.  Despite economic, social and political achievements attained by African Americans over the last 400 years, we continue to be duped and manipulated by the dominant group.

Following the most recent police-involved shooting of Atatiana Jefferson in Fort Worth Texas, Eugene Robinson, columnist with the Washington Post, asked the following question:

“What can a black person do to keep from getting killed by police in this country?”

My response:

“Not a damn thing.”

What is wrong with me?  Has the doctor gone insane?

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Sleight of Hand and Our Lying Eyes

The phrase “sleight of hand” refers to the deceitful craftiness of a cleverly executed trick where the movements of the trickster are barely noticeable.  I believe the term is applicable here in that:

  1. African Americans believe they have the “power” to stop the police from killing African Americans. As the African-American community speaks; it is organized in one voice, condemning the killing of individual African-Americans.
  2. African Americans believe that the hierarchy of police department has the “power” to stop the individual police officer from killing African Americans.
  3. African Americans believe that the dominant group will break their silence and act as a group and stop the killing of African Americans.

Let’s look at these individually.

  

  1. African Americans believe they have the “power” to stop the police from killing African Americans. As the African American community speaks; it is organized in one voice, condemning the killing of individual African-Americans.

The African American community is not monolithic. It does not consider itself to be powerful, intractably indivisible, or uniform.  Its strength has been focusing on political and economic growth generally through education and social and personal accomplishments.  Its weakness has been a psychological survival mentality that is historical in nature and does not allow it to act proactively in either speaking in one voice or to protect its members from police involved shootings.

  1. African Americans believe that the hierarchy of police department has the “power” to stop the individual police officer from killing African Americans.

There are more than 18,000 police departments throughout the United States.  There is an estimated 750,000 to 850,000 sworn or commissioned officers within 18,000 federal, state and law enforcement agencies in the US.  Due to the growing numbers of agencies, overlapping and conflicts in jurisdictions, there are inconsistencies in the following areas:

  • Training & protocol
  • Hiring & retention
  • Mental health
  • Financial resources/ budgetary concerns

In an earlier quote, Fernando Costa, Assistant City Manager, Fort Worth Texas stated:

“People understand officers have tough jobs and have to make snap decisions”…”But at the same time, they realize, we realize, that there are some officers who will occasionally use very poor judgment, violate policies and procedures and do things that are egregiously wrong.  We want to be able to stop that.”

Here is the sleight of hand trick in action:

Is he really stating to the public in general and African-Americans specifically that “occasionally,” an officer will take actions that will result in the injury or death of those the officer is sworn to protect and serve? If so, how does that relate to a person being shot and killed while peeking out one’s window blinds or because the officer mistakenly entered the wrong residence?

“We want to be able to stop that.” Is he saying what he needs to say to calm angry African Americans and nervous white constituents, or is he claiming that he doesn’t have the authority or ability to stop the killing of African Americans?

In restating Fort Worth Interim Police Chief Kraus’s emotional appeal to the public not to judge all the officers in the department based on one officer’s actions:

“There was absolutely no excuse for this incident and the person responsible will be held accountable.  The officers, they try hard every day to try to make this city better.  I likened it to a bunch of ants building an anthill, and if somebody comes with a hose and washes it away, they just have to start from scratch.”

By throwing the individual police officer involved in the shooting under the bus and seeking empathy and understanding, he is distancing himself and the overall department from responsibility!

  1. African Americans believe that the dominant group will break their silence and act as a group and stop the killing of African Americans. 

My observations and feelings about have taught me to watch carefully the trickster’s hand.  The focus on the police officer involved in the shooting is misdirected.  The focus on the policing department and its civilian oversight is also misdirected.

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So…who should we focus on?  In essence, the silence of the dominant group.

The “fear of black skin” that often is a factor in police involved shootings of African Americans is generated and reinforced by the dominant group.  There is a non-verbal and binding understanding between the police and the dominant group which commissions its officers.  That being community protection for us (the dominant group) and enforce the law upon them (African Americans and other people of color.)

As a result, now and then an officer must be sacrificed so that the police department involved can rebuild trust or, as Interim Chief Krauss states, “rebuild the anthill.” Chief Krauss adds:

“Human life is a precious thing and should not have been taken from Ms. Jefferson,” Kraus told reporters. “This incident has eroded the trust that we have built with our community and we must now work even harder to ensure that trust is restored.”

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Concluding Remarks-Dr. Kane

Mr. Hale, a black resident of Fort Worth, when questioned whether during an emergency would he call the police, stated:

“It would have to be extreme to call.  It’s too much 50/50 in the air.  It’s not that I’m scared of the police, but you just don’t know who’re going to catch on the wrong day.”

My Dear Readers,

It is a sad truth that these comments are echoed throughout many African American communities in the United States.  Once again, African Americans are allowing themselves to be deceived by the sleight of hand trickery.  Specifically, by placing the focus on the police themselves, we give the dominant group, who grants the power that is given to the police, a free pass to continue operating in the shadows of the darkness.

So, what can a black person do to avoid being killed by the police?

For black people to stop being killed by the police, black and brown skin must be valued, validated and visualized in the same way by the same people who, like the police, fear black and brown skin.

For black people to stop being killed, white people must want to explore issues of racism, privilege and implicit bias. White people must want to begin working on healing (and stop ignoring) their psychological trauma of chronic moral injury syndrome.

White silence must end, and transformation must begin. Black people are being targeted and as in police involved shooting, there will be the usual dance of public outcry, an “official investigation,” an individual police officer tossed under the bus by the police department, a lawsuit, and a financial settlement.

