REPOST: The Impact of Racial Labeling

Originally published on April 20, 2015. 

My Dear Readers,

Labeling is a necessity in life.  It is through labeling that we identify differences among ourselves.  However, it comes with a price that we pay when this labeling impacts the way we view our relationships.

Recently while looking at Facebook, I came across an interesting video of a young black man following an encounter with a police officer. Prior to reading the post, I took a deep breath to prepare myself for what I assumed was going to be another traumatic experience concerning a black man and the police.

In viewing the video, I was surprised as the young man spoke eloquently about the traffic stop in Lexington County, SC and how he and the police officer handled themselves.  The young black man stated that as he was being pulled over, he followed his protocol of safety—he kept his hands on the steering wheel, and remained polite and calm.  He added that the police officer was professional and most importantly, both the police officer and the black man left the encounter alive and without incident.

What I find interesting about the video is the young man’s comment that “we should all stop the labeling.”  He added that not all police officers are bad and not all black men are good. Needless to say, the post went viral; such comments were not expected from a black man.

The young man is correct.  Not every police officer is bad, and not all black men are good.  However, the fact remains that society grants the police officer the power to take a life when justified to do so.  In doing so, the society turns a blind eye, a silent tongue, and a deaf ear to the screams and pain of the black community when it comes to police misconduct.

Labeling is indeed destructive.  In identifying differences, there is real possibility that labeling will also reinforce stereotypes, prejudices and bias we hold towards each other.  In doing so, the ultimate outcome is that we are living in fear of each other.

The question is: can we really stop the labeling?  The young black man doesn’t realize that he, by following his safety protocol, he acknowledges the label he bears—one of being viewed as a threat to the police officer—and, by using the safety protocol, is consciously sending a message to the police officer differentiating himself from “those people.”  He is essentially saying, “I am not a threat to you.”

However, what about the others who did not follow similar behaviors, but also do not pose threats?  Are they not worthy of being shown the same professionalism?  Can I assume that the police officer in the next encounter will treat me in the same professional manner that the young black man was treated?

We will not stop the labeling because it is not in the interests of the dominant group to do so.  Why?  Fear.  The dominant group has historically lived in fear and from the way life is looking, they will continue to do so. Labeling allows society to rationalize and makes sense and justification of its actions and behaviors.

There is an old saying: “If it walks like a duck, quacks like a duck, looks like a duck, flies like a duck, it must be a duck.”

Not necessarily.  Using that analogy, black people must walk and talk like white people because their very skin carries the label of “criminal,” which is incorrect in most cases. Through this reasoning, we must act like white people, but we are not guaranteed to be treated like whites, regardless of how well we behave.

Labeling of black people continues to this very day.  On 4.12.15, the media reported that two African-American men, both students at Troy University, were arrested and charged with raping a woman during Spring Break on a Florida beach in broad daylight.  The sexual assault, carried out by four individuals, was witnessed by hundreds of others who did nothing to intervene.

The entire assault was videotaped on a cell phone.  Bay County Sheriff Frank McKeithen in his press conference, stated:

“This is happening in broad daylight with hundreds of people seeing and hearing what is happening and they are more concerned about spilling their beer than anyone getting raped. It was the most disgusting, sickening thing and likened the scene to wild animals preying on a carcass laying in the woods.

This is such a traumatizing event for this girl.  No one should have to fear this would happen in Panama City Beach, but it does.”

There have been six recent incidents involving law enforcement and alleged abuses:

  • Columbia, SC: A state trooper shot a black man at a gas station after ordering him to get his driver license.
  • North Charleston, SC: A police officer shoots a black man five times in the back as he runs away. The police officer plants a weapon next to the victim’s body.
  • North Augusta, SC: A police officer fatally shoots an unarmed black man in his driveway.
  • Tulsa, OK: A reserve sheriff’s deputy fatally shoots a black man while he is subdued on the ground.
  • Los Angeles, CA: Ten sheriff’s deputies are placed on administrative leave for the beating of a white man who had been subdued following a long distance chase on a stolen horse.
  • Sacramento, CA: A sheriff’s deputy is placed on administrative leave following the beating of a white man and stomping on his head after being asked by the victim in a polite manner to stop blocking traffic.

Most of the incidents share the following common thread:

  • The six incidents were all caught on video,
  • All the individuals involved were either suspended, placed on administrative leave, or fired from their respective law enforcement organizations.
  • All of the individuals have been immediately identified, formally charged for criminal actions, and/or may be charged pending the outcome of an independent investigation.
  • The local law enforcement authority and city leaders have immediately issued statements of condemnation of the actions and have been transparent regarding releasing information regarding these incidents.

