The Unspoken Truth: Waiting Your Turn at the End of The Line

“He was pretty much fed up and kind of at the end of his rope. Yesterday was a really bad day for him and this is what he did.” 

Captain Jay Baker Director of Communications, Cherokee County, GA, Sheriff’s Office (describing the bad day of the shooter following the killing of 8 people including 6 women of Asian descent)

“All of us have experienced bad days. But we don’t go to three Asian businesses and shoot up Asian employees.”

Ted Lieu Congressman, California

“Love my shirt! Get yours while they last,”

Facebook post featuring shirts created by Captain Jay Baker, Director of Communications, Cherokee County, GA Sheriff’s Office that appears to echo former President Trump’s characterization of COVID-19 as the “China Virus” and the “Kung Flu”.

“To see the post is both disturbing and outrageous. It speaks to the structural racism that we’re all up against. Coupled with the comments coming out of the news conference, it does not give community members confidence that our experiences and the pain and the suffering that we’re feeling are being taken seriously, at lease by this particular person.”

Vincent Pan, Co-Executive Director, Chinse for Affirmative Action

“It does not appear race was his reasons for allegedly shooting multiple people at three massage parlors.”

Christopher Wray, Director, Federal Bureau of Investigation (interview with National Public Radio two days following the shootings)

My Dear Readers,

It is with a heavy heart that I write this blog. Twice in a matter of one week, our nation has been dealt enormously traumatic blows, two mass shootings by individual gunmen. One occurring in the greater Atlanta, GA area, taking the lives of eight and the other occurring in Boulder, CO, taking the lives of 10. Both occurring as we continue to respond psychologically to the loss of 547,000 Americans and the infection of a further 30 million more due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

There are differences in the ways in which both mass shootings are being publicly reported, public outcry, and the governmental response. First, let us identify the differences in the facts of the cases. In Atlanta, the victims where all ethnic minorities whereas in Boulder, the victims were Caucasians. In the Atlanta shooting the shooter is Caucasian while in the Boulder shooting, the shooter was a person belonging to an ethnic minority.

During times of great suffering, it sounds disingenuous to tag “race” in these matters and yet how does one ignore the impact or consequences of race when living in a time that systemic and structural racism is tolerated, accepted, and encouraged? African Americans and Asian Americans although living in the United States for different lengths/periods and brought to this country for different reasons, share common themes of psychological impacts and traumatic wounds derived from racism and/or race related stressors. As it has always followed in past events, the psychological impacts of what occur with the majority population will overshadow the suffering of the ethnic minority population. It is for that reason that I have chosen, during the month of International Women’s Day, to focus on the killing of the six Asian women in the mass shooting of 8 people in Atlanta GA.

I choose to share the words from an email I received from a current a patient. Her identity has been changed to protect her confidentiality. Cynthia is an early 30’s, Korean American woman, who was educated on the east coast at one of the Ivy League universities. She has resided in the Puget Sound area for 10 years and is employed by a local technology firm. Below is a recap of her feelings associated with the Atlanta shooting in which all of the Asian women were either Korean American or Korean nationals.

Dr. Kane,

I am so sad. I feel that I am not allowed to share my suffering. I feel that what is being inferred to me regarding my pain is that I should get behind others; that I should get in the back of the line. It hurts me that I cannot express to others how I honestly feel and if I were to take the chance and express my true feelings, I fear I would be opening myself to be targeted and shot down.

I feel that I am invisible to others and that I can’t put a name to this out of fear that if I speak out that I will once again be minimized. I have worked hard in therapy to find and claim the Psychological Self.  I don’t want to do that to the Self. I want to live life with fear and not in fear.

It is upsetting to me that other people, particularly African Americans, don’t see me as an ethnic minority but rather as a white person who looks Asian. In this view, I am treated like a white person where I am automatically distrusted, distanced from, and treated with overt anger and hate.

