“I want this gorilla off my back!!”
-Patient screaming in session, referring to his fear
“Panel discussions on the news (media) and talk shows are useless. Same old shit. The feds claim there will be thorough investigations, and the police still keep killing black men.”
-William, 37, high school teacher
“Yet white folks get upset when we riot. What the hell are we supposed to do…stand around and smile…wait calmly while they kill us?”
-Julian, 16, Student
“When I am out driving, I got my gun lying in my lap…. waiting for the cops. I am not going out like a bitch with my hands up. If my car breaks down, and they are going to take me; I am not going out alone.”
“Man, I am so angry. I tried talking about the shooting in Tulsa with my white coworkers. They immediately changed the subject. White folks don’t care about what or us we feel. It’s been that way for hundreds of years.”
-Robbie, 46, city employee
“I wanted to talk to my pastor. Hell, he cancelled church services, saying it was too dangerous to for a black man to be out after dark.”
-Tim, 28, transit worker
“I tried talking to a white therapist about my feelings. He sat there looking at me. Do you know what that fool says, he asks how does the incident make you feel? I start yelling. He tells me I need anger management and refers me to see you. Now what do you have to say?”
-Kevin, 31, laborer
My Dear Readers,
Enough. I have simply had enough. I have been writing these weekly blogs for three years following the death of my Linda, my beloved spouse. Last week, I realized that I was burnt out and made a commitment to “take care of self” by taking a break from the weekly blogs. Clearly, a respite was in order and the intention was that the previous week’s writing would be my last for an extended period if, in fact, I decide to return.
Well, today I broke the commitment I made to my psychological self. The sounds of too much pain and anguish from my patients broke me, and I had listened to enough. The very last clinical session was the tipping point. In that session, I saw an African-American veteran suffering from PTSD from the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. His safety, he believes, lies with him carrying his concealed weapon. He is fearful of being pulled over by the police and mistakenly being shot, but he is adamant about his Second Amendment right to bear arms.
I was able to convince him to leave his weapon at home, but the fear of death at the hands of the police remained. He continues to hold to the illusion of a legal and constitutional right that is published as applicable to all American citizens, but in practice, is only really safe for white men to exercise. When he walked out of my office, I admit, I thought of him as a “dead man walking.” As he disappeared down the stairs, I saw in him what the majority of black males today in America are doing, feeling and experiencing: living in fear.
Living in fear is not living; instead living in fear is about surviving or simply put, just staying alive. So how does a black man in this situation live? By riding around with a gun lying on his lap? Waiting for a confrontation with the police? Nope. That’s just another black man waiting to die. Might as well call it suicide by cop. Yes, this poor wretch will go out in his blaze of glory, stereotyped as another crazed black man who had to be killed.
There is another way. Rather than living in fear that reinforces the desperation to survive, we can move towards transforming fear into empowerment. We can focus on hopelessness, helplessness, and powerlessness by seeking empowerment of the psychological self. Specifically, we can attain empowerment through utilization of the clinical models ABC (Advocacy, Balance and Calmness) and Taking Care of Self (VETING).
- Advocacy– Become an advocate for yourself. Know when to hold or show your cards. Know when to speak and what to say.
- Don’t expect others who have not lived the experience of being a black male in America to emotionally understand your feelings or experiences.
- Understand that white blindness (the desire to ignore racial oppression) and black silence (the propensity of black people to remain silent in the face of oppression) is a factor in daily living, but that there are empathetic and compassionate allies both within and outside of law enforcement who are aware of what is occurring and also seeking an end to the violence being directed towards black males.
- Balance-Remember that your power lies within you, and cannot be taken from you without your consent. Balance your anger with your wisdom.
- Remember, being stopped/pulled over by the police is outside of your control. However, the way you handle (balance) the situation is up to you.
- Follow the police officer’s instructions. Show by your actions and behavior that you are not a threat. Never ever run from a police officer. Remember the Five R’s of RELIEF:
- Respite-take a breath (breathe slowly)
- Reaction-own your feelings
- Reflection-balance your feelings and thoughts
- Response-decide what appropriate actions you may want to take (if mistreated, file a formal complaint)
- Reevaluate– the experience, lessons learned and how to respond the next time (accept the possibility that this may happen again)
- Calmness-Use your balance and your inner empowerment to project calmness to the outside world. Use this to defuse the situation.
