“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.”
“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
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.
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.
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.