At The Crossroads: New Possibilities and New Directions

“You want to stand up for yourself, as a man, or as someone who was just doing his job, and say ‘hey, this isn’t right.’ But in the moment, I’m thinking: I’m a black man, and if I start emoting, I might not walk out of here.”

-Byron Ragland, USAF Veteran & Court Appointed Visitation Supervisor, after being forced by Kirkland, WA police to leave a frozen yogurt shop during a supervised visit because two white female employees were scared

“Casual racism is defined as a society’s or an individual’s lack of regard for the impact of their racist actions on others.

Casual racism is subtly packaged white fear of black skin and it is an inherently dangerous form of racism.

Casual racism has become more insidious of late as it has become expressed through white comfort and discomfort.  It combines micro-aggressions (statements, actions or incidents) and macro-aggressions (threats of physical force, law enforcement) with modern racism (beliefs and attitudes) to form aversive racism (engaging in crazy making) interactions with African-Americans.”

-Dr. Micheal Kane Psy.D. “Casual Racism”

 

“A Starbucks Moment occurs when a white person, due to 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.”

-Dr. Micheal Kane, Psy.D., “Starbucks Moment”

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My Dear Readers,

I am now approaching the time of year in which I normally take a two-month hiatus from blogging.

I began writing articles seven years ago as a way of grieving the loss of my Linda, my beloved spouse of 30 years.  Over the last seven years, I have written over 100 pieces focused on the psychological impact of trauma in the lives of African-Americans.

The writings have varied, from Bobbi’s Saga, which focuses on the journey of a woman recovering from profound childhood sexual, physical and emotional abuse, to At the Crossroads, which focuses on the choices we make as we progress on the Journey of Self-Discovery.  The writings have sought to give visibility and voice to the experience of black people who go unseen and are feared by a frightened white society.

The blogs have been offered as a service to the African-American community, seeking to demystify mental health treatment.  During the course of writing the blogs I have discussed 13 sub-types of psychological trauma and 11 forms of racism that can psychologically impact the mental health wellness on a daily basis.  It is through these writings, my clinical work and finally, my own journey of self-discovery that I have learned advocacy, balance and calmness in responding to the psychological impacts associated with trauma and racism.

Byron Ragland is a United States Air Force veteran who has served multiple tours fighting for his country, and who now works as a court appointed visitation supervisor. Earlier this month, Ragland was supervising a visit between a mother and child when he was directed by two police officers to leave a local business because his presence created fear for the two white female employees.  Even through Mr. Ragland provided identification and documentation that he was there on official business as a visitation supervisor, the police officers still insisted that he leave the premises.

The City Manager and the Chief of Police have since apologized for the actions taken by law enforcement and have promised an “investigation by the council,  an internal police review of the officers’ actions and governmental legislation to prevent this terrible action from reoccurring again.”

Apologies, investigations and legislation; it seems that we have been down that same old road many times before.  This is not the first time that a African-American veteran has suffered racism and was forced to leave a food establishment.

In my book Our Blood Flows Red, I detail numerous incidences of racism experienced by black men serving in military service at the hands of white citizens and law enforcement officers.  One incident was the experience of Lieutenant Christopher Sturkey, who had won a battlefield commission and a Silver Star for bravery while fighting in Europe during WWII:

“When he arrived home to Detroit after the war in uniform with his medals, battle stars and campaign ribbons in full display, he stopped at an inexpensive neighborhood White Tower to order a hamburger.  The white girl at the counter coldly said, ‘we don’t serve niggers in here.’”

In another incident:

“In 1943, in Centerville, Mississippi, a white sheriff intervened in a fistfight between a white soldier and black one.  After the black man got the upper hand, the sheriff shot him to death, then asked the white soldier, ‘Any more niggers you want killed?’”

Same old road…. From 1943 Mississippi to 1945 Michigan to 2018 Washington …. What have we learned?  Only that apologies, investigations, and legislation cannot change the hatred and fear that lies in the in the hearts of others.

As I begin my hiatus, I leave the readership with stories of three African-American males who have chosen to refocus their lives and in doing so, move towards a new direction.  These are individuals who acknowledge that they are psychologically wounded, but are still  seeking advocacy, balance and calmness for themselves through psychotherapy and mental health wellness.  These are their stories:

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Thomas, age 30 (name changed for privacy) is responding to depression and anxiety.  The foundation of his feelings is his rejection by his father, which has reinforced a sense of inadequacy and questioning about role modeling and his direction in life.  In a letter to his father, Thomas cites his decision to refocus, letting go of past hurts and moving onward to a new path and new direction.

