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.

——————————-

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.

——————————————

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.”

*******************************************

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

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