The Unspoken Truth: The Pain We ALL Live – Unmasking Racism & Trauma in America

“Hear me clearly; America is not a racist country.  …. And it is wrong to try to use our painful past to dishonestly shut down debates in the present.”

– Tim Scott, Republican Senator, South Carolina

“I have experienced the pain of discrimination; I know what it is feels like to be pulled over for no reason and to be followed around a store while I’m shopping.”

-Tim Scott, Republican Senator, South Carolina

“To be African American is to be African without any memory & American without any privilege.”

James Baldwin, Writer, Orator & Civil Rights Activist

“We should stop arguing about whether or not this is a racist country. It is not.  A racist country would never elect Barack Obama president or Kamala Harris vice president.”

– Jim Clyburn, House Majority Whip, Democratic Representative , South Carolina

My Dear Readers,

Once again, I find myself writing during difficult and adverse times.  Not only do we as Americans, continue to deal with the ravages of COVID-19 that has sickened 32,842,140 people and claimed 583,210 lives, but the disease is now spiking in other nations including India where a recent 7-day average jumped from 65,211 cases on April 1, 2021 to 371,041 cases on May 1, 2021.

As the nation continues to respond to the medical, economic, and governmental issues related to COVID-19, our attention has once again been redirected towards an issue that has plagued America for the last 400 years and counting – racism.  It arrived on American shores more than 400 years ago and has planted its seeds of discourse, depravation, division, and destruction ever since.

Tim Scott, the junior Republican Senator from South Carolina, in his response to President Biden’s address to the joint chambers of Congress, ignited a firestorm when he proclaimed, “Hear me clearly; America is not a racist country”.  These powerful words were insightful and deliberate. They intentionally served to disavow and distract from President Biden’s message.  Make no mistake, Senator Scott’s response was not buffoonery. It was well planned and strategic. It deflected from the political issues President Biden wanted to focus on and forced Democratic politicians, many of them African American, to agree with him if only for their own reasoning and to avoid pointless political battles. Essentially, they had to agree for political survival. 

Unfortunately, Sen. Scott’s statement has provided openings for those less scrupulous members of state legislatures to write laws to restrict voting and seek to limit access to the truths of American History.

Idaho has outlawed the teaching of Systemic Racism in its public schools.  In Tennessee, State Representative Justin Lafferty, stated that the Three-Fifths Compromise, an article in the Constitution that counts enslaved people as 60% of a human being is “unfairly maligned.” He goes on to state, “By limiting the number of [the] population in the count, they specifically limited the number of representatives that would be available in the slaveholding states, and they did it for the purpose of ending slavery”.

This of course is false and an attempt to revise history. Joanne Freeman, a professor of history and early American studies at Yale said, “the three-fifths compromise had nothing to do with ending slavery” but “quite the opposite… it gave the slave-holding South an outsized representation in Congress and enabled them to dominate the national government for decades”.

“It enabled Southern slaveholding-states to count enslaved people who they considered to be ‘property’ — people excluded from their polity — in their count for representation.” According to Freeman, “It embedded slavery into the Constitution… and thereby [allowing Slave holding states] to dominate the government to preserve slavery and their hold on power. Yes, Southerners wanted to count the entirety of their enslaved population — their ‘property’ — in their count for representation. The fact that they got only 3/5 of that count hardly counts as a blow against slavery.”

Without the Three-Fifths Compromise, it is unlikely the slaveholding states would have agreed to create a unified federal government. With his woefully inadequate grasp of history, Lafferty is sponsoring an education bill that would withhold funds from school systems that include concepts like critical race theory or systemic racism in their curriculums.

Critics suggest that the proposed law is designed to shut down discussion about the role of race and racism in American history. 

Though troubling, these stated issues are outside the purview of this blog.

Senator Scott’s explosive remarks have psychologically impacted African Americans who now are being bombarded with questions from white Americans on the “nonexistence” or eradication of racism in America. 

Below is the story of one such individual who states being psychologically impacted by events following Senator Scott’s rebuttal.  I will begin by sharing his story and my response to him.  Then I will share my insight.

Here is his story.

Dear Dr. Kane,

I currently live in the same city I grew up in.  I am accustomed to being of one of the few Black families living in a racist closed-minded city. My mother taught me, imprinted upon me to be gracious and to save others from harsh feelings. It was always about being kind to others no matter how much you have been beaten physically or psychologically by words of hatred. It was her belief that as long as you were kind, you would be rewarded.

I am writing to share frustrations I have felt following the bombshell delivered by Senator Scott stating that “America is not a racist country.” Who did he talk to or consult with before making such a broad statement?  Now I have White people at my job seeking my opinion, basically saying “you see, just what I thought, you people are overacting and playing the race card …again.”  This is batshit crazy, it’s like one black man speaks, and all white people want to listen to him and ignore all the racist shit, black people have been put through all their lives. Can’t they see that Scott is a politician and an opportunist? The only thing missing in the picture was him kissing babies! 