As an Asian American, I have benefitted from the struggle of African Americans as they have sought to obtain civil and equal rights and I have stood with them in racial and social justice issues. Following the murder of George Floyd, I actively marched and spoke out against his murder. Yet, now, I don’t see African Americans joining with me or other Asian on the frontlines demonstrating against Asian hate.

It is as if my pain doesn’t matter. No one at work, white or African American, has asked me about how I am doing following the killing of Asian women in Atlanta or the violence against Asian people throughout the country. I expect white people to be silent, but it really hurts when people who are racially different, just like me, are silent regarding my pain. It’s like I said before, it’s like being told in so many words, ‘to get to the end at the line and wait your turn’. It’s like I am invisible, and my life doesn’t matter.

Dr. Kane, I want our communities both Asian and African American to heal and not be divided. Systemic racism sows seeds of distrust between our communities.

I also struggle with those within my community. There is a division between people who want more awareness and response regarding Asian hatred and those who are seeking to brush the issue under the rug in hopes that it will simply go away.

I feel so invisible.  I feel so alone.

Bye for now,

Cynthia

My Dear Readers,

As I read Cynthia’s email, I reflected on a quote by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., “In the end we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.”.

Neither did I reach out to her to check on how she was doing. I assumed that she had a support system, and I did not want to intrude on her private space. I had planned to check-in at our next session. Well, as you can see, I was wrong. Cynthia did not have any support in her personal life or workplace. Even as a seasoned and well experienced psychotherapist, I had neglected my own golden rule: “It is not your intent that fuels the flames, it is the impact of your actions or non-actions”.

Once I became aware of her situation, I immediately reached out to Cynthia offering a heartfelt apology and in return she graciously returned the “gift of forgiveness.”. In our session, Cynthia spoke of her pain of being viewed as the “model minority” and how this perception adds to her invisibility. Cynthia was correct in her comment that “…systemic racism sows seeds to build distrust between our communities”.  

Systemic Racism and Invisibility Syndrome

Even though some would define systemic racism as subconscious or unconscious, it still adds to root the division between the Asian American and African American communities. One African American scholar, who I shall not name, defined systemic racism as:

“…systems and structures that have procedures or processes that disadvantages African Americans.”

Why just African Americans? If that definition is accepted, what are the psychological impacts on those whose skin is also not white but still feels the psychological trauma of racism? In trauma work, skin color or racial origins is not a defensive mechanism to ward off psychological trauma.  When a person is denied the right of suffering from racist exposure, that individual is relegated to the status of invisibility and thus they become victimized by another trauma known as Invisibility Syndrome.

This trauma, the Invisibility Syndrome, created by AJ Franklin (1999, 2004), defines invisibility as “inner struggles with the feelings that one’s talents, abilities, personalities and worth are not valued or recognized because of prejudice and racism”.

Therefore, as in the case of Cynthia, Franklin would conclude that “following an encounter where there is a perceived racial slight, the ‘assaulted’ person may internalize their feelings and experience their manifestation…” as:

  • The lack of recognition or appropriate acknowledgment
  • The lack of satisfaction from the encounter
  • The lack of self-esteem and legitimacy
  • The lack of validation
  • The lack of respect
  • The awareness that one’s dignity has been compromised and challenged.
  • The awareness that one’s basic identity has been shaken.

The “Model Minority”

The term “Model Minority” was developed by the majority to turn racial and ethnic groups against each other. It is a type of systemic racism that was intended to divide racial groups into a hierarchy that not only pits them against one another, but it also intended to minimize the perceived impacts of race related stress on one minority racial group as seen by other minority racial groups.

What is race related stress? This refers to the conceptual model created by Loo, et al (2000).  They found three specific areas in which individuals experienced trauma due to racism:

  • Exposure to racial prejudice and stigmatization
  • Bicultural identification and conflict
  • Exposure to a racist environment

In the Loo, et al study (2000), the following generalizations can be made.

