In Our Corner: The Seen, The Unseen and the Dimming of the Bonfires

“Once a profound truth has been seen, it cannot be ‘unseen’. There’s no ‘going back’ to the person you were. Even if such a possibility did exist… why would you want to?”

– Dave Sim, Cartoonist & Publisher

 

“Our police force was not created to serve black Americans; it was created to police black Americans and serve white Americans.”

– Ijeoma Oluo, So You Want to Talk About Race

 

“I know people get tired of hearing it but black people have got to keep saying it, throwing our conditions up into these people’s faces until something is done about the way they have treated us. We’ve just got to keep it in front of their eyes and their ears like the Jews have done. We’ve got to make them know and understand just how evil the things are that they did to us over all these years and are still doing to us today.”

– Miles Davis, Miles: The Autobiography

 

“I can hear you say, “What a horrible, irresponsible bastard!” And you’re right. I leap to agree with you. I am one of the most irresponsible beings that ever lived. Irresponsibility is part of my invisibility; any way you face it, it is a denial. But to whom can I be responsible, and why should I be, when you refuse to see me?”

– Ralph Ellison, Invisible Man

 

My Dear Readers,

Well, the “walking back,” has begun.  The explosion of anger and outrage following the murder of George Floyd by a white police officer that ignited protests and riots across the nation is waning, and the bonfires of action lit within the dominant group have begun to die out.

Still, the process is working. The people are finally being heard. State legislation regarding police reform is being passed and laws are being enacted.  Even President Trump, after a protracted silence, got involved and signed a watered-down executive order that, on its face, pretended to alter police policies but ultimately left it up to the agencies to enact.

The white liberal progressives are also adding their support. One social work organization is urging its members to pressure their representatives into acknowledging that Trump’s executive order is not “as strong as the organization would wish, but it is a start” and suggest that we work together in the “spirit of collaboration”. Really?

 

“In the Spirit of Collaboration”

This statement is loaded with catch phrases that signal that it is time to return to normal. “Not as strong as the organization would wish”, and “It is a start…” is language that coddles those in power into thinking that their half-hearted attempts at pacifying the enraged masses is “a step in the right direction” as if an actual effort was made. Working together “in the spirit of collaboration”, means nothing more than a return to the old normal with flowery new language and more black blood in the streets.

On June 12, 2020, another black man, Rayshard Brooks, was shot and killed by a white police officer in Atlanta, GA. Four days afterward, on June 16, 2020, Trump issued the Executive Order “Safe Policing for Safe Communities”.

Less than a week later, on June 21, 2020, an NYPD police officer was suspended without pay following video showing him using an illegal chokehold on an African American man.

Are the police uninformed or is it a return to business as usual?

 

Intellectual Knowledge vs Experiential Persecution

Knowledge of racism, microaggressions, and macroaggressions can be learned about academically or experienced; known intellectually or lived through and felt.

When racism has only been observed from afar, its impacts can be rationalized down to…

“Privilege is the right to remain silent when others can’t.”

– Richie Norton, Author

But when it is lived through repeatedly, statements like…

“Every time the neck of a black man, woman or child is pinned to the ground by the knee of a police officer, every time a black man, woman or child is chased down in the street and shot simply for being there, every time a black man woman or child is judged purely because of color, every time a white individual crosses the street to avoid walking past a black man, woman or child, avoids sitting beside a black man, woman or child on public transport or says or does nothing when a black man, woman or child is being subjected to abuse is, in itself, a modern day lynching.” 

– R. Patient

Capture the depths of what is routinely being experienced.

The words of Norton, a white author, are no less true than those of Patient, but there is a difference. Norton only knows of the brutality and injustice, while to Patient, it is known and felt emotionally.

Today the dominant group can speak intellectually and rationally about the need for police reform however, having not experienced this, they cannot feel the trauma of police brutality and oppression. They cannot conceive of the suffering that comes from the understanding that policing arises from slavery and is intended for the control and oppression of black and brown people, today’s descendants of slaves.

Below is such a story…

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Dear Dr. Kane,

I am feeling helpless.  And I am so angry. I am a black man working in the corporate world.  I have had to put up with microaggressions all my life living in the Pacific Northwest. 

