The Visible Man: Having A Starbucks Moment

“They can’t be here for us.”

-Rashon Nelson & Donte Robinson, prior to their arrest at a Philadelphia Starbucks

“The police officers did absolutely nothing wrong.”

-Richard Ross, Philadelphia Police Commissioner

“Anytime I’m encountered by cops, I can honestly say it’s a thought that runs through my mind.  You never know what’s going to happen.”

-Rashon Nelson (speaking to AP News about fearing for his life)

“Players who have not followed the rules, specifically pace of play, have voluntarily left at our request as our scorecard states.  In this instance, the members refused so we called police to ensure an amicable result.

During the second conversation, we asked members to leave per our policy noted on the scorecard, voices were raised, and the police were called to ensure an amicable resolution.”

-Jordan Chronister, Co-Owner, Grand View Golf Course York County, PA

 

My Dear Readers,

After five years of grieving the loss of my beloved spouse Linda, I am in Paris, France celebrating the year 2018 as my breakout year, the year I emerge from darkness into the bright shining light that the world has to offer.

As I depart the country, I leave behind the recent incidents of psychological devastation impacting African-American citizens. In a previous writing, I had suggested that it was time to begin a conversation regarding the impact of whites calling upon the police to intervene, eject or arrest African-Americans for believed slights or perceptions.

One of my readers, Mike Willbur MS LMHC, a colleague in the mental health profession, responded to me, suggesting that fear is the element and wanting to know where do we start.  I was intrigued and conflicted by the question.

How do we get all Americans, regardless of race, to understand the impact of fear and traumatization? How do I help to bring understanding without intellectualizing this major issue that impacts the lives of millions of people, both white and black on a daily basis? 

I choose to respond to the element of fear by seeking to further define the themes that create fear and lead to these traumatic moments.

 

What Is A “Starbucks Moment?

This occurs when a white person, for a minor reason or infraction, utilizes the police to seek the investigation, removal, and/or arrest of a black person.  This is done under the premise of community policing.

There are five themes that coincide to create the occurrence of “Having a Starbucks Moment”

  • Power versus the lack of power
  • Primary citizenship versus secondary citizenship.
  • Dominant group versus non-dominant group.
  • Privileged versus lacking privileged.
  • Views & Interconnection of Policing & Law Enforcement

There was the now widely known incident at the Starbucks store in Philadelphia in which two African-American men were arrested while waiting for a colleague to conduct a business meeting.

There has been another incident occurring in Pennsylvania in which white golf course owners called the police to remove five African-American women members of their club because they were “playing too slowly.” Unlike the Philadelphia Starbucks, the police, upon arriving at the scene and conducting interviews, decided that the matter was not one that warranted police intervention.

The white owners of the golf course justified their actions by declaring that the five black women, in playing slowly, had failed to abide by the course’s rules and policies.  They added that they had offered full refunds, but the group refused to leave, so the police were called in to remove them.

If an arrest had been made, the following would had been the result:

  • The five black women would have been handcuffed, placed in a police vehicle, taken to jail, fingerprinted and had mug shots taken.
  • Those fingerprints and mug shots would had become a permanent record in the national computer database, the National Crime Information Center (NCIC)
  • Resulting in the ability to track their movements nationally and internationally through the International Crime Police Commission (INTERPOL)

The five themes leading to a “Having a Starbucks Moment is detailed in the following are detailed in the following:

  • The Power versus the Lack of Power.
  1. White Americans have power or potential access to power.
  2. Black Americans either lack power/lack access to power or are risked of being stripped of the power granted to them by those in power.
  • Primary citizenship versus secondary citizenship.
  1. Primary citizenship consists of individuals of all genders; are of the group holding power are racially white, and are identified ethnically and culturally as Euro-Americans. Primary citizenship is a status passed on between generations.
  2.  Secondary citizenship consists of individuals of all genders; are of the group lacking power; are racially black and are identified ethically lacking power are racially black, ethnically/culturally as African-American. Secondary citizenship is a status passed on through the generations. 
  • Dominant group versus non-dominant group.
  1. White Euro-Americans have dominant group status, a status passed on through the generations.
  2. Black African-American group has non-dominant status, a status passed on through the generations.
  • Privileged versus lacking privilege.
  1. White Euro-Americans are viewed with having privileged status; a status that is often fervently denied by the individuals within that group.
  2. Black African-Americans have non-privileged status and fervently seek having such privilege, which is either denied or provided on a selected basis.
  • Views & Interconnection of Policing & Law Enforcement
  1. White Euro-Americans view the police positively and connect with them in “community policing,” which is an understanding that is passed on through the generations.
  2. Black African-Americans view the police with suspicion and connect with them in “enforcing the law,” which is an understanding that is passed on through the generations.

 

I am not a Racist, but what if I Walked like a Duck, and Quacked like a Duck?

In taking part of this conversation, white or Euro-Americans must seek to hold themselves for actions and behaviors, whether conscious or unconscious, that are racist in nature and serve to denigrate black or African-Americans.   Racism can be divided into two broad categories, attitudinal and behavioral.

In attitudinal racism, individuals or groups are denigrated because of shared characteristics.  Behavioral racism can be any act by an individual or institution that denies free and equal treatment to a person or person because of shared characteristics or ethnic group membership.  The outcome of either can result in physical or psychological stressors producing physical or psychological responses that over time can influence health outcomes of those who are impacted.

The white or Euro-American may staunchly deny or be unable to perceive their actions towards blacks or African-Americans as racist.  Those holding such beliefs may be engaging in patterns of behaviors defined as modern racism or aversive racism.

In modern racism, individuals do not define their beliefs and attitudes as racist but rather their beliefs are based on “empirical” evidence, such as news accounts, social media, movies, or television. Modern racism is insidious because those who practice this deny racist attitudes in a defensive manner, but engage in racist actions that they justify based on their supposed evidence, which usually takes the form of anecdotes or personally- based beliefs.

Aversive racism, another form of insidious racism, is a set of abstract moral assertions and beliefs impacting the lives of African-Americans.  Specifically, the aversive racist says, “I’m not a racist, but…” and may engage in crazy-making interactions with African-Americans by overtly denying racist intent while acting in ways that feel racist to their target.  Due to the overt denial of racist intent, the individual(s) targeted who appraises the behavior as racist may be labeled as “over-reactive” or paranoid” resulting from the interaction, leading to further marginalization.

The incident resulting at the Starbucks appears to be one of modern racism.  There is the indication that the white or Euro-American manager for whatever reasoning did not want the black or African-American men in “her” place of business and notified the police, resulting in their arrest and removal. The flip side of this incident would have the modern racist declaring, “Well, if only they would have left, or not come in at all, the arrest would not had been necessary.”

The golf course incident is a clear example of aversive racism.  The declarations of the co-owner were simply “we allowed them in to our establishment.  They failed to obey by the rules of the club.  We asked them to leave. They refused.  The police were called to ensure an amicable resolution.”

 

Concluding Words-Dr. Kane 

“To err is human… In some cases there is no room for error. None.”

– Dr. Micheal Kane

 We may breathe the same air but it still appears that blacks (or African-Americans) and whites (or Euro-Americans) live on two on two separate planets.   I agree with my colleague Mike Willbur MS LMHC that fear is the element.  It is my opinion that this is where we must start.

Fear is a factor deeply ingrained in both groups.  I am not a white or Euro-American.  As a black male and African-American, I acknowledge the fear that lives within me on a daily basis regarding the fact that any interaction with a white person can abruptly change the course of my life.

Several days prior to leaving for Paris, I had my own Starbucks moment at a local Starbucks in Seattle.  The incident only lasted several minutes, but it so easily could have ended badly and changed the course of my life forever.

I was in line waiting when a white woman who was in a hurry jumped ahead of me and sought to get her order in.  The white Starbucks employee took notice of what had happened and began to assist her, ignoring me.