We will see the same photos of grieving family, pallbearers and casket with the media escalating the story. And then there will be SILENCE…. until the next time.

Chronic moral injury syndrome, white supremacy, and fear of black and brown skin only insure that there will be… A next time.”

-Dr. Micheal Kane, Facebook post,  10.15.19

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What Is Winning?

Every Black person going to sleep is not going wake up

Life is walking the landscape

If I can make it through the night

And awake up in the morning

With my loved ones safe

I win.

-Dr. Micheal Kane

 

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“They don’t hear your voice.  They just see the color of your skin”

-The Revenant (2015)

 

“Here is what it is.  They don’t like you.  They don’t dislike you.  They are afraid of you.  You’re different.  Sooner or later difference scares people.”

-The Accountant (2016)

 

Interactions with Law Enforcement-The Five R’s of RELIEF

Take a Respite (Step away emotionally)

Embrace your Reactions (Hug your feelings)

Reflect (balance your feelings and thoughts)

Respond inwards (calm the inner self)

Reevaluate (actions and behaviors)

Until the next crossroads… The journey continues…

The Visible Man: Transforming From Ejection to Empowerment

“Once let the black man get upon his person the brass letter, U.S., let him get an eagle on his button, and a musket on his shoulder and bullets in his pocket, there is no power on earth that can deny that he has earned the right to citizenship.”

-Frederick Douglass

“Get, get, you don’t belong here, you don’t belong here, you don’t belong here.’”

-Ruby Howell, campground manager pulling gun on black couple having picnic on Memorial Day

“The fact that she used ‘get, get’ like we were a dog. You say ‘get, get’ to a stray dog that’s on your porch.”

-Franklin Richardson, after being threatened by Ruby Howell

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My Dear Readers,

A belated Memorial Day greeting and a heartfelt thank you to those in our military that gave their lives for our nation.  Once again, I leave my self-imposed retreat to communicate to my beloved readership.

In this writing, I direct my focus to an incident that speaks to how important it is that all Americans, regardless of racial or ethnic origin, understand the psychological wounding created and supported in environments immersed in  hostility and hate.

African Americans have an extensive history of psychological rejection by whites and physical ejection from places where whites feel that African Americans do not “belong.”  Historically, whites have utilized laws and “black codes” to restrict and control the movements of African Americans.

In modern times, while the hostility and hate continue to flourish, the methods of restriction and control have transformed.  Today, whites call the police on African Americans who are #WalkingWhileBlack, #SleepingWhileBlack, and #SellingWaterWhileBlack, among others, leading to what I call a Starbucks Moment.  Named for the 2016 story where two African-American males were arrested for sitting in a Starbucks in Philadelphia, a Starbucks Moment: 

“…occurs when a white person, due to irrational emotional reactions from shock, fear, terror or feeling threatened, deceives or manipulates the police to seek the investigation, removal, and/or arrest of a black person for a minor reason or infraction in a space that the black person would otherwise have every right to occupy.”

-M. Kane, (2016)

White people continue to employ this strategy to this day. Some take matters into their own hands by violence.  In 2018, a white retired firefighter was convicted of assault with intent to do great bodily harm for shooting a 12-gauge shotgun at a black adolescent that was lost and knocked on the firefighter’s door seeking directions to his school.   The firefighter’s spouse testified:

“He didn’t look like a child.  He was a rather big man standing there, and also if he was going to school, we have no schools in our area.”

Most recently, an African-American couple searching for a space to celebrate Memorial Day with a picnic, unwittingly wandered onto a private campground.  The campground manager, an older white woman, immediately confronted them with a firearm, saying:

“Get, get, you don’t belong here, you don’t belong here, you don’t belong here.”

While capturing the incident on video, the black couple departed without further comment. Franklin Richardson, a non-commissioned officer in the US National Guard, having recently returned from a nine-month tour in the Middle East, commented:

“You go over there, and you don’t have a gun pointed at you,” he said of his time serving overseas. And you come home, and the first thing that happens is that you have a gun pointed at you.  It’s kind of crazy to think about.”

The video of the incident has gone viral on social media, sparking discussion within the wider African American community, leading some of my readers to reach out to me.

Below are their stories….

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Dear Dr. Kane:

I am a black veteran who has served several tours in Iraq.  I have been wounded, diagnosed with PTSD and I was medically discharged from military service.  I have two teenage sons.  I am living in hell.  I am so afraid that when they go out with their friends that some crazy white person or the police are going to kill them.   I can’t sleep.  What can I do?

-Shaking in Seattle

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Dear Dr. Kane:

I served overseas in Iraq and recently came home.  I served my country only to see the fear in their eyes when white people look at me.  I am afraid that what happened to that Mississippi couple on Memorial Day could happen to me.  My family and I were planning to go camping next weekend—now we have canceled our plans.  My wife is scared.  I don’t like living this way. I am thinking about getting a concealed weapon permit.  What are your thoughts?

-Staying Alive, Tacoma, WA.

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Dear Dr. Kane:

That woman deserved to be fired. In fact, she deserves to be thrown in prison.  She had no reason to bring a gun.  She could have communicated to that couple without being intimidating.  When are white people going to accept us?  We are just like them.  I pay taxes, obey the law, go to church and work a job.  What the hell is wrong with these people?

