The Yearly Celebration Is Gone…Is Black History Over?


“The problems with relegating black history to one really short month, the shortest month, is not only are we telling the same stories over and over again – which are amazing, George Washington Carver is incredible, there’s nobody like Frederick Douglass – but there are so many.”

-Karyn Parsons, Actress

“Black History Month must be more than just a month of remembrance; it should be a tribute to our history and reminder of the work that lies in the months and years ahead.”

-Marty Meehan, President, University of Massachusetts

My Dear Readers,

Another Black History Month has come and gone.  So, now that we have done our duty to give black people acknowledgment about their historical contributions, we can now put that stuff back in storage so that it can be dragged out again next year.

We celebrate black history month, but many of us do not understand its significance.  The original celebration of black history was originally conceptualized by black historian Carter G. Woodson and the Association for the Study African-American Life and History, in 1929.

In the beginning, it was known as Negro History Week. The primary emphasis was on encouraging the coordinated teaching of the history of American blacks in the nation’s public schools.  Woodson contended that the teaching of black history was essential to ensure the physical and intellectual survival of black identity within the broader society.  He stated:

“If a race has no history and no worthwhile tradition, it becomes a negligible factor in the thought of the world, and it stands in danger of being exterminated.”

The creation of Negro History Week was met with an enthusiastic response.  It encouraged racial pride, prompting the start of black history clubs, an increase in teacher interest, and the interest of progressive whites.  Negro History grew in popularity during the following five decades with numerous mayors across endorsing it as a holiday.

In 1976, Black History Week, through the urging of black college students, was expanded to Black History Month.  At the same time, the US government officially recognized it as part of the bicentennial celebration.  President Gerald Ford encouraged Americans at the time to:

“Seize the opportunity to honor the too-often neglected accomplishments of black Americans in every area of endeavor throughout our history.”

Over the recent decades, there has been the annual debate about the continued usefulness and fairness of a designated month dedicated to the history of one race.  One view is that Black History Month encourages the “hero worship” of some historical figures rather than a greater appreciation of the larger social history of communities and their contributions.

Another view is that the celebration is shallow, racist and cheapens the contributions of African-Americans by limiting it to a 28-day period. In both views, the common theme is that although during Black History Month, students learn the names of a limited number of black pioneers and their contributions and achievements, they receive little or no background regarding the historical context and the fact that these individuals lived and prospered despite deep-seated racism.

There is one fact that both views can agree upon; both Black History Week and Black History Month were necessary during their respective eras due to the exclusion and minimization of historical facts about black Americans by white historians and writers.   It is feasible that both communities, black and white, are hesitant to integrate black history into American History.  In doing so, both communities would be vulnerable to examining their own psychological wounds that were created out of racism.

However, despite the fact that both communities operate from a different perspective, they are mutually dependent upon each other.  More specifically, the black community is a closed system; isolated, psychologically wounded due to complex trauma, and economically unable to sustain itself.   The white community, in contrast, is an open system that is politically strong and economically sustainable.  The black community operates on a survivalist mentality where the white community flourishes.

Exclusion of black history from the context of American history allows the open system (white community) to focus on its successes and minimize the reporting of shameful or negative actions and/or behaviors that have led to its ability to flourish.  The same can be stated regarding the closed system (black community), although it may be successfully argued that in the manner that Black History Month is currently taught, the focus is on contributions and achievements with little or no background on historical context.  However, no action is being taken to move the teachings into the direction of focusing more on background and historical context.

As a result, while the white community remains passively quiet and the black community raising the issue and yet lacking action, both communities are successful in maintaining closure or the minimizing the opening of psychological wounds. It is clear that both communities would prefer to identify contributions and achievements that have positive imagery and not focus on background or historical events that hold negative substance.  In order to do this, both communities rely on the strategies of avoidance and denial.   These strategies are defined as:

  • Avoidance is the act of keeping away from, preventing something from happening, or keeping oneself from doing something. Dodging, shunning and turning away are acts of avoidance.
  • Denial is the failure to acknowledge an unacceptable truth or emotion. It can also be the refusal to accept the reality of an event or the reliability of information received. It can be a situation where a person is faced with a fact that is too uncomfortable to accept and rejects it instead, insisting that it is not true despite overwhelming evidence that it is.

To clarify, an example of “background and historical context that would open psychological wounds for both communities” would be the Tuskegee Study of Untreated Syphilis in the African American Male.

The Tuskegee Study of Untreated Syphilis in the African American Male has received marginal discussion by writers of American history.  Furthermore, there are no significant contributors to African-American heritage involved, nor is there a mention of the study during Black History Month. This is an excellent example of why background and historical context is important. Because of the agenda of the open system (white community) powerful in utilizing medicine and science, and the ignorance of a closed system (black community), weakened and dependent, the health of an entire community was jeopardized by leaving a communicable disease untreated.

