It Is Not About Ethnicity Or Race: Holding On To Shame And Fear Within The Psychological Self

Dear Visible Man,
I was recently reading a news article in which a public school banned a little black girl from school for wearing braids.  I was surprised that public schools would do so given the focus on diversity in education today.  I was even more shocked to learn that this was a school organized for black students. I thought this was the action of an ignorant white school official.
I had no idea until learning today that the person creating this ridiculous rule was black. I grew up during the strife of the civil rights movement. I am concerned as to how this will impact the next generation.  I find this very confusing.  What do you think about this?

Lee, age 64, Kirkland, WA

Dear Lee,
     I appreciate your writing.  Although you did not indicate the basis of your information, I will assume that you may be referring to the recent news story arising from Tulsa, Oklahoma.  In this story a 7-year-old African-American girl Tiana was banned from school for wearing dreads.  The public school that you referred to is Deborah Brown Community School, a charter school founded by an African-American woman named Deborah Brown.
     The school was created for the purpose of educating a predominantly black student population.  In reviewing the news article of the Associated Press, the school had developed a policy banning dreadlocks, Afros, Mohawks and other “faddish” hairstyles declaring them unacceptable and “potential health hazards.”
     The furor that erupted from this created new stories and responses from around the world.  The school ultimately apologized and rescinded its policy.  The parents transferred the child to another public school.   The news article concluded with an interview with and acknowledgement that the 7 year old had received thousands of emails and phone calls of support from around the world.  When asked by the reporter how she felt, Tiana replied she feels “cared about.”  Truly, this is a heartbreaking news story that has a happy ending.  Did we miss something?
     Yes, it is heartbreaking to learn that a 7-year old child could be barred from school for wearing dreadlocks.   And it was correct that the school official should remove the rule banning the wearing of those hairstyles. And yes, it is heartwarming that thousands of emails and phone calls of support from around the world were received.  Again, did we miss something?
     Although race may be a factor, the underlining issue is fear (and not race). The real issue is fear of the unknown, the fear of doing something different.  Understanding that charter schools are intended for the task of educating a predominantly black student population that the classic public school system has failed, I don’t believe that Ms. Brown’s commitment was in the wrong place.
     As stated in the news article, at the same time, another charter school, Horizon Science Academy in Lorain, OH, implemented a similar policy.  It too rescinded the policy following the backlash of criticism received by the Deborah Brown Community School.  In its response, the dean of students at Horizon stated, “our word choice was a mistake.”
     Word choice?  I am sure that Ms. Deborah Brown or the dean of the other charter school did not wake up one morning, jumping out of bed stating, “Hmm… let’s develop a rule banning wearing dreadlocks.”  I believe what happened is that Ms. Brown and other like-minded school officials are no different from many of us and were simply following the “script.”
     The script??   Yes, the script of the larger group i.e. the traditionalist segment, which believes that in order for African-Americans to market themselves and be successful in the professional or corporate world, they must want to “fit in” and achieve the look of acceptability that professional or corporate culture is seeking.  It is perceivable that the “groupthink” believes that the wearing of dreadlocks, Afros, Mohawks and other “faddish” hairstyles will impact either the ability to gain employment or upward movement on the corporate ladder.  It is this perception that led to the implementation of the hard lined banning of such “faddish hairstyles.”
      Let’s follow the process of the “script” and in doing so deconstruct how fear, using shame, is being viewed.
·              First, there is a segment of the larger group i.e. society (professional & corporate culture) applying external pressure, telling another segment of the larger group i.e. community (“traditionalist” African-Americans), that “your hair, if dreadlocked or faddish, is unacceptable and has potential health hazards.”
·            Second, there is a segment of larger group i.e. community (“traditionalist” African-Americans) applying external pressure, telling another segment of the larger group i.e. family (parents) that “your hair, if dreadlocked or faddish, is unacceptable and has potential health hazards.”
·            Third, there is are traditionalist community mores in the form of school officials applying the external pressure and delivering the message, telling individuals (students) that “your hair, if dreadlocked or faddish, is unacceptable and has potential health hazards.”
    The goal of the script is to enforce the will of the larger group i.e. community (African-American traditionalists). This is done by introducing the concept of shaming the individual. So rather than it being an error (i.e. “our word choice was a mistake,”), it is, in reality, a specific strategy that sacrifices the psychological wellness of the individual for the perceived good of the group.   This strategy has been utilized throughout generations to secure and maintain control over the group.
     In this situation, the “script,” built on a destructive foundation (internalized shame), collapsed.  The larger group of African-American traditionalists, which depends on the loyalty and submissiveness of its members and requires parents to install internalized shame into their children, must instead must now beat a hasty retreat due to the unwillingness of one set of parents (Tiana’s parents) who refuse to reinforce the “internalized shame game” upon their 7-year-old child.  The following uproar in the media exposes the strategy which of course, is now explained away by saying “our word choice was a mistake.”
     I believe that the larger group, the traditionalists, has good intentions.  However, there must be a concern for the outcome of those good intentions.  The traditionalists, in their zeal to prepare a younger generation to enter what may a hostile workplace environment, failed to take into account the damage that they may be inflicting as they seek to internalize shame within the individual.   In this situation, the outcome was traumatic for a 7-year old child.
     Is racism a factor?  No doubt it is. The traditionalists believe that the African-American individual‘s physical presentation is just as key to getting ahead in a racially hostile environment as their hard work. However, the traditionalists are out of step as the young people of today are insisting upon the right to come to the workplace displaying their self-identity and wanting to be evaluated on their performance and individual merit.
     The consequences of shaming behavior sends messages which reinforces young men and women to reject themselves by seeing their natural hair as dirty or unclean.  In doing so, these messages also impact their self-concept, self-esteem and self-confidence and consequently create the unconscious demand to seek other standards in order to obtain the holy grail of “acceptability.”
     Acceptability?   It is recommended that the traditionalists of the African-American community explore the psychological damage that was also inflicted upon themselves by their parents as they sought the Holy Grail i.e. “acceptability by others.”  If indeed the “traditionalist” has arrived at the Holy Grail, then they must seek to answer the following questions:

·       Who am I? Who (or what) have I become?
·       If others reject me, how will I feel about me?
·       How do I feel about me? Do I accept me?
·       How do I show that I accept me?

     The day of the traditionalist is fading.  Yes, there remain holdouts such as the dean of the business school for Hampton University (a historical black university).   This dean has defended and left intact a 12- year old ban on dreadlocks and cornrows for male students, asserting, “the look is not businesslike.”  This dean is an icon of the past, an era in which that generation chose to live in fear and in doing sacrificed the psychological wellness of its children.
     There is a new day coming, a new sun rising over the horizon.  As the traditionalists pass on, they will be replaced by a generation who are willing to “live with fear” and not in fear.  The upcoming generation has an opportunity to grant itself the right that the previous generation, living in fear, was unable to do so.  This is the right to create one’s own path, instead of walking the “same old road” that was designed for the group.  Hopefully this younger generation will learn from the mistakes of their elders.
     This younger generation may decide to arrive at the workplace wearing dreadlocks, Afros, Mohawks and other “faddish” hairstyles.  Unlike the generation before them, they will not have to sacrifice their souls or the wellness of their young.  Rather when they leave the workplace, they will exit with the psychological self, intact, self assured and well loved.
“A wise person learns from his/her mistakes, makes corrections and finds the right path; the foolish one will continue without direction, never finding the road even when it is in front of his/her face.”
“Ten Flashes of Light for the Journey of Life”
The Visible Man
Advertisements

Self-Acceptance/Self-Validation: Following The Script Or Seeking A Different Path (the one less traveled)

