“Casual racism… is used to refer to societal or a particular individual’s lack of regard for the impact of their racist actions or behaviors upon another person. Casual racism has become more insidious as it has become expressed through white comfort and discomfort.”
-Dr. Micheal Kane, Psy.D., “Casual Racism”
“A Starbucks Moment occurs when a white person, due to emotional reactions from shock, fear, terror, or feeling threatened, deceives or manipulates the police to seek the investigation, removal, and/or arrest of a black person for a minor reason or infraction in a space that the black person would otherwise have every right to occupy.
-Dr. Micheal Kane, Psy.D., “Starbucks Moment”
“Whites don’t kill whites.”
-Gunman Gregory Bush following the killings of two African-Americans at the Kroger Grocery Store in Jeffersontown, Kentucky
“All Jews must die.”
-Anti-Semite Robert Bowers, before killing 11 people and wounding more as they worshiped at Tree of Life synagogue
“What do blacks offer society? All they do is ruin western civilization.”
-From the Facebook page of white supremacist Jordan Rocco, days before attacking two black men and stabbing one to death
My Dear Readers,
In Jeffersontown, Kentucky, a gunman shot and killed two African-Americans shopping at a local grocery store after previously failing to gain entry to a black church. In Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, a gunman killed 11 Jewish Americans at the Tree of Life Synagogue. Thousands gathered across the country from Seattle, Washington to Washington, DC for candlelight vigils to honor the synagogue shooting victims. Even more media attention came when President Trump and his family, although asked to postpone their trip, visited the synagogue.
Meanwhile, there was no media attention or acknowledgement for the tragedy in Jeffersontown for 4 days, and even now, this hate-motivated crime goes largely unnoticed by our wider society. Once again, African-Americans are left feeling invisible and unwanted.
Being Invisible & Unwanted
Cynthia (name changed to protect privacy) is the African-American mother of a 16-year-old student attending a local high school in Seattle, WA. In session, she speaks of her frustrations regarding the impacts of the recent shootings in Pittsburgh & Jeffersontown.
“Dr. Kane, the principal of my son’s school recently sent an emergency text to all of the parents notifying us of the shooting in Pittsburgh, encouraging parents to be aware of psychological trauma and urging us to be available and talk to our adolescents about their feelings. However, there was no mention of the shootings that had occurred earlier that day (Jeffersontown).
My son sits on the Principal’s advisory board and meets with her regularly. He feels like he is invisible, and he is frustrated and betrayed because she (the school principal) wears a Black Lives Matter pin. I told him that if he did not speak to her about this, I would. What do you think? Would you speak to her?”
Analysis: Dr. Kane
Let’s examine the issues:
- Parent– feels helpless and frustrated, watching her son be hurt and disappointed. Parent seeks to intervene, threatening to do so if the son fails to speak to the principal.
- Son– feels betrayed by the principal, feels like he and his pain are invisible, and that no one cares about his feelings. He may have conflicting feelings towards self, his mother, and the principal.
- Principal– in wearing the Black Lives Matter pin, she may see herself as an advocate of social justice. It is unknown whether sending out text to school families excluding Jeffersontown shooting was intentional or an oversight on her part.
Although the 16-year-old is not my patient, I have the ethical responsibility to remain vigilant that no harm comes to a minor as I seek to provide treatment to the adult parent. The mother feels powerless and unable to protect her son from both the racism of the hostile external world and the conflict that resides within his internalized self.
The mother’s actions, although well intended, can result in additional psychological wounding for her son. Forcing her son to confront the principal will not only fail to resolve his internalized conflict but may place him at risk of punishment or other forms of retaliation from the principal as he points out racist behavior.
The mother, in her rush to “save” her son from the hostile world, can assist him more effectively by focusing on herself first by relieving her own distress—what we call “healthy narcissism”—and then, once she can project calmness and balance, she can focus on helping to relieve her son’s distress and to empower him to clarify his decision making as it relates to interacting with the school principal.
