At The Crossroads: Empowerment When Playing The Game Is Not Enough

 

“The natives are restless.”

-New Zealand Parliamentary Debates (1868)

“If I were a black father and I was concerned about the safety of my child, really concerned about it and not in a politically activist way, I would say be very respectful to the police, most of them are good, some can be very bad and just be very careful.”

-Rudy Giuliani, former New York City Mayor

“Life is like a box of chocolates; you never know what you’re gonna get.”

-Forrest Gump

 

My Dear Readers,

Here we go again.  Black parents, be on high alert.  During a brazen convenience store robbery in downtown Seattle several days ago, a black man shot three cops, critically injuring one.  As a result, for the coming weeks and possibly months, police and other law enforcement officers will be looking at every black male with “extra caution and concern.

While the police grow restless, many of the locals are living in fear.  History has shown that when white citizens believe that black males are “dangerously out of control,” excessive violence from police towards those people go largely unnoticed, and if they are noticed, then justifications are made for that violence, or the victim is blamed for the behavior that made that police officer use force.

Fear is in the air.  The recent rash of shootings across the country perpetrated by black men in Cleveland OH, San Bernardino, CA, and Fresno CA, will, as usual, be seen as a reflection on black males in American in general, despite the individual people, places and circumstances in these particular situations.  As a result, the suspicion with which many police departments and officers view black men will and has turned to active harassment and preemptive violence, and thus, black males of all ages should take extra precautions regarding their personal safety.  Although the individuals involved were apprehended, police history with black citizens tells us that this episode of tension has just begun.

In my previous writing, The Visible Man: Running The RACE Smarter Not Harder, I stated that our children are our Achilles Heel; they are our vulnerability, which can be used against us as parents and as individuals. Historically, African-American parents have sought to shield their children from these cruel realities.

I received many responses to that piece from parents and young adults, with mixed results.  Parents felt that they were shamed for providing their young adults a comfortable lifestyle and felt that the piece accused them of not doing enough to prepare their children for the realities of living in a society that can be harsh to and can reject them simply because of the color of their skin.  Comments included the following:

  • “African-Americans have the right to live wherever we choose to. If I choose to raise my children in a suburban community, and I can afford to send them to a private school, that is my business and my right to do so.  You are wrong to suggest otherwise.”
  • “You should be ashamed of yourself, not being supportive of hard working black folks struggling to provide a better life for their children. There is nothing wrong with living in an affluent community and sending your child to a private school.”
  • “Of all people, you should know hard it is to raise black children these days. Instead of criticizing our parenting and putting down our young people, please focus on uplifting our young people, especially our young men. They need all the help they can get!”

Young adults, on the other hand, appeared to be more sensitive to my comments about seeking the same comfortable living style they were raised in and the privilege they have experienced in not having to deal with the stressors that come with being black in a white societal structure:

  • I am tired of people like you hating on us. I have the right to live where I want, and go wherever I want.
  • Yeah, I live in the suburbs. I am tired of people staring at me and treating me like I don’t belong here.
  • You old people had your turn. It is our day now.  You and the police can go f__k yourselves.”

I would prefer to embrace the comments and seek to understand the underlying themes of anger, frustration and survival embedded in these remarks.  In essence, these individuals, long ignored, are speaking their truth and they deserve to be listened to and to be understood.

One common theme in these responses emerged for me: the repeated exposure to experiences, acts and incidents of race-related stress in the form of micro-aggressive and macro-aggressive assaults.  This  repetitive exposure can be traumatic and lead to feelings of powerlessness and helplessness.

These are defined in the following:

  • Race-related stress: stress occurring from a race-related adverse event
  • Micro-aggressive assaults: constant repetitive direct and indirect acts (e.g., racial profiling, suspicious intent and stereotyping)
  • Macro-aggressive assaults: fear of and/or threats of physical violence

Many older black people have learned to survive by “playing the game” and in doing so, have achieved upward mobility, social status and wealth.  However, those achievements have not, do not, and will not exempt us from adverse treatment based on the color of our skin.

Our ongoing exposure to race-related adverse events exposes us to the complex trauma of race related stress; as parents, in our attempt to protect our children, we unconsciously pass our fears into our offspring, who in turn, are sent out, vulnerable and exposed, into a hostile societal environment.

Just “playing the game” is not enough to  insure the psychological well-being of ourselves, let alone our children. So, what are we to do?  I have responses for both parents and young adults.

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My Dear Parents,

“What we’ve got to do is hear from the black community.”