- Do not allow your pride to speak for you.
- Allow the police officer to control the situation. Remember although the police officer maintains legal authority (power,) empowerment lies within you. One’s empowerment is a self-driven gift. It cannot be taken, only given away.
Empowerment: Taking Care of Self (VETING)
(V) Vulnerability- Be open to support.
- Communicate with other black men who are experiencing similar feelings.
- Seek to identify allies who are empathetic and have compassion for the emotions you are experiencing.
(E) Exposure-be open to your internalized experience.
- Reveal what is truly going on within you.
- Have the willingness to be in touch with your pain, suffering and experiences.
(T) Trust-Maintain an ongoing level of trust in the journey you have chosen.
- Focus on reliance and confidence of your own value, truth and self-worth.
- Focus on the knowing that in your life, space and meaning that you are truly the priority.
(ING) ING-The constant state of “doing” and “being”
- Taking care of me.
- Looking out for me.
Recommendations in Seeking Mental Health Assistance
Although the race of the mental health provider may be a factor to you in seeking assistance, remember:
- Do not allow concerns about race to inhibit, prevent or deter you from achieving mental health wellness.
- Look for a mental health provider who is an empathic compassionate listener.
- Have the willingness to allow yourself to fully explore and express the emotions that are internalized.
- Work towards the development of a comfort zone that allows the “fullness of you” to be expressed.
Don’t ignore the feelings of your loved ones
- Embrace your loved ones when departing and returning home.
- Do a daily check in by phone with spouse and family.
- Be in regular contact with extended family especially when they reside outside the local area.
- When away in the evenings, alert spouse and family members of the estimated time of arrival to your destination and/or any stops before arriving home.
Concluding Words- The Meaning of the Content of One’s Character
A fellow colleague recently asked me what it was like being a black man in America.
I am the son of a police officer. I have also served my country during military service. I am educated, a homeowner and have raised my children. I have spoken before the US Congress, and have authored a publication which has been utilized as a teaching tool for graduate schools and clinicians working in the area of complex trauma. In my lifetime I have been stopped and questioned by the police for the following reasons:
- Driving while black
- Walking while black
- Waiting for the bus while black
- Standing outside a business while black
- Drinking coffee while black
- Eating while black
- Reading while black
- Waving my arms while black (threatening gesture)
Now due to the recent fatal shooting of the motorist in Tulsa OK, I now have to be concerned with “vehicle trouble while black.” Or, based on what happened to Keith Lamont Scott in Charlotte, NC, “reading while black.”
I live with the knowledge that the color and darkness of my skin is more important to others than my achievements and contributions to society and my community.
As a result of the legacy of police shootings, white folks talk among themselves, black congregations pray, and local police departments throughout the country nervously patrol the streets. We slowly dance the dance of caution, as we fear the worst and hope for the best as the nation awaits the outcome of the formal investigations of the shootings.
Are the police to blame for the shootings? Nope. It is not about blame. Yes, the police culture needs to transform—they are sworn to protect and serve the communities they are in. In fact, the police culture, in its resistance to transformation reflects the values, the stereotypes and prejudices of all of us.
As we seek transformation within law enforcement and the policing of our citizens, the same citizens must want to seek transformation by ending their own white blindness and black silence that is paralyzing the country and our communities. Until that occurs, black people will continue to be at risk while being either interacting with or under the control of police authority. Meanwhile, the local police officer will continue to feel that he/she is being tossed under the bus as they continue to go out every day to serve their communities.
“Should the police shoot me during a brake light check, I just hope I live. If I don’t make it, Dr. Kane, please tell my wife that I love her, don’t live with hate and raise our sons to be good men”.
-William, 39, Engineer
“Black lives matter. Blue lives matter.”
“At the end of the day, we all want the same goal, that being to be able to live our homes for the purpose of work, school or enjoyment and be able to return safely to our loved ones.”
-Dr. Micheal Kane
A final word:
Martin Luther King Jr. in his I Have a Dream speech stated,
“I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.”
“I have a dream that my four children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”
The dream remains unfulfilled. Can it be done? We can together to take the dream and make it into a reality.
Gone again on my respite… See you next year.
Until the next crossroads…the journey continues…