Transcending White Blindness

“Blacks have no rights which the white man is bound to respect.”

-Roger Taney, Chief Justice US Supreme Court (1836-1864)

“The negro might justly and lawfully be reduced to slavery for his benefit.  He is to be bought and sold as an ordinary article of merchandise and traffic, whenever profit could be made by it”

-Roger Taney, (Dred Scott decision, 1857)

“I am invisible, understand, simply because people refuse to see… When they approach me, they see only my surroundings, themselves or figments of their imagination, indeed, everything and anything except me.”

-Ralph Ellison, Author, Invisible Man

“White folks just don’t realize how dangerous it is for a black dude to ride around in a nice car.  Total white blindness.”

-Anonymous

Dear Dr. Kane,

I am a white male who reads the articles you post on LinkedIn.   I want to commend you for the low-key, well-mannered and conciliatory tone taken following the aftermath of the slaughter of police officers in Dallas and Baton Rouge by black thugs supporting the black lives matter movement.  It is ironic that in the killing spree, they killed one of their own.  So much for “black lives matter.”

It is difficult to talk to black people about these issues.  They come off being so angry and that turns me off to where I don’t want to engage in a meaningful discussion.  I get it; your people are angry. However, that is no justification to shoot cops who are only doing their job to protect all of us.

As an educated man, maybe you can explain why black people, particularly males, refuse to follow directions when stopped by the police for a traffic infraction.  It is simple common sense; don’t break the law and consequently, you won’t have to be concerned about being pulled over by the police.

I understand.  Believe me, I get it.  This country has a sordid history due to bringing blacks here as slaves.   But when are they going to let it go?

So Dr. Kane, from one educated man to another, please write something that will help increase communications between black and white people.  Regardless of our differences, we are ALL Americans.

-Anonymous

—————————————-

My Dear Readers,

After reading this letter, I had to take a long, deep, breath. It’s hard to describe the combination of frustration, sadness and tiredness I felt.  Interestingly enough, I am not angry.

But then again, why should I be angry?  After all, the writer commended me on “the low-key, well-mannered and conciliatory tone” of my writing.  I guess I should be pleased by his validation, right?

I want to believe that my readers are people of good intentions, who may either be misinformed, uninformed or are simply ignorant.  Ignorance isn’t stupidity—it is simply the lack of knowledge on a specific subject.

The writer’s words conceptualize one of the main problems impacting communications between black and whites.  Known as white blindness, this is defined as when white people don’t realize the presence of institutional racism or subtle discrimination.   White blindness not only adversely impacts the ability to communicate on race relations , but also slows movement towards social transformation, and has many whites believing that African-Americans are making excuses for lawlessness and overstating the problems of racism.

One way for ethnic minorities to deal with white blindness is to provide factual information on issues impacting African-Americans.  For instance, the term “trauma” is often misunderstood—it is often generalized, when in all actuality, there are 13 subtypes of traumas that African-Americans can be exposed to.  As a clinical traumatologist, I have focused on the treatment of African-Americans who have been exposed to repeated incidents of complex traumatization.  I feel that it is my duty to ensure that others understand how this may color the ways that African-Americans communicate about these recent events.

These traumas are actually cumulative and can occur at any time throughout the life of an African-American in America.  Two trauma subtypes that impact African-Americans on a daily basis are Micro-aggressive assaults and Macro-aggressive assaults.

Micro-aggressive assaults are:

  • Brief and commonplace daily verbal, behavioral or environmental indignities, whether intentional or unintentional, that communicates hostile, derogatory, or negative racial slights and insults to the targeted person or group. (e.g. a black person being told he/she may not fit into a predominately white school)
  • Behaviors or statements that do not necessarily reflect malicious intent, but can still inflict insult or psychological injury. (e.g. a white person saying…”I don’t see you as black.”)
  • Subtle, but offensive comments or actions directed at an ethnic minority person or group that are often unintentional or unconsciously reinforces a stereotype (e.g.-“I thoughts all blacks grew up playing basketball.”)

In contrast, macro-aggressive assaults are open, not subtle and have a wider impact on the individual and society. Macro-aggressive assaults are:

  • Actions that reinforce fears of physical violence or death (e.g. A police officer maintaining a position of readiness to use lethal force when questioning a black person)
  • Large scale or overt aggression toward those of a different race. (e.g.-the internment of 110,000 people of Japanese ancestry during WWII)
  • Legalized acts of racism towards everyone of that race. (e.g. the Three-fifths Compromise Clause of the US Constitution reinforcing slavery)

White blindness—the willful refusal to see where these causes can influence current events—serves not only to severely impact the ability to communicate on race relations and movement towards social transformation, but it also reinforces the complex traumas that African-Americans face every day.

 

Slavery, slavery, slavery.  When are they (African-Americans) going to let it go?”

 “Letting it go” is a process.  It begins in a journey of self-discovery.  It is not unrealistic for all Americans to comprehend the devastation of slavery, or what white America at that time called “The Peculiar Institution.”  The term “peculiar” in this case means “one’s own”, referring to something distinctive to or characteristic of a particular place or people.  Now 400 years later, white Americans expect, and in some cases, demand that African-Americans “move on and let go” of what is essentially trauma and psychological destruction that has never been healed, and  that continues every day.

Letting go of the trauma of slavery and guarding against continued micro- and macro-aggressions is a generations-long process, and to ask that to happen immediately shows how white blindness and the privilege that it comes from essentially erases the pain and the trauma that African-Americans have gone through and go through today.  Progress has been made, but much more must be done.  Would we tell rape victims or victims of murder to simply “let it go?”

 

Why break the law?  Why not become law-abiding citizens? To avoid negative interactions with the police, don’t break the law and consequently, you won’t have to be concerned about being pulled over by the police.   

The question assumes as true the stereotype that African-Americans as an overall group are not law-abiding citizens.  Such stereotypes serve only to reinforce white fear of black people, and serves as the basis of support for the racial profiling and targeting law enforcement of African-Americans, specifically males.

White blindness takes the actions of individuals and labels the entire group with inclinations towards that behavior, thereby subjecting other individual (and often innocent) members of the group to pre-emptive acts of macro-assault, such as  threats of physical violence or death— in the most recent cases, by law enforcement officers who subscribe to these erroneous beliefs.

 

How does white blindness impact the perception of law enforcement?

White blindness essentially affirms individual accountability for white people.  As a result, white audiences provide unswerving loyalty towards law enforcement, which tends to be predominantly white, regardless of video evidence of police abuse.

However, the fact that this loyalty is unswerving means that those who subscribe to it also deny and devalue the historical and current experiences of the African-American community.  It is this same perception that ignores and dismisses another factual reality—that is, that African-Americans are also God’s creations and deserving of protection, by and from law enforcement.

 

Concluding Words

The deaths of the police officers in Dallas and Baton Rouge are not the acts of thugs.  Instead, these were acts of domestic terrorism.   The officers, six Caucasians, one Hispanic and one African-American across both cities, were targeted for two reasons; being members of law enforcement and their dedication to serve and protect the communities of which they were committed to.

It was President Obama that said:

“We, as a nation, have to be loud and clear that nothing justifies violence against law enforcement.  Attacks on police are an attack on all of us and the rule of law that makes society possible.”

White blindness and acts of domestic terrorism not only severely impacts the ability of individuals to communicate with each other on race relations but also slows movement towards social transformation.  However, the journey of self-discovery for the individual, society, and the nation must continue.

“We focus on the journey, not the destination.  It is what we see and experience along the way.”

-Dr. Micheal Kane

Until the next crossroads…the journey continues…

 

 

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