Although ethical standards, oversight, and safeguards have been implemented to prevent a recurrence of these abuses, the Tuskegee Syphilis Study has left an enduring legacy of distrust between the African-American community and the medical establishment.  It has reinforced strongly held views that the white community in general and that both the federal government and medical establishment specifically have a significant level of disregard for the lives of African-Americans. 

Concluding Words-Dr. Kane 

“You are going to relegate my history to a month? I don’t want a black history month.  Black history is American History.”

-Morgan Freeman, Actor/Director

Our children and generations to come are likely to inherit the psychological wounds of their parents unless we of the preceding generation are willing to stop the avoidance and denial behavior and begin to explore the background and historical context of incidents that happened either prior or during our lifetime.

James H. Jones, an historian, and specialist in bioethical issues, wrote in Bad Blood: The Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment (1993)

“As a symbol of racism and medical malfeasance, the Tuskegee Study may never move the nation to action, but it will change the way Americans view illness.  Hidden within the anger and anguish of those who decry the experiment is a plea for government authorities and medical officials to hear the fears of people whose faith has been damaged, to deal with their concerns directly, and to acknowledge the link between public health and community trust.

Government authorities and medical officials must strive to cleanse medicine of social infection by eliminating any type of racial or moral stereotypes of people or their illnesses.  They must seek to build a health system that will make adequate health care available to all Americans.  Anything less will leave some groups at risk, as it did the subjects of the Tuskegee Study.”

Norman Rockwell, in his masterful and classic painting “Before the Shot/ A Study for the Doctor’s Office,” documents a young white male child receiving a shot of penicillin, a common method following WWII.  The painting depicts the young boy standing in a chair with his pants partly down waiting as the doctor prepares the injection.  While waiting, the boy is reading the doctor’s framed degree.  The painting emphasizes the trust society held at that time for the medical profession.

The blind trust that flourished during decades previous no longer exists…and perhaps that is a good thing.  Blind trust in any institution or profession is misguided, submerged in arrogance and as in the Tuskegee Syphilis Study vulnerable to abuse and misuse.

“Respect all, love all, yet remember that trust is earned, not given away to the undeserving.”

-Ten Flashes of Light for the Journey of Life (Loving Me More)

Until the next crossroads….the journey continues













Trust: The Dilemma of Community Policing

“If the people cannot trust their government to do the job for which it exists – to protect them and to promote their common welfare – all else is lost.

-Barack Obama

My Dear Readers,

Many Americans remember reading about or experiencing the racial turbulence of the 1960s.  One of the most important events of that period occurred when a riot broke out in Watts, a section of Los Angeles, California.  65 deaths and tens of millions of dollars later, then L.A. Police Chief William Parker, when asked about the community by the media, remarked:

“Like monkeys in a zoo… once one of them starts, they all jump in.”

The African-American community is a closed system. Generally, closed systems are isolated and not economically sustainable, relying on a small middle class and a labor force that is dependent on more open community systems.  As a result, closed systems can be particularly susceptible to psychological wounds arising from the experience of complex trauma.

In contrast, the white community is an open system. It is politically strong and economically sustainable. This system allows individuals to travel without hindrance, moving freely to interact with other units within the group (business, professional organizations etc.), and external environments (interstate, international etc.).  Community services such as public policy, social welfare, and the maintenance of law and order are effectively managed by community leadership.

From a psychological standpoint, one system may be focused on surviving while the other focuses on flourishing, but both communities share many realities; one of them being that they are both dependent upon the police—a governmental entity that is supposed to serve all communities in a given physical space (e.g., state, county, parish, city, town, etc.)—to maintain law and order.

In this case, the majority of police officers and personnel reside in the open system—which, for the purposes of this discussion, we have defined as the white community.  This fact may create feelings of isolation, disempowerment due to experiences of complex trauma, and suspicion towards police personnel from citizens who live in the closed system because of the belief that these officers and personnel are not and cannot be invested in people and communities that are not their own. 

Because of the suspicion of the citizens in the closed system, police who are assigned to those physical areas often maintain their distance from those citizens, not only because of the obvious distrust, but because the police begin to be concerned for their own safety and security.  At the same time, however, their superiors in the white community continue to evaluate their performance in the closed system, that pressure to perform in the face of fear causes police organizations to feel the same way that citizens in the closed system feel: squeezed, increasingly isolated, disempowered and suspicious.

Trust is the cornerstone of any relationship, and given this, policing organizations find themselves in a complex position.  They must seek to maintain the trust of one community—the open, white system—and, at the same time, work to establish trust with the closed, African-American system.

The relationship between African-Americans and the police is a lot like watching a juggler perform. We hope that they will be successful, but the expectation is that at some point, a ball will be dropped.  As a result, we shift our focus to when the ball will be dropped, and fail to appreciate the successful juggling that does happen.

