Safety First: African American Police & African American Males

 

“While we must support effective law enforcement, we must also exercise our constitutional rights to ensure law enforcement works as it should-to protect all Americans regardless of race or ethnicity.”

-National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP)

 

My Dear Readers,

There is an uneven playing field when it comes to encounters between the police and African-American males of all ages.  These encounters often become negative due to the lack of awareness by African-American males as to what actions the police may take when these encounters happen. As a result:

  • Overall, young African-Americans are killed by police officers 4.5 times more than people of other races and ages.
  • In comparison to white male teens, black male teens are 21 times more likely to be killed.
  • One study found that African-Americans are more than twice as likely to be unarmed when killed during encounters with police as white people.

Through our Loving Me More subsidiary, Kane & Associates LLC has created a brochure specifically directed towards encounters between African-American males and the police. Despite the intent to inform, there has been criticism on this effort.

Below is such a story……..

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Dear Dr. Kane,

Like you, I am also an African-American and the son of a police officer.  Unlike you, however, I am not anti-police, nor did I choose to betray my father’s profession.  In fact, I am a member of law enforcement in one of the local cities in Washington State.

While visiting my sister and two nephews recently, the oldest one handed me a brochure he had picked up at the local community club where he goes to play basketball.  The brochure, entitled African-American Males and The Police, apparently gave tips on how to interact with the police.   Being very concerned and alarmed at what my nephews were being exposed to, I looked you up and read a number of your blogs.

You appear to be a very angry person.  I was surprised that you are as educated as you are. I was even more surprised to learn that you are a counselor and are treating others for their problems.  If anyone needs treatment, you should be the first one in line. Why are you so angry and bitter, especially towards members of law enforcement?  Did you grow up hating your father?  Did you have a problem with authority figures while you were in school? Do you realize the damage that is being done when you tell young people to avoid being honest with police officers?  Do you realize or even care that you are teaching them disrespect for law and for those who enforce the law?

I saw how hard my father worked to keep the streets safe, interacting with people and enforcing the law.  My father was a very honorable man.  Before he passed away, he saw me get sworn in as a police officer.  He had tears in his eyes.  He was so proud of me. It infuriates me to know that another black man, the son of a police officer, could be so disrespectful to the profession that fed, clothed and provided shelter for his family.  As police officers, we are constantly under attack from members of the public as we enforce the law.  It is more frustrating for me that members of the black community do not trust or show respect for the police officer that patrols their community or the badge the officer wears.

I took an oath to protect and serve my community.  My fellow officers and I place ourselves at risk each time we put on the uniform.  Recently one of our brother officers, a state patrol officer in another state, was shot and killed by an intoxicated person carrying a sawed-off shotgun.   We know the risks and still, we do the job.

So, if you have daddy issues, seek help from your own profession.  And when it comes to the profession of policing, if you can’t write brochures that are positive and reinforce law and order in our society, especially the black community, it is best that you don’t write anything about policing.  We have enough headaches, nuts and dissatisfied people to deal with.

Speaking Up For The Profession, Kent, WA

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My Dear Police Officer,

First, I want to thank you for your service to our community.  It is clear that whatever community you patrol is safer due to your efforts.   I have no doubt that you and I, in our respective professions, received similar training and advice regarding what to take personally, and what is part of the job.  This is the life we have chosen. 

Many of us in the mental health and law enforcement fields select such professions because of a calling to be of service to one’s community.  Although much of what you wrote is a personal attack, I can also see the frustration you may be experiencing, being a:

  • Black male
  • Male
  • A police officer

I want to begin by addressing some of the statements and assumptions you have made.

My Professional title

My work, although you defined my work as “counselor” I am a psychotherapist serving in dual roles being a clinical traumatologist and forensic evaluator.  As a psychotherapist, I work in the area of complex trauma, working with those who may be severely emotionally ill following carrying trauma for many years in their lives. 

Mental Health Treatment

I have also been involved in receiving mental health treatment.  As a psychotherapist working with those responding to complex traumatic experiences, it is beneficial for me as well to sit in therapy with a fellow colleague and explore concerns related to my work.  It is normal in the work of psychotherapy that my colleagues pursue similar assistance. 