However, due to racial labeling, the incidents are being portrayed differently.

  • The actions of the law enforcement officers are being portrayed as either rogue cops, traumatized due to a prior shooting (the SC state trooper) or being poorly trained.
  • The actions are of the law enforcement officers are being cast as “isolated incidents.”
  • We are asked to view the law enforcement officers as individuals and not be reflected on the law enforcement or policing institution as “group behavior.”

In incidents regarding the actions of the law enforcement, there is now the clear intention of transparency to prevent the “labeling of the police as a group’.  Why? Because neither the police nor the greater society want law enforcement at large to be viewed as out of control and untrustworthy.

This does not apply to the two black men involved in the sexual assault at the beach in Panama City, FL.  The two men have been suspended from school, immediately charged and awaiting trial.  Unlike with the police officers, who are being identified as individuals involved in criminal or alleged criminal behaviors, the media and the police are going to great lengths to label these young men not as individuals, but rather as members of a group engaging in “animal type behavior.”  To restate the comments of Sheriff McKeithen,

“It was the most disgusting, sickening thing and likened the scene to wild animals preying on a carcass laying in the woods. This is such a traumatizing event for this girl.”

Earlier I stated that that the dominant group will not stop labeling, especially when it comes to the identification of black men.  Fear sells.  It sells guns and ammunition.  It impacts the voting and legislation in federal, state and local government.

Racial labeling and fear go together like two favorite deserts that we can’t seem to do without.  It is as American as apple pie and vanilla ice cream.  There is much more to come.  Fear sells… and the dominant group is buying it.

Until the next crossroads…. the journey continues.

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REPOST: Walking the Talk: Actions Speak Louder Than Words 

Originally posted on August 17, 2015. 

“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.

REPOST: The Fictional Male Character: Holding On to Old Stereotypes and Creating New Ones

Originally published on June 24, 2014.

My Dear Readers,

     There is a thin line between fact and fiction. Fiction is the ability to live life in an imagined world, making it up or changing it to suit the observer.  Fact is the reality of how we live our lives. Television, combined with the human need to not only be close to pain, but to make sense out of life, has succeeded in making the line between fiction and fact thinner.

     I recently had the pleasure of watching the première of a new television series, Murder In The First.  It is a crime drama that takes place in San Francisco involving two police detectives.  In this episode, Inspector Terry English, an African American played by Taye Diggs, is grasping the reality that his wife has stage 4 pancreatic cancer that has invaded her liver and kidneys.

     When his wife is sent home to live out her remaining days, Detective English, unable to stay at home with her, remains at work working to solve a complicated murder case. In one dramatic scene, he tells his female partner, Inspector Hildy Mulligan (played by Kathleen Robertson) the following:

      “I can’t go home and watch her die.  I can’t and won’t do that.”

     This is soon followed by another dramatic scene in which Detective English loses his composure and self-control while interrogating a suspect, resulting in physically assaulting the suspect.   Despite this horrible situation—the pending loss of his wife, the lapse with the suspect—he is backed by a compassionate and enduring cast of fellow officers who do what they can to support their colleague in his most difficult time. 

     The episode concludes with Inspector English at another murder scene, receiving a call on his cell phone that his wife passed away.  As the camera comes in for the close up, you can see the pain and anguish in his facial expression.  Inspector English was true to his word as he followed through on what he said to partner,

      “I can’t go home and watch her die.  I can’t and won’t do that.”

     He did not go home.  She was alone without him when she died.  She died alone.

     We, the audience, are left with a mixture of feelings.  There may be anger that he let her die alone.  There also may be pity or compassion for him and his inability to come to terms with her death and his living on without her.   We are left in awe and looking forward to next week’s episode.

     That was fiction.  It was a story developed by scriptwriters sharing ideas on how the character should look and feel, and how to draw the audience into this emotional turmoil.  As the episode concludes, we know one thing to be true…it’s a fictional story with actors.  No one really died.  It is all make believe.  As the audience, we “feel” for and “connect” with the character of Inspector English, and feel grateful that he has the support that he has, but still, what was explained in the episode was fiction.  However as an individual member of the audience, I am left feeling empty, disappointed. 