In the case of African-American communities and the police, three factors contribute to this complicated situation:

  • system failure
  • complex trauma
  • racial profiling

1. System Failure

The actions and reactions of both police and citizens lie at the mercy of the characteristics and limitations of the closed system.  Residence within the African-American community is constantly in transition, with the professional, working-class and middle-class structure dwindling.  As individuals come and go, and with complex trauma being psychologically overwhelming the community, questions around the economic viability and sustainability of the community continue to be raised.

On the other hand, the police, although supported by an open system, is subject to investigation by the media, pressure from government officials, and criticism from the public for the mistakes of individuals within its ranks.  As a result, the police itself becomes more and more of a closed system as it looks to protect itself and its members, adopting the stance that “you are either for us or against us.”

2. Complex Trauma

Complex trauma is a form of psychological trauma. It is an illness that profoundly impacts the African-American community.  Complex PTSD and its symptoms are often hidden, and as a result, it is easy for both the patient and those who cause the trauma to deny. Because it is so misunderstood, the wounds it causes continue to mount and to debilitate those who are impacted.

Unlike a physical ailment or disease, complex trauma is unseen.  Its easy deniability adds to the harming of the individual and to the crippling of the community.  As a result, it slowly wears away at the individual’s emotional and mental functioning, and the community’s ability to address it.

Complex PTSD comes from events and experiences that are:

  • repetitive, prolonged or cumulative,
  • most often interpersonal, involving direct harm, exploitation, and maltreatment including neglect/abandonment/antipathy by primary caregivers or other ostensibly responsible adults, and
  • often occur at developmentally vulnerable times in the victim’s life and/or in conditions of vulnerability associated with disability, disempowerment, dependency, age and/or infirmity

The African-American community and police organizations share a long turbulent history that spans back to the era of slavery, when policing organizations included “patrollers” and “slave catchers.”  The main responsibility of these two groups included the following:

  • Apprehending runaways
  • Monitoring the rigid pass requirements for free blacks and slaves in urban and rural areas
  • Breaking up large gatherings and assemblies of blacks
  • Visiting and searching slave quarters randomly
  • Inflicting impromptu punishments when deemed necessary
  • Maintenance of law and order among slaves, quelling disobedience

The police during numerous times in the history of the US have been utilized to control blacks insuring that they stayed in their rightful place. During WWII, in towns across the country, control over black soldiers outside of military bases was harshly maintained by local law enforcement, as described in one instance:

In 1943, in Centerville, Mississippi, a white sheriff intervened in a fistfight between a white soldier and black one.  After the black got the upper hand, the sheriff shot him to death, then asked the white soldier, “Any more niggers you want killed?”

Prior to the civil rights movement in the 1960s, the military was aware of the dangers of African-Americans being assaulted by local law enforcement.  A senior white officer, having completed a study of race relations in the early 1960s, observed:

“Fear is constantly a companion of the negro airman.  He suffers from fear anytime he departs the confines of the base he is assigned in the Deep South.”

In addition to sharing a turbulent history, police organizations share the same psychological disorder, complex trauma and its devastating outcome.  The specific subtype of complex trauma described by policing organizations is post-traumatic stress.  Police officers may be simultaneously responding to several or all of the following:

  • struggles with the demands of policing,
  • the pressures of being isolated,
  • feeling misunderstood by the public they seek to serve and
  • low morale due to nonsupport from leadership,
  • stress from split-second decision-making
  • deaths of fellow officers,
  • unresolved feelings regarding wounding or the taking of a life

Complex Trauma & Policing Organizations 

“Understand, our police officers put their lives on the line for us every single day.  They got a tough job to do to maintain public safety and hold accountable those who break the law.”

-Barack Obama

The impact of post-traumatic stress upon police officers has resulted in the following factors: 

Domestic Violence (Dr. Sonia Salari, Professor Univ. of Utah)

  • 40% of police officer families experience domestic violence, whereas families not involved in police work make up only 10% of domestic violence cases.
  • 24% domestic violence rate among older and experienced officers
  • It is two to four times more common for a police family to experience domestic violence

Divorce (Timothy Roufa, Criminology Expert)

  • Divorce rate among police officers are as high as 75%
  • The national rate is 50%.