“Dear Dad,

I hope this letter finds you well, and I am writing this letter because I have questions only you can answer.  I am attending therapy sessions to heal the things that have bothered me throughout my life. 

The first thing I want to talk about is rejection.  I know that you did not want me. When my mother was pregnant with me, I know that you told her to get an abortion. 

I also know throughout my life you have rejected me; you have not spent any time with me.  I know you have other children and you have never claimed me as your own.  I’ve felt isolated and abnormal because I did not have a father who would support me or be there for me when I felt down.

I have looked to other people for acceptance, and just like you, they have also rejected me.  Even though you and I now live in the same city, you continue to reject me and avoid any interaction with me, despite the number of times I have attempted to connect with you. 

I am now 30 years old; several times in the last 18 months I have asked for time with you so you can get to know the person I have become.  Although you have made commitments to do so, you have failed to follow through.

Every day, there is a possibility that you may die.  So before you go, I want to utilize this opportunity to tell you who I have become… without you.

  • I have a college degree (Sociology) from a major university
  • I am a responsible adult; I am single, but I don’t have any children.
  • I am currently studying to obtain a professional license within my field.
  • I don’t have a criminal record.

Despite you and without you, I have been successful.  As you know, both my brother and my cousin were both killed due to their life in the streets.  I’m blessed that I did not follow that life.  Instead, I found my own way and although you rejected me, I grew up to be a healthy contributing member of society. 

I hope you can forgive yourself for not being involved in my life and for not being around to watch my growth and success.  I forgive you.

Love,

Thomas

Analysis

Thomas’s letter to his father is a “farewell” of sorts. It is the love and pain of a son who has been rejected by his father and is now saying “goodbye” as he continues to seek the newness of life without the internalized pulling for the love of his father.

His father never answered the letter, and Thomas never expected him to. Thomas’ goal in writing this letter was to free himself before his father died. In doing so, he reached his goal: he is now free to walk his new journey of self-discovery. At this point, what becomes of Thomas’s father or his father’s response is… irrelevant.

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Mr. Wilson (name changed for privacy) is an 80-year-old retired teacher and consultant. He has spent his entire life within the “movement,” fighting for equality with the belief that along with whites, blacks could work together to achieve equality in the United States. Mr. Wilson comes to therapy seeking to work on his unresolved anger.

In session, Mr. Wilson speaks about his regrets about integration and the loss of black communities, the exodus of black people from the urban cities, the loss of black businesses and most important, the loss of self-reliance and the desperation of seeking relief from the government and the whites who have themselves benefited from integration.

In session, Mr. Wilson said:

“I thought I was fighting to end racism.  I did not understand the depth of racism.  I am critical of white people and I am angry with me.  I criticize white people for their failure as a group to take responsibility for the harm they have created in the lives of others.  I hold whites as a group responsible for their willingness to talk about change and then fail to stand up for change when they see the results of the harm being caused.

I am angry with myself.  I feel that I have been duped.  I feel that I duped myself.  I thought that the civil rights movement could end racism.  Here I am 60 years later… racism is as strong as ever.  I was wrong.  Racism has made this country feel disquiet, unsettled, uncomfortable for me… I don’t feel safe.”

Prior to the recent midterm elections, Mr. Wilson spoke about leaving the country and becoming an expatriate.  He has decided to stay, since the outcome of the midterm elections has given him hope for the future. He now seeks to refocus his direction by providing mentorship for the next generation.

Analysis

Mr. Wilson acknowledges that he is psychologically wounded and impacted by racism that has been a daily factor in his life.  Prior to entering the therapeutic process, Mr. Wilson has tried to “man up,” suppressing his anger and suffering in silence.  Now at age 80, he wants to dispel the anger that is so negatively impacting his life and those around him.

In therapy, Mr. Wilson has learned that he can find healing in embracing his anger.  From there, he can acknowledge what is and is not in his ability to address, and in doing so, he is able to go in a new direction in his life.  He can understand that even at 80 years of age a person can move forth to seeking a new journey of self-discovery.