     Why? A wonderful opportunity was missed.  Here is the storyline of a African American man, who is about to lose his beloved spouse after a courageous battle fighting cancer.  And yet, the story focuses on his emotional conflicts about and his inability “to watch her die”, leading him to allow his wife to die alone. What? 

     There was an opportunity here to drop the racial stereotypes forced upon African American males.  Instead the script focuses on casting him as a warm, compassionate loving spouse, who is at times a conflicted and emotionally distant, reserved (cold) person who can suddenly explode in fury upon a helpless derelict (being played by a white actor) being held in police custody. 

     Here was an opportunity to move beyond the stereotypes of the conflicted stoic angry black man.  Yet the scriptwriters stay within the perceived stereotypes.  Why?  If the lead actor had been Caucasian, no doubt the script would had:

  • Focused on the actor being with his spouse as she took her last breath.

  • Focused on the calmness and control of the lead actor and not allow him to go savagely violent on a helpless person under police custody.

  • Focused less on tension derived from interactions based on race and more on interactions based on human want and need, such as grief and loss, compassion and nurturing.

     Another opportunity lost.  We really can’t blame the scriptwriters.  In fact, we can’t do without them.  They are only giving us what the viewing audiences want. This is a glimpse of the new and improved version of today’s “acceptable” black man, who is:

  • one who is professional, speaks well and with warmth,

  • but is emotionally conflicted, detached at times, incapable of responding to his own emotions, and

  • capable of exploding at a moment’s notice in savage, violent fury.

     The modern scriptwriters have updated today’s stereotype of the African-American man.  Gone are leading roles depicting black men as flashy, pathologically sexual, uneducated, and drug addicted.  Now they have been replaced by black men who although not flashy, are well educated, professional, and while less focused on the “sexual tension”, there remains the possibility of the character’s temper flaring.  

     This was no simple task for the scriptwriters.  They had to balance the need to have characters that are familiar and understandable by their audience with being sensitive enough to avoid an accusation from the African-American community that the depiction is demeaning.

     So, a makeover was required.  Like the recent updates to comic book characters such as the X-Men and Iron Man, the  scriptwriters have been successful in updating the image of the African-American man, who is now more sophisticated than his earlier stereotyped predecessor.

      Despite this modern improvement, however, the old stereotypes are still visible.  He is still unable to articulate what’s really going on inside him.  As in the old stereotype, the modern black male characters remain psychologically wounded and conflicted when responding to his emotions.  This is an Angry Black man, out of Control (ABC).   

     Instead of being revolted by his fury and uncontrollable wrath in dealing with the suspect, the viewing audience is encouraged to cast their pity upon him due to the loss of his spouse, a loss that he is apparently incapable of shouldering.

     Fictional story with fictional characters; another opportunity missed. The savagery of his anger and his emotional detachment is accepted because it fulfills the stereotype of what is expected from black men.  No doubt that the series will play upon the shame and guilt and the ensuing psychological damage that Inspector English will carry throughout the series for his decision to work versus being there as his wife takes her last breath.

     And yet, there are real black men in the world today that are being ignored (or dismissed).   Men who sit with their spouses, holding their hands, cleaning their bodies and feeding them as they wait for that moment of that last breath.

     That was my story.  My wife Linda, who passed away peacefully at home last year, did not die alone.  In fact, she was true to herself– always thoughtful, waited for me so I could get home and be with her as she went to be with our heavenly Father.

     I have no doubt that there are many Black men in this world who are just like me, loving spouses who until death greets us as well, will have the knowledge and memories of being there, for her final breath.  My Linda and many loving spouses like her did not die alone.

     As I stated earlier, there are many men of diverse ethnic backgrounds who have similar stories to share, but these stories will never be told.  Why? One reason could be the fact that it contradicts the accepted and familiar stereotypes that are necessary to maintain the interest of the viewing audience.

Concluding Words

     So who is to blame here?  The scriptwriters? The media?  Society?  “White folks” would be an easy target—after all, they are the viewing audience, right?  Nope, sorry. To do so would be giving “black folks” a free pass.   The reality is that black people also buy into those old stereotypes and continue to buy into the stereotypes that are being developed today.

     Instead of focusing on blame, let’s focus on responsibility.  Let us focus on the healthy relationships that we want to develop among ourselves.  If the scriptwriters are focusing on what they perceive as be the “needs” of the viewing audience, then it is up to all of us to work at letting go of the stereotypes, focusing on the “real and fact” instead “fantasy and fiction.”

