The Choice of Living IN Fear Or Living WITH Fear

In fear or with fear? You must choose.
In the “At the Crossroads” writing, A Black Man’s Worst Nightmare: Living with a Bulls-eye on your Back  “No Protection for your Complexion,”  I gave an example of my experience of dealing with the police who were suspicious of me due to being out of place (at night walking in a white community).  In the telling of my experience, I provided recommendations to others as to how to handle themselves should they find themselves in a similar situation.
I recently received some feedback from an African-American colleague who had read the article.  In her response she shared the following:
“You were talking about the experience where you were not guilty or intending anything negative, but where you were ‘out of your expected place’ and therefore appeared to be a threat.
But what about all the young males and black men who are seen as a threat ‘in place’?  What about the young black males who have teachers that show fear of their disruption when they are in their schools? What about those who are stopped and questioned on or near their playgrounds, on the blocks, where they live or while they are playing in front of their homes?  What about those boys?  Does it make it easier to take and accept if the unfounded suspicion only comes in other settings?”
My colleague’s remarks have encouraged me to examine the concept of fear.  There is a huge difference between being a 57-year old man who is “out of place” and an 11-year-old boy on the playground or sitting in his yard.
Is it easier to accept when the suspicion comes in other settings than it is for a child who experiences his teacher showing fear of him? The writer has raised strong points.   It is possible that one can provide recommendations as to what society, community, family and black men can do to assist resolving this issue of “no protection for my complexion on the playground or in the front yard”.
My preference as a clinician is to focus on the individual.  The goal would be to teach the young child or adolescent skills that would reinforce self-esteem, self worth, self-validation, self-regard, self-confidence and self-competence.  The objective would be to create a sense of healthy narcissism, that being the understanding, acceptance and commitment to the following belief and value of “as much as I love you, I love myself more.  More.”
The 57-year-old African-American man walking in the white community and the 11-year-old boy playing either at the playground or in his front yard share several variables in common.
·      We live, work and play among people who fear us for the color of our skin and our gender.
·      We are being taught to either dislike (hate), devalue and distrust ourselves.
·      We are trained that the wants of others such as the community, church and family are prioritized over our own.
·      We are taught to love others.  We are not taught how to “love the self.”
We learn these lessons from within our community.  These are constantly being reinforced at school, work, television, movies and involvement in day-to-day activities.  We are looked upon with fear, suspicion and distrust by those who teach us and later work among us.  We learn our lessons well when we succeed in maintaining similar fear, suspicion and distrust among ourselves.
Out of these lessons come the one mighty variable that keeps the oldest and the youngest of us in the state of survival, which is the art of learning to “live in fear”.  We make the common mistake of focusing on those in positions of control such as teachers and police and give them undeserved importance based on their apparent authority.  As we focus on “them” we succeed in reinforcing their power and in doing so, we are successful in not focusing on “us” and building our “empowerment”.
In assisting our young men and women to empower themselves, we must want to accept the realities that others will for one reason or another always be suspicious and fearful of the psychological self that lives within us.   We must want to understand and accept that their suspicion and fear is about “them” and how they feel.  We must want to relieve ourselves of the pressure and frustrations that work to consume the psychological self and in doing so take away the opportunities for self-empowerment.
We must want to learn to “live with fear.” As I have stated in earlier writings, fear is good. We have been taught that fear is bad, a statement for the weak and therefore, fear is to be avoided and denied.  Yet fear is just another emotion.  Fear is just another feeling.
To be able to live with fear, one must be willing to own his/her feelings of fear.  One must want to embrace fear because… my fear is mine and mine alone.  No one but me can touch it or feel it.  Specifically, it is up to the individual as to how he/she conceptualizes his or her fear.
To be successful in this endeavor, the individual must want to “transform” the teachings of society, community and family in prioritizing loving the self first.  The larger group (i.e. family, community, society) will frame this as “an act of selfishness.”