Daddy issues

I do not have “daddy issues,” and as it is not germane to our discussion, this is the extent to which I will discuss it.

 

Given this, I will address your more serious concerns:

 “Do you realize the damage that is being done when you give young people tips to avoid being honest with police officers?  Do you realized or even care that you are teaching them disrespect for law and for those who enforce the law.”

In response, the brochure specifically presents two action items, 1) a therapeutic model (CBT) to reinforce self-empowerment and 2) clearly defined behavioral guidelines of what to do when interacting with a police officer or any member of a law enforcement agency.

The therapeutic model is “Know your ABC’s (Advocacy, Balance & Calmness) 

  • Advocacy-Knowing when to “hold” or “show” your cards. Knowing when to speak and what to say.
  • Balance-Remember that your power lies within and cannot be taken from you without your consent. Balance your anger with your wisdom.
  • Calmness- Use your balance and your inner empowerment to project calmness to the outside world. Use this to defuse the situation.

Behavioral Guidelines (from the African American Males And The Police brochure)

  • Always comply and follow the police officer’s instructions.
  • Speak in a respectful tone.
  • If you are under the age of 18, immediately inform the police officer of this.
  • If you are under the age of 18, be sure to request that your parent, legal guardian, or legal representative be present.
  • If you choose not to speak, inform the police officer of your intent to remain silent until you have representation.
  • After that, immediately stop talking.
  • Use your power of observation. Document the incident and any concerns regarding any behavior during the encounter.
  • Remember to get the date, time and location, the license plate and vehicle number, the badge number of the police officer and the name of the department he/she work for.
  • Remember that the police officer is entitled to use deadly force if he/she feels physically threatened.
  • If needed, file a complaint with the local sheriff or police chief’s office.

It is my position that both the model and behavioral guidelines provide:

  • Empowerment rather than powerlessness in maintaining one’s safety and security.
  • Awareness of the ability to advocate for self as well as ownership of reaction and calmness in response.
  • Understanding that encounters with police officers can be resolved with administrative redress within the police department
  • Creation of a specific protocol, which may assist the individual to have a safe encounter with law enforcement.

It may be the main issues that contribute to your discomfort with information from the brochure are:

  • Minimization of the advantage of surprise by the police officer.
  • Increased knowledge of basic police procedure for a more informed public and,
  • Release of the general uneasiness of the person being stopped and questioned by the police

 

Concluding Words

I respect the concerns you and your fellow officers have regarding being safe in the streets and being able to return to your loved ones.   I also remember my mother and I staying awake waiting for my father to return safely home.  The recent death of the Louisiana State Patrol Officer was tragic.  As you mourn the loss, please know that the communities he and you and your colleagues protect mourn as well. It is my sincere hope that the information I have shared in the brochure will reduce tension and ease when there is an encounter between an African-American youth or young adult and the police.

This is a new day for community policing.  The time of trust simply because someone wears a badge has passed.  We have witnessed too many incidents in which young African-American males have either been severely injured or killed following encounters with police. Instead of focusing on trust for the badge, let us focus on respect between the person wearing the badge and the individual being stopped for a lawful encounter.  I am hopeful that the brochure will add to the respect so mentioned.

Let’s all be careful out there.

Until the next crossroads…. the journey continues.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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With vs. In Fear: From Parent to Advocate

 

“You cannot find peace by avoiding life.”

-Virginia Woolf, Author

 

My Dear Readers:

When does a parent cease being a parent? The simple response is when the child is grown and out of the nest.  That simple answer, however, is wrong.  The “real” response is never.  Even in death, your parenting remains alive and flourishing. When we parent, we cast the shadow of our wisdom and experience upon our children. As much as we consciously transfer what we know to be true, we also unconsciously transfer our fears.

There is a tendency to “forget” that when our children reach adulthood, our roles as parents must change.  Instead of directing, managing and controlling, we must seek to advise them instead of leading them, and become a consultant in the decisions they make, instead of the decision makers ourselves. Easy to say; difficult to do.

Below is such a story……..

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Dear Visible Man,

I don’t know what else to do.  I have spoken to my girlfriends; I have spoken to my pastor.  I have prayed to my Lord and still I cannot find relief.

