When Our Vulnerability Becomes Strength: Empowering Our Children In Police Encounters

“An officer fired at him when he moved his hands upward, as directed, but more quickly than expected.”

–Wichita (Kansas) Police Department explanation of shooting death of innocent victim by the police on 12.27.17, reported in the Huffington Post on 1.03.18

“Life can be running a daily gauntlet

If I can make it through the night

Wake up in the morning

And my son is still alive;

I have won.”

–Dr. Micheal Kane Psy.D

“A weak feature of someone or something that is otherwise strong, which makes them open to attack or failure.”

–Definition of “Achilles Heel”

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My Dear Readers,

In the work of clinical traumatology, my colleagues and I spend countless hours listening to the pain, suffering and wounds of the traumatized.  In most cases, the traumatized individuals tend to ask one specific question in one form or another: when will the trauma be over?

It is apparent that such individuals are seeking a time frame for relief from the trauma associated with the incident or experience that led them to psychological treatment.  No matter how the response is delivered, the reality is that traumatic experiences are permanent etchings on the psychological self.  It never, ever goes away.

However, there was life before the trauma, so the objective of trauma therapy is to learn how to balance the trauma within the psychological self, and in doing so, be able to “live the life you want, not the life you live.”

Many of my fellow clinicians lean heavily on theoretical frameworks that are typically Eurocentric focused in the field of clinical traumatology.  It is not unusual to see this norm used in the treatment of individuals who have had a single traumatic experience or who have had repeated episodes of the same traumatic abuse, such as  sexual abuse.

However, in many African-American communities across the country, individuals may experience a variety of traumas that are cumulative in nature and occur repetitively through a lifetime, and they often happen concurrently with traumas that are addressed by Eurocentric norms of treatment, exacerbating the impact on the patient.  Specifically, there are 13 distinctive traumas that an African-American person can experience daily.  As a result, the norm for many people may be to regress to a “survival mentality” and the use of destructive behaviors as a coping mechanism to either minimize or deflect the impact of the trauma.

Below is the story of a mother who fears for the safety of her teenage sons.  In seeking to protect her sons, they become her “Achilles Heel,” and intensify her trauma experience.

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Dear Visible Man,

I am a concerned single parent of two black teenagers residing here in Pierce County, WA.  Earlier last week, a Pierce County deputy was shot and killed while stopping a burglary. There was a state-wide intense search for the person who killed him.

Initially, the news media reported the person has been a dark-skinned black man, and then later, the news media stated the police were searching for a light-skinned black man.  As the night went on, it was announced that the person the police sought had been already been arrested and jailed for outstanding warrants on other matters.  It turns out that the man they arrested for killing the deputy was white!

I was relieved and in tears when I learned the man arrested was white.  I had been overwhelmed, worrying about my sons, fearful that they were going to be targeted by the police because of their race.  I made the decision to keep my sons home from school during the time they were conducting the search.

My sons attend a local high school.  Although they get excellent grades and have never been in any trouble, they have been constantly stopped and questioned by police.  I feel, as they do, that there is no apparent reason for stopping them.  It amounts to nothing other than racial profiling.

My decision to keep my sons home created tension between myself and them.  For several days, we had heated arguments.  They feel that either I am treating them like babies or that I have trust issues.

Damn right, I have trust issues!  They are and will ALWAYS BE my babies.  The lack of trust I have is not about them, but about what could happen if they interact with police.  It only takes one nervous or trigger-happy cop and one or both of my sons are dead!

Look at what happened recently in Wichita, Kansas!  I repeatedly saw that picture of that mother crying after the police accidentally shot and killed her son. He was white.  If they could do that to one of their own, what hope do I have regarding my children?

I was born and raised in the Deep South.  In my life, I have encountered racism and mistreatment from white police officers.  I WILL NOT BE ON THE FRONT PAGE GRIEVING THE DEATH OF MY CHILDREN.  I intend to and will protect my children.  They are all I have.

My eldest son suggested that I write to you. Both of my sons feel that my rules on curfew are too restrictive, but they are just kids– they do not understand the danger they are in.

I am a Christian woman with strong faith in God, and I believe in the power of prayer.  However, even as I write this letter, my mind is made up.  I will not be burying my sons. No! No! No!

On Guard, Spanaway, WA

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My Dear Woman,

I ask that you take a moment and simply breathe.  Just take a moment.  It is apparent that the unfortunate shooting death of the police officer within your community has understandably shaken you to your core.  In addition, you are being triggered by the death of an innocent person.

Though an interesting data point, the fact that the young man that was shot is white does nothing to minimize the tragedy or lessen the pain and suffering being endured by his family, or the fear that you hold for the safety of your own children.  The shooting by the SWAT team member was a tragedy.  It should not have happened.  I feel the pain and fear in the undertone….”it could have been my child.”

It is possible that you have unresolved historical or inter-generational trauma relating to memories of the mistreatment and racism encountered during your childhood in the South during those tumultuous years of open, state-sanctioned racial terror and oppression.  I can also see from your writing that two specific traumas: micro-aggression (indirect or covert) i.e., racial profiling of your sons and, macro-aggression (direct or overt) i.e., immediate fear of death by the police has impacted you.

Furthermore, you are also facing invisibility syndrome trauma, which refers to the realization that despite the excellent grades and good behavior, your sons’ achievements mean nothing in the face of assumptions about them based on their skin color, and therefore, they are placed at greater risk of either physical violence or psychological harm.

It is possible that your repetitive viewing of both police involved shootings may have created a foundation of vicarious trauma. Coupled with the aforementioned traumas, you may be responding to post-traumatic slave syndrome i.e., fear of survival in in a hostile world due to your sons’ gender and race

We live in difficult times.  The world and its technology are ever so changing.  We seek to raise our children under difficult circumstances.   As a parent of any race, socioeconomic group, gender or sexual orientation, there are many reasons to be afraid when it comes to the safety of what we hold so dear and precious and yet represents our most glaring vulnerability: our children.

Living In Fear …or With Fear

Rather than live in fear of the unknown, we can take deliberate actions by empowering our children and ourselves and in doing so, learn to live with our fear instead of in our fear.

Instead of restricting your adolescent sons as a means of protecting them, you can engage with them in frank meaningful discussions.  It would be best that they know and are prepared for the reality that, due to no fault of their own, are vulnerable to being viewed as a threat simply due to the color of their skin, and as a result, being targeted as such, and ensure that they are  empowered to deal with that reality in the way they design for themselves.

Sheltering/Protecting or Guiding/Teaching?

We cannot shelter or protect our children from ALL traumatic incidents.  However, we can guide and teach them how to respond to potentially traumatic incidents and by doing so, reduce the impact.  Regarding your fear of police interactions, who other than yourself is best suited to guide them and help them transform the way they interact with the police?

Empowerment Strategies

Whereas the police have power and authority, you can teach your sons that they are not helpless; that they can reduce their stress and future psychological trauma by implementing empowerment strategies.  One such strategy I recommend is the therapeutic model of Advocacy, Balance & Calmness.

Reinforce with your sons the following:

  • Advocacy: Know when to speak and what to say.
  • Balance: Remember that power lies within you and cannot be taken without your consent. Balance your anger with your wisdom.
  • Calmness: Use your balance and inner empowerment to project calmness in your external environment. Use this to defuse intense or hostile situations.

Have frank and specific discussions with your sons.  Prepare them for the fact that police encounters will continue to happen to them due to the color of their skin, and prepare them for each encounter:

  • Know that the police officer will ask for identification, and it is legal for the police officer to do so.
  • Know that one’s identity will be verified in a criminal database that is available to check for warrants and other information.
  • Understand that the police officer will be looking for suspicious behavior from them or from anyone they are accompanied with.
  • Be prepared for a possible stop and search of their personal space and belongings.

In a delicate and deliberate tone, instruct your sons to employ the following behaviors:

  • Keep your hands open and exposed. Immediately tell the police officer: I AM UNARMED.  I AM NOT A THREAT TO YOU.
  • Always comply and follow the police officer’s instructions. Treat all instructions as directions and commands.
  • If under the age of 18, inform the police officer of your age and immediately request that your parent, legal guardian, or legal representative be present.
  • If you choose not to speak, inform the police officer of your intent to remain silent until you have representation. After that, immediately stop talking.
  • Use your powers of observation. Document the incident and any concerns regarding any behavior during the encounter.
  • Remember to get the date, time, location, the license plate and vehicle number of the police officer and the name of the department the police officer works for.
  • If you deem it necessary, file a complaint with the local sheriff or police chief’s office.
  • Remember that the police officer is entitled to use deadly force if they feel physically threatened.
  • NEVER EVER RUN FROM THE POLICE.