Suicide (Statistics 2009 Badge of Life Suicide Study)

  • In 2009 there were 143 there were 143 police suicides, a slight increase from 2008 police suicides of 141.
  • This is in comparison of 127 in the line of duty deaths in 2009.
  • Officer suicide rates are at least double of the general population
  • Ages 40-44 are at the highest risk of suicide, representing 27% of all suicides.
  • Service time at highest risk was twenty years plus.
  • Officers with less than ten years on the job had a suicide rate of 17%.
  • 64% of the suicide were a surprise

Alcoholism (E. Rave, Understanding stress in law enforcement)

  • Although the statistics are somewhat unclear, clinically treated alcohol addiction rates are usually calculated to be about twice as high for police officers than for the general population in the United States
  • Statistics documenting alcohol abuse are less accurate; however rates of arrest for driving under the influence of alcohol are fairly higher for police officers than other drivers
  • Despite the controversies in the interpretation of the statistics, it is generally considered evident that police officers are more vulnerable to alcohol abuse than other occupations.
  • There is evidence to suggest that police officers become involved in excessive alcohol consumption because they are police officers.


III. Racial Profiling is the act of suspecting or targeting a person of a certain race based on a stereotype of about their race. 

“When a young non-white male is stopped and searched at the whim of a police officer, his idea of personal space, privacy and self-esteem is shattered to say nothing of the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment protections. The damage goes deep quickly and stays.  Stop & frisk, as well as a tactic, is also an incitement.”

-Henry Rollins, Television & Radio Host

In a research study conducted by the ACLU and the RAND Corp. in various cities across the United States, African-Americans were between three and five times more likely to

  1. be asked if they were carrying drugs or weapons,
  2. be asked to leave the vehicle,
  3. be searched,
  4. have a passenger searched, and have the vehicle searched

Examples of racial profiling by police may include the following:

  • An African-American man standing on a corner waiting for a bus is stopped and questioned regarding why he is standing there and where he is going.
  • A Hispanic driver is stopped in a “white” neighborhood” because he “doesn’t belong there” or “looks out of place.”
  • Latino residents experienced racial affronts targeted at their race indicated by skin-color, bilingual speaking abilities (or inability to speak or understand English), or shopping in neighborhoods highly populated by Latinos.
  • A group of black teenagers are pulled over because of the kind of car they are driving.
  • A white man waiting in a car in a “ghetto” neighborhood is stopped and questioned about buying drugs.

 Concluding Words- Dr. Kane

In To Protect And Empower: A Parent’s To Interaction With The Police, originally posted on 2.13.15, I focused on the safety concerns of African-American parents due to the recent shootings by police and private security organizations, the safety of their children, particularly males of preadolescent/adolescent age (10-17) and those in early adulthood (18-25).  The unprecedented response by worried parents led to the development of the brochure African-American Males And The Police, a set of guidelines for parents to discuss with their children regarding positive and safe interactions when interacting with police.

There are police organizations today that are actively seeking strategies that, if successful, will be beneficial in improving relationships with minority communities.  One such strategy is community policing.  This concept comprises three components:

  1. Community Partnerships-collaborative relationships between law enforcement and individuals in the community focusing on developing solutions to problems and encouraging trust between individuals in the community and the police.
  2. Organizational Transformation-the alignment of organizational management, structure, personnel and information systems to support community partnerships and proactive problem solving.
  3. Problem Solving-the process of engaging in the proactive and systemic examination of identified problems to develop and evaluate effective responses.

Time to build trust

Four hundred years of racial tension between the white and black communities and the lack of trust towards policing organizations will not be resolved quickly.  A major impediment continues to be the avoidance and denial behaviors of both the African-American community and police organizations.  Both entities continue to avoid and deny the complex trauma that is strongly rooted and deeply entrenched within both closed systems.

Viewing the African-American community as “progressing” without taking into consideration of its history of complex trauma and viewing police organizations as “solid, without cracks” attempting to meet the demands of two communities in conflict with each other are both illusions.  The truth be told, both the African-American community and police organizations are psychologically wounded and as such, those wounds are impacting the ability of both to function in a healthy and appropriate manner.

“It is not time that requires that building of trust to build, but rather it is the willingness to do the work together, utilizing time in the building of trust.”

Dr. Micheal Kane

Until the next crossroad… the journey continues.






Correcting Avoidance & Denial: Healing The Effects of Racism

We must learn to live together as brothers or perish together as fools.

-Dr. Martin Luther King Jr

 My Dear Readers,

In my work as a clinical traumatologist and forensic evaluator, my key objectives are to observe, listen and provide assessments and evaluations of and to the individual, couple or group.  This week, I want to focus on the similarities of the black and white racial groups.  Both groups, whether consciously or unconsciously, engage directly with each other when racial tensions are involved. The behaviors that are most likely to arise in these situations are known within the area of clinical psychology as avoidance and denial.

  • Avoidance is the act of keeping away from or preventing something from happening to oneself. Dodging, shunning and turning away are acts of avoidance.
  • Denial is the failure to acknowledge an unacceptable truth or emotion or to admit it that it exists. It can also be the refusal to accept the fact that an event occurred or the reliability of information about it.

What are the issues that white and black people avoid or deny?