While having dinner at one of Seattle’s finest restaurants recently, my daughter told me that she’s decided to celebrate her 30th birthday in New Orleans. She considers this her vacation—she wants to relax and enjoy the atmosphere that the city is known for.  I, on the other hand, am worried about her  traveling alone.

I feel betrayed. How could she do this without asking me?  To make it worse, she manipulated the situation by choosing to tell me this in a public setting instead of at home, where I could react the way that I wanted to.  Of course, she knew that I would go “angry black woman” on her in a public setting.

I understand that my daughter is an adult and has the right to make her own decisions.  But traveling alone in the South?  Especially during these troubled times?  She could have traveled with a girlfriend.  I would have even reluctantly approved if she, as an unmarried and single woman traveled with a male escort.

I grew up during the days of the segregated South.  I will never forget watching on television as the police released dogs to bite civil rights marchers.  In those days, a single black woman traveling alone and unattached was simply unheard.  I would have never ever considered the idea.  My own mother would have had me committed to a mental institution.

What the hell is wrong with young black people today?  It’s even more dangerous to be black in this day and age than it was then. After all, what happens if she gets into trouble?  Who is she going to go to for help?  The police?

I don’t trust the police in the South, and I’m really uncomfortable with my daughter’s trip, especially now that it appears they are targeting black women like Sandra Bland.  I spoke to my daughter about that college-educated and professional woman who was arrested following a simple traffic stop and later turned up dead supposedly hanging in a jail cell.

Most recently, the police conducted a cavity search of a black woman in public after stopping her car due to the suspicion that she was transporting drugs.  A cavity search in public, spread over a patrol car?  The police would have never dared conduct such a heinous violation has she been a white woman.  I have repeatedly heard the news stories on this and have nightmares of that happening to my daughter.

My daughter knows about these incidents and still, she insists on traveling alone.  My daughter is a college educated, professional woman.  I raised her to be an independent thinker.  I just don’t understand why she would do something as dangerous as this.

Please help.  As a professionally trained clinician, she will listen to you.  Evidently, she no longer trusts her mother.

-Disappointed & Frightened in Seattle

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My Dear Woman,

It appears that in your daughter’s decision, you have now chosen to use my opinion to try to change your daughter’s direction.  Please note that I have utilized the word direction instead of mind, thoughts or focus.

I can sense your desperation. However, you have made two erroneous assumptions: one, that I agree with your position, and two, that I would allow myself to be manipulated in some misguided effort to save your daughter from herself.  Let’s start by taking a moment to follow the Five Rs of Relief.

  • First take a Step away from the emotions of the situation and catch your breath. Breathe.
  • Next, own your reactions.  Why?  Because these emotions and no one else.
  • Then take time for reflection. This is the processing of your thoughts and feelings.
  • Afterward, develop your response, for it is your response and not your reaction that you must want your daughter to listen to.
  • Finally, reevaluate the situation. Ask yourself: What did I learn from this?  How would I handle a similar situation differently the next time?

Is your daughter being manipulative by having the discussion in a public setting rather than at home?  Did she betray you by buying the tickets without your consent or at the very least, obtain your input?

Yes, you were manipulated, but no, you were not betrayed.  For betrayal to occur there must be the intent of the betrayer and a specific loss by the victim.  Was she being deceptive? Yes.  However, what is being impacted is your ego.  You were simply outplayed by your daughter. 

Let’s assume that you have entered the stage of reflection, consider the following possibilities.  In her actions, your daughter:

  • Knew you would disagree, so she let you know that she bought nonrefundable tickets,
  • Was aware of the difficulty of getting you to listen without reacting, so she made the decision to inform you in a pubic setting.
  • Finally, she acted as a result of the training that you, the parent taught her.

In your own words, “I raised her to be an independent thinker”.   As you follow the steps of respite (step away), reaction (calm the emotions), and move towards reflection (consider your daughter’s actions), prior to moving towards the step of response, please consider that your daughter:

  • is an adult, and therefore able to make her own decisions,
  • is aware of the possible negative consequences of this decision and,
  • despite your objections, has decided to go in the direction she feels is the right choice for herself.

As you consider these factors, reevaluate your feelings.  Due to your experiences, are you living in fear?  Do you want your daughter to do the same?

