Fear Of The Unknown: Walking The Same Road And Expecting A Different Outcome

Where, o where, have the black men gone? O where, o where can they be?

     Answer:  According to the Sentencing Project, a Washington D.C. based group that advocates for sentencing reform, 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 six Latino males, and one in every 17 white males.  The advocacy group adds:
“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.”
   Now, the problem becomes enlarged when the groups involved play “the blame/shame game.”  This is where one group, the majority (whites) blames the minority group (African-Americans) for having higher crime rates while the minority blames the majority for institutionalized racism within the criminal justice system.
The second part of this game is where both groups become so immersed (submerged) and enmeshed (entangled) in feelings of self-imposed shame.   In doing so, both groups become unavailable to work towards resolution of the identified problems.
To add specifics to this issue, the Sentencing Project reports the following;
  • Black youth were arrested at twice the rate of white youth for drug offenses between the years 1980-2010.  However, a study from the National Institute on Drug Abuse in 2012 found that white students were slightly more likely to have abused illegal drugs within the past month than black students of similar age.
  • In a US Department of Justice study on the 1980s “war on drugs”, it was reported that the country’s population of incarcerated drug users soared from 42,000 in 1980 to nearly 500,000 in 2007.  African-Americans constitute about 13% of drug users, yet they make up about 46% of those convicted for drug use.
  • Because African-Americans are generally more likely to be poor than whites, they are more likely to rely on court-appointed public defenders who work for agencies that are underfunded and understaffed.  In 2012, according to the US Government Accounting Office, 70% of these agencies reported that they are struggling to come up with funding needed to provide adequate legal defense for poor people.
     There are two issues that are at the foundation of the increasing numbers of African-American men being involved within the criminal justice and therefore incarcerated in either the correction or penal system.  One issue as identified by the Sentencing Project is “police activity.”  Speaking directly regarding “racial profiling”, the Sentencing Project report states:
“Blacks are also far more likely than whites to be stopped by the police while driving.  Since the nature of law enforcement frequently requires police officers to make snap judgments about the danger posed by suspects and the criminal nature of their activity, subconscious racial associations influence the way officers perform their jobs.”
     The Sentencing Project concludes its report by providing recommendations, which include the following:
  • Prohibiting law enforcement officials from engaging in racial profiling.
  • Fully funding the country’s public defender agencies.
  • Establishing a commission to develop recommendations for “systemic reform” of the country’s police bureaus and courts.
     The report by the Sentencing Project is clear, concise and relevant to the issues being presented. Of more significance, however, is that the recommendations made today are no different from the recommendations made in 1998 where research studies found that 1 of every 4 African-American males were under some form of incarceration.
     Given these recommendations, the only thing that has changed in the last 15 years is the increased numbers of African-American males being incarcerated (i.e. from 1 of every 4 to today’s expected rate of 1 of every 3).
This raises relevant questions such as:
  • Why are the numbers of African-American males being incarcerated increasing so drastically?
  • Why haven’t the recommendations provided been implemented during the previous 15 years?
  • Why would the implementation of these recommendations be so slow over the next 15 years?
     The answer?  Internalized fear.  Specifically, the internalized fear that is being shared by all groups involved.
This internalized fear is defined as:
“Fear that is incorporated within oneself (cultural values, mores, motives, attitudes etc) through learning or socialization.  Specifically, it is the acceptance or absorption of an idea, opinion, belief, etc., so that it becomes part of one’s character.  This act often takes root in an individual’s psychological core by learning or unconscious assimilation.”

Specifically, the majority and ethnic minority communities continue to live in fear of each other.  This fear is reminiscent of staying within the “known,”and not seeking the “unknown,” due to fearing the uncomfortable.     These communities are comparable to travelers who are journeying on the same road who upon coming to the “crossroads” i.e. “decision point” continue to take the same road and yet desire “different” outcomes or experiences.  The changes these travelers seek will only occur when they decide to take not the same road, but to seek a “new path.” In doing so, they may learn to come to terms with the unknown (“living with fear”) instead the known (“living in fear.”)

     Both communities must want to create a “new path” instead of walking the same road that was created by others.  In doing so, both communities can learn to balance their fears and hopefully one day, embrace these fears. The reality is this: fear is HERE.  It never left.  Fear will always be among us.  It is for us to determine how we balance and embrace our fears that continue to prevent us from resolving our differences.
Concluding Remarks

We, the travelers, can work towards the resolution of our identified issues if we can re-conceptualize fear. One way to do this is to utilize the following empowerment strategy.  The traveler must:

  • Want to address the concept of fear. 
  • Want to come to terms with the reality that fear is simply a feeling and that fear can be “good.”
  • Want to realize that FEAR IS HERE.  FOREVER.
  • Want to understand that he/she has the choice to “live in fear or live with fear.”




