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

—————————————–

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.

—————————————-

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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