-Disgusted in Shoreline, WA

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Observations-Dr. Kane  

There are common themes in the words of these individuals.  They are male, African American, and veterans of our armed forces. They are responding to ejection and rejection during times of hostility and hate, and this psychologically impacts them.

While these men are unable to control the negativity being directed towards them, they can mitigate the impact of their psychological distress by working to transform the following behaviors and/or actions:

  • Living in Fear to Living with Fear
  • Letting Go the Illusion of Power
  • Cease Seeking Acceptance from Others

 

Living in Fear to Living with Fear

Historically, white people, as the dominant group of people in this country, have used fear as a method of controlling the lives of African Americans.  This fear has been implemented in courts, in laws, in law enforcement, and enforced through discrimination and domestic terror, such as lynching.  Between the ending of the Reconstruction era in 1870 and the height of the Civil Rights Movement in 1968, 4,000 African-Americans were murdered via the rope and lynch mobs. There are numerous documented incidents of police involvement in these events or awareness of them.

African Americans, despite this pressure, continue to show the capacity to improve their social economic status, even though the remain psychologically impacted due to racial, historical and inter-generational traumas, among many other kinds of trauma.  In some cases, such as the one shown in the letter from Shaking in Seattle, African Americans live in daily fear for the safety of their children.

It is also likely that he is directly communicating his fear to the psychological core of his sons, even as he seeks to protect them from a hostile external environment. Shaking in Seattle can improve his situation and provide a protection strategy for his teenage sons by understanding and showing them that fear is simply an emotion being felt.

He can choose to embrace his fear, normalizing his feelings and by doing so, model this method of addressing these events for his teenage sons. In transforming the way he views his fear, Shaking in Seattle can teach his sons self-preservation strategies and how to respond when interacting with law enforcement and individuals such as the campground manager when they display threatening or intimidating behaviors.

 

Letting Go of the Illusion of Power

Staying Alive in Tacoma is also living in fear.  However, unlike Shaking in Seattle, due to the campground firearm incident, Staying Alive in Tacoma has canceled outdoor activities that bring joy to him and his family.  Furthermore, Staying Alive in Tacoma is considering obtaining a concealed weapon permit, which may make things worse.

It would be a mistake for Staying Alive in Tacoma to obtain a concealed weapon permit.  By doing this, he places the responsibility for his protection on an external source: a concealed weapon.  In doing so, he gives away his personal empowerment from his internal source: his ability to effectively communicate.

A clear example of empowerment comes from the very incident that produced this reaction. When the campground manager pulled her weapon, the African-American couple utilized communication to defuse the situation, exited the area and prevented the possibility of deadly harm.

It is a foregone conclusion that based on the stereotypical beliefs and fears held by the dominant society as well as their ability to manipulate law enforcement, Staying Alive in Tacoma will have intermediate, unannounced, and ongoing contact with law enforcement.

It would be wise for African American males to use self-empowerment strategies and treat both law enforcement and individuals who display threatening or intimidating behavior  the way that Forrest Gump treated a box of chocolates: like you don’t know what you are going to get.  

 

Cease Seeking Acceptance from Others

Disgusted in Shoreline simply expects fairness.  He views himself as having achieved the successes that the dominant group requires African Americans to be in order to be worthy of living: class status, home ownership, and being upstanding taxpaying and law-abiding citizens.

In his frustration of being denied acceptance by the dominant majority, he fails to see that the rejection he places on himself as he seeks this acceptance is a moving target.  Despite his remarkable social and economic achievements, Disgusted in Shoreline may suffer from Post-Traumatic Slave Syndrome, and as a result, lacks “psychological wholeness.”

The solution for Disgusted in Shoreline may be to stop seeking acceptance from others.  Since that desired acceptance is racially motivated, therapy can help with balancing the desire to be accepted by white people. However, the question that remains is whether he can begin the Journey of Self Discovery and in doing so, learn to want, love, and value the psychological self.

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 Concluding Remarks-Dr. Kane

 Casual racism is a term used to refer to society’s or a particular individual’s lack of regard for the impact of their racist actions upon another person.  Casual racism has become more insidious as it has become expressed through white comfort and discomfort.”  -M. Kane

Disgusted in Shoreline leaves us with an interesting question: “What the hell is wrong with these [white] people?”

What is wrong with these people?  White people are unable to talk about racial issues related to African Americans.  They are aware that despite the illusion of American self-sufficiency, this nation is built on the blood, sweat and tears of slavery.

Many may believe that the campground manager deserves to be fired, or thrown in prison, as Disgusted in Shoreline wrote. However, this emotional response only serves to deflect and identify the problem as belonging to an isolated individual, instead of something the dominant society views as a collective responsibility.

This denial of collective responsibility places White America in a “psychological prison” in which they go about their daily lives ignoring the culture of hostility and hate they live within, and then when confronted with it, expecting redemption and atonement from people of color.

Like African Americans, white people in this country are psychological traumatized.  Although they are in denial, they too are impacted by historical and intergenerational traumas. White people in these situations do not know how to obtain relief.  Therefore, they also suffer in silence.  They are impacted by Complex Moral Injury Syndrome and White Supremacy Trauma.

In this land, true healing will only occur from empowering the psychological self and arising above hostility and hate.

There are many who share the sentiments of Ruby Howell, the campground manager:

“Get, get, you don’t belong here, you don’t belong here, you don’t belong here.”

African-Americans have fought, spilling blood and dying so people like Ruby Howell can live free.  This is our home as well.  We are not going anywhere.

We are staying right here.