Same old road?  Or walk and explore a new path?

  • What about you?
  • What do you want?
  • What are you willing to do? In order to obtain what you want?

Live in fear? Or live with fear?  You choose!

“Those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it.”

            – Sir Winston Churchill 


Until the next crossroads,


The Journey continues………….

Steppin’ Off Into The Future And Doing The RITE Thing (For Me!)

Dear Readers,

     In the previous week’s posting of the series The Visible Man, I responded to the comments of a young African-American man who was conflicted about many things, including remaining in school, dealing with psychological abuse and what direction to take in his life.  Essentially, he was standing at the crossroads of the journey we call LIFE and questioning what to do. I can only hope that he made the decision that best suits him, as it is his future and his life.
     Recently, I have had the opportunity to review two news articles, both of which I found to be insightful as well as intriguing.  I would like to share these stories this week.
     In these articles are stories of two men who share the following characteristics:
  • African-American
  • Football athletes
  • Responding to psychological trauma
     Both men essentially stood at the “crossroads” of their respective journeys.  Both chose different directions that produced different and distinctive outcomes.  Here are their stories:
Story #1 comes from the Seattle PI (10/30/13).
     A former football player for the Oregon Ducks is very dissatisfied regarding the lack of appreciation from his fans.  He compares his life as a college athlete as to that of a slave. His story:
“I remember walking in from fall camp practice and talking to my teammates about how similar our lives were to the TV series Spartacus.  We were slaves.  We were paid enough to live, eat, and train… And nothing more.  We went out on the field, where we were broken down physically and mentally every day, only to wake up and do it again on the next. 
On the outside, spectators placed bets and objectified us.  They put us on pedestals and worshiped us for a short time, but only as long as we were winning. In the end, we were just a bunch of dumbass (racial slur) for the owners to whip, and the rich to bet on.
What I just described is a business, I know.  That’s how it works, and it is something we understand as athletes entering into the system, as (expletive) up as it is.  For many people entering that system, it’s better than what life has to offer elsewhere.  So they take it. 
But having been on the outside now, to witness this disgusting display of “support,” I know that I want no (expletive) part of it.  I will never attend a Ducks game as a spectator again.  I am disgusted by Ducks fans and I will sit back and observe from afar with high hopes for the players’ success and understanding of their sacrifice, without having to hear the spoiled woes of ignorant fans.
I will love the Ducks: my coaches, my teammates, my brothers and family.  The rest….Go (expletive) yourselves.”
     As one can see, this individual, as he is about to step off into his future, is bitter and angry about the psychological abuse he has tolerated.  Consequently, for all the ferocity of his parting shot at the Ducks’fans, they are a group that will never recognize him outside of a Ducks football jersey.   The days of adulation, jeers and glory are past for him now.   In parting, there is anger.  What will tomorrow bring for him?
Story #2 comes from the AARP Home Blog (10/30/13).
     This is a story we have heard too many times.  It tells of a professional athlete following both his moments of glory leaving the sport, falling into darkness and paying a heavy price for the fall.  Yet, the outcome or “decision” at the crossroad is different from similar stories.  It follows:
Sunoco “Stamp” Williams, who died July 8 at age 64 while taking a walk near his home, earned All-American honors at the University of Minnesota in 1967 and then went to play 12 seasons (and in three Super Bowls) as an offensive lineman in the NFL, first for the Baltimore Colts and then for the Los Angeles Rams.
All that time, Williams had another ambition: becoming a dentist.  He spent his off-seasons as a part-time dentistry student, and eventually earned a doctorate in 1978 from the University of Maryland.  When he retired from football after the 1980 season, he moved back to Minneapolis and launched a dental practice.
But Dr. Williams’ second act unexpectedly took a disastrous turn.  He began using cocaine, and was indicated for selling a small amount of the drug to a college friend who turned out to be a federal informant.  He ended up pleading guilty and served seven months in a federal prison.  ‘When something like that happens… it makes you re-examine yourself,’ he explained in a 2002 interview with the Minneapolis Star-Tribune.  ‘You have to go deep inside yourself and deal with things you don’t want to deal with.  You have to be honest with yourself.’  

After his release, Dr. Williams totally rebuilt his life, not only resuming his dental practice, but becoming an exemplary citizen.  He joined a group that visited prison inmates to assist in their rehabilitation, and he became active in organizations working to revitalize Minneapolis.  In 1992, the city honored him as volunteer of the year.  In 2001, in the wake of the September 11 attack on the World Trade Center, Williams rushed to New York to serve on a seven-man forensic dentistry team that helped identify the bodies of the terror victims.