And to add more wood to the fire, I have this “friend” from the past who I haven’t heard from in over 20 years.  He’s white and guess what? He wants to know what I think of Tim Scott’s speech, specifically “America is not a racist country.” No in-depth communication in 20 years! My question is why? Why [do] their feelings have to be my burden?

Among this “friend” and others like him, I grew up being called “Buckwheat” [and] the many times others called me the N word … he kept silent. Not to mention the many times I was forced to stand outside his home while the other white kids were allowed in to play.  I remember the time he sneaked me into his house, only to have his father order me out.  I remember his words to this day “I told you, [not to have] them people in the house.” The other kids laughed. I was so embarrassed, humiliated, and ashamed for being black. The next day at school, he acted as if nothing had happened. He never said a word.  He never apologized. He went on as if it was just another day.

For some reason, I continued to hold and value the friendship. Maybe there is something I can get from him.  I just don’t know. Why [do] I carry the weight of the relationship? What do I want? Is it compassion or understanding?  I just don’t know. I know that it is hard for me to be friends with white people. I don’t want them to get inside of me with their intellectualizing questions, playing with my emotions.

I have not heard from him in 20 years and now he calls me before I am getting out of bed, not even had my morning coffee. What does he want? I believe he is seeking to justify his racism and wanting to hold that America is not a racist country.  I am conflicted with what I was taught by my mother and what I want for myself.  I am not his negro.  I am not going to give to him the words that will make him feel better about himself. I am not going to talk to him about racism. He and others have already taken my childhood; I am not going to let them have more…of me.

Not feeling good about myself Dr. Kane. There are times that I simply do not want to live. I want to be in the driver’s seat and yet I am barely holding on.  I know I must be boring you or perhaps you do want you do because you are paid well.  I need to see a therapist.  I think that would help.  Thanks for listening.

No Name

My name is not …. Buckwheat

Bellingham, WA

My Dear Young Man,

I want to start from the very last words you said and then I will provide my insight.

I have always had an extreme dislike for the phrases “I want to be heard” or “thanks for hearing me”.  People who are hurting want to be listened to. Hearing or being heard is no more than sounds entering one ear and exiting out the other, little to nothing is retained.  I very much appreciate your stating “thanks for listening” because I have taken in the information you have provided and shaped and integrated your words. Allowed them to take root; immersed them into the orbit of my understanding and now, upon impact, I want to share with you my conclusions based on my knowledge, clinical skills, and experience.

You have shared a very powerful, gut wrenching and painful story from your life.  You have shared the pain of your internalized conflicts stemming from the teachings of your mother, the psychological torment of your childhood and adolescence and now the pressure you are feeling as an adult. As I read the ending of your writing, I see an attempt to distract from your truths. No, I do not view your words as “boring”.  Also, I see your attempt to detour, suggesting I am focused on a financial incentive for the work that I am called to do, the work that I have passion and commitment for.

Regarding the conflict between the teachings of your mother and the life you live today, I urge you to understand that you as an adult are responsible for the landscape know as LIFE that you are currently walking.  On this journey, you have the following elements in front of you: choices, decisions, consequences, lessons learned (wisdom) and transformation which can lead you to empowerment.

Choice – There are two choices before you. You can continue to go the “old way” waiting for uncertain future rewards or, you can go in a different direction, one in which your life becomes the essential factor. 

Decision and consequences – Should make the decision to choose your life as the essential factor, it puts you in the driver’s seat. You do not owe the tormentors of your past any explanations or insight regarding the validity or value of Senator Scott’s words or beliefs.

Wisdom – The lesson learned from this is the ability to explore what it is that locks you into a relationship that is deeply rooted in psychologically painful memories and suffering. Are you attempting to obtain validation and value from him? Is it possible that he is attempting to use Senator Scott’s words to release and absolve his own conscience regarding the psychological pain and suffering he now realizes he subjected you to as a child? Either way, the only one who can provide you with the validation, compassion, and understanding you want is you. 

You are correct in your words… “I am not his negro.” It is not your responsibility to share anything about yourself.  Your decision to not talk to him about racism on any level relating to Senator Scott is your decision and one you must want to embrace as you continue to walk your landscape.

Transformation – The last element, transformation, is the one that can be the most difficult.  As your mother is a woman of faith, think of the story of Lot (Genesis 19). Stories like this one, where his wife turned into a pillar of salt when she looked back longingly at the burning city, could have instilled in you a fear of looking back into the past.

