We Live In Interesting Times: White Fear and Black Skin

“It is extremely unsafe to send our boys to the home of any family that we don’t know in this predominantly white neighborhood.”

-Sean Carter, writing in a viral Facebook post about why he refused to allow his adolescent sons to re-deliver a package that was erroneously delivered to his home

“You’ve got to live your life, but when you are living your life, you’re cognizant of the fact that things you do that other people might do, non-people of color might do, could end up differently.  At the end of the day, when I take the suit off, I’m still a black man underneath.  And it’s a daily reality.”

-Darren Martin, former Obama aide, accused of being armed and burglarizing the apartment he just moved into

“They called it, they called it right.  We’re doing our job.  If you done nothing wrong, you’re good to go.”

-Anonymous Police Officer

“I had become a nobody, a thing without meaning or purpose.  I am invisible.”

-Dr. Micheal Kane

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My Dear Readers,

There is a Chinese saying, “May you live in interesting times.”  Although it is generally taken positively, it is actually a curse, not a proverb.  Correctly translated, it means:

 “May you experience much disorder and trouble in your life.”

This “curse” is analogous to the depth of psychological trauma that marginalized people have endured.  In recent blog postings, I have focused on conceptualizing the psychological impact of micro-aggressions upon black and African people from white and European people in America.

A micro-aggression is a statement, action, or incident regarded as an indirect, subtle, or unintentional discriminatory act against members of a racial or ethnic minority group. Micro-aggressions are everyday verbal, non-verbal, and environmental slights, snubs or insults that communicate negative or hostile messages to marginalized people.

A macro-aggression is open aggression towards racial and ethnic minorities on a larger scale.  Unlike micro-aggression, which is covert, macro-aggression is overt physical violence towards those of a different, race or culture.

This week, our focus will be on bringing into understanding macro-aggressions and in doing so, expanding our definition of “A Starbucks Moment,” named after the April 2018 incident at a Philadelphia Starbucks store where a white manager contacted police to have two black men removed from the premises.  No charges were filed, and the two men were eventually released, but the incident was still publicly humiliating and psychologically traumatic for the two individuals involved.  It has also struck fear within the psychological self of black men for themselves and the black community in general.

Starbucks Moments occur in many aspects of commercial, professional, societal and community aspects of American life.  These incidents demonstrate the powerlessness of the black community as a group, and clearly outlines the danger to black people of any white person’s sudden fear, desire, or whim to seek the removal of a black person from public premises.  These incidents are more of a statement about how black people are viewed by white people in this country.

There are some historical and inter-generational themes deriving from slavery, segregation and domestic terrorism that echo in the interactions between both groups.  These themes involve:

  • Power versus the lack of power
  • Primary citizenship versus secondary citizenship
  • Dominance versus non-dominance
  • Privilege versus lacking privilege
  • View & Interconnection of Policing & Law Enforcement

These underlying themes illustrate the difference between a micro-aggression and a Starbucks Moment, which is a macro-aggression.

The willingness of white people to utilize the police to relieve their discomfort around black people becomes a covert way of gentrifying and removal of black bodies from spaces in which they would otherwise be welcome. It truly is aggression on a larger scale—a macro-aggression. It is the willingness of whites to utilize physical and possibly deadly force to effect the removal of the black person from the vicinity.

This is intensified by the willingness of white individuals to allege that the black person is engaged in criminal activity or may be armed and dangerous when it is not true.   In doing so, the responding police officers arrive on the scene prepared and expecting to use physical violence or deadly force to effect the removal.

Consider the following questions:

  • What would possess a white person to see a black person and from that observation have an emotional reaction? Answer: SHOCK
  • What would cause a white individual to seek out protection from the police? Answer: FEAR
  • What would cause a white person to be deceitful and manipulate the police to believe that the black man is armed and dangerous? Answer: TERROR

The immediate reaction of shock, fear and terror is an indication that the white person is also psychologically impacted when faced with their own internalized perceptions. This happened to myself and a patient of mine recently in my office building.

As my patient and I were walking down the hallway, passing the restrooms, a young white female child comes running out the restroom, promptly followed by her father.  The father sees us, two black men, in the hallway, is startled, and moves protectively towards his daughter. He cautiously leaves the area.  In his body language, I observe the following:

  • Shock– There is two black men in this professional building. They clearly do not belong here.
  • Fear-There is two of them and only one of me.
  • Terror-They are going to rape and kill my daughter.

My patient and I nodded to each other.  We were both keenly aware of and psychologically impacted by the father’s reaction.  Through no fault of our own, we were subjected to the unwitting assumptions and fears of the white man in the hallway, and as a result, we were all at risk of that Starbucks Moment—the police being called on us for simply being the wrong color in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Interestingly, the only person not impacted psychologically was the little girl herself, who went prancing along, singing in the hallway, oblivious to the emotional turmoil of the adults around her.  However, it is only a matter of time before she will learn the fear that overtook her father in that moment, and she will choose how she will react in her adult life.