Dear Readers,

     I am writing to extend the gift of an apology regarding the response I gave in the posting of Visible Man (9.23.13), “Letting go of Negativity and Moving On With Life.”  As you may recall, the viewer stated, “I am embarrassed to say that I have only a few black female friends.”  In my response I replied, “I would encourage you not to be embarrassed regarding having only a few black female friends.  Instead I would suggest that you explore the quality and meaning you are seeking in these relationships.”
     My response was partially incorrect.  Although I stand by my suggestion to “explore the quality and meaning you are seeking in these relationships,” there may be a perception that I am either ignoring or minimizing the viewer’s feelings of embarrassment.  It is my error that as I am focusing on answering one part of question, I am unintentionally ignoring the feelings of embarrassment that are being acknowledged and “owned” by the writer.
     So let’s examine the concern regarding embarrassment.  In reviewing the numerous definitions of the word embarrass, these following terms arise:
·       To cause to feel self-conscious or ill at ease; disconcert
·       To feel or cause to feel confusion or fluster
·       To make someone feel nervous, ashamed, or stupid in a social situation.
     Looking at these definitions and applying them to what is being sought by the writer (i.e. “I am embarrassed to say that I have only a few black female friends.”), two concepts—acceptance and validation—immediately come into focus.  Without additional information from the writer, there is the appearance that the individual may have concerns about the following:
·       What does it say about me that I only have a few black friends?
·       How do I feel about myself in only having a few black friends?
·       What will others say, feel or think about me when they realized that I have only a few black friends?
     It would be “normal” to laugh or be dismissive of this person’s feelings of embarrassment.  However, to do so would show one’s ignorance (lack of knowledge) that this person is simply following the “script” in which of being taught by the larger group (or family, community, or society) to place extreme weight on the perceptions of others.  This “pressure” is one of the major ways in which the larger group utilizes to control the behavior, social mores and activities of its members.
     An example of this is the following: the larger group sends repeated messages that this individual is “less than” when she associates with others outside her group.  These messages act as “externalized pressure” (assaults from outside) that become validated by the individual.  As a result of the pressure by the larger group, the individual accepts the larger group’s opinion and thus, the individual is now responding to “internalized pressure” (assaults from within).  The larger group’s goal has been achieved in that the physical presence of the larger group is now not warranted or required.  The work of controlling the individual is now being maintained from within through repetitive questions of self-doubt, self-validation and questioning of the individual’s decisions and choices.
     It is up to the individual to question the pressure being exerted externally as well as internally.   Questions that the individual in this situation can reflect on in this regard include:
·       Regardless of the number of black friends, how do I feel about me?
·       Do I want to judge my relationships on the color of their skin or the content of their character?
·       Regardless of what others say or think about me, what do I feel and think about me?  How do I want to live my life?  Who will choose the relationships in my life?
     It is essential for the individual to understand that the focus of the larger group i.e. family, community, and society does not extend to the wellness of the individual.  Its focus remains on the larger group.  Therefore it is in the act of “self care” that the individual must question, taking ownership and responsibility for “one’s feelings.”
     Following the script?  We all do it so well.   As children and adolescents, we are bombarded with messages from the larger group, whether it comes from parents, peers, teachers, clergy etc.  Once the individual enters “adulthood,” the lessons have been internalized.  A consequence of some these lessons are damage to the psychological foundation that appear in the form of uncertainty and doubtfulness along the journey of life.
     We do have choices.  We can follow the script that has been laid now for us by the larger group.  Or, the individual can choose to question the lessons that have been internalized.  In doing so, the individual works towards seeking to achieve acceptance and validation from within the psychological self.
     It is in adulthood that the individual can challenge the lessons learned, accept responsibility for reformatting one’s psychological foundation and add to validation to the psychological self.  The willingness to do so may depend on one’s want or desire to walk the unknown path where uncertainty and lack of comfort lies ahead or stay to the “well designed road” that created by the larger group with minimal expectations.
     In closing, I am grateful to have the opportunity to provide a more responsive discussion regarding the person’s feelings of embarrassment regarding having only a few black friends. I have come to understand that there are questions that arise from owning one’s feelings:
·       Do I choose my path in deciding my relationships or do I continue to submit to the pressure being exerted by others?
·       Do I have the resolve or resources to process the pressures that come internally or externally?
·       Am I willing to stay to the course now chosen and experience the journey of life which lies ahead?
The question of embarrassment is one that allows the individual to touch the self, and in doing so start the beginning of a new journey.

                                      The Journey

The end of one journey is the beginning of another.

The choice is ours.  We can continue the same old thing, traveling the same road…… and reaching the same outcomes.

Or we can do something new , something different.

We can seek a new path… and in doing so,

Achieve growth, development & empowerment.

The Visible Man

Letting Go Of Negativity And Moving On With Life

Dear Visible Man:

Why do some Black females hang on to negativity and allow this to impact their interactions with other black women? I wonder if this is the reason why relationships don’t work within the black community. The women that I grew up with have become flaky. The older I get, the less patience I have with this type of behavior. I am embarrassed to say that I have only a few black female friends. Do you have any suggestions?

