Telling The Truth About Sexual Assault: The Journey To Freedom

My Dear Readers,

Recently, there have been a number of news reports regarding sexual assault allegations against Bill Cosby from 40 years ago.  In these allegations, sixteen women have publicly stated that Cosby, now 77 years old, sexually assaulted them with 13 of them asserting that he drugged or attempted to drug them prior to the assault.

There are some notable similarities among the alleged victims: at the time, they were young, white, without family attachments, being plied with drugs, responding to the fear that no one would believe them, and dealing with the possibility of living their lives traumatized and suffering in silence.

Now, I am not associated with the incidents.  I haven’t met the women making the allegations, nor have I ever met Bill Cosby.  However, as a mental health clinician treating victims of sexual assault, as a black man who has fought to move from “surviving to striving” in America, and as a father of two, I felt that I could not be silent on this issue.

Perspective 1: Mental Health Clinician

I recently received an email from a patient I have been seeing for the last five years. She has survived a series of repeated sexual assaults she endured in early and middle childhood by a paternal figure.

During this time this patient, who I shall call “Bobbi,” (for confidentiality purposes, this is not her real name) has learned to advocate for herself, obtain balance within, and project calmness.  In doing so, she has gained a full sense of empowerment and the ability to strive in her life, and not simply survive the traumas and the horrific acts she experienced.

In Bobbi’s email she shares the following:

“I just listened to Thomas, Jack and Benny discuss Bill Cosby and the accusations of rape.  Their lack of knowledge about women being raped surprised me.  Statements like ‘Why would a woman wait 30 years to disclose it?  One girl said she couldn’t keep silent anymore.’  Jack said, ‘The women are just doing it for the money.  I don’t understand why they waited so long.’  Benny said, ‘I believe he did it.’

“Dr. Kane, I was so tempted to say something.  I kept quiet about a rape for almost 40 years and I didn’t want money.  I didn’t want to shock them or divulge information that I have only shared with you.  The conversations discouraged me.  It reminds me of the way people think and their lack of knowledge.

“I don’t think they realize how rape affects a woman.  How it robs a person of life and joy.  They seem to think once the rape is over, the woman goes on with a normal life.

“I am going to go into a sewing room and shut the door.  This kind of foolish talk I hear sometimes is so discouraging.  I don’t think society understands the continuing pain of being raped.”

It is not for me as a mental health clinician to speak for those victimized by such traumatic experiences. I believe that Bobbi has provided a clear statement as to the difficult experience of those who have been raped and the ignorance of family members and society as a whole on this subject.

At the moment, what concerns me is Bobbi “going into a sewing room and shutting the door.” I fear that she may be retreating into a world she has fought valiantly to emerge from.

It is statements made in ignorance and the lack of understanding victims’ experiences that places Bobbi and many like her at risk of reliving the trauma of their experience.  It is in the role of therapist that we help victims move from the pit of surviving to be able to strive in the journey we call living.

Perspective 2: Black Man: From Surviving to Striving in America

One characteristic that we all share, regardless of race, is that as we are birthed into this world, we come in screaming at the top of our lungs, gasping for air with the goal of “survival.”  Hopefully, we are received into this world by loving parents and a supportive network.  No longer attached physically to our mother’s bodies, we are now “free”.

However, that’s where the commonalities stop. Where white males often take their place in the dominant society, black males continue as in birth to scream either at the top of their lungs or in silence to survive in a society where they are for the majority, viewed with suspicion, uneasiness, and with caution.

As black males go through childhood, adolescence and adulthood, they learn a reality that will follow them to their deaths:

Every breath you take

Every move you make

Every bond you break, every step you take

I’ll be watching you.

Every single day

Every word you say

Every game you play, every night you stay

I’ll be watching you.

-Every Breath You Take by The Police (1983).   

Life under the microscope, although inequitable and frustrating, is the norm for black males in America. Gossip, innuendos, whispers, stereotyping, rumors, outright lies, and half-truths make black males susceptible and vulnerable to attack, especially from a dominant majority who, due to intergenerational transference of conscious and unconscious racism, commit actions which destroys careers, devastates one’s professional/personal standing in the community, or devalues the individual psychologically.

