The Visible Man: Transforming From Ejection to Empowerment

“Once let the black man get upon his person the brass letter, U.S., let him get an eagle on his button, and a musket on his shoulder and bullets in his pocket, there is no power on earth that can deny that he has earned the right to citizenship.”

-Frederick Douglass

“Get, get, you don’t belong here, you don’t belong here, you don’t belong here.’”

-Ruby Howell, campground manager pulling gun on black couple having picnic on Memorial Day

“The fact that she used ‘get, get’ like we were a dog. You say ‘get, get’ to a stray dog that’s on your porch.”

-Franklin Richardson, after being threatened by Ruby Howell

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My Dear Readers,

A belated Memorial Day greeting and a heartfelt thank you to those in our military that gave their lives for our nation.  Once again, I leave my self-imposed retreat to communicate to my beloved readership.

In this writing, I direct my focus to an incident that speaks to how important it is that all Americans, regardless of racial or ethnic origin, understand the psychological wounding created and supported in environments immersed in  hostility and hate.

African Americans have an extensive history of psychological rejection by whites and physical ejection from places where whites feel that African Americans do not “belong.”  Historically, whites have utilized laws and “black codes” to restrict and control the movements of African Americans.

In modern times, while the hostility and hate continue to flourish, the methods of restriction and control have transformed.  Today, whites call the police on African Americans who are #WalkingWhileBlack, #SleepingWhileBlack, and #SellingWaterWhileBlack, among others, leading to what I call a Starbucks Moment.  Named for the 2016 story where two African-American males were arrested for sitting in a Starbucks in Philadelphia, a Starbucks Moment: 

“…occurs when a white person, due to irrational 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.”

-M. Kane, (2016)

White people continue to employ this strategy to this day. Some take matters into their own hands by violence.  In 2018, a white retired firefighter was convicted of assault with intent to do great bodily harm for shooting a 12-gauge shotgun at a black adolescent that was lost and knocked on the firefighter’s door seeking directions to his school.   The firefighter’s spouse testified:

“He didn’t look like a child.  He was a rather big man standing there, and also if he was going to school, we have no schools in our area.”

Most recently, an African-American couple searching for a space to celebrate Memorial Day with a picnic, unwittingly wandered onto a private campground.  The campground manager, an older white woman, immediately confronted them with a firearm, saying:

“Get, get, you don’t belong here, you don’t belong here, you don’t belong here.”

While capturing the incident on video, the black couple departed without further comment. Franklin Richardson, a non-commissioned officer in the US National Guard, having recently returned from a nine-month tour in the Middle East, commented:

“You go over there, and you don’t have a gun pointed at you,” he said of his time serving overseas. And you come home, and the first thing that happens is that you have a gun pointed at you.  It’s kind of crazy to think about.”

The video of the incident has gone viral on social media, sparking discussion within the wider African American community, leading some of my readers to reach out to me.

Below are their stories….

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Dear Dr. Kane:

I am a black veteran who has served several tours in Iraq.  I have been wounded, diagnosed with PTSD and I was medically discharged from military service.  I have two teenage sons.  I am living in hell.  I am so afraid that when they go out with their friends that some crazy white person or the police are going to kill them.   I can’t sleep.  What can I do?

-Shaking in Seattle

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Dear Dr. Kane:

I served overseas in Iraq and recently came home.  I served my country only to see the fear in their eyes when white people look at me.  I am afraid that what happened to that Mississippi couple on Memorial Day could happen to me.  My family and I were planning to go camping next weekend—now we have canceled our plans.  My wife is scared.  I don’t like living this way. I am thinking about getting a concealed weapon permit.  What are your thoughts?

-Staying Alive, Tacoma, WA.

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Dear Dr. Kane:

That woman deserved to be fired. In fact, she deserves to be thrown in prison.  She had no reason to bring a gun.  She could have communicated to that couple without being intimidating.  When are white people going to accept us?  We are just like them.  I pay taxes, obey the law, go to church and work a job.  What the hell is wrong with these people?

-Disgusted in Shoreline, WA

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Observations-Dr. Kane  

There are common themes in the words of these individuals.  They are male, African American, and veterans of our armed forces. They are responding to ejection and rejection during times of hostility and hate, and this psychologically impacts them.

While these men are unable to control the negativity being directed towards them, they can mitigate the impact of their psychological distress by working to transform the following behaviors and/or actions:

  • Living in Fear to Living with Fear
  • Letting Go the Illusion of Power
  • Cease Seeking Acceptance from Others

 

Living in Fear to Living with Fear

Historically, white people, as the dominant group of people in this country, have used fear as a method of controlling the lives of African Americans.  This fear has been implemented in courts, in laws, in law enforcement, and enforced through discrimination and domestic terror, such as lynching.  Between the ending of the Reconstruction era in 1870 and the height of the Civil Rights Movement in 1968, 4,000 African-Americans were murdered via the rope and lynch mobs. There are numerous documented incidents of police involvement in these events or awareness of them.

African Americans, despite this pressure, continue to show the capacity to improve their social economic status, even though the remain psychologically impacted due to racial, historical and inter-generational traumas, among many other kinds of trauma.  In some cases, such as the one shown in the letter from Shaking in Seattle, African Americans live in daily fear for the safety of their children.