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The Negro Speaks of Rivers

I’ve known rivers:

I’ve known rivers ancient as the world and older than the

     flow of human blood in human veins.

My soul has grown deep like the rivers.

I bathed in the Euphrates when dawns were young.

I built my hut near the Congo and it lulled me to sleep.

I looked upon the Nile and raised the pyramids above it.

I heard the singing of the Mississippi when Abe Lincoln went down to New Orleans, and I’ve seen its muddy bosom turn all golden in the sunset.

I’ve known rivers:

Ancient, dusky rivers.

My soul has grown deep like the rivers.

-Langston Hughes – 1902-1967

Until We Speak Again…I am…The Visible Man.

NOTE: Please join Dr. Kane for:

Black and Thriving: African/American Perspectives on Mental Illness

A Juneteenth Panel Discussion

June 17, 2019, 2pm-4pm

Langston Hughes Performing Arts Institute

104 17th Ave S, Seattle, WA 98144

Bobbi’s Saga: Wanting More, Receiving Less, and Still Wanting More

“The only time sex was fun when we were working on having children.”

-Bobbi

“After he was done with me, he showered and went off to have breakfast with a friend.  I went back to sleep.  I was shocked about what had just happened.  It took me back to when my stepfather began abusing me, first slowly talking, then touching, later putting his hand and some type of object inside of me … and then his penis.”

-Bobbi

“But I don’t know how to fight, all I know how to do is stay alive.”

-Celie, The Color Purple (1985)

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My Dear Readers,

I once again interrupt my self-imposed retreat to re-engage with my beloved readership.  My intent is to acknowledge the upcoming Mother’s Day celebration, and in doing so, honor the adversity faced by African American women as they walk the landscape of their lives.

It has been four years since I started writing Bobbi’s Saga.  Bobbi (an alias) is alive and continues to work towards emotional and psychological wellness. Since it is Mother’s Day, it only seems fitting that this post celebrates Bobbi continuing to grow and heal as not only a mother, but as a human being.

In this writing, I compare her experiences to that of Celie, the character portrayed by Whoopi Goldberg in the film The Color Purple.  Both works truly reflect the traumatic experiences of African American women who continue to “suffer in silence”.

In my work as a clinical traumatologist, I developed the “S Protocol,” a technique designed to assist patients who are experiencing severe emotional distress, having experienced and survived extreme psychological trauma myself.

The S Protocol refers to the structure of the therapeutic environment.  There are three main objectives. The first is to provide:

    • Safe and Secure
    • Space to Sit with in
    • Silence or/and Speak about
    • Submerged (unresolved) Stuff
    • Surfacing upon the psychological landscape.

The second objective of the S Protocol is to reduce the severity of the re-experienced trauma as it surfaces upon the psychological landscape through reminders such as memories and triggers.

The third objective is to help the individual stabilize and sustain their security and reinforce their self esteem and self-concept.  This is the process of self-discovery; the individual reinforces the psychological self, having achieved ABC: advocacy for self, balance within the internal world and calmness in the external environment.

It is within the work of psychotherapy that the therapist commits to the role of companion, consultant, and guide as the individual seeks to walk the landscape during the journey of self-discovery and in doing so, learn about the depth of the psychological self and acquire empowerment skills.  It is in the therapeutic work and the enjoining that the individual seeks to transform from the societal designation of “survivor” to the self-declaratory status of “striver.”

Bobbi’s saga is the story of an amazing woman who, in her journey of self-discovery, has transformed from being a victim and a survivor to a striver in the decades following severe childhood sexual abuse. In her journey of self-discovery, she has reached into the depth of her being and achieved self-empowerment.

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From Bobbi’s Journal:

I had a session with Dr. Kane today.  I was honest with Dr. Kane as usual.  I say this because we talked about intercourse. 

That is the wrong word.  My recent lovemaking with my husband, I can’t even say that.  I told Dr. Kane that I felt used.  I now feel bad about revealing that.

How do you feel that way after 40 years of marriage?  When he puts his hand on my thigh and rubs over my body, he is never touching the “real” me. I am having a hard time writing this. 

After 3 years of no sexual contact, he now had an urge that took less than four minutes to fill.  He then got up and left; talking about something insignificant, heading to the shower and then to have breakfast with a friend.  We never talked about what happened.

Years ago, we talked about the lack of sexual arousal or satisfaction.  I always thought it was because of my sexual abuse.  I don’t have experiences of lovemaking. I do believe my low self-esteem affected what I expected from sex. 

The one person I had sex with besides my husband, someone I was with by choice, I realized just wanted to use me for oral sex. I don’t think my husband had many sexual experiences before being with me.  He has refused to talk about previous relationships.  After repeatedly asking before and after we got married, I just stopped asking.

 I feel lighter about my past abuse.  The pain is less, but it is still there.  I no longer feel ashamed of myself, most days.  I know it wasn’t my fault all the times it happened to me.  I now never question that.

Even though I feel so much lighter, the abuse still affects me.  The flashbacks still distract me from what I am doing.  The triggers still happen often. I never know when to expect them to appear.

I feel that I am different from other people.  I grew up feeling not loved, not special, not pretty, not wanted, ashamed, afraid of everything; afraid the landlord was coming back to kill us, and especially growing up feeling that I was not smart.

Growing up in foster care meant I missed all the fun parts of junior high and high school.  I was so depressed, but no one noticed.  I was poor, having to live on the state allowance of $25.00 a month.  All of this continues to this day to make me feel different.