It is essential for the individual to understand that he/she and not the larger group holds the keys towards empowering and maintaining one’s psychological and emotional health and well-being.  If living in fear or living without acknowledgement that which lies within is not a priority of the larger group, then we must be willing to question why.
This writing is not suggesting that we should not be afraid or let go of our fear.  To let go of one’s fear would be tantamount to slicing away a part of the psychological self.  Fear, as with happiness, joy or sorrow is nothing more than a feeling or an emotion.  To suggest to someone to simply “don’t be afraid” would be similar to forcing the individual to maintain a falsehood.
Closing Remarks
The focus on this writing was in one way to respond to the lack of empowerment that a child may feel when being viewed as a threat within his community, school or neighborhood.  The words expressed by my female African American colleague reflect the frustrations of many others regarding a sense of hopelessness or powerlessness as young boys and adolescents prepare to enter a world that fears them – not for an action, just for being male and black.
What we can do as individuals is teach young boys and adolescents the concept of living with fear instead of accepting the common thread of living in fear.  This can be achieved by understanding the concept of healthy narcissism and its sub concepts, which include prioritizing loving the self.
It has taken this writer the willingness and wantonness to explore this path and in doing so experience the journey of self-discovery.  I have found that with living with fear I have come to truly understand the concept of loving the self and in turn, loving me more.
Living in fear or living with fear.  The choice is yours.
                  Loving the Self
                  As much as I love you
                  I love me more.
            Loving me more does not mean
            I love you less.
                  It only means
                  I love me more
Until the next Crossroads.
The journey continues….

My Son, My Son. What Can I Do? Surviving Or Thriving After The Zimmerman Verdict: You Choose.

Dear Visible Man,
     I am the mother of a 14-year-old African-American adolescent.  He will be attending a private school in the Puget Sound area next fall.  He has been congratulated by his coaches for his “natural talent,” but I am concerned about his poor decision making and the fact that he has developed a sense of entitlement.
     I am also concerned about the hostile society he will face as he continues to develop into a black man.   What suggestions do you have?  Understanding what happened to Trayvon Martin and the jury verdict, how can I protect him?
Worried Mom, Puget Sound WA
Dear Worried Mom,
     Your comments are reflective of the concerns of many African-American mothers & fathers across the nation.  How can I protect my child from an increasingly hostile society? How do I get my son to understand the natural gifts that he has?  To appreciate and utilize such gifts and avoid being used by others?
     These are complex questions that may require you to do something you may not be prepared to do.  To begin, you must model the behavior you are seeking.
      First, you must want to stop living in fear and begin the process of living with fear.
     Second, you must want to get out of way, stop intervening and protecting your adolescent from the realities of life.
     Third, you must want to provide your adolescent with empowerment strategies that will prevail long following either your death or his/her attainment of adulthood, whichever comes first.
     The death of Trayvon Martin and the ensuring jury verdict are in themselves travesties.  And yet understanding how American society feels about black males, both the death and the jury verdict is not a shock or surprise to many.
     We must change the way that we conceptualize and view fear.  Just like happiness, joy and sadness, fear is nothing more than an emotion.  We must want to teach our adolescents how to conceptualize and utilize fear instead of allowing fear to be used against them.  We must want to conceptualize fear as both being “good” and “wanted” instead of something to be viewed as “bad” and to be avoided or denied.
     In conceptualizing fear the individual can be taught the following understanding: Utilizing fear, I understand that I am:
·       Alone-the individual, once outside the residence is vulnerable
·       Abandon-the individual is at risk of being isolated by the larger group and singled out.
·       Awareness-the individual must want to be “aware” of his surroundings and physical environment.
·       Alert-the individual must want to be vigilant to the presences of others i.e. personal and emotional safety.
·       Alive-the individual in following the first four components has improved his/her chances of returning to the residence safe, unharmed and not traumatized.
