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.

 

 

 

 

 

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