The most valuable asset that a black man has is his reputation. It is his honor. It speaks for him. If it is seriously questioned, his life and the wellbeing of his family may be in jeopardy.  It is normal that at times, one’s reputation can take a hit, or be subjected to jokes, but when there are major allegations of “inappropriate sexual behavior,” regardless of the longevity or timeline of such allegations, a response is most definitely required. As a result, it is unacceptable for Bill Cosby, when provided the opportunity to respond publicly, to simply refuse to respond.  Instead, he has chosen to allow his attorneys to address the “innuendos.”  John P. Schmitt, one of these attorneys, recently said:

“Over the past several weeks, decade old discredited allegations against Mr. Crosby have resurfaced.  The fact that they have been repeated does not make them true.”

(CNN 11.20.14)

So, Bill Cosby refuses to personally respond, but he is willing to send in his legal team to respond on his behalf?  Why? It’s not that he is incapable of speaking on his own behalf.  This is a man who has earned a doctorate in education and is a master at performing in front of the camera.  So Bill, the question is this: as you maintain your innocence, why won’t you speak to us?

Perspective Three: Fatherhood: Parenting What You Preach

For the last two decades, Bill Cosby has called upon those of us in the African-American community to take responsibility for ourselves and serve as leaders, teachers and models for our children. For four or more decades, Bill Cosby’s image has been of America’s jovial, pudding-loving patriarch whose family-friendly brand of comedy has tickled generations of viewers.

Today that image has been tarnished as allegations continue to come forth.  The African-American community, for the most part, has been silent.  While publicly, a variety of support continues to exist, privately, people are talking and wondering.

Within the psychological self, it is natural to feel confused as to what is being said about Bill Cosby. However, if we really want to be honest with ourselves, then we would want to acknowledge that we are actually not confused at all, but conflicted.  We are struggling to reconcile the Bill Cosby we know of today versus the Bill Cosby of 40-50 years ago that is being portrayed in the allegations.  Is he the same person? Perhaps. He’s not perfect.  He is human and therefore fallible.   He can, and like the rest of us, does make mistakes. The real question is this: is he willing to take ownership and responsibility for actions he may have committed many years ago?

Concluding Words

Bill Cosby’s reputation has been tarnished.  His legacy, despite spending millions of dollars in legal fees and public relations costs, will forever be remembered in the context of these sexual allegations, and the questions remain:

  • Have 17 vindictive, angry women, feeling rejected and seeking revenge, sought to discredit Bill Cosby?
  • Is a hostile media industry determined to take down a hard working black man?
  • Why did these women wait for decades to bring these allegations public?

As a psychotherapist who specializes in working with survivors of sexual trauma and other forms of abuses, I choose to respond to the third question. These women did not come forward for money, or publicity, or fame.  They came forward to set themselves free from a burden that was never theirs to carry.  They no longer have to live in fear of what they experienced.  They are now free to live with their fear and continue to live their lives.

Despite what individuals, communities or the greater society choose to believe, these women are by their actions empowered and now able to let go of the past, live in the present and look forward to the future. They are free, and can breathe the fresh air.

“Free at last, Free at last.  Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!”

-Dr. Martin Luther King Jr

Until the next crossroads… The journey continues.

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No Free Lunch: Our Actions And Their Consequences

My Dear Readers,

“I want what I want and I want it now!”

Many of us have felt this sentiment, or even said it out loud. However, in doing so, we avoid, deny or fail to fully grasp the fact that there are consequences for the actions we take.

The term consequences has been given a bad rap.   Usually applied in the negative, consequences are merely nothing more than reactions to what we do or do not do.

Even in those circumstances, where you may look for faults or somewhere to place blame, it is still possible to be empowered and to accept responsibility for the decisions we make.

Only you can grant yourself the permission to lead the life you desire.

Below is such a story…

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Dear Visible Man,

I hope that you can help me.  I am a second generation American from the Philippines, and I have two young daughters. We currently live with my parents, who are retired and lived on a fixed income.

I am struggling with an important decision. I have a friend who is also a second generation American Filipino who has invited me to move into his new home with him.  I have known him for four years and we have been good friends during that time.  Although he has pursued me for a sexual relationship, I am not attracted to him in that way and I have been clear about not wanting to be sexually involved with him.