 I lived my life and shouldered my aches and pains with no one giving a damn.  I remembered one incident while walking with my white peers to lunch being stopped and questioned by the police.  They said I resemble a person of interest. 

They detained me, “handcuffing me for my safety” and after a few minutes and checking their computer system, let me go. Those bastards gave me a warming to be good and stay out of trouble.  There was no apology. 

 All this happened with my peers standing right there. They did nothing. They did not come to my aid. I was so humiliated. I graduated, top of my class gaining my MBA, and these bastards, the police tell me to be good and stay out trouble.

  It was a supposed to be a networking lunch.  No one said a word; I sat at the restaurant in silence.  I got up twice to go to the restroom to collect myself.  I was so angry, but I couldn’t scream or yell.  All I could do is cry like a girl. 

 Finally, I made an excuse and left, going home for the day.  When I got home, I got drunk and stayed drunk for two days calling in sick.  I know they knew the truth.  When I returned to work, they all pretended nothing had happened.

 Now some time later, George Floyd gets killed on video and now they are concerned about my welfare.  I am so sick and tired of the “I had no idea” or “is it really is that bad?” or approval of “Black Lives Matter.”  This is all bullshit.  They knew.  How could they not know?  My life wasn’t important before and now it is?

I am so confused and conflicted.  I want their help. Black lives do matter.  I am tired of being afraid when I see the cops driving behind me.  I know they are running my plates.   I get these aching feelings in my chest and stomach.

 I know we cannot succeed without their help.  White people and people of color have got to come together to make changes and undo racism.  But I am afraid that they will walk away like they have done so many times before.  I know the history.

 Now that I’ve got visibility, I don’t want to lose it.  I want change. What can I do besides drinking my pain away?

Covering Up Pain, Seattle WA

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My Dear Young Man,

You are seeking something from me that is beyond my skill to provide. I cannot make your pain go away. As a black man in America, no matter who you are, rich, poor, educated etc., your blackness will be weaponized against you.

Black men in powerful positions within government such as Cory Booker, US Senator of New Jersey, and Eric Holder, former Attorney General of the United States, have been racially profiled and stopped by local law enforcement.  Black women are not exempt from such microaggressions either. In July 2017, Aramis Ayala, state attorney for the Ninth Judicial Circuit Court of Florida, was profiled and pulled over in a stop occurring in the same county that she is the top prosecutorial official.

 

The Exhausting Toll: The “Black Tax”

There is a hidden tax that you pay for your freedom to be a black person in America.  It is not a formal tax, it is not listed in any of the local, state or federal tax codes.  It is a tax that is demanded by any white person with privilege at any time against a black person simply for being assumed as suspicious or by creating arbitrary rules on the basis of the color of one’s skin.

Bryant Gumbel, Real Sports host said it well,

“…It’s about the many instances of disrespect and incivility your color seems to engender, and being expected to somehow always restrain yourself, lest you not be what white Americans are never asked to be, a credit your race.”

To add clarity to his words, Gumbel provides the following examples:

“It’s about your son getting arrested for doing nothing more than walking while Black.”

“It’s about having to be more concerned than your white friends and associates for the safety of your grandkids.”

“It’s about the day in and day out fatigue of trying to explain the obvious to the clueless.”

“It’s about being asked to overlook blue failings and white failings so they can be conveniently viewed as Black issues.”

“It’s about being asked by so many what they should do or say about race when the easy answer lies in the privacy of each person’s heart. It’s the ‘Black tax.’”

 “It’s paid daily by me and every person of color in this country, and frankly, it’s exhausting.”

– Bryant Gumbel, https://people.com/tv/bryant-gumbel-explains-black-tax-hbo-real-sports/

 

My Dear Young Man,

To restate Bryant Gumbel, “It’s exhausting.” Many have crumbled under the weight of the burden of the black tax.  Many have failed due to the lack of belief, faith and trust in Self and gambled on the hope that others will rise to their aid.

You stated that your peers stood silently by while the police were humiliating you.  You added that you “cried like a girl” and went home and got drunk over two days…

How did that work out for you?

Did the alcohol resolve your problems?

Did the short term “feel good” resolve the long-term problem?

Did the black tax suddenly cease to exist?