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Concluding Words Dr. Kane

I am continuing to evolve the Starbucks Moment as a concept.  In its current incarnation:

A Starbucks Moment can occur when a white person, due to emotional reactions possibly due to shock, fear, terror, feeling threatened, may use deceit or manipulation; for a minor reason or infraction, utilizes the police to seek the investigation, removal and/or arrest of a black person from a space that they would otherwise have every right to occupy.

 One of my patients recently shared her experience and humiliation as four police officers questioned her in a grocery store parking lot near her home in a predominantly white community.   An unknown accuser observed her and contacted the police.

White fear of black skins is an inherently dangerous form of racism.  Just as it combines micro-aggressions   (statements, actions, or incidents) with macro-aggressions (threat of physical violence), it also combines modern racism (beliefs and attitudes) with aversive racism (engaging in crazy-making interactions with African-Americans).

Recent examples of crazy-making incidents include a white woman calling the police on a black family for BBQing on Lake Merritt in Oakland, CA , or a Black Canadian was stopped and questioned by the police as he was sitting in his car, reading.  A white woman had called in stating he had been acting “suspiciously.”

There is the reality that the majority of black people are psychologically impacted by these events in the following ways:

  1. Those who have been psychologically impacted by racially profiled resulting in police contact;
  2. Those waiting with uncertainty and without notice to be racially profiled and psychologically impacted
  3. Those preparing themselves for the next opportunity of racial profiling by a white accuser resulting in unwanted contact with law enforcement.

When a black individual is impacted by white fear, what can they do to prevent the ongoing actions resulting in being questioned by the police?

“Life is a series of choices…. none of which are new. The oldest is choosing to be a victim or choosing not to.”

-The Accountant (2016)

To provide a clear and adequate answer it is important to understand how Starbucks Moments differ from other forms of macro-aggressions. This question can be answered in several parts:

  • Understanding and contextualizing the difference between fear and white fear.
  • Focusing on ownership and responsibility rather than blame and fault regarding one’s emotions
  • The willingness of the person being psychologically impacted to be proactive rather than reactive

 

Fear is an emotion. White fear is a response.

Fear is an emotion to be normalized, not rejected.  It is an unpleasant emotion caused by the belief or something is dangerous, likely to cause pain, or a threat.  White fear of black skin is abnormal as it is an unreasonable fear based upon racist beliefs, stereotypes and personally derived perceptions.

 

Conceptualizing ownership and responsibility of one’s emotion versus than blame and fault.

White fear is a reaction without ownership. Although the person denies being racist, such feelings are deeply ingrained and because of its covert and hidden nature, the blame and fault is placed on the victim’s blackness.  If that black person had only not been in the identified place or not given the white person the perception that they were acting suspiciously, calling the police would not have been necessary. The problem with this is that no black person can control the perception of a white person who believes they are in the wrong place.

 Willingness of the person being psychologically impacted to be proactive rather than reactive. 

“They (the police) can’t be here for us.”

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

 White fear of black skin is a powerful mechanism. Black people who find themselves impacted by these situations must want to acknowledge that they do not have the power to prevent the modern/aversive racist from calling upon law enforcement for community policing, but they are able to focus on what to do when the police arrive.

Combining the techniques of ABC (advocacy, balance and calmness) and the Five R’s of RELIEF (respite, reaction, reflection, response and reevaluation) can help in these situations. Specifically:

  • Respite-become your own advocate. Step away from the event psychologically. Inhale and exhale deeply.
  • Reactions-Take ownership of your reactions. Release your personal space to the responding police officers. Prepare yourself psychologically to be questioned, physically searched and the possibility of being detained and arrested.
  • Reflection-Bring balance to what you are thinking and feeling. Bring calmness to your internal environment.
  • Response-Maintain calmness in speech and tone. Be present, observant, and silent when appropriate.
  • Re-evaluate– Collect your thoughts, feelings and observations. Record and remember as much as you can so you can recount the incident, step by step.

I have been asked how black people fight white fear.  The answer is that it is not our fight.  We must want to empower ourselves to respond to white fear.  In that empowered response, we learn to embrace those who fear us.  Hopefully one day, white people will be able to accept instead of continuing to deny their racism.  In doing so they can begin the movement towards truly transforming America into the great diverse nation it was intended to be.

“Here is what it is.  They don’t like you.  They don’t dislike you.  They are afraid of you.  You’re different.   Sooner or later difference scares people.”

-The Accountant (2016)

“Respond; don’t react.  Reactions tend to be emotional, immediate, intense and often fueled by fear or anger.  Reactions create trouble for ourselves and the people around us because they are reflexive, rather than well thought out.”