30-year old AA Female, Seattle

Dear Young Woman,
     You have asked a very interesting question.  First, I would encourage you not to be embarrassed regarding having “only a few black female friends”.  Instead I would suggest that you explore the quality and meaning you are seeking in these relationships.
     As to the earlier question regarding black women hanging on to negativity and allowing it to impact their interactions, it is important to remember that the individual brings to the interaction whatever feelings she may feel about herself.  Therefore, if she is “centered,” meaning that her psychological self is reasonably intact (self esteem, self concept and self worth), that resource of positive energy will access the interaction with others.  When the psychological self is not intact, i.e. poor self-esteem, concept, worth, then negative energy will no doubt be a factor in the interaction.
     In your earlier comment, there was an indication that you have grown up with a specific group of women.  Please remember that as an individual grows, there is the capacity to grow in directions that are different from other members of the group.   It may be that you have either outgrown the stated goals of the group or that you are moving in a different direction.
     As the individual grows and moves forward into “her being,” there is the desire that other members of the group will be supportive.  However, one of the barriers to this is change, which can induce fear, and thus the group may result to specific behaviors to reinforce group membership or work to punish or expel the individual from the group.
     A way to resolve this is to acknowledge within the psychological self that the individual has come to the crossroads; the journey with this specific group although long and valued, may now have come to an end.  It is time to say farewell and continue walking a path that will be different from the group.  As the individual continues to journey (known as LIFE), the focus will be joining or interacting with new “Travelers” with whom the individual can walk a distance and share in the adventures that are to come.
     It can be difficult for the individual or group members to bring the relationship to conclusion, and consequently, tensions can result.  However the strategy can be to exit with the desire that one day, the members may reunite again.  Nevertheless, it is upon the individual to know when it is time to leave and to have belief, faith and trust in one’s journey.
    Although your underlying question has to do with negativity within the black community, understanding that your concerns are about the community in which you grew up (hence the issue is not about racial grouping), just remember that any community is a magnification of the smaller group.
    Rather than focus on the group, identify your wants for your journey and go forth. Hopefully the group and the community will be there to welcome you upon your return.

“When the relationship/journey is over, it’s over. Look towards the future. A new one will begin.”

-Ten Flashes of Light for the Journey of Life

The Visible Man

Yesterday Is Gone, Today Is Fading And Tomorrow Is Not Promised

Dear Visible Man:

I would appreciate your opinion regarding a heated discussion that I had with my mother.  I am a 21-year old African-American female and I have a brother who is 16 years old.  Recently, I asked my mother what her feelings were should I decide to date a coworker who is white.  My mother replied that as long as he treated me nice and is respectful, she was okay with whoever I choose to date.

My mother, being who she is, gave me the answer I had expected.  However, she added that “your brother better not even think about dating or bringing a white girl to this house.”   I was really shocked by her statement and asked why she held this view about my brother and yet it was okay for me.   My mother explained that having worked many years in corporate America, she’s watched the careers of African-American men be destroyed because of dating or being married to a white woman.  She said that she did not want to see her son go through this and would be passionately against it.

I am really surprised and disappointed in my mother’s views, which I consider to be racist.  I believe that there is no color when the heart decides to fall in love.  Her ignorance has resulted in different standards for my brother and I.

We live in a multi-ethnic neighborhood where my brother and I have attended schools that had a lot of ethnic diversity in student population.  I just don’t understand her contradictions in behavior and actions.  The world is changing.  She should too.

2013, Seattle

 Dear 2013,
      Your concerns raise several interesting and valid points:
  •        Allegations of racism by words of your mother
  •        Concerns of contradictions and different standards for you and your brother
  •       Your concept that the heart does not view color in its decision of attraction
     First, I want to acknowledge your wisdom, spirit and desire to set your own direction, which you view to be different from your mother.   However, I caution you to be careful in the labels you may place upon another’s behavior.   You have stated that your mother’s views are racist.  Let’s first define the terms racism and racist:

·      Racism: the belief that all members of each race possess characteristics or abilities specific to that race so as to distinguish it as inferior or superior to another race or races
·      Racist: a person who believes that a particular race is superior to another.

     In reviewing your words, there is no indication of any comments by your mother suggesting the superiority or inferiority of any race or ethnic group.  Although she may possess views different from yours, you may want to reflect more on the subject before you label her words or behaviors to be racist.
     I noticed in your comments that your mother worked in corporate America and through her observations:

“…watched the careers of African-American men be destroyed because of dating or being married to a white woman.”