Granted, he is an attractive man.  He often says that he can have any woman he wants, but he desires me. He says that if my children and I move in with him, I won’t have to work; that I can quit my job and he will provide for my children and me.

I know that he can provide for us. He’s college educated and makes good money working in the technology industry. I also have a degree from a local college, but I am barely able to pay my bills and take care of my children.  I am in my mid 30’s and have had dreams of opening my own small business, but since I am barely able to get by every month, that dream is becoming more like a fantasy.

He says that he is willing to help me develop my business.  I am very tempted to move in with him and have this relationship, which would be one of convenience for both him and me.

However, I have been involved in an online relationship with another man. He resides in the Philippines where he is a citizen.  Although we have never met, I feel attracted to him.  However, for us to further develop our relationship, I would have to sponsor him so he could come to the United States.  Since I don’t have the finances, I am unable to do so.

I feel very confused. Perhaps I could move in with my friend for 2-3 years and then tell him I want to end the relationship, but I know that may be the wrong thing to do. However, I do know that such relationships of convenience between men and women are common, both in my native country and throughout the world.

I really want to create my own business so I can be independent.  As my parents are getting older, I must prepare myself as it is traditionally expected that I take care of them.   I am very anxious—my friend wants a decision from me within the next two weeks.

What should I do?

Panicking in the Pacific Northwest

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Dear Young Woman,

Take a breath.  Embrace your feelings and slow down so that you can reflect on this situation.

I will not tell you what to do.  It is up to you to evaluate the choices before you, and take responsibility for the decision you make. However, I can make some suggestions as to things you want to consider as you make your choice.

Be willing to be honest with yourself. Often, we are more willing to listen and accept the words of others rather than the truths which lie within ourselves, and when life fails to materialize the way we imagined, there is resentment towards both the other person and more importantly, to self. Yet, who should really bear the blame?  The seller of the bill of goods, or the buyer?

In this situation, I would suggest that you let go of blame and instead, embrace empowerment and responsibility. Be honest with yourself.  Ask yourself the following:

  • If he can have “any woman he wants,” why does he want me?
  • What do I have that the other women do not? What is so special about me?

Be willing to question his motives.  Regardless of how many sexual relationships he has had, he seems to be unable, for whatever, reason, to maintain meaningful long-term intimate relationships.  Consider the following:

  • Since he’s had so many sexual encounters, are you at risk for contracting a sexual transmitted disease from him?
  • Regardless of how he answers the previous question, would you truly feel comfortable being sexually involved with him?
  • What protection do you have? Despite his generous offer, there is no promise of marriage, or indication that your name will be on the title of the home. What prevents him from tossing you and your children out on the streets?
  • If you quit your job, that means that you and your children would be totally financially dependent on him and his good will. Is that what you want for your children and yourself?

You indicate that you are confused, but come on now. Look into the mirror.  It is one thing to tell a stranger like me that you are confused, but you must be honest with yourself.  This is not about being confused.  This is about being conflicted.  Conflict is defined as having or showing mutually inconsistent feelings.  IN essence, you want to have your cake and eat it too. You want to keep your relationship with the person you met online, but you also want to the financial security that your friend offers. Yet, you must be willing to ask the hard questions:

  • Are you prepared to let your lover in the Philippines go? Or, are you planning to hold onto him until you gain enough money from your friend to bring him over to the States?
  • Looking at your actions, are you simply being manipulative and playing games with your friend in considering his offer?
  • Are you instead being manipulated by the online lover in the Philippines?

You must also consider your children.  How would you explain your actions to them? Is this the model that you want your daughters to follow?  How would you advise them on handling a similar situation?

Concluding Words

Many people, including myself, have had to struggle from paycheck to paycheck. I currently have a male colleague master level therapist who struggles to support his family and goes to the food bank every month to make ends meet.  He does so with great humility.  He is a model not only for his son and for other men and women who work every day to provide for their children.

It has been my experience that there are times when individuals who seek “advice” from therapists are in reality seeking “permission” to do the things they want to do. This is evident in your observation that these “relationships of convenience happen all over the world.”

It may just be that you are conflicted and looking to justify what you are leaning towards doing.  However before you pursue this “relationship of convenience,” please consider that many of the women involved in such relationships throughout the world do so not out of choice, but rather due to force, threats,  and their own feelings of hopelessness or obligation.