-Rudy Giuliani, former New York City Mayor

What do we do?

We must understand that we have the choice to either:

  • Live IN Fear– waiting for the next action or incident of race related stress and therefore being forced to react to the event, or :
  • Live WITH Fear– understanding the immediate possibility of race related adverse events to occur and seeking to prepare a response to the occurring event.

 What can we do?

We can transform the strategy the way we interact with our young adults

  • We can lead by example by understanding that a reaction may place oneself in danger whereas a response can be one that is calming, collective and based on calculation of thought and action.
  • We can cease focusing on protecting our young people from race related adverse events; understanding that in doing so we may be encasing or encircling them with our fears and experiences.
  • We can transform the way in which we seek to parent our adolescents as they move closer to adulthood; with strategies moving away from managing, supervising and directing towards strategies employing advocacy and coaching.
  • We can encourage mental health intervention when our young people become psychologically overwhelmed.

How do we protect our young people from the policeFrom a hostile and rejecting community?  From being impacted from trauma?

We can start by transforming the focus from protection to empowerment.  We can work towards reducing the internalized parental impulse to live in fear and transform the focus from being powerless to gaining empowerment.

Reinforce the ABC model : Advocacy, Balance & Calmness

  • Advocacy– Have an awareness of the social and physical environment in which you work, play, or reside. Understand that even though in the company of others, you are at risk of being profiled and subsequently abandoned by your friends or colleagues when interacting with law enforcement.
  • Balance– When interacting with law enforcement, understand that you, without having being involved in any illegal or criminal activity, may be viewed with suspicion and mistrust. Maintain   Comply with all directions by the police officer.  Make slow body movements.  Keep your hands away from your body.
  • CalmnessSlow down your breathing. Take a respite within the psychological self.  Allow the police officer to control your physical space.  Remember that although the police officer has legal authority, you have empowerment with the self to step away from the encounter… alive with minimum psychological impact.

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Concluding Words

My Dear Young Adults,

Racism will not be legislated away.  It lies buried deep within the human heart. It can and will strike without notice or hesitation.  It is for you to learn how to respond to racism rather than react towards it.

 “Be a bottle of water, not a can of soda.” -Unknown

You can choose to be the water that calmly fills the glass with completeness and fulfillment instead of being the can of soda that, when shaken, explodes wildly and without direction or purpose.

Finally, hold on to the words and wisdom of Valerie Castile, mother of Philando Castile, recently shot to death by a police officer in St. Anthony, Minnesota:

“If you get stopped by the police…comply, comply, comply.”

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For additional information regarding Dr. Kane, please visit http://www.lovingmemore.com

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The Visible Man: Running The RACE Smarter, Not Harder

 

“To be a Negro in this country and to be relatively conscious is to be in rage almost all the time.”

-James Baldwin, Novelist (1924-1987)

“Be a bottle of water, and not a can of soda.”

-Anonymous

“You can run, but you can’t hide”

-Joe “The Brown Bomber” Louis, World Heavyweight Boxing Champion (1937-1949)

My Dear Readers,

The African Diaspora is a term commonly used to describe the communities throughout the world that are descended from the historic movement of people from Africa during the Transatlantic Slave Trade from the 1500 to the 1800’s.  In addition to North American and Europe, the African Diaspora includes South America and the Caribbean.

Between 1525 and 1866, in the entire history of the slave trade of the New World, 12.5 million Africans were shipped to the New World.  Of those 10.7 survived the dreaded Middle Passage. (Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade Database, 2014)

Following the American Civil War and the passing of the 13th (freedom), 14th,  (citizenship) and 15th (voting rights) amendments to the Constitution, these Africans went on to endure another 150 years of oppression in the form of segregation, Jim Crow laws and domestic terrorism by groups such as the Ku Klux Klan.  After the turbulence of the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s, African-Americans have finally achieved acceptance… somewhat.

Today I prepare for my own journey to Washington, D.C., for the celebration of the descendants of the African Diaspora at the  National Association of Black Social Workers 49th Annual Conference.  The focus of this year conference is: “Unmasking Politics & Policies: Strengthening the Black Family.”

This organization and its conference focuses on issues that impact the black family, which have historically been ignored and where acknowledged, underserved by other mainstream social work organizations.

It is not lost on me that unlike my ancestors, who came to this region of the Diaspora traumatized, chained together, naked, and soiling on themselves, I can travel as a free man. Yet, freedom for a African-American man today comes at a price…. constant vigilance.