I want to be loved.  I know my husband loves me.  I want to be pampered and taken care of.  I want affection, real hugs and kisses, not those that make you feel you are kissing your grandmother.

There are so many nice things my husband does for the kids and me.  I want to think about my life in a different way.  It is hard for me to accept reality.  I know that is because of the awful things that happened during my childhood. 

There are still things that happened to me that I didn’t realize were abnormal.  I will never forget the look on Dr. Kane’s face when I told him that the care provider’s son put dirt in our cereal and we got worms.  It was just another part of my past to me. That memory, among others, were things I remembered but I did not think was bad.

Mother’s Day, and later in the month, my 40th anniversary is coming up soon.  I still want to go away for our anniversary. I doubt that we will do anything.  I am going to be really upset, as I have been asking him about this for a year.  I am feeling really frustrated.

As a result, I certainly don’t feel cherished, cared for and loved.  What do I do? If I say anything, it will start an argument.   On Thursday we leave for Washington, DC to see our youngest son graduate from college. I hope we have a wonderful time.  I don’t feel relaxed, however. My muscles are tight and I’m having headaches.

I am also questioning my emotions.  Are they okay?  Am I feeling this way because of my past?  I’ve also been angry.  Anger is not an emotion I usually have; I wonder if I can let go of the anger surrounding my mother and of her treatment of me.

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Discussion- Dr. Kane

At the age of three, Bobbi became the protector of her mother and brother.  In a child’s mind, sexually assaulted and fearful of certain death for her family, Bobbi sacrificed the psychological self, holding her traumatic memories of sexual assault to herself, never telling her mother or another responsible adult.

Bobbi’s mother passed away last year.  Bobbi continues to struggle with the contradictory feelings of wanting love from and anger toward her mother and her mother’s failure to protect her, her mother’s attempt to blind her and her mother’s abandonment, i.e. putting Bobbi into the state foster care system.

There are significant commonalities between Bobbi’s experiences and those of Celie in the film The Color Purple.  Both are black women who exist in contradictory environments, that is, the public image of community in contrast with the underlying realities of emotional and psychological isolation.

There are several common themes at play here:

  • Physical and sexual assault in early and middle childhood
  • Abandonment and survival, that is, not knowing how to fight and struggling to stay alive.
  • Being involved with emotionally unavailable men.
  • Hopelessness & inability to remove oneself from ongoing traumatic impacting situations.
  • Lack of psychological or emotional supports

However, there are also differences between the two. In the film, Celie’s children are taken away from her, and she lives her life not knowing what has happened to her children. In contrast, Bobbi’s children become her reason for living. Like she did when she first experienced the sexual assault, Bobbi becomes a “protective force” around her loved ones, sacrificing herself to ensure that her own children would never be physically or sexually abused.

40 years and three children later, Bobbi remains in a marriage devoid of intimacy and affection, continuing to carry her traumatic experiences alone.  Her husband is now aware of her extensive history of sexual abuse and traumatization, but as revealed in her journal, he remains emotionally unavailable. Still, Bobbi has achieved her goal of protecting her children from harm or abuse, and revels in their success. Her youngest son has recently graduated from a major university.

Bobbi continues to work on her self-empowerment and continues to work on conceptualizing and understanding that trauma is a permanent etching on the psychological self. She is aware that she can be successful in advocating for mental wellness and balancing the traumatic memories and in doing so, she can achieve calmness in both the internal self and the external environment. Although the flashbacks of the abuse that she experiences are less frequent these days, she has accepted that the traumatic memories may at times subside but may never fully go away.

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Concluding Words-Dr. Kane 

For a moment, I want to reflect on the actions and behaviors of Bobbi’s husband. Like Bobbi, the husband is also psychologically impacted by trauma in his own way.  He is a retired African American male who has endured decades of covert/overt racism, rejection and disappointments.

Like many African American men of his generation, he keeps his pain within, choosing instead to “suffer in silence.” He is a loving father and dutiful husband by deeds of being a good provider (food, clothing, shelter.)  He makes himself available to carry out any task that Bobbi requests of him.  However, he simply does not express his feelings.

Bobbi understood this when she entered the relationship.  She was keenly aware that her husband was “emotionally unavailable”.  Where other men pressured or demanded sexual relations from Bobbi, when she and her now husband were dating, he made no such demands.  He was Bobbi’s “helpmate” and continues to be so today.

The problem here is that Bobbi has never received “true intimacy,” and it is not clear that her husband knows how to provide it.  Like Celie, Bobbi suffers in silence and accepts what little affection she receives from her husband.  Now, however, Bobbi is speaking up, advocating for herself, wanting balance and calmness in her life.  It is apparent that she will continue to make these demands on the relationship.

It remains to be seen, given the husband’s history of emotional unavailability within the relationship and his unwillingness to engage with the depth of his psychological pain, whether transformation in the relationship can be attained.

Still, it would be a failure for us to define him as a villain in Bobbi’s story.  He has also been traumatized by his experiences.  However, the difference between the two of them is that the husband chooses simply to “survive,” while Bobbi seeks self-empowerment, striving for a life where she can thrive.

It has been my honor and privilege to be Bobbi’s companion on her walk along the human landscape and be able to share in her wisdom arriving from the Journey of Self-Discovery.

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The Undiscovered Territory

The past is what it was.

The present is what it is.

In the future lies what is to be uncovered.

It is the undiscovered territory

Waiting for you.

-Dr. Micheal Kane 

 

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Please continue to join us as we continue to walk with Bobbi on her journey!