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I end with the stories of refocus and new direction with myself …. Dr. Micheal Kane

I started in the field of clinical traumatology by writing on the subject as my doctoral dissertation topic.  I have gone to postdoctoral studies achieving four certificates in the study of clinical traumatology.  I have written a publication that has been utilized by graduate schools and the Department of Veterans Affairs.  I have had the privilege on serving as a clinical consultant to the Black Congressional Caucus.

However, the best honor and privilege I have had is being married 30 years to my beloved spouse, My Linda.  It was during her illness that I began blogging.  Following her death, it was the consistency of writing for my readership that has helped me regain my own balance over the last seven years.

In my clinical work, I have developed clinical strategies to respond to complex trauma, how black males should interact with law enforcement and ways to respond to suicide.  As a therapist, I have been a companion and guide in the deepest darkness of human misery ever imagined.

Truly, my work is God’s gift.   I do not consider the suffering of others as a job or occupation.   It truly is my passion to help and provide a safe space for my patients to heal from the wounds they have suffered.

In the seven years of blogging I have written 100+ articles.  In the combination of roles as healer, teacher, diagnostician, evaluator, and blog writer, I am now responding to my own desire for self-care.

 

Analysis

Sir William Osler once said:

“The doctor who treats himself has a fool for a patient.”

Rest assured, I am not diagnosing or treating myself.  I simply recognize that  the time has come to take my practice and my passion in a new direction.  In my practice I have consistently focused on self-health, healthy narcissism and empowerment.  It is now my opportunity to do the same and in doing so, “practice what I preach.”

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 Closing Words

My Dear Readers,

Earlier, I indicated that I was now approaching the time of year in which I normally take a two-month hiatus from blogging.  Although I still have the passion for my clinical and forensic work, I no longer have the passion to blog on a consistent basis.

I have decided to suspend my blog writing for a period of one year with consideration that I may return in 2020 or sometime following.  I will continue my clinical and forensic work, and I will begin in the next year or two begin working on another publication focusing on my work working with trauma suffers within communities of color.

My writing has been read by a diverse readership spanning continents and numerous countries. I have sought to provide the readership with a different view of trauma within my community and possible strategies of recovery and empowerment.

I believe that advocacy, balance and calmness can lead to empowerment of the psychological self.  I believe we make choices in whether we remain survivors or transform ourselves as we move towards achieving self-discovery.

I want to thank you for the words of encouragement, support and passion you have shown for my work.

I bid you all wellness.  I encourage you to seek advocacy for the self, attain balance within your internalized world, and calmness in your externalized environment. Best wishes to you all in your future journeys of self-exploration.

Best regards,

Dr. Micheal Kane

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The Undiscovered Territory

The past is what it was

The present is what it is

In the future lies what is to be uncovered

It is the undiscovered territory

Waiting for you.

-Dr. Micheal Kane

 

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Steppin’ into Tomorrow

We cannot step back into our past,

Nor must we want to.

It is our fear of the unknown that chains us.

The future holds new possibilities

We can journey into the future

Having Belief, Faith and Trust in Self

As we step into the Tomorrow

-Dr. Micheal Kane

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New Possibilities

Life is a journey filled with new possibilities.

And sometimes because of the person you are (or have become), you find yourself in the right place at the right time for….

New possibilities.

-Dr. Micheal Kane

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Farewell for now…….

Until the next crossroads… The journey continues…

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At The Crossroads: Division or Protection During Times of Rejection

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

-Dr. Micheal Kane, Psy.D., “Casual Racism”

“A Starbucks Moment occurs when a white person, due to 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.

-Dr. Micheal Kane, Psy.D., “Starbucks Moment” 

“Whites don’t kill whites.”

-Gunman Gregory Bush following the killings of two African-Americans at the Kroger Grocery Store in Jeffersontown, Kentucky

“All Jews must die.”

-Anti-Semite Robert Bowers, before killing 11 people and wounding more as they worshiped at Tree of Life synagogue

“What do blacks offer society? All they do is ruin western civilization.”