Both groups avoid and deny the psychological impact of historical memories as well as the traumatic experiences of the previous 400 years, most notably, slavery, segregation, and the legacies of discrimination and state-sponsored racism.

Racism is comprised of the historical memories held by the majority group (whites) and passed down through their generations.   The possibility and effects of being impacted by racism are the traumatic experiences held by the minority group (blacks) and passed down through their generations.  Both groups, whether consciously or unconsciously, avoid and/or deny the existence of the tension that lies internally within themselves.

The tension goes up and down over time; it can be fiery and explosive one minute, or dormant and simmering until the next incident of discriminatory treatment or oppressive action occurs.  One thing is certain: the tensions never, ever go away.   Why?  Because neither group is able or willing to begin the process of examining feelings of racism, which may be facilitated or reinforced within each societal, community, or family group, and are maintained deeply within the psyche of the individual.

There have been legal and political atrocities perpetrated by white populations and governments throughout the world.  Leaders of the British, Vatican, German and South African governments have issued formal apologies for their official actions, and in each case, these actions have had a healing effect on their countries.

In 2009, the United States Congress apologized to African-Americans for its role of upholding slavery.  However, this was done with the caveat that the apology could not be used as a legal rationale for slavery reparations.  In 1998, President Bill Clinton apologized for the slave trade, but didn’t atone for a government that institutionalized white supremacy during the first eighty years of its existence.

Some time ago, Tim Egan, a noted white columnist, recipient of the National Book Award and alumni of the University of Washington, suggested in his article “Giving Obama His Due” that President Obama should “apologize for the land of the free being, at one time, the largest slaveholder on earth.”  The same columnist goes on to state:

“The first black man to live in the White House, long hesitant about being bold on the color divide, could make one.  The Confederate flag that still flies over the grounds of the Statehouse in South Carolina, cradle of the Civil War, is a reminder that the hatred behind the proclaimed right to own another human being has never left our shores.  An apology would not kill that hatred, but it would ripple positively in ways that may be felt for years.”

The columnist fails to identify what those ways would be.   Although this white columnist has good intentions, he fails to understand that the Confederate flag represents different themes for the two racial groups.  Where it may represent historical memories of slavery and hatred for whites, this flag is also a symbol of traumatic experiences of the past which continues to either reflect or support the trauma of racism, oppression, and discrimination which is being experienced by African-Americans today in 2016.

The historical memories of white people and the traumatic experiences of black people are not psychologically comparable.   We must want to take a breath, pause to consider the impact on the self-esteem and self-identity of African-Americans to have an African-American president, the first black man to reside in the White House, be the one to issue an official proclamation, apologizing for the enslavement of black people in the US.

Tim Egan’s article reinforces the notion that while whites may see a president who happens to be African-American, most blacks view him as a black man first and his role as President immediately following.  Such an action would no doubt traumatize today’s black populations, but also generations to come.

Trauma.  Over the last 400 years, generations upon generations of African-Americans have been traumatized by horrendous acts of racism, oppression, and discriminatory treatment.  As a result, African-Americans today continue to be impacted, but are instead responding to a more destructive trauma known as “complex trauma PTSD.”  This form of trauma has the ability to cloak itself, creating psychological wounds which not only impacts emotional and mental functioning, but can cause physical issues for the individual as well.

Unlike a physical ailment or disease, complex trauma is unseen.  Its ability to cloak allows those impacted to deny its presence, which adds to the suffering of the individual and the crippling of the community.

Historical memories and traumatic experience share the same vacuum, thereby forever enjoining both black and white people.  For example, let’s say that there are two individuals, one white, and the other black.  They are riding in a car together, and on their journey, they see a Confederate flag being flown.  They begin the conversation, and the following occurs:

  • The white individual attempts to avoid or minimize the psychological impact of the historical memories by changing to a more comfortable topic. To protect the psychological self, he must seek to deny any benefit to him or his family from the slavery era, including reviewing his family history for owning slaves, or being reflective on his current financial or economic status.  He must be able to say to himself, I have not been weakened by this experience…I am a good person.
  • The black individual attempts to avoid or minimize the psychological impact of traumatic experience by maximizing the historical significance of the slave era, but still denying its psychological impact on him as an individual. He must be able to say to self…I have not been weakened by the experience…I am a whole, functioning person.

Racism and trauma are not obvious or plain concepts.

  • What does a racist look like?
  • How can a person who looks good and financially successful be suffering from complex trauma?
  • Why do we refuse to acknowledge a person who is a racist cannot be a good person or a person responding to traumatic experiences can look good and still be psychologically overwhelmed?

Concluding Words-Dr. Kane

“Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, “What are you doing for others?”

-Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

 “What are you as an individual doing for the psychological self?  Are you willing to explore within to achieve psychological and emotional wellness?  Are you willing to seek transformation from the life you have to the life you want?”