More to come… Bobbi’s Saga.

At The Crossroads: Psychological Bleeding and the Emotional Impact of White Fragility

“[White Fragility is] The discomfort and defensiveness on the part of a white person when confronted by information about racial inequality and injustice”

–Dr. Robin DiAngelo, White Fragility

“There isn’t any Negro problem; there is only a white problem.”

-Author Richard Wright, in response to a reporter’s question about the “Negro problem in America”

White Person: When I look at you, I don’t see race.

Black Person: Then you don’t see me.

White Person: I see a human being.

Black Person: Then you don’t see me.

White Person: We are all red under the skin.

Black Person: Then you don’t see me.

White Person: Why does race matter?

Black Person: Then you don’t see me.

White Person: I was taught everybody is the same.

Black Person: Then you don’t see me.

White Person: I am not a racist.

Black Person: Remember me? It’s about me.  You don’t see me.

-Scene from “Choosing To See or Not See”

—————————————

My Dear Readers,

I have missed you!  In November 2018, after 6 years of consistently blogging to a readership spanning six continents, I simply lost the passion for writing.  I intended to take a well-deserved rest from blogging and to consider what direction I would move forward within my own journey of self-discovery.

A lot of newsworthy situations have occurred since I ceased writing, among them the racial and political havoc in Virginia, my state of early childhood development, the Jussie Smollett case in Chicago, and the recent refusal of state prosecutors in California to file criminal charges in the Sacramento police shooting death of Stephon Clark.  So, what brings me out of hibernation to write to my beloved readership?

The usual suspects: love, fragility and most importantly…. Fear. I recently received a correspondence from a reader seeking to address the issue of “white fragility.”  Interestingly enough, this has become a hot topic within my clinical practice.

I recently had an interview with a prospective patient who sought ways to act such that white people would become comfortable with him.   He said that his white colleagues were uncomfortable around him because of his large frame and dark skin.  When I mentioned that the issue may not be simply about white fragility but also about his own internalized psychological demand and his unmet needs for acceptance, he quickly terminated the interview.

In another situation, an African-American male patient spoke of his pain when a white female coworker complained to the organization’s HR director regarding his greeting her every morning by saying “Good Morning” when he arrived at work.  The coworker’s complaint was that she did not know him, and it made her feel uncomfortable when he greeted her. The black patient was directed to abide by her request not to speak to this individual.

A “notation” of the formal meeting was being placed in his personnel file.  To ensure that this didn’t happen again, and to protect his employment, the male patient made it his standard policy not to greet white female coworkers unless they initiated the greeting. He was later criticized by his supervisor for his “unfriendly attitude” and warned that he may be negatively evaluated for creating a hostile work environment.

African-American males in predominantly white social situations often must walk a thin line between social courtesy and withdrawal.  These incidents are dangerous due to the consequences to professional reputations, employment status, and the looming risk of arrest for alleged criminal behavior.

This week, I respond to the concerns of an African-American male who is psychologically “bleeding” from the emotional impacts of “White Fragility.”

Here is his story…

———————–

Dear Dr. Kane:

Why do white people feel so fragile and feel so reactive about feeling it?  Why do I have to acknowledge their fragility and make allowances for it?

Over the last few years, I have found myself in social gatherings with white people having to endure not only their fragility but also a lot of “innocent” (aka dumbass) questions like:

  • “How do you know the host?” (Dumbass, the host is my wife and you are standing in my house.)
  • “What do you think about the chances of [insert random local sports team here] making the playoffs?” (Dumbass, what makes you assume that I play sports?)
  • And my favorite, “What do you think about Trump?” (Really Dumbass, your people elected him and you’re asking me?  How is he working out for you?)

Now, if I tell them that I am offended by these questions and that they reflect the stereotypes, unconscious bias and outright racism that festers within their meaningless lives, I become THAT GUY: the angry, insensitive monster who hurt their fragile feelings.   Never mind my feelings.   So, to avoid making them feel uncomfortable, I put on my “Good Negro Face.”  I smile, nod, make a little joke here and give a little pat on the back there.  I feel like a running back, using my “God given talents” as I slip, slide and dash through hardened defenses on my way to the goal line, or, just get through a swirling sea of dumbass questions without losing my cool.

It’s bad enough that I have to endure the bullshit of niceness and fake displays as I play the game in the work environment.  In my personal space, however, it has become so disgusting to me that it is now hard for me to even acknowledge the friendship of my white wife and her friends.

All white folks have become suspicious to me.  I never know when their fragility might explode into violent action based on little more than their self-made fears. I fear that I cannot in good faith trust white people, even those I whom I should be able to trust.

-Distrustful in Seattle

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My Good Man,

Hmm.  Distrustful in Seattle?  Is that a play on the movie “Sleepless in Seattle”? If so, please remember that being distrustful is a choice you make where being sleepless is a physical indication that the body for whatever reason, cannot rest.

Your concerns are valid and so essential for me to respond to in that I have momentarily stepped away from my self-imposed silence from writing.  Your correspondence is powerful and speaks for many African-Americans who are constantly responding daily to “white fragility.”

In my dual roles as a psychotherapist (who provides a safe secured space to either sit with or speak to submerged materials surfacing upon the human landscape) and a clinical traumatologist (who works to stop the emotional bleeding to help heal the psychological wound), I am also responding to the same issues (known as counter-transference) as I sit in sessions with patients listening to the psychological pain and emotional suffering being endured in their lives on a daily basis.  Like I do with them, I will seek to respond to your concerns.

