“Still waters run deep. Shallow waters run dry frequently.”
-Thomas County Cat, (publication Thomas County, Kansas 1890)
“All water has a perfect memory and is forever trying to get back to where it was.”
-Toni Morrison, Author and Nobel Laureate
“Rain is a blessing when it falls gently on parched fields, turning the earth green, causing the birds to sing.”
-Donald Worster, Author, Meeting the Expectations of the Land, 1984)
My Dear Readers,
The proverb “still waters run deep” typically means that a placid exterior often hides a passionate or subtle nature. In the past, however, it also served as a warning that silent people are dangerous. This week, we will explore the silence between white and African-American communities in America, and how it reinforces the danger. The outlying issues are the fear and distrust beholding both communities who share the well.
One of the respondents to the “Transcending White Blindness” blog shared:
“Thank you for putting this person in his/her place. Obviously they have no clue what it is like as an African-American (Black) man or woman in this society today or yesterday. They don’t know what it is like to deal with covert racism when the smile is in your face and the knife is in your back.”
I responded to that letter the following week in the blog “Responding to White Blindness,” but I want to specifically address this comment. I can understand the anger and pain being endured by the writer, but my intention was and remains to utilize the blog writings as a means to provide information that hopefully will serve as a resource for building a solid foundation as they continue their own journeys of self-discovery.
For better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and health, until death do us part or worse, European-Americans and African-Americans are bound together. Our common bond is our silence. White blindness is a societal disease that continues to shackle the dominant majority. For African-Americans, it is weathering the daily and cumulative impact of 13 different subtypes of complex trauma, while not taking steps to heal the psychological wounds due to negative cultural views against mental health treatment.
People in both groups want better lives for their children. However, along with their silence, they pass fear, intolerance, and lack of acceptance inter-generationally to their children who, in turn, pass the same to their children and so on and so on.
We speak of better lives for our children, and yet, we don’t model those better lives for them because of our ignorance and our fear of the unknown.
A recent example of that ignorance and fear of the unknown comes from Wyckoff, New Jersey. An internal investigation by state authorities revealed in 2014 that then police chief Benjamin Fox had sent departmental emails stating that racial profiling “has its place in law enforcement.”
Specifically, Chief Fox stated:
“Profiling, racial or otherwise, has its place in law enforcement when used correctly and applied fairly. Black gang members from Teaneck commit burglaries in Wyckoff. That’s why we check out suspicious Black people in white neighborhoods.
It would be insane to think that the police should just “dumb down” just to be politically correct. The public wants us to keep them safe and I am confident that they want us to use our skills and knowledge to attain that goal.”
The response from monitoring organizations was swift and pointed. The ACLU stated, “Racial profiling has no place in policing New Jersey.” The Bergen County Prosecutor and the State Attorney General issued a joint statement, declaring:
“On its face, the email appears to be a clear violation of the Attorney General’s policy strictly prohibiting racial profiling by police officers. We are conducting a full investigation and will take all appropriate measures.”
Translation: “The chief of police who we ALL trusted got caught doing a very bad thing. As the overseers of law enforcement, “we are on it” and will take the appropriate steps to see that this does not happen again.”
As of last week, his comments resulted in a 180-day suspension without pay and a demotion to patrolman.
Problem solved, right? African-Americans can now take a small amount of comfort that they will not be racially profiled in the city of Wyckoff, N.J. However, given that there are 12,501 local police departments within the United States, there is another message these 765,000 sworn and commissioned officers may be receiving.
“The community (white) wants us to protect them when suspicious people (blacks) in come into their neighborhoods. Yet these same people (whites) are silent when we get caught doing what they demand of us.”
Ignorance is defined as the lack of information. Former Chief Fox is not being punished for his ignorance, but more for saying what he said in public, and running the risk of embarrassing his fellow officers around the country. In doing so, he brings into the light a fear in which those reacting to white blindness seek desperately to keep hidden.
Ignorance. Fear of the Unknown.
While white blindness continues to be an issue, there is also a blindness that pervades my black brothers and sisters. In my 30+ years of providing mental health services to the African-Americans community, one belief has remained firm: the silence and the unwillingness to acknowledge the impact of negative mental health outcomes and their link to the impact of substance abuse, domestic violence, high unemployment and other social maladies in our communities.
And still, we remain silent.
Yes, African-Americans have made significant achievements in the areas of commerce, science, education, medicine, the arts etc. Yet, these contributions have not come without significant negative consequences. There are reportedly 13 subtypes of complex traumas, which are cumulative and can impact African-Americans on a daily basis.
And still, we remain silent.
As African-Americans continue to view mental health care as a negative and continue to accept the dysfunction that arrives with non-focused mental health care, our silence reinforces the belief that mental illness is a weakness and a handicap. Instead, we must want to see it for what it truly is: a condition that is a response to one’s societal environment.
“Let the rain kiss you. Let the rain beat upon your head with silver liquid drops. Let the rain sing you a lullaby.”
-Langston Hughes, “The Negro Speaks of Rivers”
Information can be treated like rain. As it falls upon you, allow that information to enter and to bring light to what that was once darkness. Let us return to our respective communities and do the work that can be done as we learn to live with our fear instead of in our fear.
“Some people feel the rain. Others just get wet.”
-Bob Marley, Musician
There will always be those among us, regardless of race, who will choose to live in denial. Among the 12,501 local police departments throughout the country, many may be inspired to make change by Chief Fox’s actions, whereas others may stay within darkness, being silent when racial profiling occurs within their departments.
There will also be those within the African-American community who will continue to disavow mental health care and minimize mental health treatment for those who could benefit. We all have work to do in our respective communities. Silence like white blindness begins with the individual, and from there, flows within and throughout the society, and stepping away from that behavior begins with the individual too.
“We must learn to live together as brothers and sisters or we will perish together as fools.”
-John Lewis, US Congressman & Civil Rights Activist
Until the next crossroads….the journey continues…