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 Concluding Words

My heart goes out to “On Guard” as she seeks to protect her children.  However, in her quest to protect her children, she and other parents in similar circumstances should consider the following:

  • Will my anxiety and fear have a boomerang affect and negatively my children?
  • What skills, training and resources do I have available to prepare my children to respond to racial hostility?

The concern I have is that this parent and other parents likewise may be so focused on “not burying her sons” that she ironically buries their confidence in navigating the realities of their lives in this society.  In that case, the parenting strategy becomes centered on the parent’s prevention of anticipated suffering rather than preparing the child for adulthood in a hostile world.

Invisibility & Trauma

“Invisibility is an inner struggle with the feelings that one’s talents, abilities, personality, and worth are not valued or recognized because of prejudice and racism.”

-Dr. A.J. Franklin, Boston College

Sad and yet true…. to many whites, African-Americans are invisible.  When it comes to law enforcement, African-Americans have the opposite stressor.  We are very much visible, recognizable and observed by the police.   Our encounters start at an early age, and are often traumatic, never forgotten and held permanently within the psychological self.

Even police officers would agree that we live in difficult times.  African-Americans and the police share many common themes.  The police officer in any community is a minority in the community they seek to serve. Whereas people of color are often judged or stereotyped due to their skin, police officers are routinely judged not by their character as individuals, but by the legacy of institutionalized racism that comes along with the badge, weapon and uniform.  The loss of one police officer is a traumatizing impact on the law enforcement community.

It is truly traumatic that black skin is perceived so negatively to such an extreme that it would be normal to assume that black people want to kill police, which is an erroneous assumption usually attributed to peaceful civil rights activist groups like Black Lives Matter, and in this case, the attribution of the murder to a “light-skinned black man” could have led to more shedding of innocent blood.

It is also traumatizing to consider and reflect on the unknown numbers of black men who were stopped, questioned, perhaps with weapons drawn by police officers upset at the loss of one of their own.  I wonder how many black lives have been forever impacted during the search for the suspected shooter.  How many will endure sleepless and sweat full nights?  Or dramatic recalls in nonstop memories?

Life is like a box of chocolates; you never know what you are gonna get.”

Forrest Gump (1994)

Police officers are constantly training for the unexpected.  On the street, they have to be prepared for anything.  Once again there are common themes shared with the African American community and the police.   When a black man interacts with the police on the street, at the workplace, at school or in his home, does not know whether he is going to receiving “Community Policing” or “Enforcing the Law.”

It appears that the police are learning skills, tactics and strategies in dealing with us.  Perhaps it is time that we focus on learning and teaching each other skills, tactics and strategies in dealing with the police.

“I have a dream that my four children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but the content of their character.”

–Martin Luther King Jr., August 28,  1963

 

Until we speak again,  I am … The Visible Man…

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Bobbi’s Saga: Returning But Not Going Back

“I am able to tell my story. That is a huge accomplishment.”

-Bobbi

The Journey: Bobbi’s Saga

The word “saga” describes a narrative, telling the adventures of a hero or heroic achievement. The story of Bobbi’s life and her responses to the harrowing challenges she faced from physical, sexual, and emotional abuse beginning at the age of four years old shows her heroism and belief in her journey.

“I want to be at peace in a burning house.”

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

“Live the life you want, not the life you live.”

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

My Dear Readers,

It has been six months since the last blog posting. The year 2017 in the work of clinical traumatology has proven be a very trying and difficult journey. As we begin this new year, I want to reintroduce Bobbi’s Saga, continuing her story as she walks her journey of self-discovery.

For those of you who are not familiar with Bobbi, she is my hero. A 60-year-old African-American woman with Deep South roots who was born and raised in Seattle, she sought psychotherapy six years ago to heal the pain she has endured as a survivor of sexual abuse endured in her childhood and preadolescence.

One may ask the following:

  • What is so important about reliving such a horrific story?
  • Why not just let it go? Or,
  • It’s history, so just move on….

Bobbi’s Saga is important. It is a story of horrors that must be told and therefore never forgotten. It is the story of survival of a four-year-old child and the self-sacrifice of a grown woman. It is a story of innocence lost and betrayal by adults who were trusted with the welfare of the weak and powerless. Finally, it is a story of courage, empowerment, and the search for self-discovery.

Bobbi’s hellish nightmare of sexual abuse ended when her mother put her out of her house and into the streets, where she spent the next six years in the state foster care system, seen as a “bad girl” by members of her community. Today, Bobbi is moving towards her silver years, which has included a 30-year plus marriage, three children and a successful career in the corporate world. Once rejected by her community, she is now the picture of success.

Behind closed doors, however, Bobbi remains not being understood by others, emotionally distant from her spouse and pampered, privileged children who do not understand what Bobbi has sacrificed to give them the life they have and insulate them from the abuses she suffered.

We continue with Bobbi’s Saga in her own words…

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The Lack of Understanding by Others

I had a session with Dr. Kane today. I feel we are talking about more uncovered things about my past. I told him about my family not understanding why I continue to want to attend therapy. My children wonder why I still go after 50 years of no therapy.

I have explained to my husband that I have had a lot of trauma I don’t think he understands. He sees me journaling and yet has never asked anything about it. All of this leaves me feeling alone, isolated, and questioning myself at times.

I question so many things. I feel unsure of myself. I am unsure of past feelings, behaviors, fears, shame, and guilt. My mother made me feel guilty and ashamed of the way I looked and the darkness of my skin.

When I told her what her husband had been doing to me, she kicked me out of the house, calling me a whore and saying that I would was going to be a prostitute. That hurt me terribly then and still does to this very day.

Dr. Kane and I talked about shame, guilt and hope today. I asked Dr. Kane what I should do when the shame, guilt and pain becomes heavy, almost unbearable. He suggested going to a place in the house or inside of my psychological self where I feel safe.

Although I do that, there are times when the weight of it all feels so heavy. It is like a cloak of darkness over my head. A cloak that the sun can’t penetrate; warmth can’t penetrate. Love and joy can’t get through. Guilt, shame and pain get caught under the cloak and can never leave.

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Shame: The Reflection in the Mirror

One of my greatest shames is the size of my breasts. I have always wanted my breasts reduced. I think about my abuse every time I look at my breasts. My stepfather used to purposely rub them; saying massaging them will make them grow bigger.

Why can’t I believe that he wasn’t the reason for my breast size? I now know the truth, but my body and heart don’t feel that way. For fifty years, I believed my breasts were growing because I was molested by my stepfather. It was painful when Dr. Kane told me the truth three years ago. I wonder what my life would have been like if I didn’t hold on to this lie every day.

I have been thinking a lot about the rapes. I keep thinking these were my fault. I have been scared since the first rape. I know a child or youth can’t fight off a man weighing 200 pounds. Why can’t I comprehend that?

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The Disconnect: Knowing & Feeling

There is this disconnect that is so wide, regarding what I know and what I feel. I am trying to tell myself over and over that it wasn’t my fault. No one ever told me that until Dr. Kane did.

My mother never told me that; instead she blamed me. The staff at the Youth Center never told me that it wasn’t my fault. The nurse I told didn’t tell me it wasn’t my fault. Even the people in my foster homes didn’t say that. Maybe that is why it’s so hard to believe.

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Self Sacrifice-Going Up In Flames

I have always wanted to please others. This has carried over into adulthood. Then Dr. Kane taught me about putting the self first. I had never heard that before. I didn’t think it was possible. Do others do that?

I didn’t even know how to say no, I said yes to everything, even if I didn’t want to do it. I went out of my way to do things that please others no matter how I felt. Why did I want to please others? Could it be because of the rapes?

I seem to be making progress. I now think of myself first. Now when I don’t want to do something I simply say no. It’s not even difficult to say no. This is after six years of therapy.

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Missing Hope & Replacing Hope with Fear

The preacher’s sermon was about hope today. There was a time in which I was missing hope. When I would have thoughts or flashbacks about the rapes, I would feel sad, defeated, and suicidal. I was totally overwhelmed and not knowing if I could continue to live with the guilt and shame.

The guilt and shame has lessened, but I am still bothered by it. I tell myself that I am safe and no one can hurt me, but I continue to feel the fear of the four year old that has had hope taken away from her.