The mother can relieve her own distress by utilizing the Five R’s of RELIEF model:
- At the stage of respite, she can step away and see the harm that confrontation may have on her son.
- Once that clarity is achieved, she can help him embrace his reaction, meaning that she assists him in giving himself the permission to feel the way that he feels, and to express those feelings in a safe space, helping him along the first step to personal empowerment.
- From there, he can reflect upon that reaction, truly analyzing the situation now that emotion is no longer clouding the path. It is here where the son can understand that betrayal requires the “intention” to betray another and since there doesn’t appear to be an intent by the principal to betray, the feelings the son has are not of betrayal, but rather those of “disappointment” in her failure to see his pain and to uphold the meaning of the Black Lives Matter pin she wears.
- At the stage of response, the mother can assist her son to define and understand casual racism, and work to minimize the impacts of trauma of Invisibility Syndrome, informing how he may interact with the principal and his fellow students on this and future subjects.
- Rather than focusing on “educating” the principal on the impact of her actions to the son, the focus can be on the final stage of reevaluation. This stage leads to healing the psychological wounds that have been created and preparing for more psychological wounding that will continue to arise from a hostile external world. This creates the pathway towards empowering the self towards advocacy, balance and calmness during difficult times.
Dancing & Smiling: They Still Don’t See Me.
Jonathan (name changed to protect privacy) is an African- American 38-year-old attorney new to the area; working as an associate for a prominent law firm in Seattle
“Dr. Kane, I am living on the edge of madness. I work and live in the white world. These people don’t see me as a person, only as a threat. I am constantly being questioned for identification while my white colleagues get a free pass.
When we are together during times that I get racially profiled, they shift around nervously, make jokes, and change the subject. They see it all and yet never say anything. Meanwhile, I am left angry and humiliated. I can’t say anything because I then become the angry black man and I am afraid that I won’t be considered for partner when the time comes and the opening becomes available.
The recent shootings in Jeffersontown and Pittsburgh really impacted me. At the office they only talked about Pittsburgh and they are supportive of the attorneys at the firm who are Jewish. WTF? What about me? Do I scream out that I am hurting too?
I know how to play the game. I’ve gone to the right schools. I associate with the right people. I keep my head down and my mouth shut. I am so tired of dancing and smiling for these people. Besides hitting someone, drinking myself to death or jumping off a bridge, what can I do?”
Let’s examine the issues:
- Middle-aged African-American attorney newly located to the area.
- One of his career goals is becoming a partner in a prestigious law firm.
- He is impacted by recent racial and religious murders.
- Victim of constant racial profiling and race related trauma (micro-aggressions.)
Analysis: Dr. Kane
Racism is not new to Jonathan. He has been impacted by racism during all the prominent stages of his development (childhood, adolescence and early adulthood.) So, what is really going on?
Jonathan is seeking recognition, acceptance, and validation from his work environment. It is the idea of making partner that is the carrot that Jonathan keeps chasing, never being able to reach it. He hopes that by attending the correct schools, doing excellent work, and “playing the game,” he will eventually become partner.
However, Jonathan has a huge gap that he is unable to overcome; his internal need for recognition, validation, and acceptance from his work environment. Jonathan is aware from his life experiences that racial profiling will never cease or racial murders may continue; he simply wants others to recognize, validate, and accept that he has psychological wounds just like his Jewish colleagues.
Jonathon’s failure is threefold:
- His desire that others focus on his own psychological wounding.
- Lack of understanding that casual racism is built on the premise of “white comfort and discomfort.”
- Lack of empowering himself and letting go of the dependence of others
Rather than focusing outward on others coming to his aid and understanding, Jonathan would do well to turn inward to relieve his own psychological distress.
Although Jonathan is skillful in “playing the game,” the focus now turns to “running the race smarter, not harder.” This can be achieved allowing Jonathan to let go of his fear about being viewed as the “Angry Black(man) out of Control” to transforming his own needs by utilizing empowerment strategies like ABC i.e. (advocacy, balance and calmness.)