 

The Journey of Self Discovery

My Dear Young Man,

Your failure in your actions was looking for others to speak up for you and when they didn’t, you became angry and disappointed in both them and in yourself.  You looked to them to support you and your safety and then when they failed, you drowned the wounded Self in alcohol and pity, then found when you returned to work, life had gone on as if nothing ever happened.

Those who hold the privilege have the choice to utilize it as a resource for good in helping others or as a tool of manipulation in which the benefit remains with the privileged.

“We will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.”

– Martin Luther King, Jr.

Rather than drown the injury with alcohol, make the choice of healing the wound while you seek to empower the psychological Self.  Rather than view your tears as a gendered weakness, have the insight to view them as a normal human response to your injury, as representation of your essence and your quality of being.

 

The Five Levels of The Journey

My Dear Young Man,

The journey of self-discovery is yours and yours alone.  You restrict or inhibit your journey by holding to destructive cultural and gender norms such as “real men do not shred tears” or expressing emotions is “validating weakness.”  Such internalized of beliefs will trap you in a mental and emotional enslavement that is now being maintained by the dominant group.

I will not validate the concept of resilience nor will I touch-on the concept of the shield, spear, and fire.  For all are illusionary for a Black male seeking Self while walking the journey of self-discovery.  It is within this frame that I suggest the following clinical concept: The Five Levels of The Journey to self-empowerment.

 

Self-Empowerment

In this walk we encounter five levels of experience:

  1. The journey is bleak and lifeless for the individual. Life is barely lived, let alone enjoyed or even really experienced. Nothing is produced or gained by the individual at this level.

 

  1. The focus of the journey is to remain alive and breathing. The individual attaches minimally to life, lives in fear, and is in a constant state of desperation and upheaval.  There is little gain for the individual at this level.

 

  1. At this level, the search for empowerment begins. The individual wanders, seeking direction, and in doing so, learns to balance and reinforce the psychological self.  The individual understands the difference between living in fear and living with fear; and is balancing and implementing empowerment strategies in their life.

 

  1. The individual has gained balance within their life and is fully experiencing the psychological Self. The individual has internalized the concept of living with fear and is successfully implementing empowerment strategies in their life.

 

  1. The individual has obtained both full realizations of the psychological Self and transformation through self-empowerment has been achieved.

 

Transformation &The Reflection in the Mirror

My Dear Young Man,

In my work as a clinical traumatologist and psychotherapist, I serve as a companion and guide to those seeking to Walk the Landscape.  It is my personal and professional opinion that the therapeutic process is of value when we embrace both my role and the process as a whole.

Though I could ask where you think you fall along the five levels as identified above, would you:

Speak the truth as to what you need to see?

Speak the truth as to what you want to see?

Speak the truth as what is actually being reflected in the mirror?

Interestingly enough, your words are an indicator of what level you are.  You said,

 “I want change. What can I do besides drinking my pain away?”

This is an indication that you are teetering between existing and surviving with clear signs that as black man, you are dealing with unhealed wounds from previous psychological injuries.  Furthermore, there appears to be a lack of Self who desires or wishes for the support of others to be whole. As these desires or wishes have not been met, there is the relief sought via alcohol.

 

Walking the Landscape

My Dear Young Man,

First, stop seeking change. What you are currently doing is “change.”  The change you are involved in is oscillating between existing and surviving.  Instead, seek to reframe and refocus and move toward transformation in which there is no going back. Movement is forward.

Consider the five elements of Walking the Landscape:

  1. Choices are presented.
  2. Decisions are made and directions are chosen.
  3. Consequences for choices and decisions are foreseen.
  4. Wisdom is gained, lessons are learned, and both can be utilized for future experiences
  5. Transformation through Self-Empowerment is achieved.