I believe there is another interpretation that could release us from the fear of looking back.  One can look back and see what has been left and how far one has come may it be in distance, experience, or wisdom. One can look back without wanting or longing, instead one can look with the understanding that there is no going back and rather there is only going forward.  This is what we call transformation.  You are in the driver’s seat.  You can empower the SELF to return those who created the psychological pain and suffering to where they belong, dust under your feet.

Lastly, the issues raised by Senator Scott’s words are not your weights to bear.  Your responsibility to SELF is to walk the landscape known as life with the understanding that there are those who are committed to being obstacles along your journey of self-discovery.

Finally, words transform the view that you have of therapy. Attempt to see it as a want and not a need.  Remember those in need are always focused on survival whereas those who want are seeking growth, development, and empowerment

Best wishes,

Dr. Kane

*********************************************************

My Dear Readers,

The words of this young man who has been asked to respond, answer, defend, or reject words that are not his own, can be multiplied a million times and repeated all throughout the nation.  Senator Scott succeeded where many have failed; by sticking a dagger deep into consciousness of white America, he has distracted and derailed the issues of the impacts of systemic racism into simply “America is not a racist country”.  He has given those who seek salvation, justification, acknowledgement, atonement, or forgiveness, the protection to return to the simple lives they lived, covering up the sins that made this country what it is today.

The worst thing one can do today is not calling a person a racist, but simply having himself believe that he is being called a racist.  An example comes from a LinkedIn post I recently responded to. A white man who had questioned the believability of another writer (also a white man) who was sharing his views regarding systematic racism based on the number of teeth he displayed while he was talking… “he needs more teeth to be believable”. I objected to his remarks replying the following,

“Your comments are hurtful and just as psychologically impactful as racism.  This was mean on your part.  We all deserve more than the pain you give.  Please do better.”

In return, the writer now upset, questioned “Are you calling me a racist.”

Really?  I do not know this person.  I have not met this person.  The key issue here is that I used the example of racism in comparing the impacts of his comments on the other man. I said that they were “hurtful and just as psychologically impactful as racism”.  Was this person being racist? Highly unlikely, especially since he, as a white man was commenting about another white man.  However, there are other words to describe his actions:

  • Privileged – that as a white male he felt he had the privilege to publicly humiliate another person.
  • Fragility – that he would jump the conclusion that he was being called a racist
  • Entitlement – that it was okay for him to crush the spirit of another person who was merely seeking to educate others who clearly had racist ideas or racist feelings.

Privilege, Fragility, and Entitlement (PFE). This was coming from a person who, from his profile, considers himself to have liberal views and was educated at one of America’s finest universities.  However, what this person is unable or unwilling to see is how his whiteness (PFE), when misused, can create psychological harm and impacts for others.  Was there an intent to humiliate the person because of his teeth? Or is there a more relevant point which his power of whiteness was focused on. Possibly it was focused on inflicting psychological harm or devastation through those actions. 

The person being attacked provided the readers something that Senator Scott in his declaration that “America is not a racist country” failed to do, statistics and factual information. He stated,

  • Black people are incarcerated at a rate that is three times higher than white people for the same crimes.
  • Black people are shot by police at a rate that is three times higher than white people.
  • A traditional black name on a resume receives a callback five times less than a traditional white name.
  • White people, unlike black people, are not victimized by racial profiling, redlining, and gentrification.

Returning to the story of the young black man. His story is one in which his white friend may actually feel that even after 20 years of no contact, that they are truly friends.  After all, they played together, went to school together and grew up together.  Of course, in the white man’s eyes, they were true friends.  But from the perspective of the young man, the white friend never advocated for him, kept silent while he was being racially taunted by peers and never treated him as an equal.  When the young man was tossed out of his friend’s home, because he was one of “those” people, his friend later acted as if nothing had happened and therefore expected life as they both knew it to continue as before.

These are the stories of many African Americans whose experiences have been negated by white friends who choose what they wanted and did not want to see.  Like the black colleague who went to visit his white friend following surgery and upon entering the room, the attending nurse (white) looked up, saw the color of his skin, and shouted out in a loud, disrespectful tone “wrong room”.  Or while in an airport in a southern state, standing at a Starbucks counter, the barista intentionally goes around the black customer who was next in line to serve the white customer behind him. The situation only being rectified when the white customer, seeing and understanding the racism that was occurring, asserted his privilege and calmly stated to the barista, “I believe this gentleman was in front of me”.  By the way, the barista was a young black woman. 

Senator Scott asserts that “America is not a racist country”.  What he failed to state or clarify in later remarks is America is a country that is riddled with racism.  In his statement, he gives people such as the “friend” who did not defend; the father who does not allow “those people” in his house; the nurse who attacked; the patient who sat silently by; the barista who purposely ignored, and the privileged customer, who spoke up but not out, an excuse. A way to avoid confronting the issue of race in America.  Although it is clearly written in the Constitution, America remains unwilling to engage in the hard talk about racism.