I feel the fear of my two-year-old brother crying, locked in the bathroom. I feel the fear of the four-year-old whose panties are being roughly taken and little legs forced apart. I recall the fear of the threat of “I will come back and kill your mother and brother if you tell.”

Yes, my hope was replaced with fear, pain and guilt. I am afraid to sleep in the dark, being raped again and not finding out what I need and want in life before I die. Sometimes I am afraid of the flashbacks; they seem like it was yesterday. They cause physical reactions and transform me back to being four years old.

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Unrealistic Hopes

My mother died last year. Even though we didn’t have a good relationship, I hoped that would have changed. I had hoped that she would have apologized and accept responsibility for her actions towards me.

I had hoped to feel loved by her. I know that all of this is unrealistic but hoping for unrealistic things for me isn’t unusual. You always hope for what you don’t have.

It’s Christmas. I am hoping for a lighter year next year.

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Concluding Remarks -Dr. Kane

Bobbi’s writings represent an individual who, despite the horrific experiences of sexual assaults, physical violence, betrayal, abandonment and rejection by her family and community, continues along her journey of self-discovery.

Bobbi was victimized. She is no longer a victim. In traveling the journey of self-discovery, she is seeking to empower the psychological self. She is free now to… “Live the life you want, not the life you live.”

To my colleagues, fellow trauma specialists who sit through the many hours of listening to horrendous stories in order to heal and process the pain and suffering of those befallen, I thank you for your empathy, passion for the work we do and commitment to the healing. You are special people. Best wishes to you in the coming year.

Until the next time…Bobbi’s saga continues…

The Visible Man: Complex Trauma, Invisibility, and Obsolescence

“Racial minorities are more likely than white Americans to be arrested.   Once arrested, they are more likely to be convicted; and once convicted, they are more likely to face stiff sentences.”

-United Nations Human Rights Committee report (2017)

“I don’t know that nigger.  But I know he is a nigger. And that’s all I need to know.”

-Retired Confederate General Sandy Smithers, The Hateful Eight (2015)

My Dear Readers,

Are black males becoming obsolete in this country?  Black males are no longer being sought for manual labor. They are in fierce competition with whites for blue-collar jobs, that continue to be sent overseas.  They aren’t being trained or prepared for work within the IT industry, either.

Black males are perceived as being of limited use, constantly in survival mode, and cornered off in decaying urban environments.   There is the supposition that black males, like any other endangered species, may soon vanish from the American landscape.

There are several reasons for this perception:

  • Incarceration: One in every three black males born today can expect to go to prison at some point in their life, compared with one in every 17 white males.
  • Education: The estimated national 2012 high school graduation rate for Black males was 59%.
  • Homicides: Black victims of homicides were most likely to be male (85%) and between the ages 17 and 29 (51%)

Except for political and clergy leadership, only muted responses have come from the African American community, if there is a response at all to the statistics coming from recent incidents involving police violence.  The reason for this is Complex Trauma.

Complex trauma is a form of psychological trauma.  It is more than simple post- traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).  It usually means that a person has suffered several traumatic events often beginning in childhood and continuing through adulthood.

Below is one young’s man story…

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Dear Visible Man,

I am a 24 year old African-American man seeking your help.  I am scared and confused.

Recently I had a police officer pull his weapon on me during a traffic stop.  He stopped me because one of the bulbs in my brake light was out.  He recognized me as one of his classmates in high school and even for a moment, reminisced on playing high school football, put away the weapon, and then told me to get the brake light fixed and “have a good day.”

How could I have a nice day after that? I am a college graduate, and I have a great job working for a tech firm here in Seattle, but I live in fear of being harassed by the police.  I have been stopped numerous times, either walking or driving, and all those stops were suspicious. All I want is to be free.  I simply want to be left alone and work hard to succeed in the goals that I have chosen.

Throughout my life, I have dealt with harassment and threats from within my community. I have dealt with racism from whites and threats of violence and acts of intimidation.  I grew up in survival mode without a father figure and struggling with a drug-addicted mother.  Both of my brothers are in the prison system.  I am alone, having nightmares and at times, just holding on to my life.

I am very angry about what I have seen and what I have experienced.  It’s like I am reliving my childhood and adolescence.  I try talking to other black males, but they are too busy hating on me while numbing their own pain by getting high off of marijuana or drinking alcohol.

People talk about role models for black men, but I don’t need another man to tell me how to get a job.  I need to know that I have value, that I am worth something. The older black men I know are either locked up in prison, addicted to drugs or just trying to make it on survival mode. I just want another black man to talk to.

I can’t remember the last time a black man told me that I matter.  But I can remember the last time a black man threatened me.  I feel caught in the middle– threatened by those who hate me for my success and harassed by those who are view my skin itself as a threat.

At work, and at home, I look around and don’t see anyone like me.  My white coworkers tell me that I am being paranoid, and they might be right– I feel like I am going crazy.  Am I becoming obsolete? What can I do?

-Feeling Shaky, Seattle,WA

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My Dear Young Man,

You have been through a lot in your 24 years of life. You are correct; you are not crazy. Paranoia is a mental condition characterized by delusions of persecution, suspicion and mistrust of people or their actions without evidence or justification, and that is not what I see here.

Given your history and the numerous incidents of micro- and macro-aggression you have experienced, your hyper-vigilance and stress is to be expected. The fear of physical violence from the police and other members of your community and their repetitive nature can adversely impact a person’s mental, physical, and emotional states.  It can often be very difficult to function at work and it hinders involvement in interpersonal relationships.

Complex trauma is the exposure to adverse experiences such as violence, abuse, neglect, and separation from a caregiver repeatedly over time and during critical periods in a child’s development. Psychologically, the African-American community is drowning in complex trauma and has retreated into survival mode.  We have lost a generation of black men in prison.  Approximately half of males will not graduate from high school, which impacts employment, marriages, and the growth of families.

Complex trauma can have long-term impact on an individual’s mental health.  That impact can be further complicated when it is simultaneously activated and reinforced by the use of drugs and participation in violent acts. In doing so, both the trauma itself and the method of soothing or numbing the pain arising from that trauma are both normalized for the individual, who then loses the ability to conceive of other ways of living.

Research suggests that the impact and effect of complex trauma is directly related to age of onset, type of violence, relationship to the perpetrator, impact on the environment, the degree of isolation and the amount of support received and the amount of support received following the traumatic experience.

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Concluding Words

My Dear Young Man,

To respond to an earlier question about becoming obsolete, the fact that you continue to strive for success in your objectives as you face overwhelming pressures from both within your community and interactions with police is an affirmation that black males are not becoming obsolete.  In reality, you are responding to ongoing challenges that are not of your making.

This is the time to achieve ABC: advocacy, balance and calmness.

  • Advocacy: Empower yourself by becoming an advocate for the psychological self. Seek to achieve mental health wellness.
  • Balance: Compare the internalized value and assets of the life you want to live to the life you have already experienced. Come to terms with your own stress and anxiety.
  • Calmness: Avoid self-medicating to soothe emotional pain. Instead, be open and available to your internal questions and concerns.  Use your balance and inner empowerment to project calmness to the outside world.

Be open to seeking mental health treatment.  We are losing a generation to incarceration, violence and drug/alcohol abuse.  We continue to cripple our lives by refusing to seek mental health assistance.  In doing so, we only weaken our resolve, add more obstacles to the journey of self-discovery and hamper the experience that we call LIFE.

My dear young man, there are role models. LOOK IN THE MIRROR. In your quest to strive and not just survive, YOU have become a role model for those seeking to do the same.  Go out and find individuals and allies regardless of color, race and ethnicity, who think and live life like you.

Best wishes to you on your journey of self-discovery.

Regards,

Dr. Kane, Psy.D

Clinical Traumatologist

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Complex Trauma does not go away by

Simply pushing it to the back of your

                                    mind.

It is a thief that lurks around until it finds an open door.  It flashes.  It screams as it leaps into my soul.

It is a thief that steals in the day or in the night.

Enough is never enough.

It steals and steals and steals.

It plucks and sucks the life, slowly

                           From me. 

-Micheal Kane

 

Until we speak again….The Visible Man

For additional information regarding Dr. Kane, please visit www.lovingmemore.com.

The Visible Man: Images vs. Reflections

“I also don’t believe in drugs…  I don’t want it near schools- I don’t want it sold to children. That’s an infamia.  In my city, we would keep the traffic in the dark people- the coloreds.  They’re animals anyway, so let them lose their souls.”