As a clinical traumatologist , it has been my experience that many African-Americans suffer from complex trauma resulting from unresolved traumatic memories.  It is feasible that due to your experiences, you may be replaying “old tapes” and in doing so, are allowing those unresolved memories to shape your current feelings.

It may be that your daughter, by her decision to travel alone, has chosen to live with fear instead of living in fear.  The probability of you living in fear is more likely given your earlier statement that despite your conservative views, you would had approved of your daughter who is single and unmarried to travel with a male escort.  The idea of being dependent upon a male directly contradicts the independent thinking you have reinforced within your daughter.

 

Concluding Words

The most difficult phase of life for parents can be transitioning out of the role of being directors, supervisors and managers in the lives of their children.  Now that the child is an adult, the parent may have difficulty transforming into a different role in which their position changes towards the model that I have designated as advisors, bystanders and consultants (ABC).  This becomes ever more stressful given your concerns of macro-aggressive assault (physical violence) and being powerless to assist your daughter.

Please consider the following recommendations:

  • Have belief, faith and trust in your daughter’s decision-making abilities. Remember that you taught her to be an independent thinker.
  • Process your desire to control/direct your daughter’s actions and directions.
  • Cease the manipulation and the desire to control. Engage in open communication with your daughter.  Stress your concerns without dismissing her decisions.
  • Create a system of communication and contact via phone while she is vacationing in the area that raises concern for you.
  • Seek support of your own friends, but remember that they are not professionally trained. Seek professional assistance such as psychotherapy to process the unresolved traumatic memories of violence you are dealing with.

Complex trauma leaves a permanent imprint within the psychological self.  Such traumas never ever go away or disappear.   The goal in psychotherapy is not to terminate, control or manage these memories but to learn how to balance these memories in one’s lives so these will have the minimum and not maximum impact.

Be open to your daughter’s independence. Is she seeking the life and freedom that you may have denied yourself?  To fulfill life is to have achieved the meaning of life.  In contrast, to live in fear is to deny life and the meaning life can bring.

“If you deliberately plan to be less than you are capable of being, then I warm you that you will be deeply unhappy for the rest of your life.”

-Abraham Maslow, Psychologist and Author

Until the next crossroads…the journey continues…

Walking the Talk: Actions Speak Louder Than Words 

“Our lives begin to end the day we are silent about the things that matter.”

Martin Luther King

My Dear Readers: 

As I write this week’s blog, I am preparing to lead a workshop at the 32nd Annual National Organization of Forensic Social Workers (NOFSW) conference in Arlington, VA.  The objective of my workshop, The Culturally Competent Clinician/Forensic Evaluator, is to assist service providers in understanding the importance of providing a “Safe Secure Space to Spill Spoiled Stuff,”  particularly when working with members of the African American community.

Despite being a clinical traumatologist and forensic evaluator with 30 years of experience and an excellent understanding of the subject matter, it is still difficult for me to convey the impact of racism, oppression and discriminatory treatment experienced on a daily basis to a group of service providers who, while well-intentioned, can only intellectualize those emotions.  Despite these differences, we all will have one characteristic in common: as members of the organization i.e. NOFSW and representing various institutions, we all hold organizational/institutional (O/I) privilege. I find this privilege to be the one that is the most frustrating.  It is real, but illusionary.  It is perceived as reachable, yet it remains unattainable for those who are not born to it.

In the previous four weeks, I have explored various concepts of privilege, including:

 Male Privilege: Every male, by virtue of being male, benefits from male privilege.  It is the granting of special rights, advantage or immunity that is made available to individuals of a specific gender.

  • White male privilege is unlimited, i.e., has no boundaries.

White Privilege can be defined as a special right, advantage, or immunity granted or available only to individuals of a race due to the perception of institutional power in relation to individuals of a different race or ethnic group.

  • White female privilege is limited, i.e., limited to the boundaries designed by white males.
  • White females and African-American males/females will never attain white male privilege.

Limited Privilege is typically the purview of black males, which only has meaning, productivity and esteem within the confines of the African-American community.

  • 1 in every 16 African-American men is incarcerated in comparison to 1 in every 106 white males.
  • One in every three black men can expect to go too prison in their lifetime.
  • Black males were three times more likely to be searched during a traffic stop than white motorist.
  • African-American males are twice as likely to be arrested and almost four times as likely to experience the use of force during encounters with the police.

