No Room For Error: The Pains Of Young Adulthood


“This is pure and simple racism. Things have not changed much in the South.  It is still white versus black. “ — Anonymous

My Dear Readers,

Last week, I came across the viral video of a confrontation between a young Caucasian female, and a young black male. The two were engaged in a verbal dispute, which escalated into a physical confrontation, and ended when the young man punched the woman in the face and quickly exited the bar.  I found this story to be interesting from a psychological point of view, so this week, I will explore the concepts of historical trauma, institutional racism and modern racism as these relate to this incident.

The young man was later identified as De’Andre Johnson, a black male freshman football player at Florida State University (FSU).   He was initially suspended from the football team when the encounter came to light, but was subsequently dismissed from the team after the media released the video showing him punching the young woman in the face.

The general consensus within the African-American community is that Johnson, in being dismissed from both the team, expelled from the university and charged in criminal court with battery, is being treated unfairly and targeted because he is an African-American male athlete.  Regarding the incident, questions such as the following are being raised:

  • Was race a factor in the young man dismissal?
  • Were the penalties excessive?
  • Has the life and career of De’Andre Johnson ruined?

In my work as a clinical traumatologist, I have been able to show a direct relationship between the four hundred years of racism, oppression and discriminatory treatment of blacks in the form of slavery and segregation and its intergenerational transmission and the institutional and modern forms of racism that continue to impact and traumatize African-American citizens today.  In the case of Johnson’s dismissal, the face of racism has changed from being overt, (open) to covert (subtle).

If racism was a factor, (and I contend that it is,) it is essential to clarify the specific form of racism that would have been utilized in the dismissal of De’Andre Johnson.  Because these actions are being taken within an academic system, the specific form of racism found here is named institutional racismInstitutional racism restricts people of color from having choices, rights and mobility.  It is the utilization and manipulation of legitimate institutions with the intent of maintaining an advantage over others.

Was race a factor in the young man’s dismissal?

From “Good Morning America”:

“Surveillance cameras inside the bar appear to show Johnson punch a woman in the face while they argued. Jose Baez, Johnson’s lawyer, said Johnson tried to ‘de-escalate the situation,’ but the woman ‘kneed him in the groin area’ and ‘took another swing before he retaliated.’ Baez said that his client punched the woman after she called him racial epithets and provoked him.  Baez said Johnson was not the initial aggressor but is ‘owning this’ and trying to learn from the experience.”

The president of FSU, in his statement on the incident, stated that playing football for FSU is a “privilege, not a right.” It is a clear message to all players, black and white, that FSU, not the coaches, players, alumni or fans, owns the “privilege“of athletes playing football for FSU.

Did FSU restrict De’Andre Johnson from having choices, rights and mobility?  Considering the definition of institutional racism, was FSU utilizing manipulation with the intent of maintaining an advantage over others?  The answer is yes.

The specific type of privilege that characterizes the FSU president’s comments is male privilege. Male privilege is defined as a special right, advantage or immunity granted or available only to individual as a class due to their institutional power in relation to women as a class. 

All males, regardless of their race, benefit from male privilege.  The difference lies in the fact that male privilege of the white majority dominates every aspect of American society, while male privilege of people of color, particularly the black minority, is limited to the boundaries within their respective communities.  In essence, this reinforces historical trauma and intergenerational transmission as this privilege reflects the similar privilege enjoyed by the dominant society during the era of 400 years of slavery and segregation.

In this situation, male privilege as an expression of institutional racism and societal demand asserts itself in the attempt to control the behavior of black male members of the FSU football team. In essence, the idea that playing football for FSU is a “privilege, not a right” reflects the president’s assertion that black football players are not only being afforded the privilege of limited acceptance and entrance into the dominant society, but such privileges can be removed at any time.

In this situation, De’Andre Johnson violated the boundaries of the privilege that he was granted, and without any kind of hearing, had that privilege removed, and was subsequently returned to the lower echelons of the limited privileges which exist within the African-American community. The dismissal serves as a message of warning to the remaining black members of the team that they too will be subject to such harsh actions should their actions and behaviors be deemed to warrant such a response.

Racism has most definitely changed over the years.  Gone are the days when racism was overt, and racist actions and behaviors were done openly. Today, racism is more subtle and covert, imposed without open acknowledgement.  I call the forms of racism we are most likely to see today modern racismModern racism is a form of unconscious racism that reflects anti-Black feelings among the affluent middle class.  This kind of racism sets expectations for the following:

  • How African-Americans should act,
  • What African-Americans deserve, and
  • Whether they should be treated equitably.

Those endorsing the ideology of modern racism do not define their own beliefs and attitudes as racist.  Modern racism is insidious because those who engage in such behaviors deny racist attitudes in a defensive manner, yet continue to engage in generalizations and suppositions about people of a specific group based on “evidence,” usually taking the form of anecdotes or personal encounters.


Concluding Words

The actions I have discussed here are not examples of “pure and simple racism.”  Race relations have improved between blacks and whites throughout the country.  However, racism is still a factor in all segments of the United States. It is only the type of racism (now modern) and its implementation (now covert) that has changed.

De’Andre Johnson and his mother spent most of the week making the rounds on talk shows like Good Morning America & The Today Show expressing remorse, accepting responsibility for his actions and seeking a second chance to redeem himself.  It was a testament to the power of modern racism and the impact of privilege. Historical trauma comes into focus as the black male capitulates to the power of the dominant majority. Once again, the historical trauma is silenced, and African-Americans are left fearful of the next dismissal and waiting for the wrath of the dominant majority to lessen so that life can return to normal.

As for De’Andre Johnson, his life and football career has not been destroyed, just interrupted.  By laying low, staying out of trouble and showing acceptable behavior, in time he can redeem himself and be welcomed back to college and professional football as long as he (and other black athletes) remember the lesson that “playing football is a privilege, not a right.

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

-Ten Flashes of Light for the Journey of Life

Until the next crossroads…the journey continues.


















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