-Giuseppe “Joe Z” Zaluchi, The Godfather (1972)

“Captain Hanks, I have spent most of my life in the navy trying only to succeed.  However, my quest has come as a great personal loss to those who love me.  They too have made sacrifices.  They too have endured great pains to support me.  If I walk these twelve steps today, reinstate me to active duty.  Give me my career back, let me finish it and go home in peace.”

-US Navy Master Chief Carl Brashear, Men Of Honor (2000)

My Dear Readers,

As we celebrate Father’s Day, I am struck by the the racist and stereotyped depictions of African-American people in some movies and yet encouraged by the efforts of others to combat those depictions with more accurate and representative images in other movies.

In one film, The Godfather, none of the major characters are black, but during a pivotal scene, they are spoken of as “animals” and “people who have no souls,” and thus, deserved to be sold into the heroin drug trade.

In contrast, the movie Men of Honor tells the true story of US Navy Master Diver Carl Brashear, a strong black man who, despite overwhelming odds, stood up to racism within the armed forces and retires from military service with honor.  For his performance, Cuba Gooding Jr. received the NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Actor in a Motion Picture.

Images

We have many images of strong black fathers holding their own despite the overwhelming odds, struggling, and standing against racism, discrimination, and oppression.  Such fathers include notables such as Nobel Peace Prize winners Barack Obama (2009), Martin Luther King Jr. (1964) and Ralph Bunche (1950).

We also live with the images of fathers who are unknown to us.  As they are unknown so are their sacrifices and contributions.  Men such as the black soldiers who served in segregated labor battalions in France during World War I, who not only suffered psychological trauma from the work of locating and burying the war dead, but were vilified by White soldiers for that work as well.   The segregated all Black 761st Tank Battalion, which fought during World War II as an independent unit because no white American units wanted to be associated with them, but still fought gallantly, in the process capturing or destroying 331 machine gun nests, 58 cement pillboxes, and 461 armored vehicles.

Despite their courage and their achievements, both Generals Patton and Eisenhower  turned down requests for official recognition. To add insult to injury, General Patton once remarked:

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

There are countless examples of these known and unknown stories of these black fathers.   My father was one of them.  Theodore T. Kane served his country in military service that included two tours in Vietnam, and after retiring from the military, he served another 20 years as a federal law enforcement officer.  My father was all about his image, appearing professional, “being all you can be,” and proving himself to be equal to his white colleagues.  When he died, none of his previous or current law enforcement supervisory/managerial staff sent a note of condolences to the family or attended his funeral service.

W.E.B. DuBois, a black sociologist and historian who lived from 1868 to 1963 once reflected that for a black man living in America:

“It’s a peculiar sensation.  This double consciousness, this sense of always looking at one’s self through the eyes of others, and measuring one’s soul by the tape of a world that looks on in amused contempt and pity.”

History has shown that for hundreds of years, African-Americans, particularly men, have been doing the “right thing for the wrong reasons.”  It is human nature to be want to be validated by others, but the psychological error and therefore repeated failure to attain that validation comes from “looking at one’s self through the eyes of others.” We continue to measure ourselves by a standard that is both strengthened and perpetuated by our very failure to attain it.

Concluding Words

In the face of all of this, I believe that black fathers should not just simply live their lives, but to BE life for their families. Breathe love and life into your spouses and children.  Stop focusing on what others think about you.  Stop focusing on the imagery and be more concerned about substance.  Be the best father you can be.  Along with professional or work-related goals, seek the life you want and be the father you want to be with and for your children.

Racism and stereotypes are never going to go away.  Both are about fear, and such fear lies so deep within the individual’s soul that it cannot be forced away.  Only the individual holding such feelings can let it go.

Our choices are simple…we can advocate for self, seek balance in our internalized world and calmness in our external environment, and measure our own souls by the love and peace and joy we find in the worlds we build for our families and our communities.

My children are my blessings.  I look forward to walking my daughter down the aisle of matrimony and holding my first grandchild.  Again…don’t simply live life…be life.

Until we speak again… The Visible Man

For additional information regarding Dr. Kane, please visit http:// www.lovingmemore.com

The ABCs of Parenting With (And Not In) Fear

“You must listen to me, my son. They don’t hear your voice.  They just see the color of your skin.  You understand?

It’s okay son…I know you want this to be over.  I’m right here.  I will be right here.  But you don’t give up.  You hear me? As long as you still grab a breath, you fight.  You breathe… keep breathing.

My son… I’m right here.  You hear me?

All I had was that boy – and he took him from me.

I ain’t afraid to die anymore.  I’d done it already.”

-Hugh Glass, The Revenant  (2015)

My Dear Readers,

In the 2015 movie The Revenant, the explorer Hugh Glass, played by Leonardo DiCaprio, experiences the same psychological traumatization that black parents experience in today’s society while seeking to protect their children.   In the film, Glass struggles to help his headstrong, half-Native American, teenage son understand the danger he is in due to prejudice about his race, and how to survive and stay alive in the “world of the white man.”

Later in the movie, having been severely wounded in an encounter with a grizzly bear, Glass watches helplessly as his son is murdered, which symbolizes the end of Glass’ own life, and leaves him simply a spirit looking to avenge the death of his boy.

In this, the month of graduations, proms, and other celebrations of the transition from one stage of life to another, we also live with the fear of more violence towards our black adolescents, and the spirits of black parents seeking justice for their murdered children.  This week, we will hear the words of a distraught mother who is “living in fear” of losing her 17 year-old son as he prepares to leave for college.

Below is her story…

————————————–

Dear Visible Man,

I need your help.  I don’t what to do or who to turn to. I am so frightened.  My only child Christopher is graduating from high school and preparing to leave home this summer for early entrance into a college located across the country.

In high school, my son is seriously committed to his studies.  He has stayed away from drugs, hasn’t been involved with negative people or groups, and he has been mindful of the importance of good decision-making. He was involved in student government, sports activities, and he was a young deacon in our church.  Still, I am afraid that none of this will matter when he goes out into the real world.

I have begged him to remain here in and attend one of the local schools.  I recently read a news story about a young African-American male college student in Maryland being stabbed to death by a white supremacist, and I am fearful of what could happen to him, as I will not be there to protect him from that danger.

As a young black adolescent, he has had his share of hostile encounters with the police that had overtones of racial profiling.  Recently my son and his friend were stopped and searched by the police as a matter of precaution due to the recent shootings in Mississippi.

I am at a point where I am so worried that I can’t sleep without medication and my hair is has begun to fall out.  My son understands this, but he still wants to go on with his plans. Needless to say, there is a lot of anger and tense feelings in our home. Please advise me as to what to say to him.

-Breaking my Heart, Des Moines, WA

————————–

My Dear Woman,

As a parent of two adult children, I have empathy for your concerns.  Although my son has lived on his own for many years, there never goes a day that his safety is not on my mind. When there is an “officer-involved shooting” involving a black man, I know he is not involved, but still, I am concerned about the profiling and treatment he may receive when coming in contact with police officers.

Being a parent is can transform you. Regardless of our racial backgrounds,  parents spend years assisting in the developmental staging in the lives of our children.  Consequently, we are either supervising, directing, managing or administering the lives of our children for a long period of time.

However, once our children move from late adolescence to young adulthood, we should not only expect changes in their behavior and actions, but we must also seek the same for ourselves.

We can transform the way in which we parent utilizing two models: the ABC’s of Parenting Young Adults & Living With Fear.  In the first, the parent seeks to do the following:

  • Advocacy-become an advocate for your young adult. The focus is on providing encouragement and support to your adolescent’s independent and movement into adulthood
  • Bystander-become an observer of your young adolescent life, instead of controlling In order to do this, you must come to terms with your own stress and anxiety.  Be willing to watch your young adult make mistakes and wrestle with their choices and decisions with the exception of life-threatening situations.
  • Coaching-be open and available for your young adult’s questions and concerns. Provide your advice and consultation upon request.  As a result, your knowledge and guidance is more likely to be valued when the young adult requests it, rather than when the parent forces it.

As parents of black children, however, we have the added responsibility of preparing our children to function and thrive in a world that may be hostile to them simply because of the color of their skin.

On August 23, 1963, in a speech during the historic March on Washington, Martin Luther King Jr. said:

“I have a dream that my four children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.”

Fifty-four years and two generations later, Dr. King’s dream has not yet materialized.  Meanwhile as we share his dream with our children, we as parents must help to shape the manner in which they live their lives by serving as mentors and modeling healthy behaviors and actions. This can be achieved with the therapeutic model of Living With Fear, Not In Fear. 