Intra-Group Privilege is privilege that is created and reinforced within a social group.  As with other forms of privilege, intra-group privilege not only has its perks and benefits, it can be psychologically harmful as well.

  • African-Americans strive to obtain white privilege, which can be revoked, terminated or taken away at any time.

Organizational/Institutional (O/I) privilege is defined as a specific right, advantage or immunity granted or available only to those individuals as a class in an identified group holding organizational/institutional (O/I) power.  Unlike male privilege, where is limited to those of a specific gender, organizational/institutional (O/I) privilege is open to both genders and all races, but in practice, is often restricted only to members of the dominant culture.

Organizational/institutional (O/I) racism differs from organizational/institutional privilege.  In O/I racism, there is an intentional act of restricting people of color from choices, rights and mobility and includes the use of, as well as the manipulation of legitimate institutions with the intent of maintaining an advantage over others.

The holder of O/I privilege, in contrast, may not intend to impose such restrictions on people of color and more often than not, is unaware or in denial of their privilege.  This may result in unintended acts of aversive racism.

In aversive racism, the aversive racist says, “I am not a racist, but…” and may engage in crazy –making interactions with African-Americans by overtly denying racist intent while acting in ways that feel racist to their target.  An example would be the state clinical social work organization of which I belong to located in the Pacific Northwest. Its leadership, in response to the massacre at the Mother Emanuel AME church in Charleston, S.C., stated:

“We are all sickened, grieving and angry over the massacre in Charleston S.C.  It comes after endless shocks of killing of Black men and youth across the country.  To this we add the repeated killing of the mentally ill by a system that seems completely untrained and unprepared to help them…. …How do we as clinical social workers think about this, and more importantly, what are our contributions and challenges?”

This is the part of organizational/institutional privilege that frustrates many professions of color in the same field.   While members of the privileged group are intellectualizing, debating and discussing their feelings on how the system “seems completely untrained and unprepared,” many more black people and the mentally ill will continue being killed. Instead of talking about the issues and worrying about mission statements and codes of ethics, there are those among us who urge action on behalf of these beleaguered communities.

Clinical social work organizations like this one may be unaware of not only the disservice they are doing to the communities they claim to be concerned about, but also of how they may be viewed by those same communities. In a recent survey of the state social work organization, it like other similar state organizations around the country found itself to be predominantly White/Caucasian, heterosexual in private practice and over the age of 50 possessing 15-30 years of experience in the profession.  Results in the survey concluded the following:

  • 100% of the respondents see racism as a clinical issue
  • A vast majority 86% felt their practice was culturally responsive/competent
  • 95% responded affirmatively when asked if frameworks, treatments and /or interventions addressed or incorporated diverse groups.
  • At the same time almost 49% felt race was a barrier in building alliances with clients. Roughly 98% felt race was a factor in transference and countertransference.
  • Close to 85% of respondents felt comfortable about talking about racism, but that number was reduced to 75% when speaking of race or racism with clients
  • 79% indicated they felt competent in addressing oppression, racism and racial inequality with colleagues.
  • 98% of respondents felt they would benefit from additional clinical training on diversity and /or racial equity
  • The percentage of members identifying themselves as people of color fell to 6% of the membership, which is far below from the designated target range of 30-34%.

Concluding Words

The finding of the survey may suggest the following:

  • The majority of those surveyed holding organizational/institutional privilege view themselves as being culturally responsive and competent
  • A large number (25%) felt uncomfortable about speaking of race or racism with clients
  • A large number felt competent in addressing oppression, racism and racial inequality with colleagues.

Being mindful that only 6% of the organization are identified as people of color, the survey suggests that the white members feel comfortable and competent “intellectualizing” these subjects, but may need more training in actually addressing oppression, racism and racial inequality with members of the same organization and others. This is the privilege afforded to those of us who belong to organizations and institutions designed to help the traumatized and the oppressed.  As long as these organization views themselves as “non-activist organizations,” there will be nothing more to come from them beyond their words.

The I/O privilege have one characteristic in common, the belief that in intellectualizing, debating and discussing the issue, they feel in their hearts they are achieving something.  Are these individuals racist in their intention? No. However, when confronted, they remain in denial of the racist outcome, even though there was no racist intent.