-Dr. Micheal Kane

Individuals are not born with feelings of racism and trauma.  Racism is learned behavior and like traumatic experiences, can be transmitted from one generation to another.  You can respond to them in positive ways, but this cannot and will not be achieved on the societal level.  This cannot be achieved simply through communications between the two groups.

The transformation of racism trauma to psychological and emotional wellness can only be achieved by the individual’s willingness and commitment to the psychological self.


  • Cease looking to government to resolve strongly rooted feelings that lay within the psychological self
  • Understand that governmental or legislative action is external and cannot reach into the psychological self
  • With the assistance of mental health professionals encourage the development of small process groups to initiate, support and reinforce openness in what are clearly difficult subjects
  • Seek psychotherapy ie individual, couple/martial, group therapies in furthering psychological and emotional wellness.

“Faith is taking the first step even when you don’t see the whole picture.”

Dr. Martin Luther King

Let us focus on the journey, not the destination. 

Until the next crossroads…the journey continues…

Complex PTSD and the African-American Community


There are wounds that never show on the body that are deeper and more hurtful than anything that bleeds.” – Laurell K. Hamilton, Author


We have come over a way that with tears has

                             been watered,

We have come, treading our path through the

                              blood of the slaughtered.

James Weldon Johnson (1871-1938) Lift Every Voice and Sing, stanza 2 (1900)


My Dear Readers,

This week, we return to the first weekly blog after my hiatus with a posting from At The Crossroads, where we focus on the emotional realities facing the African-American community.

Each year, we pick a specific area of interest, and this year, we will focus on Complex Trauma Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and its impact on the African-American community.  As a clinical traumatologist with over 30 years of clinical and forensic practice, I’ve found that complex trauma is one of the major common, but not well-studied, obstacles for communities of color, impacting everything from economic stability to political power to violence and social stability.

Complex Trauma is a form of psychological trauma.

Being psychological and not physical, complex trauma quietly destroys one’s emotional and mental functioning. It is often hidden and denied, so it, and the person who suffers from it, is increasingly misunderstood as the wounds continue to compound and the symptoms displayed become more noticeable.  Complex trauma’s ability to hide itself allows those impacted, as well as those around them, to deny its presence and pretend that they are not wounded and traumatized, thereby adding damage to the individual and eventually, the crippling of communities.

Complex Trauma PTSD results from events and experiences that are:

  • repetitive, prolonged or cumulative,
  • most often interpersonal, involving direct harm, exploitation, and mistreatment, including neglect/abandonment/antipathy by primary caregivers or other ostensibly responsible adults, and
  • often occur at developmentally vulnerable times in the victim’s life and in conditions of vulnerability associated with disability, disempowerment, dependency, age and/or infirmity

Complex Trauma PTSD can be difficult to detect. The person experiencing complex trauma may seek to minimize it by passing it off as anxious feelings or minor depression. Its nature is insidious, meaning it can proceed in a gradual, subtle way, but with harmful effects.  Complex Trauma PTSD may be initially seen as harmless, but in addition to psychological damage, it can also lead to high blood pressure, stroke, and increases in alcohol abuse, drug abuse, and domestic violence.

Complex Trauma PTSD can be difficult to detect. The person experiencing complex trauma may seek to minimize it by passing it off as anxious feelings or minor depression. Its nature is insidious, meaning it can proceed in a gradual, subtle way, but with harmful effects.  Complex Trauma PTSD may be initially seen as harmless, but in addition to psychological damage, it can also lead to high blood pressure, stroke, and increases in alcohol abuse, drug abuse, and domestic violence.

What are the symptoms of Complex Trauma PTSD? 

 Symptoms of Complex Trauma PTSD can include the following:

  • difficulty with managing impulses such as anger
  • feelings of self-destructiveness
  • dissociative episodes
  • a chronic sense of guilt or responsibility
  • difficulty trusting people
  • isolation, being emotionally distant
  • difficulty establishing and/or maintaining intimate relationships
  • feelings of hopelessness or despair
  • focus on somatic or medical problems

 What makes Complex Trauma PTSD different from other forms of trauma? 

 Psychological traumas are grouped in three distinctive areas:  interpersonal, impersonal and crossover.  Generally speaking, interpersonal trauma creates more severe trauma in people than impersonal trauma does, because the former is deliberate, versus the latter, which is accidental.

  • Interpersonal (deliberate)-are traumatic stressors are premeditated, planned or implemented by other human, such as the violation and/or exploitation of another person.
  • Impersonal (accidental)-are events which may occur randomly or an “act of God,” such as a natural disaster (earthquake, tornado) or an accident (automobile)
  • Crossover-are a result of combination of both, referring to accidents that have a human cause or factor (transportation accident caused by human error or neglect). Crossover traumas are more severe than impersonal and less severe than interpersonal as it lacks deliberation, premeditation or planning.