When we live in fear, we allow our fear to take over our lives and dictate the limits of our possibilities.  We opt not to take chances because of the fear of failure and/or loss.

When we live with fear, we acknowledge that fear is here—it has always been and will always be here—however, it is a hindrance in our lives.  Instead of avoiding the things we fear, we face it directly, and respond.  When we execute that response, we learn to embrace our fear as a part of us.

Fear is ALWAYS here.  Fear as an emotion is a permanent fixture.  Fear is here forever…it never left.  It is for the individual to choose a direction: to live IN their fear or to live WITH their fear.

When we choose to live IN our fear, we make the conscious decision to not share our light and talents with the world.  When we live WITH our fear, we balance that fear in a way that still allows us to share ourselves with the world.

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 Concluding Words

 My Dear Woman,

You closed your letter by asking for advice on what to say to your son, but I want to speak directly to you.  As a parent of a child who will soon become a young adult, the time has come for you to step aside and allow yourself to transform, and embrace your newly defined roles as advocate, bystander and coach.   Your current actions are based on living in fear as well as seeking to maintain a protective cloak around your son.

The dangers you seek to protect him from are real and not imagined, don’t get me wrong.  However, as you urge him to seek success, the actions you take out of your own fear may actually cripple him by negatively impacting his self-esteem, confidence and identity.  All that you have committed to and worked so diligently, will now be weakened as he becomes unable to depend on his own responses to the psychological trauma that awaits his arrival as a young black male into the world of adulthood.

I urge you to hold on to belief, faith and trust in the foundation that you have given him as he has developed into the young man you love so much.  Finally, allow yourself the freedom to move on in transforming to remaining active in his life as an advocate, bystander and coach.  Look toward what is newly possible for your own life.

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New Possibilities

Life is a journey

filled with new possibilities.

And sometimes because of

the person you have

become

You find yourself in the right

place at the right time for….

new possibilities

-Dr. Micheal Kane

****************************************

Until we speak again….The Visible Man

For additional information regarding Dr. Kane, please visit http://www.lovingmemore.com.

The Visible Man: The ABCs of Black Male Safety

 

“Officer, Don’t shoot!  Please don’t kill him!” He’s just 12 years old!  If you got to kill someone, kill me instead!”

-A distraught mother

 “Yes, I feel guilty and relieved. I get on my knees every morning and scream to my Jesus, Thank you Lord, for protecting me from misery. Death knocked at my door, but it didn’t happen to me.”

-Mary, a mother of three adolescent boys

“The white policeman shot my son as if he was trying to kill a deer running through the woods.”

-Walter Scott’s father, North Charleston, SC

——————

My Dear Readers,

Every African-American male in this country who drives a vehicle has traveled by bus, or has been an air passenger has been a victim of racial profiling by police or other law enforcement agencies, whether they know it or not.

Regardless, of education, socio-economic status, class, or income, all black males are vulnerable to being viewed as a threat simply due to the color of our skin, and as a result, being targeted as such.

Targeting (in terms of human interaction):

  • A person, object, or place selected as the specific aim of an attack.
  • To look at or examine something or someone carefully in order to find something concealed.
  • A person or thing against whom criticism or abuse is or being directed.
  • To look at or beneath the superficial aspects of to discover a motive, reaction, feeling or basic truth.

The U.S. Supreme Court has held that racial profiling violates the constitutional requirement that all persons be accorded equal protection of the law. Understanding that racial profiling violates the protection requirement of the constitution, why do police officers continue to engage in such practices?

1) Because they hold the stereotypical belief that a particular individual of one race or ethnicity (in this case, black) and gender (in this case, male) is more likely to engage  in criminal behavior and,

2) They hold the power in determining who receives protection as indicated in the law and who receives enforcement of the law.

An example of being the recipient of enforcement is the following:

“In Newark, New Jersey, on the night of June 14, 2008, two youths aged 15 and 13 were riding in a car driven by their football coach, Kevin Lamar James.  All were African American.  Newark police officers stopped their car in the rain, pulled the three out, and held them at gunpoint while the car was searched.  James stated that the search violated his rights.   One officer replied in abusive language that the three African- Americans didn’t have rights and that the police “had no rules.”  The search of the car found no contraband, only football equipment.”

The actions and words of the police officers words directly reflect the belief upheld in the Dred Scott decision of 1857, where the US Supreme Court Chief Justice Roger Taney wrote that a black man has “no rights that a white man is bound to respect.”

Keeping that in mind, the past few months nationwide have been severely psychologically impactful within the African American community, specifically males.

  • West Memphis, TN 5/19/17– a police officer fatally shoots a 12-year-old who he observed having a weapon in his waistband. Upon further review, it was discovered that the weapon was a toy.  The incident is under administrative review.
  • Tulsa, OK 5/18/17– a white female police officer was acquitted in the shooting death of an unarmed black motorist in 2016.
  • Balch, TX 5/2/17 – a 15-year-old black male riding in a vehicle is shot and killed by a white male police officer. The officer is dismissed from the police force and currently charged with murder.
  • North Charleston, SC 5/2/17– former police officer pleads guilty for violating the civil rights in the shooting death of an unarmed motorist. During a previous trial, a jury deadlocked without a verdict in which the video evidence shows the former officer firing six shots into the back of the fleeing motorist.
  • Nashville, TN 2/10/17- a police officer shot and killed a black male during a physical confrontation following a traffic stop for running a stop sign.
  • Minneapolis, MN, 1/24/17– a police officer was charged with second-degree assault with intentional discharge of a firearm for shooting into a vehicle with six occupants. The officer acknowledged firing into the car when the driver was no longer a threat to his safety.

Despite the Constitution’s guarantee of equal protection under the law, it is the black man’s reality in America that when it comes to daily interaction with the police “there is no guarantee of protection for those of our complexion.” 

  • How do we insure our physical safety and emotional wellness?
  • How do we protect ourselves from unreasonable search and arrest?
  • How do we protect our children?

 The ABCs of Safety: Black Males: & The Police

We can transform the way in which we interact with the police. Where the police have the “power” and authority, we can adapt strategies to empower our children, adolescents and ourselves.

One such strategy is the therapeutic model of Advocacy, Balance & Calmness.  The objectives of this model are to minimize the amount of  psychological trauma that may result from interacting with the police and to improve your opportunities for a safe withdrawal from the encounter. This is achievable through the following:

  • Advocacy– Know when to hold or show your cards. Know when to speak and what to say.
  • Balance– Remember that your power lies within you, and cannot be taken from you without your consent. Balance your anger with your wisdom. 
  • Calmness- Use your balance and inner empowerment to project calmness to the outside world. Use this to defuse the situation.

When you encounter the police:

  • Know that the police officer will ask you for identification, and that it is legal for them to do this.
  • Know that your identity will be verified in a criminal database to identify any warrants or other notices against you.
  • Know that the police officer will be looking for suspicious behavior from you and from anyone with you.
  • Be prepared for a possible stop and search of your personal space and belongings.

What do you do when you are stopped by a police officer?

  •  Keep your hands open and exposed. Immediately tell the officer:  I AM UNARMED.  I AM NOT A THREAT TO YOU.
  • Always comply and follow the police officer’s instructions. Speak in a respectful tone.
  • If you are under the age of 18, inform the police officer of your age and be sure to request that your parent, legal guardian, or legal representative be present.
  • If you choose not to speak, inform the police officer of your intent to remain silent until you have representation. After that, immediately stop talking.
  • Use your powers of observation. Document the incident and any concerns regarding any behavior during the encounter.
  • Remember to get the date, time, and location, the license plate and vehicle number of the police officer and the name of the department the officer works for.
  • If needed, file a complaint with the local sheriff or police chief’s office.
  • Remember that the police officer is entitled to use deadly force if they feel physically threatened.

Knowing and understanding your ABCs can help you maintain the demeanor and mental clarity to make sure that you correctly and safely advocate for yourself, maintain your internal balance, and project an air of calmness into the situation.

———————————————

Concluding Words

“Life is like a box of chocolates; you never know what you gonna get.”   Forrest Gump (1994)

I recently saw a YouTube video where three black boys around 12 years old were playing basketball in their front yard.  A police cruiser pulls up, the police officer draws his weapon and assumes a defensive position behind the door of the vehicle.  The police officer yells at the kids, “get on the ground, get on the ground.  The kids, shocked and scared, complied with the directions.  The mother comes out of the house screaming and crying “don’t kill my babies.”  The police officer tells her “Mam, go back into the house.  The scene ends with no shots being fired.  Good outcome?  No one hurt. Really?