     Of course, this is no light or easy task, and yet it can be the first step of the Journey of Self Discovery.   It can be in that journey, we find out who we really are and what we can truly be.  Truth being, it may not be accomplished in my lifetime however we can chose to “focus on the journey, not the destination.”

 Until the next crossroads…the journey continues.

REPOST: White Privilege: Aversive Racism And The Nature of Denial

Originally posted on June 8, 2015. 

“I am not a racist…I am a church going guy.”

My Dear Readers,

There are times when we take actions that may be harmful or traumatic to others, even though it is beneficial to ourselves. Racial matters often fall into this category.

Aversive racism—a form of racism where an individual denies racist intent, but still acts in ways that are racist—is especially insidious and harmful to the individuals who are impacted. Because of the overt denial of racist intent, the target person who appraises the behavior as racist may then be labeled as over-reactive or paranoid in the shared interpersonal environment, leading to further marginalization.

In recent writings, I have explored the concept and impact of male privilege, but in this writing, I want to explore the concept of white privilege and its impact on the privileged person as well as the victims of that privilege.

White privilege can be defined as a special right, advantage or immunity granted or available only to individuals as a race due to the perception of institutional power in relation to individuals of a different race or ethnic group. Similar to male privilege, where every man, by virtue of being male, benefits from male privilege, the same can be said about white privilege.  Every person who is white experiences privilege differently due to his/her own individual position in the social hierarchy, but every person by virtue of being white benefits from white privilege in some way, shape, or form.

The common theme in aversive racism is the denial of racist intent.  In the psychological realm of interpersonal relationships, however, we must not only consider the intent, but we must also remain mindful of its impact on society.

Below is such a story…..

————————————————————————————————————–.

Dear Visible Man,

A friend of mine who reads your blog  suggested that I write to you regarding something that happened to me recently, so here I am.  A few days ago, while talking with my friends, I asked the new guy, who is black, a few questions about race.  I was surprised that he got upset and filed a complaint against me.

This resulted in a hearing where I was labeled as a racist.  That’s not fair—I was only asking questions.  He is light skinned, nearly white, and I asked him how he got along with the dark-skinned blacks.

Although I say the N word from time to time, I did not call him a nigger.  I merely asked him why he and his people could use the N word, yet if whites use it, they are called racist.

Instead of answering my question, he got quiet, got up, and left the room.  He didn’t say anything, but the other guys in the room and I could tell he was angry.

Next thing I know, he has snitched on me to human resources, and I had to attend a hearing with him.

I do not understand why he was so angry or even if he was, why he didn’t speak to me directly.  Like I said, I was only asking questions.  I don’t come in contact with any black people regularly, and he is the only black guy at work.

He seemed to be an okay person, so I felt it was okay to ask him racial questions. If he didn’t want to answer, then he should have just let it go instead of being a snitch.

As a result, I have to take a racial sensitivity class and there is a stigma being placed on me.  I hope he is happy now.  Because of him, the atmosphere at work is really cold and not as relaxed as it was before.  People don’t talk to him out of fear he is going to file a complaint.

I only want to find out more about him and his race.  I feel that if it is okay for blacks to use the word nigger, then it should be okay for us white people to do the same.  I feel that our freedom of speech is being taken away from us while black people are being treated special.

He’s cooked his own goose, if you ask me.  He gets all the jobs that we don’t want to do.  I hope he gets the message that what he did to me was not cool.  We let him in and accepted him as one of us and in return, he acted like a bitch by snitching.

I am angry that I have to attend a race sensitivity class. I don’t understand why black people get so angry and over small issues like race.  I am hoping that he will read this and realize he isn’t wanted here and quit.

I am not a racist.  I am a church going guy.  I should not be penalized for asking questions. Hell, I bet you don’t even have the balls to post this.

Really Pissed Off, Grays Harbor County, WA

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Dear Privileged,

I begin my writing by addressing you as privileged due to your callous attitude towards this issue, which is a sensitive and uncomfortable subject to many people, not just African-Americans, given the nature of the historic interactions (including, but not limited to, slavery and segregation) between races in the United States.

In your letter, you state that you were merely asking questions to enhance your understanding of African-Americans, but the tone of your letter implies that you have another agenda.

It feels like you are using sexually offensive language (“he’s acting like a bitch”) and challenging me as to whether I “have the balls to print this” in an attempt to gain an reaction.  So, I will provide a response that I hope will be educational.  As I stated earlier, race is a sensitive subject and uncomfortable subject for many.  In my practice, I seek to create a secure and safe venue to engage in such discussion, and this is no different.  In doing this, I hope to educate you and others whom may face the same issues.