-From the Facebook page of white supremacist Jordan Rocco, days before attacking two black men and stabbing one to death

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My Dear Readers,

In Jeffersontown, Kentucky, a gunman shot and killed two African-Americans shopping at a local grocery store after previously failing to gain entry to a black church. In Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, a gunman killed 11 Jewish Americans at the Tree of Life Synagogue.  Thousands gathered across the country from Seattle, Washington to Washington, DC for candlelight vigils to honor the synagogue shooting victims. Even more media attention came when President Trump and his family, although asked to postpone their trip, visited the synagogue.

Meanwhile, there was no media attention or acknowledgement for the tragedy in Jeffersontown for 4 days, and even now, this hate-motivated crime goes largely unnoticed by our wider society.  Once again, African-Americans are left feeling invisible and unwanted.

Being Invisible & Unwanted

Cynthia (name changed to protect privacy) is the African-American mother of a 16-year-old student attending a local high school in Seattle, WA.  In session, she speaks of her frustrations regarding the impacts of the recent shootings in Pittsburgh & Jeffersontown.

“Dr. Kane, the principal of my son’s school recently sent an emergency text to all of the parents notifying us of the shooting in Pittsburgh, encouraging parents to be aware of psychological trauma and urging us to be available and talk to our adolescents about their feelings.  However, there was no mention of the shootings that had occurred earlier that day (Jeffersontown).

My son sits on the Principal’s advisory board and meets with her regularly. He feels like he is invisible, and he is frustrated and betrayed because she (the school principal) wears a Black Lives Matter pin.  I told him that if he did not speak to her about this, I would. What do you think? Would you speak to her?”

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Analysis: Dr. Kane

Let’s examine the issues:

  • Parent– feels helpless and frustrated, watching her son be hurt and disappointed. Parent seeks to intervene, threatening to do so if the son fails to speak to the principal.
  • Son– feels betrayed by the principal, feels like he and his pain are invisible, and that no one cares about his feelings. He may have conflicting feelings towards self, his mother, and the principal.
  • Principal– in wearing the Black Lives Matter pin, she may see herself as an advocate of social justice. It is unknown whether sending out text to school families excluding Jeffersontown shooting was intentional or an oversight on her part.

Although the 16-year-old is not my patient, I have the ethical responsibility to remain vigilant that no harm comes to a minor as I seek to provide treatment to the adult parent. The mother feels powerless and unable to protect her son from both the racism of the hostile external world and the conflict that resides within his internalized self.

The mother’s actions, although well intended, can result in additional psychological wounding for her son.  Forcing her son to confront the principal will not only fail to resolve his internalized conflict but may place him at risk of punishment or other forms of retaliation from the principal as he points out racist behavior.

The mother, in her rush to “save” her son from the hostile world, can assist him more effectively by focusing on herself first by relieving her own distress—what we call “healthy narcissism”—and then, once she can project calmness and balance, she can focus on helping to relieve her son’s distress and to empower him to clarify his decision making as it relates to interacting with the school principal.

The mother can relieve her own distress by utilizing the Five R’s of RELIEF model:

  • At the stage of respite, she can step away and see the harm that confrontation may have on her son.
  • Once that clarity is achieved, she can help him embrace his reaction, meaning that she assists him in giving himself the permission to feel the way that he feels, and to express those feelings in a safe space, helping him along the first step to personal empowerment.
  • From there, he can reflect upon that reaction, truly analyzing the situation now that emotion is no longer clouding the path. It is here where the son can understand that betrayal requires the “intention” to betray another and since there doesn’t appear to be an intent by the principal to betray, the feelings the son has are not of betrayal, but rather those of “disappointment” in her failure to see his pain and to uphold the meaning of the Black Lives Matter pin she wears.
  • At the stage of response, the mother can assist her son to define and understand casual racism, and work to minimize the impacts of trauma of Invisibility Syndrome, informing how he may interact with the principal and his fellow students on this and future subjects.
  • Rather than focusing on “educating” the principal on the impact of her actions to the son, the focus can be on the final stage of reevaluation. This stage leads to healing the psychological wounds that have been created and preparing for more psychological wounding that will continue to arise from a hostile external world. This creates the pathway towards empowering the self towards advocacy, balance and calmness during difficult times.

 

Dancing & Smiling: They Still Don’t See Me.

Jonathan (name changed to protect privacy) is an African- American 38-year-old attorney new to the area; working as an associate for a prominent law firm in Seattle

“Dr. Kane, I am living on the edge of madness.  I work and live in the white world.  These people don’t see me as a person, only as a threat.  I am constantly being questioned for identification while my white colleagues get a free pass.