Welcome to the Rites of Passage for black adolescents. This is the starting point of their psychological trauma.  They will never forget the incident in which a police officer drew a weapon and placed their lives at risk.

Sadly, this scene has become normalized procedure for police departments and is repeated on a daily basis in the lives of black males.

********************************************

Life can be running a daily gauntlet

If I can make it through the night,

Wake up in the morning,

And my son is still alive;

I have won.

-Dr. Micheal Kane

*****************************************.

Until we speak again….The Visible Man.

At The Crossroads: Trauma and Tragedy on Mother’s Day

“The car was driving aggressively towards the officer, prompting the shot.”

– Jonathan Haber, Police Chief, Balch Springs Police Department

“In an hurry to get the statement out, I misspoke.”

-Police Chief Haber (following the review of the police body camera)

“Our teenage sons can’t sleep at night.  They are either sleeping in the bed with us or sleeping with all the lights on.

When they fall asleep, they are having night terrors of seeing their brother murdered right there in front of them.

When they dream, they see Jordan, with smoke coming out of his head from the shot.  That’s what they were forced to see.

Our four-year-old daughter, who has accidentally overheard what happened, is drawing pictures of her big brother with a hole in his head.  What are we supposed to say to her?”

-Odell Edwards, Jordan Edwards’ father

————————

My Dear Readers,

My heart is heavy.  In my previous blog At The Crossroads: Empowerment When Playing The Game Is Not Enough, I was chided for perceived criticism of black parents seeking safety and protection raising their children in suburban communities.

Last week the Edwards family, a two parent African-American family with three teenage sons and a four year old daughter who reside in a suburb of Dallas, Texas, were the living the American dream.  Today, as the nation prepares for the upcoming annual Mother’s Day celebration, they have become just another black family preparing to bury their son, living a uniquely American nightmare.

Following the shooting death of Jordan Edwards, the police chief, without having reviewed the evidence, moved quickly to assert that the officer shot in self-defense.

There is, of course, the societal belief that these young black males were either gang members or malcontents involved in criminal activity, and therefore, got what they justly deserved.  As it turns out, they were simply kids at a neighborhood party who had left out of a sense of responsibility as it had got too crowded and rowdy.

As reported by Shaun King from the New York Daily News:

“Police swarmed the car, which was their dad’s personal vehicle, and forced all of the boys out at gunpoint.  The police, cursing and yelling, expressed no concern for Jordan.

As police demanded that the boys face away from them and walk backwards with their hands held above their heads, one of the cops, according to the sons, loudly mocked them for not knowing their left from their right.  They had just seen their brother shot in the forehead with a rifle.

At that point, Vidal, Kevon and their friend, who was in the car with them, were not only traumatized beyond comprehension, they were seriously wondering if they’d be shot and killed next.

What they were arrested for was being black kids in their own car, obeying the law, while witnessing their brother shot in the face by police, but no one could quite tell the the truth about that.  My guess is that the police hope they will find something-drugs, alcohol, expired registration, or a weapon of some sort but they found nothing.  The boys, in the most traumatic moment of their lives, had been profiled and detained for no reason on top of it all.”

There are countless variations on quotes exhorting us to never give up.  One variation is “Bad things happen; what matters most is that you get up and keep going.”

The Edwards family represents the embodiment of the American middle class family.  When closing one’s eyes, what does one see? A two-parent family residing in a suburban community, well respected, churchgoers with three teenage sons attending the local high school with no history of disciplinary concerns and unknown to the local police or judicial authorities.

Jordan Edwards was a straight A student, athlete.  He was everything his parents wanted him to be: smart, kind, hardworking, giving and a lover of sports

Now they have buried him one week before Mother’s Day.

The Edwards family also represents the embodiment of the nightmare for black families although breathing the same air, living in two alternative universes.  I am reminded of a recent Subaru auto sales commercial directed at two racial groups one white, the other black.

In the “white commercial,” it focuses on a little white boy growing up and driving his father’s car off to college with graying dad, mom standing with the family dog, with a prideful look waving farewell as he goes off to explore his new world.  In the “black commercial,” the teenager tells his mother that he’s taking the car to see his friends.

One commercial celebrates the bright and hopeful future of a confident and secure young man and the pride of his parents as he leaves home The other leaves out the truth of the stress and anxiety of the parent in quiet contemplation, fearing for the safety of her son and not being able to rest until his feet are heard back in the home again.

——————–

Concluding Words

In his article, Shaun King writes that:

“The police have actually asked if they could attend the funeral, but they haven’t apologized for what they have done.”

It may be incredulous to some that the police would even ask to be in same space of those who have suffered severe psychological trauma by one of their own.  Or, it may be seen as an act of human connection on the part of the police reaching out to the family and the community.

The truth of this incident is the fact that psychological trauma is a permanent etching on the psychological self.   Fifteen-year-old Jordan Edwards’ future is over.  His family will forever be impacted by this event as well as the understanding that other black families continue to be  at risk for a similar experience.

The tragic death of Jordan Edwards reaffirm that our children represent our Achilles Heel, the soft area that we cannot protect from race related aggression.

Rather than focus on protecting our young people from racial strife, we should engage in empowering strategies that will also focus on healing the psychological wounds they are bound to continue to encounter in their lives.

*****************************************

“’To err is human’ is a common expression, but we should not believe there is always room for error.  In some cases there is no room for errorNone.

-Dr. Micheal Kane, Ten Flashes of Light

****************************************

Until the next crossroads.  The journey continues…


 

At The Crossroads: Empowerment When Playing The Game Is Not Enough

 

“The natives are restless.”

-New Zealand Parliamentary Debates (1868)

“If I were a black father and I was concerned about the safety of my child, really concerned about it and not in a politically activist way, I would say be very respectful to the police, most of them are good, some can be very bad and just be very careful.”

-Rudy Giuliani, former New York City Mayor

“Life is like a box of chocolates; you never know what you’re gonna get.”

-Forrest Gump

 

My Dear Readers,

Here we go again.  Black parents, be on high alert.  During a brazen convenience store robbery in downtown Seattle several days ago, a black man shot three cops, critically injuring one.  As a result, for the coming weeks and possibly months, police and other law enforcement officers will be looking at every black male with “extra caution and concern.

While the police grow restless, many of the locals are living in fear.  History has shown that when white citizens believe that black males are “dangerously out of control,” excessive violence from police towards those people go largely unnoticed, and if they are noticed, then justifications are made for that violence, or the victim is blamed for the behavior that made that police officer use force.

Fear is in the air.  The recent rash of shootings across the country perpetrated by black men in Cleveland OH, San Bernardino, CA, and Fresno CA, will, as usual, be seen as a reflection on black males in American in general, despite the individual people, places and circumstances in these particular situations.  As a result, the suspicion with which many police departments and officers view black men will and has turned to active harassment and preemptive violence, and thus, black males of all ages should take extra precautions regarding their personal safety.  Although the individuals involved were apprehended, police history with black citizens tells us that this episode of tension has just begun.

In my previous writing, The Visible Man: Running The RACE Smarter Not Harder, I stated that our children are our Achilles Heel; they are our vulnerability, which can be used against us as parents and as individuals. Historically, African-American parents have sought to shield their children from these cruel realities.

I received many responses to that piece from parents and young adults, with mixed results.  Parents felt that they were shamed for providing their young adults a comfortable lifestyle and felt that the piece accused them of not doing enough to prepare their children for the realities of living in a society that can be harsh to and can reject them simply because of the color of their skin.  Comments included the following:

  • “African-Americans have the right to live wherever we choose to. If I choose to raise my children in a suburban community, and I can afford to send them to a private school, that is my business and my right to do so.  You are wrong to suggest otherwise.”
  • “You should be ashamed of yourself, not being supportive of hard working black folks struggling to provide a better life for their children. There is nothing wrong with living in an affluent community and sending your child to a private school.”
  • “Of all people, you should know hard it is to raise black children these days. Instead of criticizing our parenting and putting down our young people, please focus on uplifting our young people, especially our young men. They need all the help they can get!”

Young adults, on the other hand, appeared to be more sensitive to my comments about seeking the same comfortable living style they were raised in and the privilege they have experienced in not having to deal with the stressors that come with being black in a white societal structure:

  • I am tired of people like you hating on us. I have the right to live where I want, and go wherever I want.
  • Yeah, I live in the suburbs. I am tired of people staring at me and treating me like I don’t belong here.
  • You old people had your turn. It is our day now.  You and the police can go f__k yourselves.”