     Regretfully, this powerful and remarkable story concludes with a reviewer or reader sending in the following question:
“How did he keep his dental license as a convicted felon?”
Both stories are powerful and insightful.
     In story #1, the future has not been written for the former Duck football athlete.  He appears driven by anger.  It is likely that a few fans will take the opportunity to be insightful about what is being stated, while others may simply view him as being ungrateful, who got a four year athletic scholarship and now is whining about how he was “unfairly treated.”
In story #2, Dr. Williams’ life has come full circle.  His story has been written and hopefully many, excluding a few (i.e. “How did he keep his dental license as a convicted felon?”) will benefit from what he was able to achieve.
There is much we can learn in both stories if we allow ourselves the opportunity.   As one stands at the “Crossroads,” one can light the beacon that illuminates the path that has been chosen.
The beacon “Doing the RITE Thing” contains the following illuminations:
  • R    Recognize the behavior or action that creates or reinforces the pain/emotional wound.
  • I     Identify the behavioral change that will alleviate or respond to the pain/emotional wound.
  • T    Transform it; walk/work in the direction, allowing yourself to fully experience the emotional response.
  • E    Empower the self.  Do this for “me” and no one else.  Reinforce “me.”
     In closing, as the individual stands at the “Crossroads,” it is for that person to recognize that they have choices in which how they choose to walk the journey.  One can either hold on to the bitter fruits of the past and in doing so, allow this cancer to consume from within, or one can choose to “let go” and in doing so, seek to experience a challenging and constructive life.
“The end of one journey is the beginning of another.”
“The choice is ours.  We can continue doing the same old thing, traveling the same road.  Or we can do something new, something different… on the path less traveled.”
The journey continues……

The Old Road, Or The New Path? Which Will You Choose?

Dear Readers,

     Recently there have been a number of news articles published regarding Trayon Christian, a 19 year old African American male college student who was arrested after purchasing a $350.00 belt from at a luxury store in Manhattan (New York City).  In this incident, the young man did not appear to do anything wrong other than shopping and thereby was arrested for “shopping while black.”
     Such incidents are becoming the new normal for African-Americans.  Consequently, certain reactions to what can often be misread as threatening or suspicious behaviors on part of African-Americans, especially men, are now becoming of great concern.
     For example, many would consider it absurd that a person would be deemed a threat and subsequently arrested for the simple action of waving—and yet, such an incident did occur.
     It was recently reported in the Evansville Courier & Press (8/16/13) that George Madison, a 38-year-old African-American firefighter, was handcuffed by police officers of the Evansville Police Department for waving at the police officers as they drove past him while he was riding his bicycle. The report goes on:

While riding his bike in Evansville, IN, George Madison Jr., 38, waved to a couple of police officers nearby.  From where Madison was, the officers looked familiar to him.  After all, as a firefighter with the Evansville Fire Department, Madison worked closely with many officers of the Evansville Police Department.

But Madison didn’t look familiar to the officers, and as Madison explains, the officers deemed his friendly wave a threat. “The officer jumped out and says, ‘what are you doing throwing your hands up at us?’  He is talking to me as he is coming toward me.  I tried to explain, but I couldn’t get a word in edgewise.”

Madison went on to say that the officer’s attitude made him feel angry and alone. “It was like everything had disappeared, and I was there alone and I got scared,” he said.

Before he knew it, Madison said, the officer had his stun device out.  “It was literally maybe inches from my face. I immediately threw my hands in the air.  I said, ‘Please don’t hurt me.’  The next thing I know, I’m laying down on the ground and they cuffed me.”

Once they established who Madison was, the officers brought Madison up to his knees and let him go.  Madison, who is a father of four and also a youth pastor at Memorial Baptist Church in Evansville, filed a formal complaint with the police’s internal affairs division. 

     Question: Is this the end of the story for either Christian in New York City or Madison in Evansville, IN? 

