The Visible Man: Complex Trauma, Invisibility, and Obsolescence

“Racial minorities are more likely than white Americans to be arrested.   Once arrested, they are more likely to be convicted; and once convicted, they are more likely to face stiff sentences.”

-United Nations Human Rights Committee report (2017)

“I don’t know that nigger.  But I know he is a nigger. And that’s all I need to know.”

-Retired Confederate General Sandy Smithers, The Hateful Eight (2015)

My Dear Readers,

Are black males becoming obsolete in this country?  Black males are no longer being sought for manual labor. They are in fierce competition with whites for blue-collar jobs, that continue to be sent overseas.  They aren’t being trained or prepared for work within the IT industry, either.

Black males are perceived as being of limited use, constantly in survival mode, and cornered off in decaying urban environments.   There is the supposition that black males, like any other endangered species, may soon vanish from the American landscape.

There are several reasons for this perception:

  • Incarceration: One in every three black males born today can expect to go to prison at some point in their life, compared with one in every 17 white males.
  • Education: The estimated national 2012 high school graduation rate for Black males was 59%.
  • Homicides: Black victims of homicides were most likely to be male (85%) and between the ages 17 and 29 (51%)

Except for political and clergy leadership, only muted responses have come from the African American community, if there is a response at all to the statistics coming from recent incidents involving police violence.  The reason for this is Complex Trauma.

Complex trauma is a form of psychological trauma.  It is more than simple post- traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).  It usually means that a person has suffered several traumatic events often beginning in childhood and continuing through adulthood.

Below is one young’s man story…

———————————-

Dear Visible Man,

I am a 24 year old African-American man seeking your help.  I am scared and confused.

Recently I had a police officer pull his weapon on me during a traffic stop.  He stopped me because one of the bulbs in my brake light was out.  He recognized me as one of his classmates in high school and even for a moment, reminisced on playing high school football, put away the weapon, and then told me to get the brake light fixed and “have a good day.”

How could I have a nice day after that? I am a college graduate, and I have a great job working for a tech firm here in Seattle, but I live in fear of being harassed by the police.  I have been stopped numerous times, either walking or driving, and all those stops were suspicious. All I want is to be free.  I simply want to be left alone and work hard to succeed in the goals that I have chosen.

Throughout my life, I have dealt with harassment and threats from within my community. I have dealt with racism from whites and threats of violence and acts of intimidation.  I grew up in survival mode without a father figure and struggling with a drug-addicted mother.  Both of my brothers are in the prison system.  I am alone, having nightmares and at times, just holding on to my life.

I am very angry about what I have seen and what I have experienced.  It’s like I am reliving my childhood and adolescence.  I try talking to other black males, but they are too busy hating on me while numbing their own pain by getting high off of marijuana or drinking alcohol.

People talk about role models for black men, but I don’t need another man to tell me how to get a job.  I need to know that I have value, that I am worth something. The older black men I know are either locked up in prison, addicted to drugs or just trying to make it on survival mode. I just want another black man to talk to.

I can’t remember the last time a black man told me that I matter.  But I can remember the last time a black man threatened me.  I feel caught in the middle– threatened by those who hate me for my success and harassed by those who are view my skin itself as a threat.

At work, and at home, I look around and don’t see anyone like me.  My white coworkers tell me that I am being paranoid, and they might be right– I feel like I am going crazy.  Am I becoming obsolete? What can I do?

-Feeling Shaky, Seattle,WA

————————-

My Dear Young Man,

You have been through a lot in your 24 years of life. You are correct; you are not crazy. Paranoia is a mental condition characterized by delusions of persecution, suspicion and mistrust of people or their actions without evidence or justification, and that is not what I see here.

Given your history and the numerous incidents of micro- and macro-aggression you have experienced, your hyper-vigilance and stress is to be expected. The fear of physical violence from the police and other members of your community and their repetitive nature can adversely impact a person’s mental, physical, and emotional states.  It can often be very difficult to function at work and it hinders involvement in interpersonal relationships.

Complex trauma is the exposure to adverse experiences such as violence, abuse, neglect, and separation from a caregiver repeatedly over time and during critical periods in a child’s development. Psychologically, the African-American community is drowning in complex trauma and has retreated into survival mode.  We have lost a generation of black men in prison.  Approximately half of males will not graduate from high school, which impacts employment, marriages, and the growth of families.

Complex trauma can have long-term impact on an individual’s mental health.  That impact can be further complicated when it is simultaneously activated and reinforced by the use of drugs and participation in violent acts. In doing so, both the trauma itself and the method of soothing or numbing the pain arising from that trauma are both normalized for the individual, who then loses the ability to conceive of other ways of living.

Research suggests that the impact and effect of complex trauma is directly related to age of onset, type of violence, relationship to the perpetrator, impact on the environment, the degree of isolation and the amount of support received and the amount of support received following the traumatic experience.

——————————

Concluding Words

My Dear Young Man,

To respond to an earlier question about becoming obsolete, the fact that you continue to strive for success in your objectives as you face overwhelming pressures from both within your community and interactions with police is an affirmation that black males are not becoming obsolete.  In reality, you are responding to ongoing challenges that are not of your making.

This is the time to achieve ABC: advocacy, balance and calmness.

  • Advocacy: Empower yourself by becoming an advocate for the psychological self. Seek to achieve mental health wellness.
  • Balance: Compare the internalized value and assets of the life you want to live to the life you have already experienced. Come to terms with your own stress and anxiety.
  • Calmness: Avoid self-medicating to soothe emotional pain. Instead, be open and available to your internal questions and concerns.  Use your balance and inner empowerment to project calmness to the outside world.

Be open to seeking mental health treatment.  We are losing a generation to incarceration, violence and drug/alcohol abuse.  We continue to cripple our lives by refusing to seek mental health assistance.  In doing so, we only weaken our resolve, add more obstacles to the journey of self-discovery and hamper the experience that we call LIFE.

My dear young man, there are role models. LOOK IN THE MIRROR. In your quest to strive and not just survive, YOU have become a role model for those seeking to do the same.  Go out and find individuals and allies regardless of color, race and ethnicity, who think and live life like you.

Best wishes to you on your journey of self-discovery.

Regards,

Dr. Kane, Psy.D

Clinical Traumatologist

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

Complex Trauma does not go away by

Simply pushing it to the back of your

                                    mind.

It is a thief that lurks around until it finds an open door.  It flashes.  It screams as it leaps into my soul.

It is a thief that steals in the day or in the night.

Enough is never enough.

It steals and steals and steals.

It plucks and sucks the life, slowly

                           From me. 

-Micheal Kane

 

Until we speak again….The Visible Man

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

Advertisements