I would prefer to embrace the comments and seek to understand the underlying themes of anger, frustration and survival embedded in these remarks.  In essence, these individuals, long ignored, are speaking their truth and they deserve to be listened to and to be understood.

One common theme in these responses emerged for me: the repeated exposure to experiences, acts and incidents of race-related stress in the form of micro-aggressive and macro-aggressive assaults.  This  repetitive exposure can be traumatic and lead to feelings of powerlessness and helplessness.

These are defined in the following:

  • Race-related stress: stress occurring from a race-related adverse event
  • Micro-aggressive assaults: constant repetitive direct and indirect acts (e.g., racial profiling, suspicious intent and stereotyping)
  • Macro-aggressive assaults: fear of and/or threats of physical violence

Many older black people have learned to survive by “playing the game” and in doing so, have achieved upward mobility, social status and wealth.  However, those achievements have not, do not, and will not exempt us from adverse treatment based on the color of our skin.

Our ongoing exposure to race-related adverse events exposes us to the complex trauma of race related stress; as parents, in our attempt to protect our children, we unconsciously pass our fears into our offspring, who in turn, are sent out, vulnerable and exposed, into a hostile societal environment.

Just “playing the game” is not enough to  insure the psychological well-being of ourselves, let alone our children. So, what are we to do?  I have responses for both parents and young adults.

——————————-

My Dear Parents,

“What we’ve got to do is hear from the black community.”

-Rudy Giuliani, former New York City Mayor

What do we do?

We must understand that we have the choice to either:

  • Live IN Fear– waiting for the next action or incident of race related stress and therefore being forced to react to the event, or :
  • Live WITH Fear– understanding the immediate possibility of race related adverse events to occur and seeking to prepare a response to the occurring event.

 What can we do?

We can transform the strategy the way we interact with our young adults

  • We can lead by example by understanding that a reaction may place oneself in danger whereas a response can be one that is calming, collective and based on calculation of thought and action.
  • We can cease focusing on protecting our young people from race related adverse events; understanding that in doing so we may be encasing or encircling them with our fears and experiences.
  • We can transform the way in which we seek to parent our adolescents as they move closer to adulthood; with strategies moving away from managing, supervising and directing towards strategies employing advocacy and coaching.
  • We can encourage mental health intervention when our young people become psychologically overwhelmed.

How do we protect our young people from the policeFrom a hostile and rejecting community?  From being impacted from trauma?

We can start by transforming the focus from protection to empowerment.  We can work towards reducing the internalized parental impulse to live in fear and transform the focus from being powerless to gaining empowerment.

Reinforce the ABC model : Advocacy, Balance & Calmness

  • Advocacy– Have an awareness of the social and physical environment in which you work, play, or reside. Understand that even though in the company of others, you are at risk of being profiled and subsequently abandoned by your friends or colleagues when interacting with law enforcement.
  • Balance– When interacting with law enforcement, understand that you, without having being involved in any illegal or criminal activity, may be viewed with suspicion and mistrust. Maintain   Comply with all directions by the police officer.  Make slow body movements.  Keep your hands away from your body.
  • CalmnessSlow down your breathing. Take a respite within the psychological self.  Allow the police officer to control your physical space.  Remember that although the police officer has legal authority, you have empowerment with the self to step away from the encounter… alive with minimum psychological impact.

——————————————

Concluding Words

My Dear Young Adults,

Racism will not be legislated away.  It lies buried deep within the human heart. It can and will strike without notice or hesitation.  It is for you to learn how to respond to racism rather than react towards it.

 “Be a bottle of water, not a can of soda.” -Unknown

You can choose to be the water that calmly fills the glass with completeness and fulfillment instead of being the can of soda that, when shaken, explodes wildly and without direction or purpose.

Finally, hold on to the words and wisdom of Valerie Castile, mother of Philando Castile, recently shot to death by a police officer in St. Anthony, Minnesota:

“If you get stopped by the police…comply, comply, comply.”

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For additional information regarding Dr. Kane, please visit http://www.lovingmemore.com

The Visible Man: Running The RACE Smarter, Not Harder

 

“To be a Negro in this country and to be relatively conscious is to be in rage almost all the time.”

-James Baldwin, Novelist (1924-1987)

“Be a bottle of water, and not a can of soda.”

-Anonymous

“You can run, but you can’t hide”

-Joe “The Brown Bomber” Louis, World Heavyweight Boxing Champion (1937-1949)

My Dear Readers,

The African Diaspora is a term commonly used to describe the communities throughout the world that are descended from the historic movement of people from Africa during the Transatlantic Slave Trade from the 1500 to the 1800’s.  In addition to North American and Europe, the African Diaspora includes South America and the Caribbean.

Between 1525 and 1866, in the entire history of the slave trade of the New World, 12.5 million Africans were shipped to the New World.  Of those 10.7 survived the dreaded Middle Passage. (Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade Database, 2014)

Following the American Civil War and the passing of the 13th (freedom), 14th,  (citizenship) and 15th (voting rights) amendments to the Constitution, these Africans went on to endure another 150 years of oppression in the form of segregation, Jim Crow laws and domestic terrorism by groups such as the Ku Klux Klan.  After the turbulence of the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s, African-Americans have finally achieved acceptance… somewhat.

Today I prepare for my own journey to Washington, D.C., for the celebration of the descendants of the African Diaspora at the  National Association of Black Social Workers 49th Annual Conference.  The focus of this year conference is: “Unmasking Politics & Policies: Strengthening the Black Family.”

This organization and its conference focuses on issues that impact the black family, which have historically been ignored and where acknowledged, underserved by other mainstream social work organizations.

It is not lost on me that unlike my ancestors, who came to this region of the Diaspora traumatized, chained together, naked, and soiling on themselves, I can travel as a free man. Yet, freedom for a African-American man today comes at a price…. constant vigilance.

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Dear Visible Man,

I so angry I don’t know what else to do.  I am 19 years old and a college student.  When I was recently home visiting with my family, I was accosted by the police and arrested for obstructing a police officer.

I was handcuffed, booked into the county jail and forced to spend the night in a cell where I was treated like a caged animal.   The next day, I was released without any charges being filed.

The police stopped me for no other reason other than being black driving in a suburban neighborhood.   When the police stopped me, I turned on my video recorder.  The officer told me several times to turn it off, but I politely refused, stating that it was my legal right to videotape the interaction.

I knew I was right about this because I learned it in my class last semester.   The next thing I know, I am being pulled out of my car and thrown on the ground, handcuffed and placed in a police car.

The police violate my rights and I am the one who goes to jail?  For what? Being in a white middle class neighborhood?  I happen to live there.  That’s right—I live there, the very same community where I attended private school.

If I had been white, this bullshit would never had happened.  I once read about the same thing happening to a white guy driving for Uber and the police who stopped him let him go without arresting him after he refused to turn off his own video recording.

What does he have that I don’t have? White male privilege.  My parents tell me I can get ahead by playing the game, staying out of trouble and getting an education. But what does that get me?  I get to spend the night in jail with brothers I have nothing in common with.

I’m looking forward to getting back to my lily-white private college in the Midwest.  At least there is an advantage to being one of the few black males on campus and the only one studying chemical engineering—everybody knows me and they don’t see me as a threat.   I’ve been home for a week, and I have been stopped more times in that week than the three years I have been away at school.

Despite the comfortable life that my parents provided me, I know that racism for me is never going to end.  My parents told me about racism, but I wish my parents had warned me better.  The hell with this; I’m going back to school, I’m gonna find a graduate program, and stay there.

-Searching for Safety, Tacoma

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My Dear Young Man,

I can see the emotional suffering and psychological trauma in your letter.  However, what you did not acknowledge is the anguish and suffering of your parents.  You are, as all of our children are, our pride and joy and yet, you are also our Achilles Heel.

An “Achilles Heel” is defined as a weak or vulnerable point on a person of overall strength, which can lead to downfall.

As parents, we do what we can to protect our children from the horrors of the world.  In your case, your parents, blessed with financial capabilities, sheltered you in a protected world (i.e., suburban home, private schools etc.)

However, as parents, we can only do so much.  There comes a developmental stage in your life commonly known as “young adulthood” in which you must gather the skills, knowledge and wisdom to protect yourself.