     Adolescence can be a time of pride for many parents.  However it can also be a time in which parents agonized, sweat, cry and shake their heads in frustration.  Attempting to prepare adolescents for moving into a society that has proven to be hostile and fearful due to stereotypes and fears of imagined behaviors is doubled in difficulty when parental action results in either minimizing the issue or prevents the adolescent from learning from mistakes of decisions or choices in actions.
     Just as adolescents are learning and adjusting as they move toward young adulthood, so must their parents learn and adjust in their behaviors and actions.  Parents must want to transition from the roles of supervisors and directors to roles that are suitable to those which encourage preparedness for young adulthood.  The following transition is suggested:
The ABC’s of Parenting from Adolescence to Adulthood
The parent adopts the following roles:
·       A= advocacy-The parent becomes a “parental advocate.” In doing so, the parental advocate provides encouragement for the adolescent’s independence and movement into adulthood.
·       B= bystander-The parent becomes a “bystander”.  In doing so, the parent learns to come to terms with his/her own stress/anxiety.  The parent refrains from interfering or blocking the making of “specific” mistakes and in doing so, becomes willing to observe the adolescent make mistakes and wrestle with choices and decisions.
·       C= consultation-The parent remains open and available.  The parent agrees to serve in the role of consultant and provide “consultation upon request.” Such consultation is likely to be more valued when the information is requested by the adolescent rather than demanded by the parent.
Of the three distinct roles, the “bystander” is far the most difficult role for a parent to transit into.  To stand by and observe one’s adolescent either make a mistake or error in judgment, decision etc can be quite troublesome for most parents.  However the question is this: How can I be assure that my young adult will make good decisions when I am either not available to assist or following my death?
Life within itself is a journey.  As parents we can respond to our sense of powerlessness and move towards “living with fear” in assisting our adolescents to prepare for young adulthood.  This can be done with utilizing the following empowerment strategy known as The Four Stages of the Journey of Self Discovery i.e. RACE:
·       Responsibility- the adolescent must want to accept responsibility for his/her well-being.
·       Accountability- the adolescent and no one else is accountable for his/her actions.
·       Consequences- are reactions (not punishment) to decisions, actions or behaviors that the adolescent is involved within.
·       Empowerment-comes from within the individual.  It is for the adolescent to set and achieve his/her goals and/or direction.
In summary, to answer the main question that is being asked indirectly is  “how do I protect my adolescent from a society that is either hostile or fearful of him?”  The answer to this is suggested in a quote by Phillip Jackson, the Executive Director of The Black Star Project (Chicago, IL).  He states:
“America loves Black men like Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X, Frederick Douglass and even Trayvon Martin after they are dead.  It is the strong, vocal, positive, everyday Black men that they have trouble with while they are alive!”
Black Star Project 7/13/13
We can focus our energies on protecting our children or we can focus on empowering our children to protect themselves.
I love black men.  I love my deceased grandfather who grew up in South Carolina and while lying in his coffin had the same scar over his eyebrow that he had carried since he was 13 years old when a white stranger whipped him in the street.  I love my father who was programmed to think that black is bad and tries to dissociate himself from anything black and still refers to black people as “Afro Americans.”  I love my black male friends.  I love my son.  I loathe that there are people that make negative pre-judgments about these wonderful men that I know.  Prejudgments that could deny them a job, deny them friendships or lead to their arrest or even their untimely death.
                Felicia 45, mother of son age 13
                                You Choose
Live in fear or live with fear…. You choose.
Seek to protect your adolescent from a hostile society or advocate for his/her empowerment… You choose.
Empower your adolescent to thrive.  Or continue to enable him/her to survive.  You choose.
Yesterday is gone.  Today is fading.  Tomorrow is not promised.
You Choose.
The Visible Man

Race And Power: The Struggle for Self Esteem And Self-Validation

Staying Calm Everyday May Keep the Jailhouse and Judge Away

Recently I had an experience which typifies why we as African-American men want to balance being vigilant with maintaining our calm on a daily basis.  The experience occurred in Seattle, Washington, in the neighborhood where I maintain my practice.