I am a 260 dark skinned African-American male, and was one of now two people in line, the other being the white woman who demanded to be waited on. Am I now invisible?

Many thoughts went through my mind:

  • Should I say something in a polite way to the interloper and the Starbucks employee?
  • If I do, will I be perceived as being threatening by either of these women?
  • Will the Starbucks employee or the interloper call the police?

When the police arrive, the bottom line is this:

It is my word versus the word of two white women.

Here are the facts of my life:

  • I have earned a doctorate and two master’s degrees. I am internationally trained in clinical traumatology.
  • I have served on three separate clinical faculties in one of the top ten research universities in the United States.
  • I have published material which is taught in graduate schools and utilized within the US Veteran Affairs healthcare system.
  • I have served as a clinical consultant to the Black Congressional Caucus Veteran Braintrust.
  • I am a founding member of the Editorial Board for a peer reviewed journal.
  • I currently served the legal and judicial system as a forensic evaluator and expert witness on trauma related issues.

This is the reality in my life:

  • I have never been arrested, fingerprinted or jailed.
  • I am a honorably discharged veteran of military service.
  • I am the son of a police officer.
  • I am an African-American residing in a country in which there are those who either fear me or are threatened by me simply because of the color of my skin.

What could happen to me in this situation:

  • I am going to be arrested, taken to jail, fingerprinted and mug shots taken.
  • I am going to have to incur the expenses of hiring an attorney to respond to possible legal charges.
  • I am going to have a permanent arrest record thus allowing law enforcement to track my movements nationally and internationally .
  • I would have been publicly humiliated and traumatized by the experience thereby bearing psychological wounds for the rest of my life.

What I Did:

  • I chose to not speak to the interloper.
  • I brought the matter to the attention of the Starbucks employee.

The Response:

  • The employee response was “I’m sorry…what can I get you?”
  • A telephone call later to the store manager, who said, “I will look into the matter.”
  • A written correspondence to the district manager- no response as of today.

I made the best decision of a very difficult and humiliating incident.  There was no police intervention, but there was no amicable resolution either.  And, I remained alive and free and made it to Paris, the City of Light, where I am currently enjoying a well-deserved vacation before returning to respond to more Starbucks Moments!

 

The Mask

By Maya Angelou

We wear the mask that grins and lies.
It shades our cheeks and hides our eyes.
This debt we pay to human guile
With torn and bleeding hearts…
We smile and mouth the myriad subtleties.
Why should the world think otherwise
In counting all our tears and sighs.
Nay let them only see us while
We wear the mask.

 

Adieu from Paris!

Until we speak again…I am … The Visible Man.

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The Visible Man: Every Breath You Take

“Every breath you take
Every move you make
Every bond you break
Every step you take
I’ll be watching you.”

-The Police, Every Breath You Take

“Life is to be lived, not controlled; and humanity is won by continuing to play in face of certain defeat.”

Ralph Ellison, Invisible Man

———————–

My Dear Readers,

I write to you during difficult and tense times in African-American communities and other communities of color throughout the United States arising from a feeling of being unprotected in their own country.

In 1986, social psychologists created the Terror Management Theory.  It describes a basic psychological conflict that results from the friction between the human self-preservation instinct and the rational understanding that death is inevitable and, in some cases, unpredictable.

Although social psychologists may pride themselves in naming the phenomena, African-Americans have been responding to terror management throughout the 246 years of slavery and the following 105 years of state-sanctioned terrorism and segregation, all the way to the more modern and subtle, but still insidious, experiences of police brutality and the prison industrial complex.

As explained under the Terror Management Theory, the conflict produces terror, and the terror is then managed by embracing cultural values or symbolic systems that act to provide the impacted life with enduring meaning and value.  For many diverse and under-served populations, embracing cultural values are critical to developing self-respect and self-esteem.

Below is the story of an individual who reclaimed his life by reclaiming his self-esteem and his self-respect.

—————————-

Dear Visible Man,

I’m at my limit. The police, once again, followed me as I was returning home from a long day of working as a Metro Transit bus driver.