     Answer:  No. There is a common theme in both incidents in which either “shopping while black” or “waving while black” may have resulted in both individuals experiencing trauma responses and thus carrying psychological wounds and scars.
     The way in which both individuals perceive their worlds moving forward may never be the same.  It is conceivable that Madison may be conflicted regarding whether he should extend the professional courtesy of acknowledgement to a “fellow officer” who is white. Or, that Christian would be feeling apprehensive while shopping in a business establishment that sells luxury or expensive items in the future.
Can society truly understand how these men may feel?  If such an experience has never happened to us, how can we really understand?  Both of these men are known as upstanding and contributing members of their communities. Yet, through no fault of their own, they are forced to endure a humiliating and terrorizing experience which they will never forget.
Can society truly sense the hyper vigilance, the high paced beating of the heart & pulsing of blood as these men await their fate?  This would be highly unlikely, unless they are those members who have also experienced the indignities of such incidents. Furthermore, it would be impossible to clearly understand or grasp what the trauma has taken from them.
Trauma, what trauma?  What was taken from them?  What does either of these mean?  Regardless of your age, gender, race or cultural/ethnic identification, just for a moment, imagine yourself in the following situation:
 It is a nice day, not a cloud in the sky, life for you is as normal as it gets.  You find yourself riding your bicycle or go into the store to buy yourself a belt and then suddenly, the world as you know explodes in your face.
 Only moments ago:
You are either “waving” at a police officer or “shopping” at the store and for no clearly identifiable reason, you find yourself arrested, handcuffed and not permitted to move freely.  Or, you are being questioned in a manner that is clouded with suspicion, threats and intimidation.

You find yourself attempting to explain, yet no one is willing to listen or believe what you have to say. Then either a weapon is being placed directly in your face or you find yourself being placed in the backseat of a patrol car.

You are scared.  You are alone.  People are passing by, staring, pointing and taking your picture or taking videos with their cell phone.  Your heart is about to explode in your chest.  You feel helpless.  So you pray, and ask that someone to wake you up from this “nightmare.”

In either occurrence, you may have experienced a little of what Madison & Christian felt. This is trauma. This particular form of trauma is defined as the “just world” theory.  

In the “just world” theory, people have a need to believe in a “just world,” one in which they get what they deserve and deserve what they get.
  The just world theory corresponds to the principle of “goodness” and that the goodness of an individual is the primary factor determining one’s lot in life.  Trauma shatters the just world theory because the traumatic response occurs as a result of an out-of-the-ordinary event that presents itself as a threat to survival and self-preservation. Imagine what could be more out-of-the-ordinary than being arrested for waving or buying yourself a belt.
  Let’s return to the scenario for a moment. You have been held in custody for a period ranging from minutes to hours. Then, without warning or introduction, a stranger approaches, saying:
The incident was a “huge misunderstanding and a communication problem.”

     Members of society, look within the “psychological self” i.e. your inner being, and ask the following:

  • How does this statement make me feel?
  • Does this statement remove the memory of the traumatic experience?
  • How does this statement prevent this incident from occurring again?
  • What did I do to deserve this?
  • Why me?  (Why did this happen to me?)
     Members of society, I will leave it to you to respond to questions 1 through 3.  Please allow me to answer questions 4 & 5.
  • (What did I do to deserve this?) I did nothing.  Absolutely nothing.
  • (Why me?)  It is not about you.  It’s about “living in fear”.

     Living in Fear?  Yes. Fear is nothing more than a feeling or emotion.  It is for the individual member of society to determine how to respond to fear.  The incidents in the scenario are both situations in which the responding police officers were going by prejudgments based on their own, and society’s, internalized feelings of “living in fear.”

     Such incidents will continue to occur, resulting in innocent persons being psychologically and emotionally wounded and scarred. The terror of a fearful society will cease only when its members seek to empower itself and in doing so, transforms its mode of behavior towards one which seeks to balance its prejudgments and move towards “living with fear.”
However, until this transformation (i.e. from living in fear to living with fear) can occur, it is upon all of us, regardless of race, ethnicity, or gender, to take steps that will assist in maintaining our safety. We have common goals with the police– we too want to return home to our loved ones.
Therefore, when interacting with either the police or members of law enforcement agencies, and you feel fear based on aggression from or the intimidating stance of the police officers, it is advisable to take the following actions:
  • First, upon realizing the aggressive or intimidating stance being taken by the police officers; assume a posture that reinforces your physical vulnerability & physical exposure. An example of this is keeping your palms up and hands raised away from your body.  Maintain your psychological composure while the police control the scene.
  •  Second, follow the directions given by the police officers without question or hesitation.  It is imperative that they be in control of the situation or individual who for whatever reason, they consider to be a danger to themselves.  Failure to immediately follow their directive may serve to heighten their fear for their safety.
  • Third, never ever resist or give the impression that there is a desire to resist.  Any such action on the individual’s part may lead to coming to face with the use of deadly force or actions by the police officers that could result in physical injury or death.
     In closing, as one stands at the crossroads, it is for the individual, as a member of “society”, to decide whether to seek a new path, one based on optimism and hope for the future or remain on the old road of the past, holding tightly to that which continues to divide us.
If we are willing to seek balance then we can work to understand the following:
  • Fear is an emotion.  Fear can be good.
  • Learn to live with fear and not in fear.
  • Learn to embrace fear and not allow fear to be used against the psychological self.

The journey continues…… 

Dr. Micheal Kane