To provide some background information, my office is located in a hybrid commercial and residential community approximately 15 minutes east of downtown Seattle known as Madison Park.  I have practiced in this same location for more than 25 years.
The day was like any other typical day.  After leaving my office, I ran a few errands in the neighborhood, visited the bank and then waited for the transit bus in this plush, upper class community just inland from Lake Washington.  The neighborhood is informally referred to as the “Gold Coast” due to the significant wealth in the area.
As one of the few African-Americans frequenting the local bank, restaurants and other business, I have grown accustomed to the numerous looks and stares I receive while moving about the community.  I know my money is as good others in the community and I have the right to move about and handle my affairs undisturbed.  Other than the occasional lingering stare, I am left alone.
So on this particular day after completing my affairs, I entered the bus and showed my bus transfer to the driver who, like me, was an African-American male.
As I proceeded to sit down, the driver suddenly demanded that I return and show him my bus transfer again.  I was puzzled as to why, being that the transfer had 45 minutes left prior to expiring.
Upon presenting the transfer for the second time, I asked the driver whether he had any questions.Laughing loudly he replied, “no, I don’t have any questions, but I am going to let you go this time.”
I was shocked.  Puzzled, I was wondering what did he mean by, “ I am going to let you go this time?”  When I asked for his name, he replied, in a loud laughing manner, “You ought to chill out and not take things so seriously.”
His voice and laughter were loud.  He comments to me where so loud that they could be heard by sitting passengers as well as those approaching the bus.  I was angry.  I had been publicly humiliated due to no cause or actions of my own.
The following questions came to me:
·      Why was this happening to me?
·      What do I do now?
·      Do I ignore this insult?
·      If so, what does this say about me?
·      How do I handle this?
·      All of this about a bus transfer?!
One thought repeatedly came to me…ABC…ABC…ABC…angry, black, and (out) of control.  I could visualize myself being handcuffed, taken off the bus, placed in the back of a police car, taken to jail, being fingerprinted, booked and off to be arraigned before the judge.  Another one (i.e., black man) locked down.  Society is once again safe from the raging, blazing black man.
Fear.  Fear is a powerful emotion.  Fear can be the African-American man’s best friend during these times.  Fear, for the African-American man, can serve as a reminder that he is alone.  Fear can keep him alert of his situation, aware of his surroundings and most important, alive.  I want fear.  I want to stay alive.  Age 60 is right around the corner.
The next actions I take (or don’t) could have a strong impact on the rest of my life.
·      Do I walk away?  Or do I advocate for myself?
·      Do I surrender to behavior that reinforces the negative stereotypes perceived of black men?  Or do I seek balance in my life?
·      Can I resolve this issue in a manner that does not place me at further risk of harm? Danger?
Just imagine; all of these thoughts are moving swiftly through my mind in a matter of moments.  It feels like an eternity.  Fear.  I don’t want to “live in” fear.  I want to be able to “live with” fear.
I chose to create and follow another set of ABC’s.  Advocacy, balance and calm. Specifically, I wanted to advocate for myself, return balance to the psychological self, and be able to accomplish both in a calm manner that would minimize further disruption.
As I departed the bus, I handed my business card to the transit operator and told him that I was filing a formal complaint against him and wanted him to know who made the complaint.”  As I walked away, the transit operator pulled the bus to keep pace with me, opened the door and threw my business card on the sidewalk where it landed slightly in front of me.
I have since filed a formal complaint detailing the driver’s comments and behavior on that ordinary day.  It is unclear as to what, if any actions Metro Transit will take regarding this matter.  However, for me, I have managed to bring the issue to closure in a healthy manner without placing myself at further risk, harm or potential jeopardy of losing my freedom.   Once again the question, all of this over a bus transfer?
No.  To the conscious person it “appears” to be unprofessional conduct associated with a bus transfer.  However, the transfer was the bait the driver used to set up a power trap. The real issues are about race, power (or the lack of), and lack of self-esteem and self-validation.