I had my two sons in the car; I had just picked them up from school.  At one point, the police cruiser was next to me and then in seconds, he was behind me.  I immediately felt tension in my stomach.  My heart was beating fast. I became scared at the possibilities of what could happen.

As the police cruiser followed, another cruiser joined in behind.  My sons noticed their movements as well.  It was an unreal feeling.  One moment my sons were cutting up, laughing and being playful as adolescents are, then the next moment there is dead silence and a chill in the car.

I felt that my sons were in danger.  My youngest was crying and I struggled to stay calm and get them to focus on me and not the cruisers.  I informed them that we were about to be pulled over and I told them how I wanted them to behave: specifically, no quick or jerky movements.

Suddenly, the lead cruiser pulled slowly next to us, the police officer looked over us and the car, and then both cruisers turned off in the opposite direction.  The joyful mood that we had was gone.   My eldest was angry and shouting, but he became more upset when he realized that his younger brother had urinated on himself.

Upon arriving home, both boys went straight to their bedrooms. They didn’t want to talk about it, and honestly, neither did I. I felt so ashamed and powerless to protect my children.

My wife attempted to talk to us about it, but I had nothing to say. I felt that I had failed my sons as their father.  I felt as if I was no longer a man in their eyes.

When I mentioned the incident to my crew at work the following day, the inability of my white co-workers to accept my experience shocked me. One indicated that it was not a problem because the police never stopped me. He saw my response as an overreaction. Another said that the police get behind him all the time and he doesn’t think about it.

Recently, my eldest showed me a quote from the book Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison. It said:

“I am invisible, understand, simply because people refuse to see me.  Like the bodiless heads you see sometimes in circus sideshows, it is as though I have been surrounded by mirrors of hard, distorting glass.  When they approach me they see only my surroundings, themselves or figments of their imagination, indeed, everything and anything except me.”

My eldest son tells me that the experience made him feel invisible.  He is frustrated and now wants to bow out of attending college next year. My youngest son plays AAU basketball.  Now they want to quit their activities and hang out with their friends.

Both are good students and yet their grades are now slipping. None of my sons have ever been in trouble.  They attend church and bible study regularly.  Now they aren’t interested. I feel that I have failed them as their father.

I have decided that if the police follow me again in the future, I am going to pull over and confront them.  My wife strongly disagrees with me, but I am a man and self-respect and the respect of my sons are important to me.

As a strong black man, I know that I will find agreement with you on the issue of respect.

–Profiled No More,  Seattle WA

——————————–

My Dear Sir,

I cannot imagine the psychological pain you are going through during this difficult time.  However, I cannot support you confronting a police officer that you may suspect of racial profiling in order to appease your sense of self-respect. 

Stopping and confronting a police officer while he is carrying out his legal duties, even if you suspect him of racial profiling is not courageous. It is foolhardy, placing oneself at risk of arrest, injury and possible death.

Instead I suggest that you utilize the Five R’s of RELIEF.  Specifically,

  • Respite-take a breath and emotionally step away from the traumatic event
  • Reaction-accept ownership of your feelings of anger, shame, and humiliation
  • Reflection-bring balance to yourself by processing your feelings and thoughts
  • Response-having owned your reactions, now communicate the appropriate response to the external environment
  • Reevaluate-finally, be willing to reconsider, review and revise the actions taken.

As you initiate this process, resist the emotional urge to ask questions in the “why” format.  Such questions provide responses that circle back to themselves, and as a result, they do not bring us full understanding of the foundation of the issue being questioned.  A more useful method of inquiry would be focusing on the “what,” instead:

  • What did I do to protect my sons from danger?
  • What could I have done to reduce the traumatization of my children?
  • What can explain the responses of my coworkers?
  • What can I do to prevent the reoccurrence of the same experience?

 

What did I do to protect my sons from danger?