As college educated people, we have what many do not have: the ability to choose our own directions, and the empowerment to pursue them.  It is not acceptable that we ignore or willingly surrender that which is often denied to others.

Life is not an easy journey, even for college-educated people.  It is absolutely possible that you can provide for your family, care for your elderly parents, and own your own small business, and it can be done without behaviors that you may later regret.

One of my patients once told me “one’s later can be greater than one’s beginning.  The question is: do you have belief, faith and trust in the journey you have chosen?

When you focus on the climb and its direction, you can’t help but achieve your destination.

The Visible Man

On Black Women, The Crooked Room, and Dear White People…

My Dear Readers,

This week, I have invited Mia Smith from RevolutionsDaughter.com back to guest post on Loving Me More.  I was curious about her take on the movie Dear White People, and I wanted to share with you what she had to say.  Enjoy!

Dr. Kane

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I must not have completely worn out my welcome with Dr. Kane, because he’s asked me to write another guest blog for Loving Me More, and I’m super honored, as usual.  This time, he wanted to hear my take on the movie Dear White People, which I saw with him 2 weeks ago.

I won’t spoil the plot too much, but based on his blog last week, we had vastly different takeaways coming out of that movie– which I think was the point of it.  There was so much to digest and to process, I would be surprised if we had the same feelings about it.

However, where the general depiction of young black people at an Ivy League college grabbed him, I found myself particularly drawn to the key black female characters: Samantha “Sam” White, the mixed-race, light-skinned black revolutionary played by Tessa Thompson, and  Colandrea “Coco” Conners, the dark skinned black woman who wants to be accepted into privileged white society played by Teyonah Parris.

I’ve written before about the portrayal of black women, particularly young black women in cinema, and I found the female characters in Dear White People to be refreshingly three-dimensional and well-developed– which was, in and of itself, a double-sided sword.  On one hand, it was great to see black women realistically portrayed, and on the other, it was kind of like the lyrics of Roberta Flack’s song “Killing Me Softly;”  they were strumming my pain with their fingers and singing my life with their words.

In my mind, the entire movie is about finding and living the truth of your personal identity in the midst of a society that wants to force you to quiet down and conform, in the case of Sam White, or in the case of Coco Conners, being your own comfort in the face of rejection from a society that doesn’t accept you, no matter how much you try to conform to what they want.

Melissa Harris-Perry, in her amazing book Sister Citizen: Shame, Stereotypes, and Black Women In America, calls this “the crooked room,”  referring to post-WWII cognitive psychology research on field dependence.  In these studies, which focused on an individual’s ability to find the upright in a space, subjects would be placed in a crooked room, and then asked to align themselves vertically.  In some cases, people were tilted by as much as 35 degrees and still felt like they were perfectly straight, simply because they were aligned with images around them that were equally tilted.

Harris-Perry relates this to the condition of black women in American society in this way:

“When they confront race and gender stereotypes, black women are standing in a crooked room, and they have to figure out which way is up.  Bombarded with warped images of their humanity, some black women tilt and bend themselves to fit the distortion…To understand why black women’s public actions and political strategies sometimes seem tilted in ways that accommodate the degrading stereotypes about them, it is important to appreciate the structural constraints that influence their behavior.  It can be hard to stand up straight in a crooked room.”

And that’s how I felt in watching Sam White and Coco Conners– like we were all in our crooked rooms with transparent walls, watching each other trying to stand up straight.

Sam White

For all of her passion, fire and bluster, Sam White, at the end of the day, was simply the “Strong Black Woman,”  a trope that has been used since time immemorial to describe (and sometimes trap) black women.  She is the voice of the minorities on campus, and the nagging conscience of the white majority, with her controversial “Dear White People” radio show, her successful campaign to lead the predominantly black residence hall on campus, and the rallies that she organizes on campus.  She is an instrument, a tool– the black and other minority students use her to advocate for the rights that they want, but either cannot or will not achieve for themselves, the white students use her as the common enemy to unite themselves, and the men in her life see her as a possession, this powerful person that they can have as an ally to further their own egos, or someone to challenge and take down because she is a threat.  Yet, she continues to do this because she only sees herself through those images, and although she is aligned with those images, she is still tilted.

