The Visible Man: Images vs. Reflections

“I also don’t believe in drugs…  I don’t want it near schools- I don’t want it sold to children. That’s an infamia.  In my city, we would keep the traffic in the dark people- the coloreds.  They’re animals anyway, so let them lose their souls.”

-Giuseppe “Joe Z” Zaluchi, The Godfather (1972)

“Captain Hanks, I have spent most of my life in the navy trying only to succeed.  However, my quest has come as a great personal loss to those who love me.  They too have made sacrifices.  They too have endured great pains to support me.  If I walk these twelve steps today, reinstate me to active duty.  Give me my career back, let me finish it and go home in peace.”

-US Navy Master Chief Carl Brashear, Men Of Honor (2000)

My Dear Readers,

As we celebrate Father’s Day, I am struck by the the racist and stereotyped depictions of African-American people in some movies and yet encouraged by the efforts of others to combat those depictions with more accurate and representative images in other movies.

In one film, The Godfather, none of the major characters are black, but during a pivotal scene, they are spoken of as “animals” and “people who have no souls,” and thus, deserved to be sold into the heroin drug trade.

In contrast, the movie Men of Honor tells the true story of US Navy Master Diver Carl Brashear, a strong black man who, despite overwhelming odds, stood up to racism within the armed forces and retires from military service with honor.  For his performance, Cuba Gooding Jr. received the NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Actor in a Motion Picture.

Images

We have many images of strong black fathers holding their own despite the overwhelming odds, struggling, and standing against racism, discrimination, and oppression.  Such fathers include notables such as Nobel Peace Prize winners Barack Obama (2009), Martin Luther King Jr. (1964) and Ralph Bunche (1950).

We also live with the images of fathers who are unknown to us.  As they are unknown so are their sacrifices and contributions.  Men such as the black soldiers who served in segregated labor battalions in France during World War I, who not only suffered psychological trauma from the work of locating and burying the war dead, but were vilified by White soldiers for that work as well.   The segregated all Black 761st Tank Battalion, which fought during World War II as an independent unit because no white American units wanted to be associated with them, but still fought gallantly, in the process capturing or destroying 331 machine gun nests, 58 cement pillboxes, and 461 armored vehicles.

Despite their courage and their achievements, both Generals Patton and Eisenhower  turned down requests for official recognition. To add insult to injury, General Patton once remarked:

“The 761st gave a very good first impression, but I have no faith in the inherent fighting ability of the [black] race.”

There are countless examples of these known and unknown stories of these black fathers.   My father was one of them.  Theodore T. Kane served his country in military service that included two tours in Vietnam, and after retiring from the military, he served another 20 years as a federal law enforcement officer.  My father was all about his image, appearing professional, “being all you can be,” and proving himself to be equal to his white colleagues.  When he died, none of his previous or current law enforcement supervisory/managerial staff sent a note of condolences to the family or attended his funeral service.

W.E.B. DuBois, a black sociologist and historian who lived from 1868 to 1963 once reflected that for a black man living in America:

“It’s a peculiar sensation.  This double consciousness, this sense of always looking at one’s self through the eyes of others, and measuring one’s soul by the tape of a world that looks on in amused contempt and pity.”

History has shown that for hundreds of years, African-Americans, particularly men, have been doing the “right thing for the wrong reasons.”  It is human nature to be want to be validated by others, but the psychological error and therefore repeated failure to attain that validation comes from “looking at one’s self through the eyes of others.” We continue to measure ourselves by a standard that is both strengthened and perpetuated by our very failure to attain it.

Concluding Words

In the face of all of this, I believe that black fathers should not just simply live their lives, but to BE life for their families. Breathe love and life into your spouses and children.  Stop focusing on what others think about you.  Stop focusing on the imagery and be more concerned about substance.  Be the best father you can be.  Along with professional or work-related goals, seek the life you want and be the father you want to be with and for your children.

Racism and stereotypes are never going to go away.  Both are about fear, and such fear lies so deep within the individual’s soul that it cannot be forced away.  Only the individual holding such feelings can let it go.

Our choices are simple…we can advocate for self, seek balance in our internalized world and calmness in our external environment, and measure our own souls by the love and peace and joy we find in the worlds we build for our families and our communities.

My children are my blessings.  I look forward to walking my daughter down the aisle of matrimony and holding my first grandchild.  Again…don’t simply live life…be life.

Until we speak again… The Visible Man

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

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The ABCs of Parenting With (And Not In) Fear

“You must listen to me, my son. They don’t hear your voice.  They just see the color of your skin.  You understand?

It’s okay son…I know you want this to be over.  I’m right here.  I will be right here.  But you don’t give up.  You hear me? As long as you still grab a breath, you fight.  You breathe… keep breathing.

My son… I’m right here.  You hear me?

All I had was that boy – and he took him from me.

I ain’t afraid to die anymore.  I’d done it already.”

-Hugh Glass, The Revenant  (2015)

My Dear Readers,

In the 2015 movie The Revenant, the explorer Hugh Glass, played by Leonardo DiCaprio, experiences the same psychological traumatization that black parents experience in today’s society while seeking to protect their children.   In the film, Glass struggles to help his headstrong, half-Native American, teenage son understand the danger he is in due to prejudice about his race, and how to survive and stay alive in the “world of the white man.”

Later in the movie, having been severely wounded in an encounter with a grizzly bear, Glass watches helplessly as his son is murdered, which symbolizes the end of Glass’ own life, and leaves him simply a spirit looking to avenge the death of his boy.

