Responding to White Blindness

“The impulse to dream was slowly beaten out of me by experience.  Now, I surge up again and I hunger for books, new ways of looking and seeing.”

-Richard Wright, Native Son

“Unfortunately, history has shown us that brotherhood must be learned, when it should be natural.”

-Josephine Baker, Dancer, Singer & Actress

“I want history to remember me not as the first black woman to be elected to Congress, nor as the first black woman to make a bid for the presidency of the United States, but as a black woman who lived in the 20th century and dared to be herself.”

-Shirley Chisholm, US Congresswoman, Unbought and Unbossed

 

Dear Dr. Kane:

Thank you for putting this person in his/her place.  Obviously, they have no clue what it is like as an African-American man or woman in this society either now or in the past.  They don’t know what it’s like to deal with covert racism when the smile is in your face and the knife is in your back.

They don’t have to walk into a restaurant wearing a $500 suit and not be served simply because your skin is black, while a white man or woman with the same or similar $500 suit would be served with a smile, no less.

I’m so sick and tired of white people telling black people to “let it go.”  Why should black people let it go?  How can black people let it go?  White people haven’t let it go.  They remind African-Americans every day that in their eyes, we don’t exist.  That’s “white blindness.”

I am right there with you Dr. Kane, with the sadness, frustration, and the tiredness.  I applaud your posts for opening up the eyes of all Americans.

Mad as Hell, Seattle WA

—————————————————-

My Dear Readers,

I have received so many responses to last week’s blog Transcending White Blindness that I felt a follow-up post would be warranted.

The responses I received fell into three camps:

  • The feeling that I misunderstood the writer’s intent
  • Apologizing for the writer
  • Mad as Hell (at the writer and interestingly, a few at me for stating that I was not angry for what had been written).

 

Misunderstanding the writer’s intent

It is entirely possible that I may have misunderstood the writer’s intent.  It appears that he wanted to dialogue with an educated black man with whom he could feel safe.  It was apparent that through my blog writings the writer found me to be low-key, well-mannered and conciliatory.

Non-threatening, “safe” black people are the type of black people that white people who suffer from white blindness feel most comfortable interacting with—the stereotype of the “good Negro.” This would be the type of black person that a person suffering from white blindness would hold up as an example of how black people are expected to act in order to get the respect, regard, and human rights that they ask for.  What makes this part of white blindness is that these are the things that are afforded white people, regardless of their tone, their attitude, and their manners.

 

Apologizing for the writer

 “I am so, so, sorry. I want to apologize. I feel terrible about the statements he made.”

I got quite a few responses from people who did not write the letter apologizing for the statements put forth.   This comes from the well-meaning and potentially accurate concern that I had personally suffered a psychological wounding due to the micro-aggressive assault of the letter. However, as well-intended as it is, the apology neither soothes the pain nor heals the wound.

The issue here is that the apologist discounts the belief system and the white blindness of the original writer. By apologizing, the respondent is trying to negate the trauma and minimize the impact of the pain that has occurred—not for my sake as the recipient, but for their own guilt and shame in sharing a skin color with the original writer.  At the end of the day, we must all accept the words of the original writer for what it is.  Only when we see these things for what they are, can we truly derive benefit from discussing it.

 

Mad as Hell

There were many who responded similarly to “Mad As Hell,” sharing their anger at the original writer for his blindness and insensitivity, but there were also a number of respondents who directed their anger towards me—I was called an Uncle Tom in one memorable message—for not being angry enough in my response to the original writer.

As I stated in the previous blog, ignorance is merely the lack of knowledge.  It is not helpful to me or anyone else to reward the lack of knowledge with shame for the lack of knowledge.  If I were to be angry with this writer, he wouldn’t learn anything—he would simply reinforce his erroneous beliefs about African-Americans.

 

Why are African-Americans “Mad as Hell” regarding white blindness?

 Trauma. To restate from the previous blog, African-Americans are susceptible to 13 different subtypes of complex trauma, which   are cumulative and can appear daily and suddenly.

The subtype of complex trauma impacting this group is known as “The Invisibility Syndrome.”  Invisibility traumatization occurs within the psychological self as an inner struggle with the feelings that one’s talents, abilities, personality, and worth are not recognized and valued because of prejudice and racism.

Societal white blindness supports and reinforces the invisibility, refusing to acknowledge the achievements of the individual and instead stereotypes and ignores, targeting them as a group.

Regardless of achievement or accomplishment, the wounding created by the trauma of invisibility has long lasting impact on the psychological self.  Below is an example:

At a recent community group meeting, one of the attendees “hijacked” the presentation away from the facilitators by constantly inserting his views and himself while not sharing the discussion with the other attendees.  This individual was so enamored with himself and his own expertise, he did not notice that the other attendees grew exasperated every time he spoke.

 Although he interrupted others, seeking to control the discussion, he became incensed when he was interrupted.    At one point he jokingly stated he should be addressed as “Dr.” Was he joking?

No, he was not.   The actions forespoken are indicative of an African-American professional person who has an extensive history of being shunned, ignored and silenced by white blindness.   At the meeting, he found an environment where he could project the true essence of his long-denied self, and in doing so, he could finally be listened to and for once, valued and validated—regardless of the actual responses of his audience.

 

How does the individual respond to the trauma of Invisibility Syndrome or the other remaining 12 subtypes of complex trauma? 

One, come out of the darkness, stay into the light.  Acknowledge the trauma, but realize that you are wounded, not broken.  You can heal, and you are not beyond repair.

”I am wounded, but I am not broken.  I can heal.  I want to heal.  I will heal.”

Two, follow the therapeutic model Five R’s of RELIEF (respite, reaction, reflective, response and reevaluation).   When struck by a subtype of complex trauma like micro-aggression or invisibility syndrome, seek the following:

  • Respite-step away from the incident (e.g. take a breath, short walk, listen to music, read)
  • Reaction-own your feeling e.g. (anger, disappointment, frustration)
  • Reflection-seek calmness (e.g. balance your feelings and thoughts
  • Response-share your response with the external world (e.g. the person who created the situation, family, friends/peers)
  • Reevaluate-explore the actions and behaviors taken (e.g. what did I learn? How will I response to a similar situation next time)

 Three, Stop looking outside the psychological self for awareness, acknowledgement and most of all…acceptance.  Focus on loving the self and afterward…love me more.   It is a reality that the societal disease of white blindness cannot thrive without those it seeks to either deny or ignore constantly seeking validation of those who suffer from that blindness.

 

Concluding Words

I am a “child of segregation.”  As a child of eight, I was thrust into the battleground of the fight for civil rights.  I was snatched from the warmth of a “colored school” and made to attend an integrated school of which I was the only black male in my class.  It was then that I became fully aware of the impact of white blindness whereas for two years as my white classmates ignored the “nigra”.

Today I continue to be traumatized by invisibility and victimized by white blindness. Am I angered by it? Yes.  However, anger is merely an emotion that must be harvested, balanced, and redirected.   Hence I write, processing my feelings and in doing so, hopefully educating my beloved readership.  If one person benefits from my writing, then I have achieved my goals.

White blindness is a societal disease, which, like fear and intolerance, is passed down inter-generationally.  This disease can be treated and eventually eradicated.  However, it begins with the individual, and from there, flows within and throughout the society.

And yes, we are ALL Americans.

 “Hatred paralyzes life; love releases it.  Hatred confuses life; love harmonizes it.  Hatred darkens life; love illuminates it.”

-Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Until the next crossroads…. the journey continues.

 

 

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