In Our Corner: Self Hate and Pressure for Acceptance

“We’re men. Soldiers. And I don’t intend for our race to be cheated of its place of honor and respect in this war because of fools like C.J.”
– MSgt. Vernon Waters (character), A Soldier’s Play

 

“Remember, you’re the first colored officer most of these men ever seen. The Army expects you to set an example for the colored troops… and be a credit to your race.”
– Col. Nivens (character), A Soldier’s Play

 

“Any man ain’t sure where he belong, gotta’ be in a whole lotta pain.”
– CJ (character), A Soldier’s Play

 

My Dear Readers,

My, oh my…what a beginning for 2020! I recently returned from a five-thousand-mile, round-trip, journey to New York over a weekend to see the Broadway theater production of A Soldier’s Play. It is a WWII murder mystery story set on a segregated military base in Louisiana.

Following my earlier trip to see Slave Play, I was anticipating a second triumphant return to Seattle having experienced a play of similar brilliance but, what I experienced was nothing like I expected.

In Slave Play, I marveled at the playwright’s utilization of race, sex and trauma to shine a light on our society’s relationship with white supremacy, but A Soldier’s Play was different. It was more personal. It told how some African Americans internalized white supremacy then weaponized against one another. The pure self-hate and internal demand for acceptance being portrayed by a black cast, simply hit too close to home.

On the surface, A Soldier’s Play is about a black man’s desire to fight for his country during WWII. Underneath, there is the picture of the ongoing internal conflict with achieving status and acceptance while struggling with self-hatred and denial of dreams and opportunities.

A Soldier’s Play is invaluable as it seeks to portray the psychological landscapes of these men who struggle to be accepted as equals by whites while battling the internalized oppression and self-hatred that flows from their psychosocial wounds paralleling, with great accuracy, the struggle black men face today.

The play identifies the good, bad and ugly within the main characters Sgt. Waters and Capt. Davenport. Utilizing quotes from the stage play, I will seek to expose common themes and how those themes impact African Americans today.
Sgt. Waters:
Sgt. Waters is an African American holdover from WWI who, due to the military’s segregationist policies of the time, feels denied his place of honor and respect.

For him, WWII presents another opportunity to gain that respect and honor he feels he is due, and he is determined not to be denied his moment of glory and recognition. In the play, Sgt. Waters shares the following story of an experience in France during WWI:

“You know the damage one ignorant Negro can do? We were in France in the first war; we’d won decorations. But the white boys had told all them French gals that we had tails. Then they found this ignorant colored soldier, paid him to tie a tail to his ass and run around half naked, making monkey sounds.

Put him on the big round table in the Café Napoleon, put a reed in his hand, crown on his head, blanket on his shoulders, and made him eat “bananas” in front of all them Frenchies. Oh, the white boys danced that night… passed out leaflets with that boy’s picture on it.

Called him Moonshine, King of the Monkeys. And when we slit his throat, you know that fool asked us what he had done wrong?”

Sgt. Waters’ words and actions are clear indications of what he is willing to do to gain “honor and respect.” Now faced with a new war and thus an opportunity to gain “honor and respect”, Sgt. Waters is driven to oust any person he views stands in his way.

He subsequently targets a colored soldier, CJ. He plants false evidence to have him arrested, telling him

“Whole lot of people just can’t seem to fit in to where things seem to be going. Like you, CJ. See, the Black race can’t afford you no more. There used to be a time, we’d see someone like you singin’, clownin’, yassuh –bossin’… and we wouldn’t do anything. Folks liked that.

You were good. Homey, kind of nigger.

When they needed somebody to mistreat, call a name or two, they paraded you. Reminded them of the good old days. Not no more. The day of the Geechee is gone, boy. And you’re going with it.”

As a result of the stress being placed upon him, CJ commits suicide by hanging himself while being held in the stockade.
Later, Sgt. Waters, drunk and physically beaten, is found fatally shot in full military uniform and casted off on a muddy dirt road in the rain. As he lay dying, he screams at his killer:
“They still … hate you! THEY STILL HATE YOU!!”