     It may be that your mother is, through her observations and experience, being protective and is concerned as to how interracial dating or marriage could negatively impact your brother’s life and career aspirations.  It may be that in her role as a parent with emotional feelings (love & fear) for her son that she does not want to see him be psychologically wounded by the consequences of choosing an interracial relationship.
     Regarding contradictions and different standards, it would be easy for others to suggest that you may be looking at the world in “rose colored glasses”.   Since you are 21 years old, your mother is probably in her early to mid 40’s.  Consequently, she may be viewing the world from a different reality—one in which there are different standards for men and women (in this case African-American) as to how both sexes will be viewed and received in corporate America.
     Whereas your experience is based on the diversity in your high school education, your mother is speaking of her experience as well.  Rather than view the picture as right versus wrong, it can be seen as a view from different (not opposing) positions.
     An example: Your statement that the heart does not view color in its attraction to another person could be challenged by someone of your mother’s generation stating it is the mind and not the heart that ultimately decides who the person will marry.  Both positions are not opposed to each other and thus, there can be room for common ground i.e. “understanding.”
     Your mother, in her desire to protect her son (your brother) from psychological injury or disastrous career experiences, may be “living in fear.”  I would suggest that a healthier position would be one learning to live with fear instead of living in fear.
     As adolescents move towards young adulthood, parents can be of greater assistance to their children by working through their own transition from directors and supervisors to guides and consultants. The objective is to reinforce self-esteem and self-concept.  In doing that, parents work to respect and accept their children’s choices and decisions as they “come into adulthood” even if they have strong fears or disagreements. It is for the parent to own their fears and learn, just like their children, to learn to live with fear and not live in fear.
     Today is not the world of your parents. It is your world.  Although some may read your words and say that you “should listen to your mother, she knows best” or question whether you are looking at the world in rose colored glasses, it remains your world, and you are entitled to walk your journey.  That would include taking responsibility for your beliefs and learning from lessons provided along the way.
     Regarding your earlier comment about your mother being a racist, let’s explore an incident and behavior that actually demonstrates racism. Fifty years ago this month, on a Sunday morning, in Birmingham Alabama four little “colored” girls were killed in a bombing at a church while they were attending Sunday school.  This was an act of domestic terrorism.
     This occurred at the same time in which police and firefighters used snarling dogs, batons and high-pressured water hoses to attack African-Americans who were protesting for the right to drink from a clean public fountain, try on clothes in a department store or buy a hamburger at a lunch counter reserved for “whites only.”
     Your comments regarding racial diversity in your schooling and the heart not seeing color holds to the words of Martin Luther King’s I Have a Dream Speech (8/28/63):
       “…that one day right down in Alabama little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers.”
So 2013, do better with the world.  If you truly believe that “the world is changing,” then prove it.  Show it through your words and actions.  Don’t prove or show your mother or others to be wrong.
Prove and show yourself to be right.
 “Yesterday is gone.  Today is fading.  Tomorrow is not promised.

The Visible Man (1953)

Rebounding From Psychological Assault Of Internalized Racism: Ten Flashes Of Light For The Journey Of Life

Dear Visible Man:

     Thank you for your eloquent response, but I think you missed my point.  I think it’s clear that racism is traumatic to African Americans and other minorities (and to white people as well), but what really perplexed me is why, even though Oprah displayed the expected behavior for black people when faced with blatant racism, is it that some black pundits and writers felt that it was important to outline the “more useful” things that Oprah could have spent $38K on?  I could understand that if Oprah wasn’t already an accomplished philanthropist, but why is she not “allowed” to be able to purchase expensive things if she has the money?  Why do we expect our black 1%ers to be more altruistic and to “give more back” than we expect of others?

Patti, Bellevue, WA

Dear Patti,
     I appreciate having the opportunity to respond to your question.  In my earlier response I failed to explore the fundamental questions that you were asking which are the internalized racism and expectations of the African-American community.  First, in regards to the concept of internalized racism, there are those who would argue that African-Americans are “incapable” of having internal racism because either we lack economic power or that the community is weakened due to constantly rebounding from the external assaults of racism, oppression and discriminatory treatment.  This argument will not hold due to the factor that internalized racism is not about economic power, it is about psychological power or as in this case, psychological dis-empowerment.
     It is difficult to fully understand the personal agendas of those who found it necessary to comment and create controversy on how Oprah chooses to spend her hard earned & legally obtained funds. It is interesting to point out that the controversy within the African-American community minimizes the impact of racism upon this particular individual.  It is even more intriguing that the same controversy would lead to such an uproar, forcing Oprah to publicly apologize for verbalizing her feelings regarding racial discrimination and insidious traumatization.
     However, let’s explore the similarities between two of America’s well-known richest people, Oprah Winfrey & Bill Gates. Both are:

·       Billionaires
·       Are accomplished philanthropists
·       Have established foundations serving either poverty, educational, medical or scientific causes

     Differences:

·       Ethnicity- Winfrey (African-American), Gates (Caucasian)

·       Gender- Winfrey (female), Gates (male)

·       Marital Status- Winfrey (single no children), Gates (married, one child)

     Unlike Oprah Winfrey, Bill Gates may never experience outright denial, rejection and psychological assault based on his gender, race, ethnic origin or marital status.  Where is the public outcry from the black media and pundits as to how Bill Gates spends his money?  There is none.  Why?  Perhaps, due to the perception of expectations that lies within the African-American community.  Unlike Bill Gates, Oprah Winfrey and other black 1%ers will always be held to a different standard, which is higher for them due to the fact that she and other 1% are black.
     Frankly speaking, there will always be those who will be unsatisfied as to either how Oprah spends her money or gives to the many causes of which she is known to be a benefactor.  The real issue is how we within the African-American community feel about ourselves.  For example, if we explore our economic or financial potential, we would learn that standard of living and gross earnings i.e. income makes the African-American community the wealthiest population of African descent in the world.
     However, all of the economic wealth means little or nothing when the community is psychologically embroiled in self-hate or self-defeatist attitudes or activities, such as these psychologically damaging attacks upon Oprah, who is the only African-American billionaire of either male or female gender.  These psychologically dis-empowering behaviors are strategies that those lacking in positive self-esteem and self-concept employ to attack and weaken others.  Its success is clearly shown when Oprah is forced to make a public apology for having publicized the traumatic incident of her racial assault.
     Rather than keep the focus on Oprah, take this opportunity to learn from this incident the power, the strategies and objectives of these pundits and understand how these individuals are easily threatened by “your success.”  Understand from what you may have learned and conceptualize the following:
     Ten Flashes of Light for the Journey of Life

·       To be successful with workplace politics: decide after careful consideration who to trust. Then trust with caution and consistently verify.

·       Respect all, love all, yet remember trust is earned, not given away to the undeserving.

·       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.

·       “To err is human” is a common expression, yet we should not believe there is always room for error. In some cases there is no room for error.None.

·       When a person exposes their true self to you, embrace the action and treat it as a gift.

·       Betrayal is based on intent. A true friend will never betray you; a betrayer can never be a true friend.

·       When the relationship/journey is over, it’s over. Look towards the future. A new one will begin.

·       Living life can be likened to a marathon. Finish the race; don’t worry about coming in first place. Cross the finish line. Just finish the race. Finish what you start.

·       Intimate relationships should be treated like shoes at a department store; they should be placed on and discarded until there is a right fit.

·       A wise person learns from his/her mistakes, makes corrections and finds the right path; the foolish one will continue without direction, never finding the road even when it is in front of his/her face.

THE VISIBLE MAN

Time To Learn To “Run The Race Smarter, Not Harder”

Dear Visible Man,

I think it is terrible that a 13 year old can have something with sexual connotations
placed in the database.  This will follow him unfairly.  I am surprised the police can do this with no proof.  What about being innocent until proven guilty?  I hope his parents can get a lawyer.  Although the justice system being what it is, a lawyer may not be able to help.  However the son would know everything possible has been done. I am really angry.  What are your thoughts about this?

Angry & Concerned, Seattle, WA

Dear Readers:
     First, for those who are unaware of what “Angry and Concerned” is referring to, I urge you to review the writing of the Visible Man entitled “Never Too Young to Gain Placement in the Police Computer Database System” (9/2/13).
     Let us be clear regarding the concept of “innocent until proven guilty.”  There is the presumption of innocence that has merit once any individual is charged with a crime. In this situation, although the police can show that a crime was committed, they are unable to specifically name who sent the sexually inappropriate and threatening texts.
    Therefore, since no charges are being filed, the standard of innocence until proven guilty does not apply.   This should not be confused with the unwritten standards of the “court of public opinion” where legal standards do not exists and perceptions of guilt are derived from internalized beliefs based on fears and widely held opinions and misconceptions.
     However, what is of concern are the two unwritten standards that seem to be cast into play:

·      Fear- the fear of the majority population towards African-American males specifically adolescents and young men.  This fear allows the majority to turn a blind eye while police engage in behaviors that the majority population may find intolerable and unacceptable in their communities.