-Dr. Micheal Kane

Until We Speak Again…I am…The Visible Man.

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The Visible Man: The Toll of Invisibility

“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, of Grand View Golf Course, York County, PA

“I felt we were discriminated against. It was a horrific experience.”

Myneca Ojo, golfer speaking to the York Daily Record

“We did not do anything wrong and were soon asked to leave by five police officers”

-Tshyrad Oates, removed from a LA Fitness location in New Jersey

“The front-desk employee was confused and thought the member was a guest because she was not working when this member checked in the first time. Regretfully, from there our staff unnecessarily escalated the situation and called the police rather than work through it.”

-Jil Greuling, Executive Vice President of Operations for Fitness International

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My Dear Readers,

It is essential to understand that racism comes from a set of core values and beliefs that one group holds against another group. In the last blog, I explored the broad categories of attitudinal and behavioral racism. I also spoke openly about the impact of trauma created by forms of modern and aversive racism and discussed the concepts of primary and secondary group status.

In theory, all citizens of the United States are equal. However, the lived reality of people of color, particularly African-Americans, is different. Overtly racist practices and systems that supported white supremacy—the theory that whites or Euro-Americans are superior simply because of their skin color have become unpopular, but covert and passive-aggressive forms of bigotry have come to the forefront of society in new ways recently.

The example in the last blog of the two black men in the Starbucks waiting for their friend is a perfect example of this new covert style of micro-aggression that can have severe psychological impacts in the lives of African-American people. I call this having a Starbucks Moment.

A Starbucks Moment is 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 from a space that they would otherwise have every right to occupy.

There are some historical and intergenerational themes that echo in these interactions that contribute to making these Starbucks Moments just as harmful to both the white and the black person involved:

  • Power versus the lack of power
  • Primary citizenship versus secondary citizenship
  • Dominance versus non-dominance
  • Privilege versus lacking privilege
  • View & Interconnection of Policing & Law Enforcement

 

In addition to the forms of racism previously mentioned, the primary group utilizes three forms of racism to maintain superiority and control over the secondary group:

  • Individual Racism involves discrimination towards people of color. It is the belief that one’s own race is superior. It is the reasoning for a person’s behavior that maintains distance and separation from others based on perceived superior and inferior positions, but is often to the detriment of the person who considers themselves superior.
  • Institutional Racism-restricts people of color from having choices, rights, and mobility. It is the utilization of as well as the manipulation of legitimate institutions to maintain the illusion of superiority and the reality of separation from an integrated society with the intent of maintaining an advantage over others.

 

  • Cultural Racism-is a combination of both individual racism and institutional racism in that it propagates the belief that one race’s cultural heritage and history is superior over another’s. This justifies the belief that there can be no improvement or change in the status of the “inferior” group, therefore ensuring the continued perceived superiority of the “superior” group.

 

From Disagreement to Disturbance

Disagreements and disputes are inevitable between humans, and in a free society such as ours, they are bound to happen. Disagreements can be had in a spirit of friendliness, and without serious injury to the relationship, and therefore, creating a healthy environment for people to achieve a reasonable settlement to the dispute.

Recently, a disagreement is seen more as an indicator of a person’s personality and temperament—thus, any show of passion or emotion is immediately seen as a disturbance, warranting the presence of police to “keep the peace.”  In some cases, however, the disturbance is wholly made up,  and the police are now manipulated to punish the other party by removing them from the location—and given the tendency of police to use additional force with black people, the action of calling the police can become an assault via law enforcement as punishment for not complying with the first person’s opinion.

Over the past two months, there have been more of these incidents across the country.  Known incidents include the following:

  • (4.18.18) Secaucus NJ, -LA Fitness employee called police under mistaken belief that two African-American men had not paid membership fees. Upon finding that this was untrue, the police forced them to leave anyway without providing a reason.
  • (4.24.18) Grand View Golf Course, York County, PA –Five African-American women were “playing too slowly” and police were called because they refused to leave upon demand of the course owners.
  • (4.30.18) Rialto, CA–A woman called 911 about burglars at her neighbor’s house. The alleged burglars were three black women with their suitcases checking out of the house they had rented as an Airbnb. As they were leaving, they were greeted by six police officers and a helicopter.
  • (5.1.18) New York City, NY– Apartment dweller calls police on “Armed African-American Man” burglarizing a nearby apartment. Police find that the African-American man, a former Obama aide and now special assistant to commissioner for the New York City Department of Social Services, was moving into his new apartment and was unarmed.
  • (5.3.18) Charlotte NC –LA Fitness manager calls police on black male who “fit the profile” of a person breaking into lockers. The person was surrounded by four police officers, seized, taken to the police station and detained. They later discovered they had the wrong guy…it was another black person with a long criminal record and no relation to the person who was arrested.
  • (5.8.18), St. Louis MO– Nordstrom Rack employee calls the police on three African-American young males that he suspects of shoplifting; they were high school students and one college coed shopping for their prom outfits. Nordstrom Rack CEO flies to St. Louis to apologize for the incident in person.
  • (5.9.18) Yale University– New Haven CT, White graduate student calls police on black female observed sleeping in the common dorm area. The black woman was also a graduate student and was taking a nap in the dorm’s common area.
  • (5.10.18) Warsaw, NC— following a complaint by a black male regarding poor customer service Waffle House the employee calls police. The incident results in the police pushing the on tuxedo wearing male against the plate-glass window, choking him and slamming him into the ground.