It is to the benefit of people of color that mental health and forensic professionals of color continue to assist our colleagues in understanding the need for activism as an organization and in learning so, balance awareness and knowledge about our communities.  We want allies of all colors to work with us on the frontline, but to do so, it is imperative that they gain awareness and knowledge of the community they seek to serve.

“Occasionally, I wished I could walk through a picture window and have the sharp, broken shards slash me to ribbons so I would finally look like I feel.”

-Elizabeth Wurtzel, Author of Prozac Nation

Until the next crossroads…. the journey continues.

 

 

 

 

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For The Sake of Group Privilege: The Devastation of the African-American Community

My Dear Readers,

In my previous writings, I have explored the concept of male privilege, white privilege, and limited privilege.  In essence, male privilege is of the highest esteem, followed by white privilege.  Beneath that lies limited privilege, typically the purview of black males, which only has meaning, productivity, and esteem within the confines of the African-American community.

This week, I will explore the concept of intra-group privilege. Unlike male privilege, which has no limitations, intra-group privilege is privilege that is created and reinforced within the social group.  As with other forms of privilege, intra- group privilege not only has its perks and benefits, but can be psychologically harmful as well.

In my work as a clinical traumatologist and forensic evaluator, I am often called upon as an expert witness to explain the basis of the behavior, actions or psychological functioning of African-Americans.  In one of my earlier writings, I wrote about the leadership of a church in the African-American community of Seattle that refused to publicly acknowledge the molestation of its male adolescent congregation members by a member of its clergy.  In seeking to protect its own image, the church leadership sacrificed the psychological well-being of its children.  This was done for the sake of privilege.

I have written about the willingness within the African American community to sacrifice our daughters in order to save our sons.  Again, this is being done for the sake of privilege.

I have explored the phenomenon of colorism—the hierarchy of skin color—in the African-American community, which is also a means of achieving privilege.

Why is privilege so important in the African-American community—important enough that we would sacrifice the psychological well-being of our children?  We, as a group that has been oppressed, are clearly aware of the psychological damage of racism; why would we create a hierarchy of shades of color within our own communities? The lure for achievement can be so strong that we can and do willingly sacrifice our children’s well-being and create division within our community.  We have become so well versed in sexism and racism that we have become skilled in the ability to perpetrate the same within our community in the attempt to achieve desired outcomes.

Why? It may be because privilege is the means by which we define ourselves.  The African-American community has survived 400 hundred years of racism, oppression and discriminatory treatment.  In doing so, the African-American community has made numerous contributions, shared many accomplishments, and developed countless leaders for this country, including the first African-American President and First Lady of the United States.

With respect to privilege, however, we show little or no difference from white Americans when it comes to our awareness of the psychological damage we have done to ourselves.  We too have the tendency to close our eyes and ears and be silent, especially when what we see and hear makes us feel inferior or less than others.  As a clinical traumatologist, it is clear that all African-Americans, having descended from enslaved and segregated people, bear the legacy of unresolved historical trauma.  Furthermore, there is evidence that this trauma moves forward through the ages via inter-generational transmission.

However, we continue to refuse to process this trauma, speak to this trauma, or work towards healing the wounds created by both the historic trauma and its inter-generational transmission.  It is well documented that when provided a safe secure space to speak and spill soiled stuff, patients have released their pain and suffering. When we do this, we become aware of the damage.  We see the psychological wounds.  We choose to remain silent simply because we want to avoid acknowledging the psychological harm we are inflicting within our community and to ourselves.

As we continue to deal with psychological damage coming from members of our own community, we must also defend against the psychological damage that is being inflicted by forces external to our community. Micro-aggressive assaults are best described as brief and commonplace daily verbal, behavioral or environmental indignities, whether intentional or unintentional, that communicate hostile, derogatory or negative racial slights and insults towards ethnic minority people.   Insidious trauma arises when there is a culmination of negative experiences affecting members of a stigmatized group of actions that are directly traumatic.

As with historical trauma and its inter-generational transmission, micro-aggressive assaults result in pain, wounding, and suffering, and we continue to remain silent.  Why? To raise a voice against micro-aggressive assaults would risk not being accepted by the group who holds the privilege.