In this, the month of graduations, proms, and other celebrations of the transition from one stage of life to another, we also live with the fear of more violence towards our black adolescents, and the spirits of black parents seeking justice for their murdered children.  This week, we will hear the words of a distraught mother who is “living in fear” of losing her 17 year-old son as he prepares to leave for college.

Below is her story…

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Dear Visible Man,

I need your help.  I don’t what to do or who to turn to. I am so frightened.  My only child Christopher is graduating from high school and preparing to leave home this summer for early entrance into a college located across the country.

In high school, my son is seriously committed to his studies.  He has stayed away from drugs, hasn’t been involved with negative people or groups, and he has been mindful of the importance of good decision-making. He was involved in student government, sports activities, and he was a young deacon in our church.  Still, I am afraid that none of this will matter when he goes out into the real world.

I have begged him to remain here in and attend one of the local schools.  I recently read a news story about a young African-American male college student in Maryland being stabbed to death by a white supremacist, and I am fearful of what could happen to him, as I will not be there to protect him from that danger.

As a young black adolescent, he has had his share of hostile encounters with the police that had overtones of racial profiling.  Recently my son and his friend were stopped and searched by the police as a matter of precaution due to the recent shootings in Mississippi.

I am at a point where I am so worried that I can’t sleep without medication and my hair is has begun to fall out.  My son understands this, but he still wants to go on with his plans. Needless to say, there is a lot of anger and tense feelings in our home. Please advise me as to what to say to him.

-Breaking my Heart, Des Moines, WA

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My Dear Woman,

As a parent of two adult children, I have empathy for your concerns.  Although my son has lived on his own for many years, there never goes a day that his safety is not on my mind. When there is an “officer-involved shooting” involving a black man, I know he is not involved, but still, I am concerned about the profiling and treatment he may receive when coming in contact with police officers.

Being a parent is can transform you. Regardless of our racial backgrounds,  parents spend years assisting in the developmental staging in the lives of our children.  Consequently, we are either supervising, directing, managing or administering the lives of our children for a long period of time.

However, once our children move from late adolescence to young adulthood, we should not only expect changes in their behavior and actions, but we must also seek the same for ourselves.

We can transform the way in which we parent utilizing two models: the ABC’s of Parenting Young Adults & Living With Fear.  In the first, the parent seeks to do the following:

  • Advocacy-become an advocate for your young adult. The focus is on providing encouragement and support to your adolescent’s independent and movement into adulthood
  • Bystander-become an observer of your young adolescent life, instead of controlling In order to do this, you must come to terms with your own stress and anxiety.  Be willing to watch your young adult make mistakes and wrestle with their choices and decisions with the exception of life-threatening situations.
  • Coaching-be open and available for your young adult’s questions and concerns. Provide your advice and consultation upon request.  As a result, your knowledge and guidance is more likely to be valued when the young adult requests it, rather than when the parent forces it.

As parents of black children, however, we have the added responsibility of preparing our children to function and thrive in a world that may be hostile to them simply because of the color of their skin.

On August 23, 1963, in a speech during the historic March on Washington, Martin Luther King Jr. said:

“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.”

Fifty-four years and two generations later, Dr. King’s dream has not yet materialized.  Meanwhile as we share his dream with our children, we as parents must help to shape the manner in which they live their lives by serving as mentors and modeling healthy behaviors and actions. This can be achieved with the therapeutic model of Living With Fear, Not In Fear. 

When we live in fear, we allow our fear to take over our lives and dictate the limits of our possibilities.  We opt not to take chances because of the fear of failure and/or loss.

When we live with fear, we acknowledge that fear is here—it has always been and will always be here—however, it is a hindrance in our lives.  Instead of avoiding the things we fear, we face it directly, and respond.  When we execute that response, we learn to embrace our fear as a part of us.

Fear is ALWAYS here.  Fear as an emotion is a permanent fixture.  Fear is here forever…it never left.  It is for the individual to choose a direction: to live IN their fear or to live WITH their fear.

When we choose to live IN our fear, we make the conscious decision to not share our light and talents with the world.  When we live WITH our fear, we balance that fear in a way that still allows us to share ourselves with the world.

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 Concluding Words

 My Dear Woman,

You closed your letter by asking for advice on what to say to your son, but I want to speak directly to you.  As a parent of a child who will soon become a young adult, the time has come for you to step aside and allow yourself to transform, and embrace your newly defined roles as advocate, bystander and coach.   Your current actions are based on living in fear as well as seeking to maintain a protective cloak around your son.

The dangers you seek to protect him from are real and not imagined, don’t get me wrong.  However, as you urge him to seek success, the actions you take out of your own fear may actually cripple him by negatively impacting his self-esteem, confidence and identity.  All that you have committed to and worked so diligently, will now be weakened as he becomes unable to depend on his own responses to the psychological trauma that awaits his arrival as a young black male into the world of adulthood.

I urge you to hold on to belief, faith and trust in the foundation that you have given him as he has developed into the young man you love so much.  Finally, allow yourself the freedom to move on in transforming to remaining active in his life as an advocate, bystander and coach.  Look toward what is newly possible for your own life.

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New Possibilities

Life is a journey

filled with new possibilities.

And sometimes because of

the person you have

become

You find yourself in the right

place at the right time for….

new possibilities

-Dr. Micheal Kane

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Until we speak again….The Visible Man

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