The scene that broke this for me– and made me cry– was the scene where she was heading across the quad to her friends/revolution team in preparation for a rally, and Sam gets a call from her mother, telling her that her father’s health wasn’t doing well.  Her father’s sickness has been an undercurrent through the whole movie– showing the internal stress that Sam silently deals with on a daily basis while she is fighting all of these battles at her school– but it’s only at this point, with these large tears streaming down her face, that she turns to her crew after the call, and instead of any of them, these black people who have followed her, instead of ANY of them simply asking what’s wrong, they just ask “Are you ready to go? We need you.”

That hit me right in the gut– I’ve been in that situation before.  When I replay that scene in my mind, I see my mother, sister, aunts, grandmothers, so many other pivotal black women in my life, who have been in that situation, and instead of running away like Sam did at that moment, they dry it up, suck it up, and perform, only to break down in a spectacular way at some other point in the future– but this actually was  Sam’s breaking point.

Until that moment, when Sam finally breaks under the pressure, nothing would have changed– and indeed, as she runs back to her safe haven to find a respite, they follow her, banging on her door, demanding the strong black woman that they have stood on, even Gabe, her white lover, who is the only one she actually lets in.  And even that is fraught with guilt– because she’s the black revolutionary, she couldn’t be seen with him, but her heart and her true identity yearns for him, because he is the only one who truly sees her.  He is the only one she can really be vulnerable, and thus, be truly herself, with.

It is after this realization that Sam disappears from the story for a bit, and while everyone focuses on how “Sam has let us down,” and “We can’t do this without Sam here,”  Sam chooses to take her hair down– effectively taking off the uniform of the revolutionary, and chooses to truly accept who she is, a black woman with a white father whom she actually has the nerve to love, and a white lover that she also trusts and loves — and through this, she does really become her own person, and more powerful than she ever was before.

Coco Conners

Coco, on the other hand, is the anti-hero, and although as a black woman, I am conditioned to be on #TeamSam, there is something amazing about the Coco character and the phenomenal young actress Teyonah Parris, who plays her.

Coco is a beautiful dark chocolate black woman, tall and svelte and sensual, with bright blue eyes and long-straight black hair.  She is always impeccably dressed, and well spoken.  Like her revolutionary counterparts, she is articulate and very intelligent, but with one marked difference– she wants nothing to do with her fellow black men and women.  She wants nothing to do with her race, opting for the silky black wig that she wears, and the bright blue contacts she puts into her eyes.  She bemoans the fact that she has been assigned to the predominantly black Anderson-Parker residence hall, and wishes that she was assigned to Becket Hall, home of the wealthy whites.  She doesn’t like to date black men, and thinks that Sam White and her ilk are terrorists and troublemakers.  She is what Sam calls a “nose job,” meaning that if it was possible for Coco (who prefers to be called  that to her “ethnic, ghetto name” Colandrea) to change her skin color and have a nose job to become white, she would.

None of this is lost on Coco.  She plays it off as being a realist– that she does what she has to do to get what she wants, and this is just the best way of doing so, but what grabbed me about the character is that she is truly a woman without a country– tolerated, but never really accepted by the white culture that she wants so much to be a part of — except to be objectified and fetishized by the white frat boys–  and ostracized by a black community that she would never be “black enough” for, even if she tried.

Coco’s experience in the crooked room is one of shame– her trope is of Sapphire, the seductress, but it arises out of shame– shame of herself, and shame over the rejection of the society around her.  Melissa Harris-Perry likens this to the experience of the character Pauline Breedlove in Toni Morrison’s book The Bluest Eye: 

“Absorbing white standards of beauty and virtue made her ashamed and unable to love herself , her children, and her life. When the ugliness of her life makes beauty and order impossible in her own home, she escapes this shame by clinging to the trappings of whiteness…Two decades before clinical psychologists  conceived a theory of the collective effects of shame, Morrison’s painful tale of the Breedloves explicates the  burden of shame that black girls carry.  Through Claudia’s (the narrator) jealous rages about Shirley Temple, Morrison reveals how black girls are forced to live in a world that declares Shirley Temple beautiful and worthy… (values that are) denied to little black girls like Claudia.”