What are the specific forms of Complex Trauma PTSD that can impact the African-American community?

 There are twelve forms of complex traumas that can individually, or in combination, impact the African-American community.  These include the following:

  • Historical
  • Intergenerational
  • Insidious
  • Racial Profiling
  • Micro-aggression (assaults)
  • Macro-aggression (assaults)
  • Betrayal
  • Invisibility Syndrome
  • Just World Trauma
  • Race-Related Stress
  • Vicarious
  • Post Traumatic Slave Syndrome

Why is Complex Trauma PTSD viewed as being impactful within the African-American community?

The African-American community are descendants of Africans who were enslaved, chained, taken from their families and transported thousands of miles in what is known as the Middle Passage.  During the Middle Passage, the enslaved African was treated as cargo, and millions did not survive the journey.

For a period of 250 years, black people were slaves.  They were prevented by acts of extreme punishment from speaking their native languages or following their cultural/religious traditions, which destroyed potential coping mechanisms for the trauma they experienced. The slave family as a unit was neither recognized nor respected.  Slave marriages and families were broken up repeatedly at slave auctions.  It was not uncommon to for a family member to be ripped away, never to be seen again.  The institutions of religion and marriage, although recognized within the slave community, were not recognized by the American legal system.

Following the ending of the American Civil War towards the end of the Civil Rights Movement, a period of 125 years, African Americans have lived under various sets of laws known as the Black Codes, and Jim Crow laws, which denied them the “full citizenship” given to white Americans.  During this time, state and local governments either denied or ignored their demands for equality in education, housing, employment and medical treatment until the federal government intervened.

Following the achievement of integration, as African-Americans attempt forward, they have been met have been met with staunch resistance.  There remains those within the dominant majority who continue to follow historical trends by continue to maintain strife and seek to impede the hard-fought legal rights of African-Americans.  Such resistance has created various forms of racism, some subtle and passive, others overt and intimidating through fear, threats and outright violence.

To summarize, since being taken as slaves to North America in 1619 to up to today in 2016, African-Americans have endured continuous acts of racism, oppression, and discrimination. These experiences meet the standard diagnosis for Complex PTSD.

Complex Trauma PTSD sounds intense, painful and scary. Is complex PTSD treatable?  Can a person identified with complex PTSD live a normal life?

Yes, complex PTSD as with any major illness or injury is intense, painful and scary.   Whether it is treatable is dependent on the willingness of impacted individuals to let go of belief systems that reinforce the view of mental illness, traumatic experiences and psychotherapy as weaknesses, framed as badges of shame, humiliation, and disgrace.

Can a person identified with Complex Trauma PTSD live a normal life?

Individuals who have been traumatized repeatedly, over a period of time or within in specific settings, are often vulnerable to emotional and psychological struggles. The individual responding to complex trauma must define what may constitute living a normal life for themselves, and then pursue it through processing it through therapy.

Concluding Words-Dr. Kane 

It is essential to understand that Complex Trauma PTSD differs from other forms of PTSD. Where other forms require only a one-time experience or episode, those responding to complex PTSD have experienced prolonged trauma such as child abuse, domestic violence, threats of assault, or death.

We are moving into this direction understanding there are numerous blogs, media outlets, which comment on current events, but very few of them adequately explore the clinical or psychological impacts these events have on the community.   For example, during this month i.e. February we will be exploring from a clinical perspective the psychological and emotional impact of

  • Using the month of February each year as Black History Month to acknowledge or celebrate black history.
  • The Academy Awards 2016 and the need for approval or acceptance.

The focus of my inquiry will be the adverse impact of these events as it relates to complex trauma within the African-American community.   In doing so, it is my aim to create a model of empowerment for the psychological, emotional and mental wellness of our community.

Complex Trauma PTSD has severely wounded the African-American individual.  The psychological impacts are magnified due to community taboos and cultural beliefs against the acknowledgment and willingness to seek treatment.  This illness has driven many into states of hopelessness, despair, dependency and a survival mentality. There is an opportunity here, however: we must be willing to understand what ails us, acknowledge the pain and end the suffering in silence.  Only then will the traumatized be empowered to balance the weight of the experience and live the lives they seek.   Let us focus on the journey and not the destination.

Until the next crossroads…the journey continues…




REPOST: The Meaning Of Black History Month

My Dear Readers,

Black History Month concludes this week, so I am using this week’s post to explore its meaning.

Black History Month means different things to different people, so I am very aware of the mixture of feelings, particularly pride, sadness and yes, anger that can arise.  I feel them myself.  So, as my grandmother would say, I intend to “rake the mud on the bottom and watch the muddy waters rise to the top.” So cometh the muddy waters.  As I have stated before, my comments are solely my own and do not represent the thoughts of others within my community.