It is also likely that he is directly communicating his fear to the psychological core of his sons, even as he seeks to protect them from a hostile external environment. Shaking in Seattle can improve his situation and provide a protection strategy for his teenage sons by understanding and showing them that fear is simply an emotion being felt.

He can choose to embrace his fear, normalizing his feelings and by doing so, model this method of addressing these events for his teenage sons. In transforming the way he views his fear, Shaking in Seattle can teach his sons self-preservation strategies and how to respond when interacting with law enforcement and individuals such as the campground manager when they display threatening or intimidating behaviors.

 

Letting Go of the Illusion of Power

Staying Alive in Tacoma is also living in fear.  However, unlike Shaking in Seattle, due to the campground firearm incident, Staying Alive in Tacoma has canceled outdoor activities that bring joy to him and his family.  Furthermore, Staying Alive in Tacoma is considering obtaining a concealed weapon permit, which may make things worse.

It would be a mistake for Staying Alive in Tacoma to obtain a concealed weapon permit.  By doing this, he places the responsibility for his protection on an external source: a concealed weapon.  In doing so, he gives away his personal empowerment from his internal source: his ability to effectively communicate.

A clear example of empowerment comes from the very incident that produced this reaction. When the campground manager pulled her weapon, the African-American couple utilized communication to defuse the situation, exited the area and prevented the possibility of deadly harm.

It is a foregone conclusion that based on the stereotypical beliefs and fears held by the dominant society as well as their ability to manipulate law enforcement, Staying Alive in Tacoma will have intermediate, unannounced, and ongoing contact with law enforcement.

It would be wise for African American males to use self-empowerment strategies and treat both law enforcement and individuals who display threatening or intimidating behavior  the way that Forrest Gump treated a box of chocolates: like you don’t know what you are going to get.  

 

Cease Seeking Acceptance from Others

Disgusted in Shoreline simply expects fairness.  He views himself as having achieved the successes that the dominant group requires African Americans to be in order to be worthy of living: class status, home ownership, and being upstanding taxpaying and law-abiding citizens.

In his frustration of being denied acceptance by the dominant majority, he fails to see that the rejection he places on himself as he seeks this acceptance is a moving target.  Despite his remarkable social and economic achievements, Disgusted in Shoreline may suffer from Post-Traumatic Slave Syndrome, and as a result, lacks “psychological wholeness.”

The solution for Disgusted in Shoreline may be to stop seeking acceptance from others.  Since that desired acceptance is racially motivated, therapy can help with balancing the desire to be accepted by white people. However, the question that remains is whether he can begin the Journey of Self Discovery and in doing so, learn to want, love, and value the psychological self.

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 Concluding Remarks-Dr. Kane

 Casual racism is a term used to refer to society’s or a particular individual’s lack of regard for the impact of their racist actions upon another person.  Casual racism has become more insidious as it has become expressed through white comfort and discomfort.”  -M. Kane

Disgusted in Shoreline leaves us with an interesting question: “What the hell is wrong with these [white] people?”

What is wrong with these people?  White people are unable to talk about racial issues related to African Americans.  They are aware that despite the illusion of American self-sufficiency, this nation is built on the blood, sweat and tears of slavery.

Many may believe that the campground manager deserves to be fired, or thrown in prison, as Disgusted in Shoreline wrote. However, this emotional response only serves to deflect and identify the problem as belonging to an isolated individual, instead of something the dominant society views as a collective responsibility.

This denial of collective responsibility places White America in a “psychological prison” in which they go about their daily lives ignoring the culture of hostility and hate they live within, and then when confronted with it, expecting redemption and atonement from people of color.

Like African Americans, white people in this country are psychological traumatized.  Although they are in denial, they too are impacted by historical and intergenerational traumas. White people in these situations do not know how to obtain relief.  Therefore, they also suffer in silence.  They are impacted by Complex Moral Injury Syndrome and White Supremacy Trauma.

In this land, true healing will only occur from empowering the psychological self and arising above hostility and hate.

There are many who share the sentiments of Ruby Howell, the campground manager:

“Get, get, you don’t belong here, you don’t belong here, you don’t belong here.”

African-Americans have fought, spilling blood and dying so people like Ruby Howell can live free.  This is our home as well.  We are not going anywhere.

We are staying right here.

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The Negro Speaks of Rivers

I’ve known rivers:

I’ve known rivers ancient as the world and older than the

     flow of human blood in human veins.

My soul has grown deep like the rivers.

I bathed in the Euphrates when dawns were young.

I built my hut near the Congo and it lulled me to sleep.

I looked upon the Nile and raised the pyramids above it.

I heard the singing of the Mississippi when Abe Lincoln went down to New Orleans, and I’ve seen its muddy bosom turn all golden in the sunset.

I’ve known rivers:

Ancient, dusky rivers.

My soul has grown deep like the rivers.

-Langston Hughes – 1902-1967

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

NOTE: Please join Dr. Kane for:

Black and Thriving: African/American Perspectives on Mental Illness

A Juneteenth Panel Discussion

June 17, 2019, 2pm-4pm

Langston Hughes Performing Arts Institute

104 17th Ave S, Seattle, WA 98144

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