In your specific situation:

  1. Choices: There are two paths.
    • Continue the path of consuming alcohol to medicate your pain and continue to be one of numerous black men who exist and survive as the “walking wounded”. OR…
    • Choose an alternative path; seek individual psychotherapy. Cease looking to others to provide support or wholeness.
  1. Decisions: Make and Embrace your decision.
    • Accept your reality and continue to suffer, medicating your psychological injuries with alcohol. OR
    • Work toward developing empowerment strategies. Learn to stand alone as you develop belief, faith, and trust in self.
  1. Consequences: are your reactions and responses.
    • Allow your reactions (anger, disappointment, disillusionment) to be your response. OR
    • Embrace your reactions, learning (anger, disappointment, disillusionment) and developing as well as sharing your response.
  1. Wisdom: the foundation for the future.
    • I am a failure. I cannot succeed. The world is against me. OR
    • I am solid. I am good.  I will achieve, despite the barriers and obstacles being placed before me.
  1. Transformation
    • I am defeated. I have accepted my path. OR
    • I am empowered. I have achieved self-discovery and continue Walking the Landscape that is mine and mine alone.

So young man, which path would you choose?  It is your landscape, your choice and most importantly…. your life.

 

Concluding Remarks – Dr. Kane

 My Dear Young Man,

I am now left with the difficult task of tying together the themes from my beginning statements directed to my beloved readers and the comments in response to your letter.

In my statements to the readership, I said:

“…the “walking back,” has begun.  The explosion of anger and outrage following the murder of George Floyd by a white police officer that ignited protests and riots across the nation is waning, and the bonfires of action lit within the dominant group have begun to die out.”

Also…

“The white liberal progressives are also adding their support. One social work organization is urging its members to pressure their representatives into acknowledging that Trump’s executive order is not “as strong as the organization would wish, but it is a start” and suggest that we work together in the ‘spirit of collaboration’.”

 

White Liberal Intent vs Impact

The white, liberal, and progressive leadership within the dominant group know that the core of white America has grown tired of governmental and public health restrictions due to COVID-19. This has led to a willingness to forego adhering to CDC guidelines (face masks and social distancing), even as case numbers and deaths rise, in favor of forcing an ill-timed “economic recovery”. Under this pressure, the dominant group is reluctant to continue adopting sweeping and decisive actions to protect the public health.

This same story is playing out with the Black Lives Matter protests.

The white liberal and progressive leadership see that the bonfires of action lit within the dominant group have begun to wane. That the Black Lives Matter protests may soon no longer be a priority for those involved. Now, in the “spirit of collaboration”, the white, progressive leadership is willing to bargain away the lives and liberties of black and brown Americans in favor of getting what they want while they can. People of color have once again become commodities.

They can do this out of pure, arrogantly used white privilege. The same white privilege shown by signers of the Declaration of Independence, of which 34 of the 47 (including John Hancock, Robert Livingston, Benjamin Franklin, and Thomas Jefferson) were slave owners. The idea that they can and will make decisions about and for you without consulting you.

The reality of white privilege is simple; it can either be used for manipulation and the reinforcement of trauma of others or it can be utilized as a resource to assist others to achieve the quality of life they are entitled to.

Though they intend to use it to assist, I hope, ultimately, that the arrogance of white privilege does not blind the progressive liberals from seeing the impact of carnage they are about to create.

I appreciate the message from Sheryll Cashin to those holding privilege.  She states:

“If you are white, you have an obligation to at least understand where the concept of whiteness comes from and to decide how you will proceed with that knowledge. I hope your journey will include an intentional choice to acquire dexterity.” 

 

Standing…. & Standing Alone

Now, in response to you…

 

My Dear Young Man,

In your letter, you concluded with the following:

“I know we cannot succeed without their help.  White people and people of color have got to come together to make changes and undo racism.  But I am afraid that they will walk away like they have done so many times before.  I know the history.”

For a person to act as if they are sightless and place his belief, faith, and trust in the hands of others, leaves him to wander and stumble without direction, existing and surviving as he creeps along the landscape.  You can see.  Open your eyes.  Regardless whether you stand with others or you stand alone, be empowered, and walk your landscape. It is yours and yours alone.

“If you believe in a cause, be willing to stand up for that cause with a million people or by yourself.”

– Otis S. Johnson, From “N Word” to Mr. Mayor: Experiencing the American Dream.

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I Just Want to Live

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UIuSLBX74Ac

I’m a young black man

Doing all I can

To stand

Oh, but when I look around

And I see what’s being done to my kind

Everyday

I’m being hunted as prey

My people don’t want no trouble

We’ve had enough struggle

I just want to live

God protect me

I just want to live

I just want to live.

Song by Keedron Bryant (2020)

 

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Until the next time, Remaining … in Our Corner

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