In Coco’s case, she is beset by the spectre of Sam– Sam, who is wild and unruly and disagreeable, being the natural choice for a reality show that Coco desperately wants to be on. Coco wants to be seen for who she is and the considerable talents that she has, but nothing that she does accomplishes that, short of becoming the stereotypical black woman that she has spent so much time and effort to distance herself from.

As a young black woman born in a middle class family, I recognize a lot of myself in Coco, although I have been conditioned to identify with the likes of Sam. But, as a dark-skinned black woman in a world where black people often gravitate to the light-skinned, biracial likes of Sam, I know what it is like to be Coco.  I know what it is like to want to stand out and be accepted so badly that you will shame yourself to do so.  I know what it is like to be so talented, to have so much to offer, and to work so hard, but to have things given to others simply because they can be.  I was just lucky that I found my own identity early enough so that I didn’t experience what Coco did in the movie.

Coco’s breaking point came at the Pastiche Halloween Party, where an invitation, later revealed to have come from Sam herself, invited the white students to “get their crunk on”  by dressing as black people and in blackface– a party that Coco attended, in the hopes of joining the Pastiche writing staff. She went in her blue contacts and in her blonde wig, but she, being the only black woman in a party where black people were lampooned and caricatured, her own attempt to “flip the script” went unnoticed.  Even being the lone “white girl” in a sea of “black people”, she was still invisible, still not accepted.  When she ran into the newly emancipated Sam, who only attended the party to document it for her media project, Coco tries to explain herself, saying that she’s “not going to fault these white people for wanting so much to be like black people,” and that she “won’t apologize for being a part of it,”  but that, in and of itself, was an apology.  And by the time she takes off her own blonde wig outside the party, we realize that although she may have thought she was playing the game smarter, she was actually being played herself.

Personal and Racial Identity

At the end of the film, the feeling is that everyone eventually finds themselves, but not really.  Sam has found happily ever after by accepting her biracial heritage and having the courage to step out publicly with her white lover, Gabe, even though she gets many a side-eye from her former revolutionaries, but Coco still wanders– she makes love to the popular black man on campus, looking for acceptance there, but only finds that he doesn’t want to be associated with her in public– the same way that Sam once treated Gabe, and the same way that many powerful white men treated their black mistresses in history.

However, Coco does finally get her shot at the reality TV show, and as the movie leaves off, she has the opportunity to not only create a brand new identity for herself, but also a brand new reality.

The question I’m left with, however, is this: why is Coco’s destiny such a question mark, when Sam’s is so neatly tied up?  Is it because Sam is light-skinned and therefore more palatable to men?  Is it because Sam is the hero and we are conditioned to root for the hero?  Or is it much more similar to reality, in which the light skinned black girl discovers her identity because it has already been decided for her, where us dark-skinned girls have to create our own?

So many thoughts, so many questions… until later,

Mia

Dear White People: Getting Across the Racial Empathy Gap

My Dear Readers,

All of y’all, go see this film!!!

I recently had the pleasure of viewing the recently released satire Dear White People, a film that challenges conventional notions of what it means to be black, to be white, and to be both by centering its story around a culture war brewing on a fictional, predominately white Ivy League college campus.

Andre Seewood of Indiewire writes that historically, “traditional black films” have failed to maintain the attention of white audiences due to those audiences lacking the necessary empathy to identify with black characters, “which in turn, affects their ability to ‘suspend disbelief’ and surrender to the narrative of a black film.”

So, are white folks incapable of surrendering to the narrative of a black film?    Seewood cited a study on the Racial Empathy Scale conducted by researchers from the University of Milano (Italy) and the University of Toronto (Canada) in which they found that:

“The human brain fires differently when dealing with people outside of one’s own race.”

Furthermore,

“the study found that the degree of mental activity when White participants watched non-White men performing a task was significantly lower than when they watched people of their own race performing the same task.”

So how does one cross this divide?  I would say that watching Dear White People is a great way to start that conversation.

The critically acclaimed satire grabs you immediately as it dives directly into the thoughts that lie deep within the consciousness of diverse audiences and provide experiences that many races can relate to—experiences like the often avoided discussion of race, themes about intelligence, the craving for acceptance, identity, honesty within relationships and tasteful and tactful displays of black and white sexuality across all genders.