Jonathan’s error was in “Looking for Love in All the Wrong Places.” It was his failure to understand that in order to gain recognition, acceptance and validation from the casual racist, that person must first want to accept responsibility for the insidious traumatization and its impact upon others. However, to do so would cause “white discomfort” and, as a result, it is easier for them to avoid the topic altogether.
Jonathan would fare much better from seeking to obtain his desires from within and let go of seeking that support from the external environment, which is heavily influenced by casual racism.
Am I being paranoid or just scared?
Harold (name changed to protect privacy) is a 27-year-old city employee.
“Hey Doc, I feel like I am always on guard. I am constantly looking at the news and at social media; I am feeling eyes on me all the time. In working downtown, I am surrounded by lots of women, mainly white. I feel that I am always being racially profiled. People stare, but they just don’t say anything. I am frightened by what happened to that boy in Brooklyn when the white woman claimed that he groped her. So what that she apologized?
Recently, while standing in line, a white girl standing in front backed up into me. Scared the shit out of me! I didn’t know what she was going to do. I pulled out my phone ready to call 911 but what the fuck was I going to tell them? A white girl backed up into me and I am scared she’s going to yell sexual assault? She turned and apologized. I was still scared. I am still scared.
Now because of the shooting at the grocery store, I am afraid to go get groceries. I wonder whether I be able to go shopping and not get killed. That black man who was killed in Kentucky was shopping with his grandson. His grandson saw everything. How is he going to get that out of his head? Damn, I can’t get it out of my head.
Doc, I got no one to talk to. My friends laugh at me, saying that I am paranoid. I’m not sharing my feelings ever again! I thought about getting a concealed weapon permit, but I am fearful of being profiled as a black man with a gun. This is bullshit. A white man can carry a concealed weapon and it’s no big deal, but when a black man does the same, they want to call out SWAT.
Doc, the other day, I refused to get on an elevator because there was only this white woman waiting to go in as well. I was afraid of what she could say and that it would be my word against her word. Who are they going to believe? … Goldilocks crying in distress or the big black wolf? Fuck that, I don’t need the stress. No witnesses, it would be better to wait than risk the chance of being a soundbite on the evening news. Doc, I know I did the right thing and yet I am still pissed off at Goldilocks, the fucking world and myself.
What words do you have for me, Doc?”
Let’s examine the issues:
- Harold is a young adult African-American male in the mid-range of early adult development. He appears to be highly sensitive to recent media reports of racial profiling and murders.
Regarding the incident in Brooklyn, Harold is referring to the white woman who called 911 on a 9-year-old black male in the mistaken belief that the child had groped her. A review of video shows that his backpack had brushed up against her.
In session, Harold admitted to being impacted by quotes by law enforcement regarding racial profiling and their response including the following:
“It is what it is. Do you understand?
-Police Officer, providing an explanation to a black male being racially profiled and detained while providing childcare to two white children.
“Anybody can call the police at any time for any reason,” one deputy said of the call. “We’ll respond.”
-St John’s County Sheriff Deputy following a 911 call on a black father cheering on his son at a soccer game
Analysis: Dr. Kane
Harold is experiencing hyper-awareness and hypersensitivity due to being overwhelmed by his fear of vulnerability and exposure to white fear of black skin. He views himself as being not believable in the eyes of a hostile and unforgiving society ready to peg him as the big black wolf seeking to ravish the innocence of Goldilocks.
Casual racism is subtly packaged white fear of black skin, and it is an inherently dangerous form of racism. It combines micro-aggressions (statements, actions or incidents) and macro-aggressions (threats of physical force, law enforcement) with modern racism (beliefs and attitudes) to form aversive racism (engaging in crazy-making interactions with African-Americans.
In addition to vulnerability and exposure to a hostile external environment (i.e. racial profiling, and racial murder,) Harold is in a state of internal conflict. Fearful of being taunted and viewed as “paranoid” by his friends, Harold has isolated himself from his emotional and supporting resources.