While micro-aggression may communicate hostile, derogatory or negative racial slights and insults, macro-aggression is overt aggression towards those of a different race, culture or gender.  Macro-aggression can take the form of:

  • Verbal threats
  • The initiation of physical force
  • Death or great physical injury.

In today’s media, we have witnessed the deaths and senseless assaults of African-Americans men, women and children ranging from the young to the aged.  For the most part, we continue to remain silent.  Why?  There is not only the risk of denial of privilege, but those who break the silence risk being targeted or victimized themselves.

No, I do not suggest that in watching African-American men, women and children being choked out, shot, beaten in their homes or murdered in mass while in worshipping at church, that the individual does not feel anything.  On the contrary, the repetitive viewing of such acts by the media reinforces psychological damage and emotional wounds via vicarious trauma.

Vicarious trauma has been used to describe the emotional residue of exposure that therapists and first responders have from working with people as they hear their trauma stories.   It is my opinion that this description can be extended to others, particularly African-Americans who either directly witness or watch media reporting on racially-motivated violence.  In re-living the pain, fear and terror, witnesses are just as traumatized as well as trauma survivors.

The point is that the individual, family and community suffers just as individuals suffer due to a lack of a mechanism for releasing the suffering or healing the psychological or emotional wound.  In understanding this, why doesn’t the community or its leadership devise a system in which there is a creation of a….Safe secure space to speak and spill soiled stuff?

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Concluding Words

Given the history of privilege in the African-American community, it is clear that the African-American community, in its silence, is aware of the self-inflicted psychological damage. The “limited privilege” we are able to create amongst ourselves stops at the boundary line where the African-American community ends and the world of the dominant majority realms. The privilege that we seek is to achieve the same as our white counterparts in the dominant majority.  As such, this privilege has been deemed as “white privilege” i.e. the enjoyment of similar if not same benefits of the dominant majority.

We recognize that the privilege that is given to us by the dominant group can be removed, dismissed or taken back without hesitation or due to the slightest violation of known or unknown rules.  An example of this stripping of white privilege from a black male was the recent incident in which a black male, the star quarterback of the Florida State football team punched a white female undergraduate student in the face during a verbal dispute at a bar.

For breaking the known and unknown rules governing unruly black male behavior, although he was the star quarterback set to lead his school to the national championship, he was punished and punished severely by being kicked off the team, ejected out of school, loss of his athletic scholarship and facing criminal charges for assault. The extreme punishment was also a message to the black males players remaining on the team.  Following the incident and punishment the president of Florida State University in a media press conference stated “playing football for FSU is a privilege, not a right.”  As one can see, that privilege was revoked.

We cope with this by wearing masks.  We wear false and pretentious looks on our faces every day, conveying the feeling that “all is well”.  Meanwhile, we hope that our loved ones and ourselves will return home safely every day or evening.

How do we cope?  We suffer in silence.

 

We Wear the Mask

BY PAUL LAURENCE DUNBAR

We wear the mask that grins and lies,

It hides our cheeks and shades our eyes,—

This debt we pay to human guile;

With torn and bleeding hearts we smile,

And mouth with myriad subtleties.

 

Why should the world be over-wise,

In counting all our tears and sighs?

Nay, let them only see us, while

We wear the mask.

 

We smile, but, O great Christ, our cries

To thee from tortured souls arise.

We sing, but oh the clay is vile

Beneath our feet, and long the mile;

But let the world dream otherwise,

We wear the mask!

 

That’s how we cope.

Until the next crossroads….the journey continues.

 

 

 

 

 

Bobbi’s Saga: The Gift of Life Is Not A Debt: I Owe You Nothing!

“Free at last, free at last.  I thank God I’m free at last.  Free at last, free at last.  I thank God I’m free at last.”

American Negro Songs by J.W. Work

The gift of creating, bringing, and giving life can be the greatest experience of our lives. For the most part, we cherish these events. However, the question arises: what do our children owe us for giving them life? We, as parents, could have opted to not create, bring or give our children the opportunity to breathe air and live in this world.  Still, does this mean that our children bear an obligation to us as parents?

Do we have the right to expect our children to be grateful to us and give back to us in return for what we have given them? Doesn’t the Bible itself say “Honor thy father and thy mother, that thy days may be long upon the land?”