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Analysis – Dr. Kane:
It would be a mistake to misjudge Sergeant Waters or depict him as evil. He simply wants the acceptance, honor and respect that has been historically denied to him and those of his race. Sergeant Waters is a deeply conflictive man. His hatred of the white man is only matched with the hatred of other African Americans who due to their ignorant behaviors are preventing his quest for glory.

He therefore takes it upon himself to protect the black race from acts of shame and humiliation. As demonstrated in story of slitting a young man’s throat and creating false evidence resulting in the suicide of another, he shows the extent to which he is willing to go to prevent the race from being “cheated of its place of honor and respect”.

One of Sgt. Waters’ characterizations is shame-based behavior. True to form, in his shame, he is depicted as feeling unworthy, defective and empty. In acting out those feelings, he repeatedly committed acts of racism and inflicted psychological trauma and humiliation on others. Something black men have faced from previous generations to today.

Shame can be debilitating, toxic and extremely destructive. Shame works to separate the individual from the psychological self. It creates an internal crisis that attacks the inner core, triggering a shaming spiral of negative self-talk.

Shame can be defined in several ways:
• A painful emotion caused by a strong sense of guilt, embarrassment, unworthiness or disgrace.
• An act that brings dishonor, disgrace or public condemnation.
• An object of great disappointment.

Another characterization of Sgt. Waters is an extreme fear of humiliation.

Humiliation is the infliction of a profoundly violent psychological act that leaves the victim with a deep wound within the psychological self. The painful experience is vividly remembered for a long time.
This includes:
• The enforced lowering of a person or group, a process of subjugation that either damages or strips away a person’s pride, honor or dignity.
• A state of being placed, against one’s will, in a situation where one is made to feel inferior.
• A process in which the victim is forced into passivity, acted upon, or made to feel helpless.

Humiliation differs from shame in that humiliation is public, whereas shame is private. Humiliation is the suffering of an insult. If the person being humiliated deems the insult as credible, then they will feel shame.

One can insult and humiliate another; but that person will only feel shame if one’s self image is reduced. Such action requires the person who has been humiliated to buy into or agree with the assessment that shame is deserved.

A person who is secure about their own stature is less likely to be vulnerable to feeling shame, whereas the insecure person is more prone to feeling shame because this individual gives more weight to what others think of him than to what he thinks of himself.

In the mind of Sgt. Waters, both individuals CJ the “singin’, clownin’, yassuh –bossin” individual and Moonshine, King of the Monkeys had to die. The humiliation was open and public, and the pain of shame was too much to bear.

It is ironic that in Sgt. Waters’ quest to avoid shame and humiliation, his death was just that, shameful, humiliating and at the hands of those he deemed unworthy.

Upon being caught his killer stated, “I didn’t kill much. Some things need gettin’ rid of. Man like Waters never did nobody no good anyway.”

These words, which may have been spoken 80 years ago, continue to be the sentiment that is being displayed against African Americans today as they continue to be impacted by racism and the resulting psychological trauma.

_____________________________________________________________________________________________

Capt. Davenport:
The military hierarchy, under pressure from the African American community and fearful of a possible race riot after the murder of a black soldier where the main suspects are the local Klansmen, sends a black investigator to look into the murder of Sergeant Waters. He is the first “Negro” officer that these men (including whites) have ever seen. He has been given three days to solve the murder. He has no authority and must be accompanied by a white officer when interviewing white witnesses.

Col. Nivens, the white base commander, wants him to quickly complete his assessment and be “in and out” of the military base ASAP. He seeks a quick investigation without finding any conclusions. He states
“The worst thing you can do, in this part of the country, is pay too much attention to the death of a negro under mysterious circumstances.”

In addition to being pressured to tread lightly and not solve the case, he is reminded by Col. Nivens that he is special and different. He is the first of his kind and carrying the responsibility to represent well. Col. Nivens states:
“Remember, you’re the first colored officer most of these men ever seen. The Army expects you to set an example for the colored troops… and be a credit to your race.”

_____________________________________________________________________________________________

Analysis –Dr. Kane:
The characterization of Capt. Davenport is a representation of the concept of “The Talented Tenth”. This is a term that was designated a leadership class of African Americans in the early 20th Century.