If you understand from your parents teaching you to “learn to play the game” then it is up to you to take it to the next level of “running the RACE smarter, not harder.”  The RACE I am referring to is Responsibility, Accountability, Consequences and Empowerment.  Specifically:

  • Responsibility –you are alone and must therefore advocate for yourself.
  • Accountability-you may be called to answer for things not of your making or choosing. Therefore, you must seek balance in your thoughts and feelings and maintain awareness to your surroundings.
  • Consequences– can be transformed into responses instead of unprepared reactions. It is through our alertness that we maintain calmness in our external environment
  • Empowerment-we can achieve the objective of leaving the incident alive with the minimum impact of emotional distress or psychological trauma.

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Concluding Words

My Dear Young Man,

There are three realities in an African-American’s life:

  • One, racism is a growing cancer that is well bedded in the fabric of America.
  • Two, racism will be here long after you are gone.
  • Three, you can thrive; achieving the life you desire despite the long term psychological impacts of racism.

It is ironic that you have chosen to “go back that lily-white private college in the Midwest” where you are known as one of the few African-American males on campus.  The underlying message may be that you are seeking a “protected environment” in which you can enjoy the privileges of a lifestyle you have not earned, because of the fact that it was given to you by your hard-working parents.

 “You can run, but you can’t hide.

Running away as far as you can for safety will not help you avoid the emotional wounds and psychological damage that awaits you in the future of being a African-American man. You have the choice of continuing to live in the emotional wound created in the incident or you can empower yourself by walking your journey of self-discovery.

“Be a bottle of water, not a can of soda.”

 You can choose to be the water that calmly fills the glass with completeness and fulfillment instead of being the can of soda that, when shaken, enters the environment exploding wildly and without direction.

We are born to live and live to die.  The question of the journey of self-discovery, notwithstanding our contributions, is the quality of the lives we live and the lives we touch.

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Yesterday has passed, today is fading and tomorrow is not promised.  Stay with the moment.  Walk the journey of self-discovery.

-Dr. Micheal Kane

For more information regarding Dr. Kane visit http//www.lovingmemore.com.

The Visible Man: They Will Figure It Out

“I am an invisible man. I am invisible, understand, simply because people refuse to see me. When they approach me, they see only my surroundings, themselves, or figments of their imagination– indeed, everything and anything except me.” –

-Ralph Ellison, “The Invisible Man” (1947)

“Invisibility is an inner struggle with the feelings that one’s talents, abilities, personality, and worth are not valued or recognized because of prejudice and racism.”

-Dr. A.J.  Franklin, Boston College

My Dear Readers,

The opposite of visibility is invisibility. Everyday, people live their lives openly and clearly in front of us, but we observe them without really seeing them.   We will discuss this phenomena in a series called “The Visible Man.”

The Visible Man

The objective of this series is to provide a voice for the individual who finds themselves to be invisible based on their ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender, socioeconomic status, or religious affiliation. We aim to create a safe environment in which individuals can share their feelings when they encounter situations arising from their invisibility in society that makes them feel invalidated, under-valued, unwanted or underappreciated.

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Dear Visible Man:

I am a 27-year-old African American male.  Being an elder in the community, I wanted to get feedback from you regarding an incident that recently happened while I was riding the light rail system in Seattle.

While I was sitting there, I observed these five teenage boys acting up, talking loud, cursing, and repeatedly using the N word with each other.  As I sat there shaking my head in disgust, I took a moment to remember the times when I was a similar age, remembering that my friends and I did the same type of ridiculous and immature behavior.  I eventually figured it out, and I believe they will too.

Unlike me, however, these kids took it to a different level by talking loudly about “jacking and robbing” the passengers on the train, and now, these teenagers and myself are the only black males on a train filled with wide-eyed, tight lipped and frightened white people going home after a long day at work, being terrorized by a “wild bunch.”

I understood what the kids were doing.  They thought it was cool to get a rise out of the white folks.  It made me feel uncomfortable because at their age I had been there before.

I know that these kids saw themselves as being invisible to the white folks on the train, much like I did when I was their age. They were using their words, tones and nonverbal cues to be seen and to gain respect.  Like I said, I get it.  I have been there before.

However, now that I am older, I see a difference today that I didn’t truly understand when I was their age.  These transit riders actually had quite a bit of power in redirecting my life, and they would on these kids as well.  I saw fear in the eyes, and anger in the tightened jaws of these white people.  I saw women clutching their purses/hand bags more tightly.

What I didn’t see was movement. Just silence.  There were riders who stared at me with those fearful piercing eyes, pleading, as to say “You’re an adult, you should say something to them.”   The elderly woman sitting next to me said, “Those boys need a talking to.” I knew she was talking to me.

I just sat there.  The elderly woman shook her head in disgust.  I knew that the disgust wasn’t just for the young kids; it was also being directed at me for not taking action.

It was weird and disturbing sitting on the light rail that evening going home to my wife and two girls.  It was as if there were two worlds, the kids in one, and the white transit riders in the other, neither really being seen or understood by the other. Maybe I could have done something to resolve the situation, but I did nothing.

When we arrived at the station, the transit police appeared out of nowhere and removed the young males from the train.  The train continued on its journey and we were all more relaxed, but the silence remained.

I don’t know what happened to the kids who were removed by the transit police.  I was told by an officer that they could probably be charged with felonies for making threats, even though they did not take any action.

Should I have done something?  Could I have passed on some wisdom, knowledge, or experience? Or will they just have to grow older and figure it out, like I did?

My wife tells me by staying out of it I did the right thing.  I am walking around with a lot of guilt. I just don’t know.

Looking In The Mirror,  Seattle

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My Dear Young Man,

It appears that you are responding to the many external voices and non-verbal communication that was swirling around you not only during the incident but also now as you write your letter.  I am referring to the following:

  • The adolescents acting inappropriately
  • The words and disgusted look of the elderly woman
  • The piercing eyes of the transit riders
  • The police officer who spoke about the possible felony charges
  • Your spouse who feels you did the right by staying out of the fray.

However, I feel the real issue is the common experience you shared with the adolescents:

“I know that these kids saw themselves like myself as being invisible to the white folks on the train.”

This feeling of invisibility is a form of complex trauma that is called the Invisibility Syndrome.  This is the psychological and emotional distress that African-Americans, in this case, males, endure as they attempt to establish an identity within the context of a larger society that utilizes racism to either exclude them from or force them to conform to societal rules and structure.

Having had this experience before, you were aware that the teenagers were simply attempting to be seen and to gain respect, but you also had the experience of being an adult and noticing the fear emanating from the other riders, and understanding that that fear came from the things you had done yourself not long ago.  Now that they (you) are visible, it’s now your role to protect the adults from the ones you were once like.  But, you did nothing, and now you are questioning yourself, having doubts, and feeling the shame and guilt.

Before you drown yourself in your own psychological destruction, consider this:

  • You were the lone African-American male adult in the transit car.
  • The adolescents could have been armed.
  • There was no guarantee that the other transit riders would have assisted you if the teenagers had assaulted you.
  • How much would the riders have appreciated the stand you took? Would they have visited you in the hospital, paid your medical bills, or taken care of your family while you recovered?
  • If you died as a result of your intervention, would the transit riders console your wife, and raise your daughters?

Concluding Words

My Dear Young Man,

It may be your belief that “it takes a village to raise a child,” but in the light rail car that evening, the village did not exist.  It was just the group of teenagers, frightened transit riders, and you.

In your focus on the kids and the other transit riders, you have failed to focus on the responsibility you have to keep yourself safe and to return home to the loving arms of your family.  The police did not just happen to show up and remove the kids from the transit car.  Someone who felt threatened notified the police, who moved quickly to resolve the threat.

Your first responsibility is to yourself.  Keep in the mind the following:

  • Me-Although others may view you as invisible; you are made of flesh and bone. You are visible to you and to those who know, respect and care about you.
  • Myself- Remain vigilant; remember that as a African-American male in a society that chooses to view you as invisible, you must want to accept that there will be times when, despite being in the company of others, you will still be alone. You must want to maintain awareness of your surroundings and be alert to potential dangers.  You must want to accept the reality that others can abandon you during times of conflict or when you need their help the most. 
  • Mine– There are those who love you, depend upon and wait for your safe return every day. You can begin the process of caring for your loved ones by first taking care of yourself.

 

Kofi Annan, former Secretary General, United Nations (1997-2006) once said:

“Knowledge is power, information is liberating.  Education is the premise of progress, in every society, in every family.”

You may wish to share your wisdom, knowledge or experience, but those you wish to share with must be open and willing to receive.  And perhaps, like you, they too will figure it out.

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

-Dr. Micheal Kane “Ten Flashes of Light

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For additional information regarding Dr. Kane, please visit http://www.lovingmemore.com