We Wear the Mask

By Paul Laurence Dunbar 1872-1906

We wear the mask that grins and lies,
It hides our cheeks and shades our eyes — 
This debt we pay to human guile; 
With torn and bleeding hearts we smile 
And mouth with myriad subtleties,

Why should the world be over-wise,
In counting all our tears and sighs? 
Nay, let them only see us, while 
     We wear the mask.

We smile, but oh great Christ, our cries
To thee from tortured souls arise.
We sing, but oh the clay is vile 
Beneath our feet, and long the mile,
But let the world dream otherwise, 
     We wear the mask!

Concluding Words – Dr. Kane

I have cited the poem, We Wear the Mask in its entirety.  I cited it with the hope that that young man residing in Bellingham, WA would know and understand that there are many who share his experience and his pain.  I also cited this poem because now, in my later years, I am walking my landscape called LIFE and in examining MY choices, decisions, consequences, lessons learned (wisdom), and transformations, I refuse to wear a mask. I refuse to sacrifice the psychological SELF for the benefit of others.

I am the one who was humiliated on the ward at the hospital as I stood there with my degrees and was told “wrong room”. I was the one who was at the airport, standing in line for a cup of coffee; overlooked and made to feel less than by one of my own.  I was the one who 40 years ago, due to a senior white male faculty member’s suspicions of my high grades, wanted to know whether I was providing sexual favors to the white female students for help.  I, just like that young man, was the one who following an argument with a white friend was ordered out of his home, only to be treated as if the occurrence never had happened.

And yet the same people who discount people of dark skin, want to debate, intellectualize, and declare that “America is not a racist country”? 

The young man from Bellingham stated something that rings true in black relationships with whites: “I know that it is hard for me to be friends with white people”.  When one does not question and ignores the truth laying in front of their eyes or chooses to remain silent during times of distress, urgency, and strife that occur daily in the lives of people with dark skin, it makes it difficult to be friends. When people with dark skin express their fear for their lives and especially the lives of their children from those who are sworn to “serve and protect” and they get attacked, it makes it difficult to be friends.     

The young man questioned himself as to what he holds or values in the friendship.  He also questioned what he wants.  In his declaration of “I don’t want them to get inside of me with their intellectualizing questions, playing with my emotions”, he has reached the element of the lessons learned and approaching wisdom. That to white people, he and his emotions are invisible.  He may conclude that to most whites, in their eyes, he is and will always be a N.O.T., a Novelty, Oddity and Token.

Promise King, President/CEO, League of Minority Voters stated the following:

“There are implications, lingering systemic impacts and implications of racism on black and brown families. We deny the oblivious. But occurrences that jolt our convenient escape from realties continue to put lie to our denial.  How do we ever begin inquires and dialogues on race, if a sizable segment of our leaders don’t want to understand or subscribe to the existence of systematic racism.  Am I the only one wresting with this issue.?”

Is “America is a racist country”?  This is the pain and the life …we live.

Enduring the possibilities of 12 forms of racism and 15 subtypes of psychological traumas, every single day, it brings to mind the words of James Baldwin, writer, orator and civil rights activist. “To be African American is to be African without a memory and American without any privilege”. When compared to those of Senator Scott, “America is not a racist country,” which person’s voice and words resonate truth regarding the current and past experiences of African Americans? 

The truth, however painful, does not lie. The lie, however manipulated, is still and will always be, a lie.

Dark skinned people live daily not knowing the WHEN or from WHOM the action of psychological impact and trauma will come but we know and understand the WHY is RACISM.  The question is WHAT WE, the American people living in a country impugned by racism are going to do to enforce full protection and equality for ALL of it citizens.

THE PAIN THAT THIS GIVES, IS THE LIFE THAT WE ALL LIVE!

Sympathy

by Paul Laurence Dunbar

I know what the caged bird feels, alas!

When the sun is bright on the upland slopes;

When the wind stirs soft through the springing grass,

And the river flows like a stream of glass;

When the first bird sings and the first bud opes,

And the faint perfume from its chalice steals—

I know what the caged bird feels!

I know why the caged bird beats his wing

Till its blood is red on the cruel bars;

For he must fly back to his perch and cling

When he fain would be on the bough a-swing;

And a pain still throbs in the old, old scars

And they pulse again with a keener sting—

I know why he beats his wing!

I know why the caged bird sings, ah me,

When his wing is bruised and his bosom sore,—

When he beats his bars and he would be free;

It is not a carol of joy or glee,

But a prayer that he sends from his heart’s deep core,

But a plea, that upward to Heaven he flings—

I know why the caged bird sings!

Standing Alone….. The Unspoken Truth

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