·      3W’s (withhold, watch, wait)- this would be the unwritten policy that encourages individual police officers to withhold and place information (into the database) of individuals that are deemed to be suspect or have “gotten away” without being charged due to the lack of sufficient evidence to charge with a crime.

With this information on the targeted individual, individual police officers are able to maintain surveillance on movements, activities, etc. and continue to gather “intelligence,” which is added to the information within the police database.

     Angry & Concerned suggests that the parent seek legal assistance. What purpose would this serve?  No charges have been filed, but the question of whether his civil rights have been violated via placement of the adolescent’s information into the police computer database.
     The parents, through legal representation, could seek to have any information regarding their son removed from the database.  In doing that, one would have to have belief, faith and trust that the information is actually being removed instead of shifted to another place so information could continue to be accrued.
     Families tend to have limited resources.  Legal counsel averaging $250.00 per hour will most likely consume those resources.  Such limited funds would be better spent directed towards preparing the adolescent for entrance into an undergraduate degree program.
     In response to request of Angry & Concerned for my thoughts, I would suggest that first, one must want to balance one’s feelings with reason.  Reason tells me that the family will not win should they chose to confront the police bureaucracy.  One must remember that the police have the support of a population that depends on them for protection (and thus, a blind eye).
     I would suggest the following:

·      Learn from the experience.
·      Run the race smarter, not harder.
·      Instead of focusing on “winning,” the race, focus on “crossing” the finish line.  It does not matter how long it takes.  Finish what you start.  Just finish the race.

     This strategy would require the adolescent to come to terms with the concept of RACE:

·      R- (Responsibility): I, and I alone, am responsible for watching out for my best interests.
·      A- (Accountability): I will be held accountable for actions taken or not taken
·      C- (Consequences): I understand that these are reactions to behaviors of what I do or are being accused of doing.
·      E- (Empowerment): I seek to be empowered.  I am aware that power is external, comes from “without” (outside of me) and can be taken away.  Empowerment is internal, comes from “within” (within me) and only I can surrender it or give it away.

     Lastly, the parents must want (not need, WANT) to move away from the internal demands to either “prove” their son is not what he is being “profiled” to be, or to “save” him from the police.  The “court of public opinion” with its internalized fears (based on biases, stereotypes and presumptions) has already ruled.
     Instead, the parents must want to add to his psychological foundation and continue to prepare him for the realties he may face as an adult male in a fearful and hostile society.  This can be done when the empowering strategy is one that is based on how to balance living with fear and being able to strive and thrive despite the hostilities and negative perceptions of a fearful society.
      Remember, the police are merely abiding by the will of a fearful society; a society that will continue to turn a blind eye until the flagrancy of police misconduct impacts “their” community.   Instead the parents can assist their son to empower himself.
     At 13, one may question, isn’t he too young to do so? Is he too young to accept such an enormous responsibility?
     My response is the following: if he is old enough to gain placement in the police computer database, then he is old enough to learn strategies to empower the psychological self.

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.

-“Ten Flashes of Light for The Journey of Life”

The Visible Man

Never Too Young To Gain Placement In The Police Computer Database System

Dear Visible Man,

I am a middle class African-American woman who has been married 25 years. I have two children, a girl (18), and a boy (13).  I want to share a recent experience that occurred regarding the police and my 13-year-old son.  My son loaned his cell phone to his friend, a boy his age, who in turn used the phone to make provocative and unacceptable texts to a girl his age.

The parent of the girl filed a complaint.  During the investigation, the texts were traced back to my son’s phone.  Although the police could not prove that my son sent the text, (his friend denies he sent it), the investigating officer stated that he was going to enter my son into the police database.

I am very frustrated.  My son is in tears, fearing that he now has a record with the police.  I admit that I may not have handled the situation well by berating him with “what did I tell you about loaning out your phone” and “ I told you so.”  However, what I am most concerned about is that my son is now known in the police database and he is only 13 years old!  My son is a good kid; he does well in school, does not use drugs/alcohol or is involved in gangs.

I am concerned as to how this may impact his future. Furthermore, I am fearful that this may be used to racially profile him should there be any indirect contact with the police.   I am considering consulting with an attorney as well as filing a complaint.