Clinically speaking, paranoia is an instinct or thought process believed to be heavily influenced by anxiety or fear, often to the point of delusion and irrationality. Paranoid thinking typically includes persecutory, or beliefs of conspiracy concerning a perceived threat towards oneself.
Harold, like many other African-Americans, has been targeted before via racial profiling and as a result, are vulnerable and exposed to death due to white fear of black skin. Therefore, a “reasonable person” in the same circumstances would be fully expected to respond the same way under similar circumstances: it would be expected that a person would remain in a state of hyper-awareness and hypersensitivity.
Harold is not paranoid. He is not delusional or irrational in his thought process. He has become hyper-vigilant as he seeks to respond to his vulnerability and exposure to racial profiling and perceived threats of death. To assist Harold, we would focus on identifying emotional/ supportive resources and treatment strategies that would return him to a course of normal vigilance.
Clinical Framework of Psychological Self Protection- Balancing Vigilance
- Awareness– maintain awareness of your immediate surrounding
- Alertness-be alert of the possibility of being under observance by others
- Aloneness-be accepting that aloneness of your presence and possible isolation.
- Aloofness-protect yourself psychologically during difficult situations through maintaining coolness and distance.
- Aliveness– remember; maintaining vigilance is key to safety and returning home to your loved ones
Closing Remarks-Dr. Kane
My Dear Readers,
I am a staunch believer that words and actions have meaning and impact. It would true to say that not everyone shares this belief. Following a recent writing, a dear colleague and fellow African-American in a sharply worded rebuke chided me in stating that
“Everyone is not into psychology and analysis everything.”
If only this was so…. Perhaps then, there would be less people walking wounded, psychologically impacted, and traumatized.
Across the nation, two communities, one African-American and the other Jewish, are grieving the loss of members through senseless acts of violence. As they grieve their dead, they quietly take steps to both prevent the next occurrence and prepare again for the next set of losses.
The murderous and senseless killings at Tree of Life synagogue killing 11 members were not the first among racially or religion motivated murders in Pittsburgh in 2018. News media reports the following:
“In August a 24-year-old white man named Jordan Rocco posted a video to Instagram in which he described how he was going to play a game: He was going to see how many times he could say “n****r” before getting kicked out of bars. A few hours later, he was denied entry to the Little Red Corvette bar on Pittsburgh’s popular North Shore Drive. Unprovoked, he then allegedly attacked two black men on the sidewalk, fatally stabbing 24-year-old Dulane Cameron Jr.”
The media reports continue with:
“The blood that gushed from Cameron’s neck that night in August no longer stains the sidewalk on North Shore Drive. On Monday evening, people walked into the bars to watch “Monday Night Football” or stumbled out for a smoke. There’s no memorial to mark his killing.”
This prior weekend, the University of Kentucky played a home game against the University of Georgia, losing 34-17. The game was attended by 63, 543 screaming fans excited to see a Wildcats and Bulldogs football game.
The distance from the University of Kentucky in the city of Lexington to Jeffersontown is 68 miles or 1 hour 7 minutes and 5 hours 34 minutes from Pittsburgh. Although both teams included African-American and Jewish players, there was no memorial or activity identified for the dead of either Jeffersontown or Pittsburgh.
This is how casual racism is successful in sheltering the white majority from its discomfort. They distance themselves from it by immersing themselves in activities that allow for avoidance and disengagement. They are skillful in distancing and identifying those who are involved in racist or anti-Semitic murders as outliers. In doing so, the group disavows group responsibility yet allowing its members to continue to engage in actions that are psychologically wounding to others.
In closing I leave a special message to the haters, the racists and the anti-Semites. You may wound us, and yes, some of us will die because of your senseless actions. However, you will never divide or defeat us.
The African-American and Jewish communities will stand together. We will bury our dead and we will grieve. It is in our grief, pain, and suffering that we find strength to go forth.
We will seek justice and we will not be satisfied until justice has been achieved.
“No, no, we are not satisfied, and we will not be satisfied until Justice roles down like water, and righteousness like a mighty stream.”
-Martin Luther King
Until the next crossroads …. The journey continues …