Your actions indicated following the ABC model, which is Advocacy, Balance, and Calmness. Specifically:

  • Advocacy-you got your sons’ attention, warning them of the potential danger ahead,
  • Balance– you were afraid, but you balanced those feelings with the thoughts around how to behave to leave that counter unharmed, and,
  • Calmness-during the time in which the police cruisers followed and did the slow drive by, you maintained tranquility in your external world.

Under such difficult circumstances you may have felt helpless, but your actions actually empowered you and resulted in your ability to get your children home safely.

 

What could I have done to stop or reduce the traumatization of my children?

You cannot protect your children from their feelings, which may include traumatization.  Calmly bring the subject up with them. As you are protective of your children, your children may seek to be protective of you by not wanting to share their experiences in fear of creating “bad feelings for Dad.”

However, “bad feelings,” or trauma, is already settling within the psychological self of you and your boys.  You can assist your children in processing this experience by sharing the impact the incident had on you, thereby modeling and encouraging similar behavior and actions. Seek counseling or therapeutic intervention if and when necessary.

Remember–  if you shut down or become silent, your actions become the “unconscious” model for your children when responding to situations like this in the future.

 

What can explain the responses of my white coworkers?

In speaking to your white coworkers, you are attempting to obtain understanding and compassion regarding an experience that is completely outside the world in which they live. They may live in a world where they receive community policing and therefore view the police as “protectors”.

Assuming that this is their reality, the experience you had is a completely  “abnormal” experience for them, even though it is an uncomfortably “normal’ experience for you. There is a saying: “You can’t understand someone until you have walked a mile in their shoes”.  Clearly, the brands or types of shoes you wear are unknown to your white colleagues.

—————————————————-

Concluding Words—Dr. Kane

What can I do in order to prevent this happening again?

Nothing.   You do not control what lies deep within the psychological self of another person. Governmental legislation, city ordinances and police departmental directives against racial profiling may influence the decision making of officers on the street, but those officers have power, and that training may not be enough to compel them to deter the racism and/or stereotypes that lies deep within their belief system, if it is there.

You lack the power to prevent incidents of racial profiling by the police from happening to anyone. The traumatic incident that impacted you and your sons occurred because a police officer with the lens of racial profiling observed three black males in your vehicle.  It was his “truth” that a vehicle of three black males could only be engaging in “bad things”.

Following procedure of responding to “dangerous situations” a police officer with the lens of racial profiling called for backup with the intent of making a “vehicle stop.”  It was only after the police officer with the lens of racial profiling did the slow drive by and looked through your window that he was able to remove his lens of racial profiling and see the real truth that a man and two children were in the car.

The police officer with the lens of racial profiling now removed having successfully confirmed no criminal activity, is now able to return to his regular patrol duties. It may be the perspective of not only the police officer, but of your white co-workers as well that since there wasn’t a stop, and there was no harm inflicted on you or your children, that no harm was done.  However, this perspective fails to take into account the impact that the psychological trauma has on you and your family and its status as a microaggression in the form of racial profiling.

DO NOT confront the police in the streets.  You will not win.  The police will not allow you to win.  The power that they have is comprised of the authority granted by a fearful society that is historically accustomed to turning a “blind eye” when it comes to control and law enforcement of black men.

Remember that the police can do no more than the society that commissions them to do.  The police may have power, but individual black people can be empowered in dealing with them if they choose to be.

When faced with such situations, trauma can be impacted or reduced by utilizing the clinical tools of

  • Five Rs of RELIEF
  • ABCs — Advocacy, Balance & Calmness
  • Empowerment– document…document and document. Report police misconduct to the department’s internal affairs unit.

Remember, your empowerment can never be taken from you …unused, you merely are giving it away.

“Play the game, but don’t believe in it- that much you owe yourself…

Play the game, but raise the ante.

Learn how it operates, learn how you operate.”

-Ralph Ellison, Invisible Man

“Life is a marathon

After you learn the game

Learn to run the race,

Focus on crossing the finish line

Run smarter, not harder.”

-Dr. Micheal Kane

Until we speak again…I am…The Visible Man