You may be a “church-going guy,” but neither that, nor your intentions exclude you from expressing inappropriate comments, which can reveal your racist tendencies.

Consider this:

  • Having no prior personal relationship or rapport with the “new guy,” why would you ask him questions that are personal in nature?
  • What was your purpose in asking him questions about “getting along with dark skinned black people”?
  • Why would you ask these questions during a group discussion and not during a one to one interaction?

Your questions may, on their face, be harmless, but in that work environment, in a group situation, and without taking the time to develop a personal relationship with that man, asking such questions may not only have created a very uncomfortable environment for him, but may also have been humiliating for him.  After all, when did he become the spokesperson for all black people?

It is clear that you were upset that he filed a formal complaint about the incident instead of speaking to you.  You said:

“If he was angry, he should have acted like a man and spoken to me directly.”

You pointed out yourself that he became silent and left the room.  There is no “if” about how this interaction made him feel; you and the other men knew he was angry.  Consider the following:

  • None of you followed up with him or checked on him after the incident.
  • He was the new guy in the organization. What was he supposed to do?

His choices were clear and simple; either he accept the insulting behavior and humiliation, which would leave him open to more incidents, or he could file a complaint, which would create a boundary indicating the limits of what is or is not acceptable behavior.  In doing so, the offending behavior has been duly noted and has ceased.

You said that prior to him filing the complaint, you thought he was an “okay guy.”  Now, he’s a “bitch” for “snitching” on you.  Understanding that the term bitch and snitch have negative meanings, consider the following:

  • His coworkers now view him negatively because he advocated for himself.
  • If he didn’t advocate for himself, he may view himself negatively.

Given the choice of viewing himself negatively or worrying about how you view him, he chose to advocate for himself and risk the displeasure of his coworkers.  Given the outcome, he chose the path that was most beneficial for himself.

There are always consequences for our actions.  Consequences are merely responses to the actions taken.  However, in this situation, you feel that he has “cooked his own goose”. So now, the person who was victimized by your actions is now being:

  • Given the silent treatment by his coworkers,
  • Blamed for creating an uncomfortable work environment,
  • Forced to handle the tasks and assignments that the other coworkers don’t want, and,
  • Is being subjected to passive-aggressive behaviors by your coworkers to force him to resign from his job.

In essence, the black worker is now being blamed for your actions. You and the coworkers who are acting in support of you are victimizing him once again.

Your initial actions created trauma for this man whose only action was to come to work.  Now, he is at risk at being traumatized again.  This form of trauma is known as “insidious trauma”.

Insidious trauma arises when there is an accumulation of negative experiences affecting members of a stigmatized group.  Racism is considered to be a form of insidious trauma because it constantly denigrates the value of the intelligence, skills and capabilities, and the very lives of the people who suffer from its effects.

Concluding Words

Why are black people angry? We are reminded every day that due to the color of our skin that we will always have to engage in emotional and psychological warfare.

When will this insidious trauma end?  Never.  It will not end because you and people like you are unwilling to accept responsibility for your actions and behaviors.  As a result, your unwillingness to do so reinforces resentment and racial hatred towards the person you have targeted.

The claim of innocence and desire of protection for freedom of speech so that whites can be allowed to use the word nigger is preposterous.

It is a reality that the N word is an imprint of pain and sorrow, even for those who utilize the word in order to be “cool”.  To do so in ignorance or without concern only serves to add to the invisibility of the history and suffering that African-Americans and other races have endured.

It is a tragedy that anyone who understands what African-Americans have gone through would want to stand under the Constitution and defend the right to use this very heinous and destructive word.  No good can ever be made of it or come from it.

African-Americans share a common experience.  We understand the pain and suffering of slavery and segregation.  We also engage in destructive behaviors such as using the N word.  The use of word is traumatic regardless of who uses it and the purpose they use it.

We can agree on one issue, however: forcing you to attend a racial sensitivity class is unreasonable. Knowledge can only benefit those who seek such information.  It cannot be forced upon the ignorant.  It is clear that you choose not to advance.  It is regrettable that you will no doubt continue to allow your racial hatred to consume you.

A wise person learns from his/her mistakes, makes corrections and finds the right path; the foolish one will continue without direction, never finding the road even when it is in front of his/her face.

-Ten Flashes of Light for the Journey of Life

The Visible Man