We live in two worlds. In one, we are shown the glamour experienced in one of those worlds, and yet, what is hidden is the world of pain and suffering that may have been the foundation for these individuals’ successes.

As a kid growing up in the southern United States, the black history I lived was not the black history I was to learn later on in school.  I learned about the contributions, achievements, and the accomplishments of Black Americans such as:

  • Crispus Attucks: the first casualty of the Boston Massacre and the American Revolutionary War. He became the icon of the anti-slavery movement.

  • George Washington Carver researched the promotion of alternative crops to cotton such as peanuts, soybeans and sweet potatoes.

  • Sojourner Truth was among the first women’s rights activists.

  • Harriet Tubman served as an abolitionist, humanitarian and spy for the Union during the Civil War.

  • Frederick Douglas was a leader in the abolition movement, a social reformer, a writer and statesman. He was the first black American nominated for the Vice President of the United States in 1872.

These contributions, accomplishments and achievements are important, but the common theme is that all of them, at one time, had either been sold into or born into slavery.

What can we as a nation, a society, as a community of African-Americans and as individuals learn from the struggles of these five individuals?  We can understand that their struggles and traumatic experiences in their personal histories led them to great achievements as they assisted in sculpturing the American political and economic landscape.

It is in the duality of living in two worlds that the pain and suffering of one population and the guilt and shame of the other population are both hidden away. The history remains so far removed from our modern lives that in our outrage as a nation regarding the burning alive of a Jordanian pilot in a locked cage by the blood soaked hands of ISIS, we lulled ourselves into ignorance of this country’s past in which 4,743 African-American men, women and children were lynched between 1882 and 1968.

One of those lynched was Jesse Washington in 1916.  A young white man who witnessed the murder wrote in a postcard to his family about the “carnival like atmosphere” in which he and his young friends “enjoyed front row seats.”  He included a picture of Washington’s charred body with the caption:

“This is the barbeque we had last night.  My picture is to the left with a cross over it.  Your son, Joe.”

A historian describes the photograph:

“…Jesse Washington’s stiffened body tied to the tree.  He has been sentenced to death for the murder of a white woman.  No witnesses saw the crime; he allegedly confessed, but the truth of the allegations would never be tested.

The grand jury took just four minutes to return a guilty verdict, but there was no appeal, no review, no prison time.  Instead, a courtroom mob dragged him outside, pinned him to the ground and cut off his testicles.

A bonfire was quickly built and lit.  For two hours, Jesse Washington, still alive, was raised and lowered over the flames, again, and again, and again.

City officials and police stood by, approvingly.  According to some estimates, the crowd grew to as many as 15,000.  There were taunts, cheers, and laughter.  Reporters described hearing “shouts of delight.”

When the flames died away, Washington’s body was torn apart and the pieces were sold as souvenirs.  The party was over.

Yet the “party” is not over.  The lynchings and other traumatic experiences of African-American people would continue well into the 21st century.  During the days of “nigger hunts,” blacks were victimized and killed by a variety of means in isolated sections and dumped into rivers and creeks.

To many whites, killing African-Americans “wasn’t nothing.”  As reported by whites, it was:

  • “Like killing a chicken or killing a snake”

  • “Niggers jest supposed to die ain’t no damn good anyway—jest go an’kill’em.”

  • “They had to have a license to kill anything but a nigger. They are always in season.”

  • “A white man ain’t a-going to be able to live in this country if we let niggers start getting biggity.”

  • (about lynchings) “It ‘s about time to have another one. When the niggers get so that they are afraid of being lynched, it is time to put the fear in them.”

Learning about and understanding Black History allows us to remain aware that there may always be those who, due to their own fear, maintain their perceptions of what African-Americans deserve, and display behaviors that reflect that. Only in understanding the pain and suffering as well as the achievements and accomplishments, that we can fully understand the importance of staying true to our direction and goals even in the most difficult of times.

Concluding Words

People should feel that history is not only about significant achievements of “great” historic figures; it can also be about how the individual lives her/his life.   It is from these stories of personal achievement and tragedy that we learn wisdom, perseverance and the commitment to walk one’s own path or direction.

The mistake that is often made with Black History Month is to limit its richness and celebration to the month of February of each year.  Instead of limiting it to 28 days of February, let’s utilize this period as a springboard in making or creating or telling our story.

Let’s use March-January to make history, February to be reflective, and then start it all over again, making history.

Black personal history and community history can be gained just from interacting with people in the neighborhood, such as teachers and mentors. The celebrated contributions and achievements often begin with small steps.

“Life is like a marathon. Finish the race; don’t worry about coming in first place. Cross the finish line. Just finish the race. Finish what you start.”

Ten Flashes of Light on the Journey called LIFE.

Until the next crossroads…the journey continues…