 

The Toll of Invisibility: Why Would They Lie? 

Recently, while seeking to meet with a white colleague who lived in a predominantly white community, I arrived a few minutes early and waited for the arranged time.  My colleague arrived as scheduled and while we were meeting, four police officers came to the home, demanding to see my identification.  They had been told that a suspicious and possibly armed black man was seen surveilling the house.

During the interrogation, one of the police officers asked, “Why would the person lie?”  It was only after the repeated assurance of my colleague, a fellow mental health therapist, that the police were convinced that I was not a threat and I was allowed to remain in my friend’s home. 

These are some of the emotional and psychological reactions that surfaced for me:

  • Power-A person holding primary group status decided that my presence was not wanted in this community
  • My status as a secondary citizen had been confirmed by the interrogation and demand for identification
  • Dominance was established in the belief that there was no reason for my unknown accuser “to lie’
  • Privilege– based on the word of my white colleague and member holding primary group status, I was allowed to remain.
  • View & Interconnection-My unknown accuser was receiving excellent community service whereas I was receiving suspicion, misdirected questioning and intimidation.

 At the end of the day, this was psychological trauma for me.

The person notifying the police sought:

  • My removal from the environment
  • Intentionally provided the impression that I was armed and dangerous
  • Placed my life in jeopardy of serious injury or death

Sought to achieve a solution to disagreeing with my presence in the neighborhood by calling the police to remove me, forcibly, if needed.  

Like many black people, I have made the decision that in the future, I will meet white friends and colleagues in public accommodations such as restaurants, cafes or coffeehouses located in racially diverse or other identifiably safe environments for people like me—people of color.  However I still am reminded that safety and security is only a perception, and the next Starbucks Moment can be just one moment away.

 

Concluding Words-Dr. Kane

 The Protection Perception

“They called it, they called it right.  We’re doing our job, “an officer said.  “If you do nothing wrong, you’re good to go.”

Law Enforcement-Black or African-American

“I had become a no body, a thing without meaning or purpose. I am invisible.”

-Dr. Micheal Kane

 On 04.13.18 in Rochester Hills, MI, a 14-year-old African-American boy, having missed the school bus, was shot at after knocking on a door seeking directions to the school.  The adolescent was unhurt.  The shooter was arrested and criminally charged.  Case closed? No.

Events like this make black people particularly concerned about their safety and welfare, and particularly that of black children.  As a result, black parents take extreme safety precautions and advise their children to do so as well.

One black father wrote on Facebook that he refuses to allow his adolescent sons to drop off a package that was misdelivered to his home to a neighbor’s home. He asks that the delivery service return and pick up the package and deliver it correctly, stating that:

“It is extremely unsafe to send our boys to the home of any family that we don’t know in this predominantly white neighborhood.”

Racial profiling and the utilization of law enforcement to effect the removal of undesirables remain a slippery slope that furthers the psychological wounding between the two groups.  White people see these events as isolated, and seek to punish the individuals directly responsible, where black people see these events as simply symptoms of deeper societal issues that white people seem to either be oblivious to or choose to willfully ignore.

St. Louis, MO NAACP President Adolphus Pruitt, following the Nordstrom Rack incident observes:

“These kids, they’re owed an apology, but at the end of the day, it goes down to what can we do to keep this from happening to folks.  After all of this was said and done, Nordstrom cannot fix society on its own as it relates to these stereotypes.”

At the end of the day, we are left with the statement of Darren Martin, the former Obama aide, accused of burglarizing his own apartment:

“You’ve got to live your life, but when you’re living your life, you’re cognizant of the fact that things you do that other people might do, non-people of color might do, could end up differently.  At the end of the day when I take the suit off, I’m still a black man underneath.  And it’s a daily reality.”

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“I am an invisible man. I am invisible, understand, simply because people refuse to see me.
When they approach me, they see only my surroundings, themselves, or figments of their imagination– indeed, everything and anything except me.”

–Ralph Ellison, “The Invisible Man” (1947)

Until We Speak Again…I am…The Visible Man.