This month, in Bobbi’s Journey of Self-Discovery, Bobbi seeks to empower her psychological self in order to withstand the demands of her mother, who often employs the very arguments above.  This month, Bobbi stands at her own crossroads as she confronts her own internal conflict: being beholden to her mother, who is tightening her clutch on Bobbi as she comes to the end of her life.

The Gift of Life Is Not A Debt: I Owe You Nothing! (Journal entry 1/22/14).

My sister Ginger and I spoke about funerals again.  Mother is expecting us to pay for her funeral.  Mother also hinted that I was the one to do it since  she didn’t have anyone to take care of her when she gets older.  She is expecting me to call her.  I don’t feel that I owe it to her.

Why do I need to take care of Mother when she abandoned me when I was a child?   She chooses not to remember forcing me into the state foster care system at the age of twelve after threatening me to put my eyes out with a fork when I told her that her husband had been sexually abusing me for almost three years.  I was in the system until I was 18 years old.

She chooses not to remember the hell that I can never forget.  I am not going to enter her “land of make believe.”  In her mind,

  • She was this wonderful mother who met my needs.
  • She was a loving mother who was not abusive.
  • She was a mother who gave unconditional love to her children.

Mother was none of these.  Now that she’s getting older, she wants me to be responsible for her?  She feels I am indebted to her simply because she gave me birth to me?  I don’t feel that my children owe me anything, so why am I indebted to her?

I am not angry or even surprised at Mother’s complaints.  She is doing exactly what I expected from her: she is refusing to let go of her delusions and face her own reality.  I am not going to call her to discuss any of this.  If any conversation happens, it will be because Mother put forward the effort.  But, I know she won’t call.  Instead, she will seek sympathy from her friends, telling them what a terrible daughter I am.

I know that Mother will not be happy with my decision.  It’s not that I don’t care.   I do care.  However, for the first time in my life, I will be an advocate for myself.  I will place what I want and what I need over those of my mother.  I am no longer more concerned about her feelings than I am about my own.

I can listen to the sounds the rain is currently making.  For once I am listening to my own voice.

Today is a good day.

——————————————————

Concluding Words

We can see from Bobbi’s entry that the external control her mother once exerted is now over.   In her therapy sessions, Bobbi often shares that in the past, she has shielded her mother from her own painful experiences with domestic violence, poor parenting, emotional abuse, and sexual abuse and finally, the betrayal by her mother in being tossed out as a child following her disclosure of many years of sexual abuse.

As death sits patiently waiting to greet her, Bobbi’s mother has used her birthing of Bobbi as a debt that has come due, now that she is older, frail and becoming more dependent on others.   However Bobbi, reflecting on her own motherhood, has come to her own realization in retouching those memories of raising her children.

As Bobbi stands at the crossroads she acknowledges her own joy in motherhood, affirming that “my children have brought joy and happiness in my life.  They owe me nothing.”  Bobbi is able to compare the actions and behaviors she has initiated for her children to what she received as a child.

In her therapeutic work, Bobbi is able to sort through the contradictions and confusion as to what a mother does for her children out of love.  It is that clarification that allows Bobbi to fully assert her own personal power and distance herself from her mother.

Bobbi views her children as gifts to be cherished, treasured and loved.  In acknowledging that her children owe her no debt, she is able to view the debt as asserted by her mother as an illusion without foundation.

Bobbi now acknowledges the yoke of shame, guilt and self-denial she has worm for the past four decades.  Standing at the crossroads, the shackles that bind her are now broken.  Bobbi will no longer bear the weight of the yoke.

As Bobbi’s mother enters her remaining years of life and prepares for her last days, it will be Bobbi’s choice and not her mother’s attempt to shame, guilt or create a debt that will decide whether she will make herself available to assist her mother.  By advocating for her psychological self, Bobbi has set herself free.  She is free to walk her journey of self-discovery without hindrance from her mother.  Free.

A word for the journey

Be careful how you treat or interact with others while you are in the prime of your life.  One day as you will decline to your final rest, you may have to depend on or interact with those same people.

I invite the readership to stay tuned for the sixth and final entry of Bobbi‘s Saga and her journey of self-discovery.

Dr. Kane