The term originated in 1886 among Northern white liberals with the goal of establishing black colleges in the South to train black teachers and elites. The term was later publicized by W.E.B. Dubois whose intent was to educate the best minds of the race and disseminate them into the greater black community allowing for the uplifting of the race.

Capt. Davenport’s character is the first Negro officer these people have ever seem. He is viewed as the “top” or ‘crème de la crème” of his race. He is given an impossible task to investigate (quietly) without solving the murder of Sgt. Waters.

He is viewed with suspicion by whites and in awe by blacks. He is given three days to complete the task and is mindful that he must represent both the Army, that enforces segregation and mistreats blacks, and try to deliver justice to the African American community which is waiting hungrily for the results.

The character of Capt. Davenport continues to permeate the psychological self of African Americans today. Following sixty years since the ending of legal segregation, the strategies of the dominant group has also transformed. Although diversity has transformed to add inclusion, equity and social justice, African Americans continue to find themselves impacted by acts of racism and psychological trauma.

Thanks to the scriptwriters in the movie “A Soldier’s Story” and the theatrical production, A Soldier’s Play, both conclude on a “positive note”. The murder is solved, the military hierarchy is happy, and the African American community nationwide can celebrate another small victory.

The African American community is left with a sliver of optimism to hold onto in hopes of a better future.

_____________________________________________________________________________________________

Concluding Words-Dr. Kane:
In this fictional story all ends well. The murder has been solved. No race riots. No more national outcry for civil rights investigations. The peace and calm of segregation and psychological traumatization of black soldiers and civilians can one again go back to normal.

In the film conclusion, the scriptwriters offer a slightly different, more accurate portrayal of black-white interpersonal relationships, a tension that exists to this very day: In an exchange between a white officer and Captain Davenport:

Capt. Taylor: I guess I’ll have to get used to Negroes with bars on their shoulders, Davenport. You know, being in charge.

Capt. Davenport: Oh, you’ll get used to it, Captain. You bet your ass on that. You’ll get used to it.

However, what is clearly left open are the questions about the strength of self-hatred and the pressure of acceptance by others that is truly captured in the scripts and holds true for African Americans today. Specifically, CJ referring to Sgt. Waters: “Any man ain’t sure where he belong, gotta’ be in a whole lotta pain.”

It remains to be real in today’s lives of African Americans who can endure, daily, fourteen subtypes of psychological traumas and eleven forms of racism.

The concept of the “talented tenth” was constructive and necessary when developed, but today, is a concept that is ill-suited and destructive because it demands that the individual sacrifice the psychological self on behalf of the impoverished community. Rather than bolster the community, the concept’s success is dependent upon disempowering the psychological self and creates insecurity and detachment and it weakens generation after generation.

What can be done? What can we do to model for our children and future generations? We can…. Walk the Landscape.

What is the Landscape?
The landscape is life.
One of the essential realities of life is that death is a certainty. What remains uncertain is:
• How we live our lives
• What we experience during our lifetimes
• The memories we leave with the individuals we interact with.

Life at the Crossroads
Waiting at the crossroads are possible experiences, submerged materials such as incidents, situations and conflicts that may surface directly in one’s path. Such materials demand to be addressed.

Interaction Points
These crossroads are interactions points where barriers, challenges, experiences with difficult individuals and opportunities are presented. At the crossroads:
• Choices are presented
• Decisions are made and directions are chosen
• Consequences for choices and decisions are foreseen.
• Wisdom is gained, lessons are learned, and both are utilized for future experiences
• Transformation through Self-Empowerment is achieved

The Journey of Self-Discovery is actualized upon understanding that:
• All decisions have consequences
• The fullness of life is measured not just by one’s success but by failures as well.

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“We cannot think of unity with others until we have first united among ourselves. We cannot think of being acceptable to others until we have proven acceptable to ourselves.”
– Malcolm X

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“Be willing to walk alone. Many who started with you won’t finish with you.”
– Shaniqua King

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“Truth…it’s about Walking the Landscape and in walking, one simply exposes one’s truth.”
– Dr. Micheal Kane

Until the next time,
Remaining … in Our Corner

Join us at our new website: www.lovingmemore.com

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