  1. The stressful effects of exposure to cumulative racism can be experienced as traumatic events and are often in response to racially prejudiced behavioral style that includes racist name calling and emotionally laden materials that exhibit hate toward a racial group such as “Hate Asians” or “Kill Asians” paraphernalia.  In addition,
  2. They are often at a constant state of hypervigilance and physiological arousal that occurs as a result of the ongoing danger and fearing possible life-threatening experiences suffered when they are singled out because of Asian ancestry. Lastly,
  3. There is trauma that results from racial stigmatization and racial exclusion, resulting in a reduction of a sense of belonging, social support as well as an increase in feelings of isolation.

In summary, the feelings detailed by the trauma studies and experienced through statements of invisibility, isolation, and exclusion by Cynthia are no different from those experienced by African Americans who also endured the psychological impacts of systemic racism. Cynthia is correct in her assertion that “systemic racism sows seeds to build distrust between our communities”.  Therefore, it would be truth and not conjecture that systemic racism is the foundation of all the systems in place that create and maintain racial inequality in nearly every facet of the lives of all people of color, not just African Americans.

Concluding Remarks – Dr. Kane

“Wait your turn … at the end of the line.”  is an acknowledgment of minority communities being pitted against each other by the majority, or by themselves, as they all struggle to achieve racial and social justice. Systemic racism is Insidious Trauma. Insidious Trauma is the culmination of daily negative incidents of marginalization, objectification, dehumanization, and intimidation affecting members of stigmatized groups and are directly traumatic. In this situation, the Atlanta killings of Asians added to the upcoming trial of the officers involved in the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis, are both about to be overshadowed by the killing of 10 white men and women in Boulder CO by a person of color.  In recent national news there has been maximum coverage on the incident in Boulder, CO where there has been little to no coverage on the incidents in Atlanta or the upcoming trial in Minneapolis.

In Cynthia’s closing remarks she stated, “I want our communities both Asian and African American to heal and not be divided.”  Understanding that both communities are reeling from division within covered with years of mistrust as they both struggle to obtain the same limited resources; it is unlikely that this will be achieved on a community level in the current time.  However, we can as individuals sow the seeds of unity, collaboration, and concern during these traumatic times.  Let us all reach out and as individuals and try to begin the healing process.

In Ralph Ellison’s 1947 novel, “The Invisible Man”, Ellison wrote the following:

“I am an invisible man.  No, I am not a spook like those who haunted Edgar Allan Poe; nor am I one of your Hollywood movie ectoplasms.  I am a man of substance, of flesh and bone, fiber and liquid- and I might even be said to possess a mind.  I am invisible, understand, simply because people refuse to see me.  When they approach me, they see only my surroundings, themselves or figments of their imagination – indeed, everything and anything except me.”

At the time of writing this superb novel, Ralph Ellison was writing about African American people. If he was here today, I truly believe his words would be inclusive to all of us as we all bear the psychological impacts and traumatic injuries and wounds… of systematic racism.

ANTI-ASIAN RACISM – YK Hong, Keep Beyond

ANTI-ASIAN RACISM

IS LINKED TO WHITE SUPREMACY

WHICH IS LINKED TO ANTI-BLACKNESS

WHICH IS LINKED TO CAPITALISM

IMPERIALISM

ABLEISM

MYSOGENY AND SEXISM

THESE ARE ALL CONNECTED

WE CANNOT FIGHT ONLY ONE OF THESE

WE MUST FIGHT ALL OF THESE

Standing Alone… The Unspoken Truth

One thought on “The Unspoken Truth: Waiting Your Turn at the End of The Line

  1. A thought-provoking article. I often think that white people are very scared and fearful of losing their place whatever that may be. They are afraid to the point of death. They do not want to experience the feeling of (go to the back of the line) as your writer wrote. Fighting this fight is like fight a metastasized cancer? Just my thoughts. Thank you, Dr. Kane.

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