The film, quite honestly, is a psychotherapist’s Disney World.  It allows the individual to sit alone within the “psychological self,” tapping into and exploring the many visual themes that lie either in the subconscious or unconscious realms of one’s internal self.  It’s a lot like just sitting with a friend, feeling completely understood by them, and yet, having the choice and freedom to outwardly share those feelings—or not.

Dear White People is as powerful as it is empowering for many reasons, but this is why is makes me say: All of y’all, go see this film!!

One: Dear White Folks!

You will be engaged in the observance of scenes depicting white people engaged in the following behaviors:

  • Fulfillment of desires of blackness– the film shows a campus Halloween party in which whites are encouraged to dress up and “unleash your inner Negro”. The participants arrived dressed in blackface, eating watermelons and waving guns gangster style
  • The “intense want” to say the “N” word– white students lamenting for permission and “finally” being able to join in with blacks to repeatedly use this most challenging word.
  • Relaxed white students admonishing their black peers that due to having a black president, racism in the United States is officially ended.
  • White students being able to state that as a result of affirmative action, the most vulnerable person is the white middle class
  • The freedom without ridicule to for whites to “touch and play” with the Afro hair
  • Love scenes between a white man and black woman that are not about rape and are instead intimate and loving.

Two: Dear Black Folks!

You will be engaged in the observance of scenes depicting black people being engaged in the following behaviors:

  • Instead of what is typically shown in the media today, black students being actively involved in campus political activism
  • The portrayal of black cultural pride, knowledge and awareness
  • Black students protecting their turf (the Anderson-Parker dining hall) and expelling those who seek to violate their unity i.e. privileged whites and their campus token
  • Black students struggling with the internal conflict of having “light” skin tone, hair style and racial self hatred as well as the devastation which can result from such tormented feelings
  • The impact of rejection by one’s racial group due to being “different” i.e. homosexual or acting “white”
  • The pressure of following your father’s footsteps of achieving his unfilled ambitions as a black man or responding to your own dreams and desires
  • A black man’s fulfillment of having a intimate, meaningful kiss with the man of his dreams, who happens to be white

Three: Dear Women!

The introduction of black female sexual pleasure without its usual stereotyping and slut shaming

  • Two of the leading female characters have scenes that focus on the fulfillment of their sexual urges and NOT on that of the male characters
  • The tactful, however short, introduction of female oral gratification where the female (and not the male) is on the receiving end.
  • There is the clear rejection of having to play the role of “middle class good girl”. There is a fresh air of freedom in the sexuality being displayed by the two female characters towards their male lovers.  There is the clear message of female desire for the fulfillment of sexual wants with an attitude of “taking care of my business,” an attitude historically reserved for men.

Four: Dear everybody!

The affirmation that there truly are predators, users, and abusers living and thriving within the African-American middle class

  • The film breaks through the shadiness of supposed brotherly love and concern for young and upcoming adults by older members of the elite and well established
  • These scenes are excellently well acted by actors Malcolm Barrett & Dennis Haysbert who, in the their respective roles as reality show casting director and dean of students, play scheming and conniving characters
  • The negative aspects of both characters are successfully carried out without the stereotypical roles of gangsters, pimps, or criminals using drugs or crude profane language, themes usually reserved for black male actors

Five: Finally! 

Finally!  A film that reinforces the view of the importance of education within the African-American community!

  • The film, in its entirety, takes place within an academic setting of a prestigious university
  • The scenes are focused exclusively within the classroom, residence halls or the physical environment of the campus community
  • There is no character focus on sports, athletes, or entertainment.

So, are white folks incapable of surrendering to the narrative of a black film? The real question is: are white people capable of having empathy—the ability to understand and share the feelings—for others of a different cultural or racial background?

The answer is a resounding yes! However with a caveat—the “want to be exposed.”  To be exposed is“the revelation of an identity or fact that is concealed or likely to arouse disapproval.”

Members of the African-American community and other communities of color understand the term “exposure” quite well.  Unlike our Caucasian peers, in order to be successful in what is perceived either a “white world” or a economy based on the procurement of wealth, we must be want to be exposed, specifically learning the ways of moving comfortably in a bicultural or diverse society.