 

Question: Why do white people feel so fragile and feel so reactive about feeling it?

Response: This is a multilayered question. Imagine four lanes of freeway moving in opposite directions, one side free traffic, the other in a traffic jam.   Imagine drivers on the fast side, observing the slow side, saying the following:

  • I wouldn’t want to be them
  • Dumbass should have left earlier (or later)
  • Glad it isn’t me
  • How do they do that every day?

Let’s imagine that in terms of race, white people are on the fast side of the freeway, and people of color are on the slow side. The people on the slow side may have an idea as to what is causing that backup, but they cannot know for sure what it is- they cannot see that far ahead– but they are still impeded by where they are going.

On the other hand, the people on the fast side are either unconcerned with why the other side is slow or have passed judgment on the folks who are stuck in that jam, both without an understanding or a curiosity about what’s causing that traffic jam.

In a similar way, white people are insulated from impediments that may slow progress from a racial perspective. Dr. Robin DiAngelo says that this insulation can render white people “innocent of race.”   It is this “innocence” that gives rise to white fragility.  As a result, white people are not raised to see themselves in terms of race, or to see white spaces as racial spaces.

African-Americans, on the other hand, particularly those who are born in or grow up in racially segregated spaces, must become “experts on race.”   Behaviorally, this shows up as white people expecting African-Americans to be sensitive of their racial innocence, requiring African-Americans to excuse and explain away their sheltered ignorance as they become (if they chose to) awakened to the harsh realities of racism.

Consider the following: a child is rudely awakened by his care provider from a deep sleep, one that was secured, warm and encased in comfort.  How does the child respond? The child is naturally upset because of the betrayal—the illusion of the safety of their sleeping environment has been interrupted and they will remain upset until a stable environment can be restored by the care provider.

In this analogy, the African-American, as the “racial expert,” is the care provider who is all-loving and self-sacrificing and is expected to provide the safe nurturing environment regardless of the psychological and emotional impacts to themselves.  If this grace is not extended, the African-American is regarded as unforgiving instead of as having a very natural, human reaction, and the relationship is harmed, if not terminated.

 

Question: (paraphrased) It’s one thing to have to be fake at work and another to be fake in my personal space.  What am I really angry about?

Response:  There could be several reasons for your anger. This may include

  • Feeling powerless,
  • Lacking strategies to respond to insensitive comments and,
  • Feeling hopeless.

You may be having a “fight or flight” response.  “Fight or Flight” is a physiological and psychological response to stress that prepares the physical body, the intellectual mind and the psychological self to react to danger.

Instead of this, utilization of an empowerment strategy like the ABCs of Empowerment can bring relief to the physical, mental and psychological self.  It consists of the following:

  • Advocacy-being willing to speak for self and not depend on others to do so on your behalf.
  • Balance-listening intently to what is being said, being willing to psychologically step away and embrace your emotions while weighing what you are feeling and thinking.
  • Calmness-while holding your psychological space, (advocacy & balance), allow the psychological self to be centered as you deliver your response to those within your external environment.

 

Question: (paraphrased) I am tired of playing these games at work and having to play the same games in my personal space.  It feels so frustrating and hopeless.  What can I do?

Response:  The only way to avoid this is to live on an island by yourself.  The reality is that this drama exists in all spaces. So, we As we live out our lives (the walk,) we have many different experiences.  During any point in this process, submerged materials may surface for the individual to address. We call these incidences “the crossroads.”  At the crossroads,

  • Choices are presented.
  • Decisions must be made.
  • Consequences for these decisions and choices can be foreseen.
  • You will ask yourself: What are my choices? How shall I respond?  Am I prepared to handle the consequences of my decision?
  • The individual remains at the crossroads until a decision is made and the journey continues.

An example:

Recently, at a Starbucks Coffee counter, I was waiting my turn for service.  So, when I became the first person in line, I naturally expected the cashier to take my order.  Instead, she looks directly at the next person in line, a white male, and says: “Hi, what can I get you?”  The white male replies, “I believe this gentleman is in front of me.” The cashier then looks at me, quite surprised, and says: “Hi, what can I get you?” 

 I spent my formative years in the Deep South, where I experienced racism and the psychological trauma of the invisibility syndrome. This occurs when one’s physical presence is either ignored, or that presence is made to be inferior in comparison to another person who is seen to be racially superior.

Due to these previous experiences, it would be normal for me to respond with anger, but I was surprised that this came from an African-American cashier!

I never expected this.  Seconds felt like eons as thoughts and feeling flowed through me:

  • Did this really happen? Yes, it did, and I am stunned beyond words or belief.
  • What do I say? Do I challenge her actions?
  • How do I respond? Do I file a formal complaint?

The incident was psychologically wounding.  It was not of my creation.  It was the words and actions of someone else who may, as a black person, unconsciously see themselves as inferior to white people and has brought those feelings to the workplace for me to encounter as I walk my own landscape.

So, what was my response?

  • I looked at her eyes to see if she was aware of what she had done.
  • I grabbed my coffee, thanking her for the service.
  • I went to catch my flight.
  • I’m writing in my blog and sharing the incident as a learning lesson.
  • I have benefited from another experience as I walk my landscape.

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 Concluding Words -Dr. Kane 

My Good Man,

In your words you stated the following:

It’s bad enough that I must endure the bullshit of niceness and fake displays as I play the game in the work environment. 