It is my belief that the driver targeted me specifically because like him I am an African-American alone and perceivably isolated within a Caucasian community.  I believe that the driver’s act of demanding a second inspection of the bus transfer was a pretense to reinforce his self-esteem and showcase his “power” to the other passengers.
Of course there is no way I can prove this belief to be true.  I can only go with what I feel based on this experience and similar past experiences.  Whether right or wrong about the driver’s motivations, the point is that I was at risk by simply using public transportation. Yet, the potential danger was not a result of unruly passengers or unsafe driving conditions.  Rather, the danger arose from the person designated to drive passengers to destinations throughout the city.
Just imagine leaving your home on a sunny afternoon day, minding your business and meandering through your errands while quietly humming your favorite song to yourself. Abruptly, and without warning, life as you know it, including your livelihood is placed at risk as you simply attempt to ride the bus.  On the surface some might consider this perspective a paranoid overreaction.
No, I am not crazy, nor am I paranoid.  I am vigilant.  Yes, I was at risk not so much because I was made to get out of my seat and suffer mild humiliation to give another a sense of self-importance.  The risk came from how I chose to respond.  The varying ways I could have reacted to the situation could strongly and negatively impact my future and my freedom.
Professional, college educated, published author and nationally recognized in my clinical field, and although I have never been arrested, my livelihood and freedom became dependent on how I handled myself in managing something as seemingly innocuous as using a bus transfer.
I thank my Jesus that I was able to recall my “empowerment.”   As a clinician I write “beacons” which are frameworks for the Journey known as life.  One such beacon is the Five R’s i.e. Respite, Reaction, Reflection, Response and Reevaluate.  It goes like this:
·      Respite – step aside, breath, take a time out;
·      Reaction – take ownership of your feelings;
·      Reflection – think, feel and listen to the psychological self;
·      Response – present to the external world what is needed to minimize risk.  Your reaction and response need not be the same.
·      Reevaluate-review the experience. Explore what was learned and what can be done when a similar incident occurs again.
I feel for the driver.  Perhaps there is a need for self-importance.  Perhaps this is about dealing with his own anger about being abused by others as he operates the bus.  It may be that he has a need to make himself feel validated and powerful by targeting others.
If nothing is learned from this, the driver may return to the same route (or another) with the same anger and lack of power.  If so, the driver will no doubt lie in wait with his bait to abuse another unsuspecting passenger whose only mistake was to ride his bus on that fateful day.  Just another day.  I wonder whether the driver will be more cautious in selecting his next prey.
I get it.  I got it.  Mr. Driver, I understand and share your pain.  As an African-American man, I understand the importance of looking in the mirror and to have self-respect for the “reflection” staring at you.  I understand the pain you feel about being disrespected by others.  I too have the same questions that you have, i.e. what about the bullshit I had to put up with today.  And what bullshit will I have to put up with tomorrow?
However, the empowerment of self-esteem and self-validation one seeks must come within the psychological self.  When such is obtained externally through the subjection, submission and humiliation of others, the taste of “satisfaction” is shortly nourished and thus always in demand of being replenished.
As for me, my Jesus was with me that day.  I was able to advocate for myself, maintain my balance and do both in a calm manner.  Yet, I wonder, what about next time?  Will I be so blessed?
Will I be able to maintain my freedom, my livelihood and future?  This time the risk or danger i.e. “the bait” was a bus transfer.  I wonder what the “bait” will be next time.
I am truly blessed.  Tonight I am sitting in my home, relaxing on my couch and preparing for a new day.Tomorrow is a new day.  I wonder whether I will be here on the couch tomorrow or will I be sitting in a jail cell waiting to go to court to be arraigned before a judge.
ABC… abc…angry, black and (out) of control, or ABC…abc…advocacy, balance and calm.
Fear.  Live in fear or live with fear.  A few more days and counting to my 60th birthday. Will I be able to stay away from jail…the judge?
Tomorrow is another day.  Walk with me Jesus.  Walk with me.  Just for another day.
Until the next crossroads.
The journey continues…