————————

Dear Visible Man,

I so angry I don’t know what else to do.  I am 19 years old and a college student.  When I was recently home visiting with my family, I was accosted by the police and arrested for obstructing a police officer.

I was handcuffed, booked into the county jail and forced to spend the night in a cell where I was treated like a caged animal.   The next day, I was released without any charges being filed.

The police stopped me for no other reason other than being black driving in a suburban neighborhood.   When the police stopped me, I turned on my video recorder.  The officer told me several times to turn it off, but I politely refused, stating that it was my legal right to videotape the interaction.

I knew I was right about this because I learned it in my class last semester.   The next thing I know, I am being pulled out of my car and thrown on the ground, handcuffed and placed in a police car.

The police violate my rights and I am the one who goes to jail?  For what? Being in a white middle class neighborhood?  I happen to live there.  That’s right—I live there, the very same community where I attended private school.

If I had been white, this bullshit would never had happened.  I once read about the same thing happening to a white guy driving for Uber and the police who stopped him let him go without arresting him after he refused to turn off his own video recording.

What does he have that I don’t have? White male privilege.  My parents tell me I can get ahead by playing the game, staying out of trouble and getting an education. But what does that get me?  I get to spend the night in jail with brothers I have nothing in common with.

I’m looking forward to getting back to my lily-white private college in the Midwest.  At least there is an advantage to being one of the few black males on campus and the only one studying chemical engineering—everybody knows me and they don’t see me as a threat.   I’ve been home for a week, and I have been stopped more times in that week than the three years I have been away at school.

Despite the comfortable life that my parents provided me, I know that racism for me is never going to end.  My parents told me about racism, but I wish my parents had warned me better.  The hell with this; I’m going back to school, I’m gonna find a graduate program, and stay there.

-Searching for Safety, Tacoma

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My Dear Young Man,

I can see the emotional suffering and psychological trauma in your letter.  However, what you did not acknowledge is the anguish and suffering of your parents.  You are, as all of our children are, our pride and joy and yet, you are also our Achilles Heel.

An “Achilles Heel” is defined as a weak or vulnerable point on a person of overall strength, which can lead to downfall.

As parents, we do what we can to protect our children from the horrors of the world.  In your case, your parents, blessed with financial capabilities, sheltered you in a protected world (i.e., suburban home, private schools etc.)

However, as parents, we can only do so much.  There comes a developmental stage in your life commonly known as “young adulthood” in which you must gather the skills, knowledge and wisdom to protect yourself.

If you understand from your parents teaching you to “learn to play the game” then it is up to you to take it to the next level of “running the RACE smarter, not harder.”  The RACE I am referring to is Responsibility, Accountability, Consequences and Empowerment.  Specifically:

  • Responsibility –you are alone and must therefore advocate for yourself.
  • Accountability-you may be called to answer for things not of your making or choosing. Therefore, you must seek balance in your thoughts and feelings and maintain awareness to your surroundings.
  • Consequences– can be transformed into responses instead of unprepared reactions. It is through our alertness that we maintain calmness in our external environment
  • Empowerment-we can achieve the objective of leaving the incident alive with the minimum impact of emotional distress or psychological trauma.

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Concluding Words

My Dear Young Man,

There are three realities in an African-American’s life:

  • One, racism is a growing cancer that is well bedded in the fabric of America.
  • Two, racism will be here long after you are gone.
  • Three, you can thrive; achieving the life you desire despite the long term psychological impacts of racism.

It is ironic that you have chosen to “go back that lily-white private college in the Midwest” where you are known as one of the few African-American males on campus.  The underlying message may be that you are seeking a “protected environment” in which you can enjoy the privileges of a lifestyle you have not earned, because of the fact that it was given to you by your hard-working parents.

 “You can run, but you can’t hide.

Running away as far as you can for safety will not help you avoid the emotional wounds and psychological damage that awaits you in the future of being a African-American man. You have the choice of continuing to live in the emotional wound created in the incident or you can empower yourself by walking your journey of self-discovery.

“Be a bottle of water, not a can of soda.”

 You can choose to be the water that calmly fills the glass with completeness and fulfillment instead of being the can of soda that, when shaken, enters the environment exploding wildly and without direction.

We are born to live and live to die.  The question of the journey of self-discovery, notwithstanding our contributions, is the quality of the lives we live and the lives we touch.

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Yesterday has passed, today is fading and tomorrow is not promised.  Stay with the moment.  Walk the journey of self-discovery.

-Dr. Micheal Kane

For more information regarding Dr. Kane visit http//www.lovingmemore.com.