Responses:  Your parents may have taught you two realities of a black person’s life in America:

1) To come in first place, you must work twice as hard as the white person beside you, and:

2) In order to be successful, you must learn to play the game.

Today is a new day, but the psychological wounding of racism and trauma remains the same.  In racism, the objective of either holding the black person away from winning or wounding the individual psychologically so much that the individual lacks the will to compete remains the same. However, the strategies have changed. Overt racist tactics have been replaced with covert tactics and casual racism.

We as African-Americans must also seek to transform.  We are already skilled and knowledgeable in running the race, but now we must want to learn how to run the race smarter, not harder.

We must want to consider that the prizes we see as the incentive for running the race, whether it’s a promotion, or a raise or more opportunity, is often the “carrot” in a rigged race with ever changing rules.  To live an empowered life, to transform our journeys, we must transform our definition of “winning” to seeing it as the ability to “cross the finish line.” We must understand that the simple act of crossing the finish line is in itself an outstanding victory!

 

However, in my personal space, it has become disgusting, so much that it is now it is now hard for me to even acknowledge the friendship of my white wife and her friends.

Response: In his poem Invictus, William Ernest Henley wrote: “I am the master of my fate.  I am the captain of my soul.” 

Remember, your personal space is your space. It belongs to you and no one else. You must empower the psychological self, seeking advocacy, balance and calmness as you decide how to utilize your personal space.

I too have encountered insensitive and uncaring remarks while attending several “all white” social events.  One person assumed that I was there to provide drugs. (Really?)

To empower the self, I now make assessments before accepting invitations to social gatherings, starting with the diversity of the attendees.  If there are no other black people, I assess whether I want to be the token Negro in the event.  This empowers me to decide whether I want to deal with the possible incidents (trauma) arising from underlying stereotypes.  For the majority of these events, unless it is business or politically related, I always decline to attend.

You have the same options.   Remember that this is your landscape.  You can decide whether to attend, and under what circumstances you will leave.  Finally, don’t expect others to speak up proactively regarding another’s individual insensitive or uncaring remarks. 

 

All white folks have become suspicious to me.  One never knows when their fragility might explode into violent action based on little more than their self-made fears.

Response: Take a good long look in the mirror.  You may be looking at the reflection of the same people who are acting out their suspicious, fears and racism towards you.  Remember that this is your landscape.   The impact of white fragility on your life depends upon the impact you allow it to have on every step you take as you continue your walk across the landscape.

 

I fear that I cannot in good faith trust white people, even those whom I should be able to trust.

Response: “… even those whom I should be able to trust”? I have serious reservations regarding these remarks. This is an underlying tone implying distrust being specifically directed towards your spouse.  The spousal relationship, unlike the parental relationship, is not based on unconditional love.

Your spouse is neither the cause nor the outlet for your misplaced anger.  You knew she was white when you married her.  Interracial relationships, particularly black men and white women, given the racial history in the United States, are especially different.  However, this is the life you have chosen.

You have the responsibility to empower your own psychological self; she cannot do this for you. You now have an opportunity for growth and development. I urge you to seek individual psychotherapy that provides you with finding a safe, secure space to sit with unprocessed feelings surfacing on your landscape. If you are unable or unwilling to maintain your commitment to her, then release her from the relationship so she can be available to live the life she wants and not the life she is living.”

———————

Closing Remarks– My Dear Readers,

I want to clarify that in my earlier statements of conceptualizing the developmental stage of whiteness as white innocence, that I do not imply or believe that designation is a justification for not accepting responsibility, accountability, or consequences for one’s actions.  I am also not suggesting that in conceptualizing black people as “racial experts,” that black people should deny or minimize their psychological traumas or accept responsibility for the grievous actions, statements or comments of others.

I close, leaving with great anticipation for the immediate future. I now return to my commitment to cease writing blogs and in doing so, walk my landscape as I seek to fulfill my journey of self-discovery.  Two upcoming projects 2019 include:

  • Returning to Paris, France, in April, doing further research on the psychological traumas experienced by African-American troops in WWI abandoned by the American High Command forced to fight as segregated combat units under the command and flag of the French military.
  • Traveling to Ghana, West Africa during August for the Year of the Return Conference acknowledging 400 years since the Atlantic Slave Trade (1619 to 2019). I will participate as a panelist and workshop presenter regarding the psychological trauma of being experienced by African-Americans.

Once again, I bid you all farewell.  I am unclear as to whether I will return to consistently blogging on a regular pace, there may be those times like in this writing in which I am drawn to write as it may either resonate or stir up passion within me. I truly believe that life is about “walking the landscape” and in doing so to “live the life you want and not the live you live.”

I bid you all wellness. I encourage you to seek advocacy for the self, attain balance within your internalized world, and calmness in your externalized environment. Best wishes to you all in your future journeys of self-exploration.

Best regards,

Dr. Micheal Kane

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There is no growth without discomfort.  Being honest can be uncomfortable.  It is the freedom that comes from being honest.”

-Delbert Richardson, Ethnomuseumologist

Here is what it is. They don’t like you.  They don’t dislike you.  They are afraid of you.  You’re different. Sooner or later difference scares people.

– “The Accountant” (2016)

You attract what you fear.  You attract what you are.  You attract what is on your mind.”

-Denzel Washington, Actor/Academy Award Winner

Once burned we learn.  If we do not learn, we only insure that we will be burned again, and again and again … until we learn.”

-Dr. Micheal Kane Psy.D

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Farewell for now…….

Until the next crossroads… The journey continues…