What are your thoughts on this issue?

Seattle Area Mom
Dear Seattle Mom:
   First, please allow me to congratulate you on the hard work and commitment you and your spouse have as well as the success in raising adolescents.  Now let’s identify the issues:
  •    Your 13-year-old son being placed in the police computer database.
  •   Your response in how you handled the situation.
  •   Your concerns regarding your son being racially profiled.
   Although you may be upset that a formal complaint was filed,  imagine how you would respond if your daughter received a similar inappropriate text with threatening or sexually implicit language.  It is appropriate for a parent to take steps to protect one’s child from psychological or physical assault.
Rather than take personal action, it is preferable that an outside party such as the police look into the matter.
  That being said, it is apparent that your son made a poor decision in loaning out his cell phone to an individual who engaged in inappropriate behavior.  It is apparent that the person who engaged in the inappropriate behavior is not stepping forward to take responsibility; your son is the one left “holding the cell phone.”
   Young people must want to understand that when it comes to consequences for their behavior, the days of “kids will be kids” or “having a nice chat with Officer Friendly” are GONE.  Officer Friendly is dead.  He has been replaced by a computer database system that is shared by local policing jurisdictions throughout the state.  Furthermore, it may be accessible by other forms of local, state and federal law enforcement agencies.   Today it is all about accountability and consequences.
   Your son is being held accountable for “loaning out his cell phone” to an individual who betrayed his trust.  The consequence is that he is now placed in the local police database that will be shared with law enforcement agencies throughout Washington State.  As upsetting as this may be, the plus side is that due to the inability to specifically place the phone in your son’s hands and affirm him as the “assailant”, the police are unable to forward the case to the district attorney’s office for prosecution.
    I do have concerns regarding how you handled the situation with your son.  First, understanding that you are angry and frustrated, be careful of the message you are giving while in this highly excitable emotional state.  Second, berating him with “what did I tell you” and “I told you so” only serves to inflict more hurt within the emotional wound that exists.
    Given your son’s emotional reaction i.e. tears, one can assume he may be feeling the consequences of both his actions and those of his “friend” who now is refusing to take responsibility due to fear of consequences.  For now I would suggest the following:
  • A respite period to reevaluate how the situation was handled.
  • The gift of an apology and acceptance of responsibility on your part for the way in which your feelings were expressed.
  •  A clear understanding provided to your son regarding the consequences of being placed in the police computer database.
  •  A discussion with your son regarding the experiences learned from this situation.
    What you have is a reasonable emotional reaction.  Now, what is desired is a reasonable behavioral response when (and chances are it will reoccur) the same or similar situation presents itself again.
    As an individual, parent and clinician, I too share your concerns regarding placement in the police computer database and racial profiling.  I believe we live in a society whose stereotypes, biases and belief systems reinforce their fears about African-American males, specifically adolescents and young adult males.
    Although there is no specific documented policy inherent in law enforcement or community policing, I believe there is a “unwritten policy” to document and place within the police computer database, as many African-American adolescents and young males and do so at every opportunity that is possible.  In this way, this ever fearful society will be able to maintain a “tracking, paper trail or database” on the comings/goings on individuals belonging to this specific group.
    As difficult as it may be for a parent to comprehend the following statement, I will say this: Given the limited choices and shuddering consequences, it is better that your son have this experience at age 13 rather than be placed in the criminal justice database system at 18.  At least now, you and other responsible adults around him can influence and impact his behavior.  At 18, it is too late, and he may become meat to be ground up in a vicious and unforgiving criminal justice and correction system.
You and your son have an opportunity to learn and benefit from this experience.   Or, you can become a “blocker” and attempt to save him from a system (strategies & structures) waiting in anticipation to psychologically destroy and physically control him.  As his parent and protector, you can enable him by hiring attorneys to minimize the damage.  After you have spent thousands of dollars in attorney fees, you may achieve success somewhat.
However, what about the next time?  Or, the time after that?  Will you rescue him again? And after he becomes an adult and/or after your life has passed on, who will be there to assume the role of saving your son from a hostile society or a psychologically disabled/disempowered self?
Please share the following with your son.  It comes from the Ten Flashes of Light for the Journey of Life of the website Loving Me More:
A wise person learns from his/her mistakes, makes corrections and finds the right path; the foolish one will continue without direction, never finding the road even when it is in front of his/her face.
The Visible Man