One method of exposure and gaining comfort in understanding others is through film and mass media.  As the inner workings of the film industry continue to be made available to ethnic minorities, the exposure of their work to white audiences are denied due to the lack of non-stereotypical filmmaking—they are not following the mold that producers and studio execs expect.

Research conducted by Nicole Pasulka has found that of the more than 600 major Hollywood films released since 2007, less than 7% had black directors.  Further research found that in films that had white directors, 10% of speaking roles went to non-white actors, but for films with a black director, 40% of characters with speaking roles were minorities.

So what does this mean?  Basically, without films being made by black or other ethnic minority directors, white audiences will continue being limited to the stereotypes being espoused by white directors as well being denied “exposure” to the depictions of real life from the perspective of the ethnic minority individual.  As a result, all of us as Americans lose out in our ignorance of lacking knowledge of the contributions made by diverse communities.

In comparison: the recently released film Fury, directed by David Ayer, a white male. The movie takes place in WWII, focusing on a wearied tank commander played by Brad Pitt and his crew making the final push into Germany towards the closure of the war.

The film provides an excellent portrayal of the heroic “fighting man” during this period.   However in its use of hundreds of individuals key and minor actors used in the film, there is only one key role for an ethnic minority actor; Latino actor Michael Pena in the role of tank driver.

There was one minor role of a black soldier acting as a “runner” or “go fetch” for his white commanding officer.  Otherwise there was no clear depiction of black solders, specifically tankers or tank crewmen.

However, the film clearly showed the contributions of Jewish Americans fighting Nazi Germany by featuring four Jewish actors.  There is a psychological impact on the viewing audience as they are left with the clear understanding and unconscious internalization that blacks did not act in valor or contribute to the war effort in the tank battles concluding the war with Nazi Germany.

Nothing is further from the truth.  During WWII, African-Americans served in segregated combat units, one among them being the 761st Tank Battalion.  This unit served with valor and distinction, suffering a 50% casualty rate, while helping to liberate 30 towns and several concentration camps.

During the war, the 761st Tank Battalion advancee two thousand combat miles and spent 183 straight days on the front lines in the front lines of France, Belgium, Luxemburg, Holland, Germany, and Austria.  During the closing days of the war, they captured 80,000 prisoners.

This courageous group of fighting men, despite suffering psychologically from the traumas of racism, oppression and discrimination at home and in combat, fought as Americans. Without black film directors, it is highly unlikely that a film will be created so their story can be told.

Concluding Words

Rather than to leave my dear readers with the misperception on what the film does or does not do, I want to firmly state that the movie does not presume to portray the entirety of what it means to be black in an environment dominated by whites.  However, it does provide very entertaining and honest depictions of black life in a white world.

Needless to say, this film, although a satire, is not for the faint of heart or those unwilling to take a peek at the feelings that lay deep within the psychological self.   There are many points of laughter and yet it may make many an individual feel uncomfortable.

Who probably won’t go to see this film?  Those stuck in a mindset fastened to the past.

Those who are unwilling to look within the psychological self and answer the questions that lie there.  Those who would continue to hide in the dark and consequently need to “survive” living in fear.

Who probably will go to see this film?  Those who have the willingness to seek a future among diverse populations.  Those who want to move beyond the current denial of female sexuality and can, accept the diverse sexual orientation of our sons, daughters, brothers and sisters and love them as who they truly are.

Finally, it will be those among us who will want to move past survival into driving, (empowerment) striving, (living one’s life) and thriving, (attainment of one’s goals).  In doing so, this individual will have the want to live with their fear instead of living in their fear.

As I stated earlier, the film Dear White People is entertaining, challenging, and enjoyable. I would rate it as a must have in your video library.  It is truly a classic of all times.

If you are white and the film makes you feel uncomfortable, then count your blessings—this means that you are beginning to experience the great divide known as the “Racial Empathy Gap” It’s a human thing. So deal with it!

And if you are Black or of another ethnic minority group and the film makes you feel uncomfortable, there is more of the same awaiting, as you seek to navigate a world that does not understand you.  So deal with it!

All of y’all, go see this film!

Until the next crossroad…. The journey continues.