When we are together during times that I get racially profiled, they shift around nervously, make jokes, and change the subject.  They see it all and yet never say anything.  Meanwhile, I am left angry and humiliated.  I can’t say anything because I then become the angry black man and I am afraid that I won’t be considered for partner when the time comes and the opening becomes available.

The recent shootings in Jeffersontown and Pittsburgh really impacted me.  At the office they only talked about Pittsburgh and they are supportive of the attorneys at the firm who are Jewish. WTF? What about me?  Do I scream out that I am hurting too?

I know how to play the game.  I’ve gone to the right schools.  I associate with the right people.  I keep my head down and my mouth shut.  I am so tired of dancing and smiling for these people.  Besides hitting someone, drinking myself to death or jumping off a bridge, what can I do?”

Let’s examine the issues:

  • Middle-aged African-American attorney newly located to the area.
  • One of his career goals is becoming a partner in a prestigious law firm.
  • He is impacted by recent racial and religious murders.
  • Victim of constant racial profiling and race related trauma (micro-aggressions.)

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Analysis: Dr. Kane

Racism is not new to Jonathan. He has been impacted by racism during all the prominent stages of his development (childhood, adolescence and early adulthood.) So, what is really going on?

Jonathan is seeking recognition, acceptance, and validation from his work environment.  It is the idea of making partner that is the carrot that Jonathan keeps chasing, never being able to reach it.  He hopes that by attending the correct schools, doing excellent work, and “playing the game,” he will eventually become partner.

However, Jonathan has a huge gap that he is unable to overcome; his internal need for recognition, validation, and acceptance from his work environment.  Jonathan is aware from his life experiences that racial profiling will never cease or racial murders may continue; he simply wants others to recognize, validate, and accept that he has psychological wounds just like his Jewish colleagues.

Jonathon’s failure is threefold:

  • His desire that others focus on his own psychological wounding.
  • Lack of understanding that casual racism is built on the premise of “white comfort and discomfort.”
  • Lack of empowering himself and letting go of the dependence of others

Rather than focusing outward on others coming to his aid and understanding, Jonathan would do well to turn inward to relieve his own psychological distress.

Although Jonathan is skillful in “playing the game,” the focus now turns to “running the race smarter, not harder.”  This can be achieved allowing Jonathan to let go of his fear about being viewed as the “Angry Black(man) out of Control” to transforming his own needs by utilizing empowerment strategies like ABC i.e. (advocacy, balance and calmness.)

Jonathan’s error was in “Looking for Love in All the Wrong Places.”  It was his failure to understand that in order to gain recognition, acceptance and validation from the casual racist, that person must first want to accept responsibility for the insidious traumatization and its impact upon others.  However, to do so would cause “white discomfort” and, as a result, it is easier for them to avoid the topic altogether.

Jonathan would fare much better from seeking to obtain his desires from within and let go of seeking that support from the external environment, which is heavily influenced by casual racism.

 

Am I being paranoid or just scared?

Harold (name changed to protect privacy) is a 27-year-old city employee.

“Hey Doc, I feel like I am always on guard.  I am constantly looking at the news and at social media; I am feeling eyes on me all the time.  In working downtown, I am surrounded by lots of women, mainly white.   I feel that I am always being racially profiled. People stare, but they just don’t say anything.  I am frightened by what happened to that boy in Brooklyn when the white woman claimed that he groped her.  So what that she apologized?

Recently, while standing in line, a white girl standing in front backed up into me.  Scared the shit out of me!  I didn’t know what she was going to do.  I pulled out my phone ready to call 911 but what the fuck was I going to tell them?  A white girl backed up into me and I am scared she’s going to yell sexual assault? She turned and apologized.  I was still scared. I am still scared.

Now because of the shooting at the grocery store, I am afraid to go get groceries.  I wonder whether I be able to go shopping and not get killed.   That black man who was killed in Kentucky was shopping with his grandson.  His grandson saw everything.  How is he going to get that out of his head?  Damn, I can’t get it out of my head.

Doc, I got no one to talk to.  My friends laugh at me, saying that I am paranoid.  I’m not sharing my feelings ever again!  I thought about getting a concealed weapon permit, but I am fearful of being profiled as a black man with a gun. This is bullshit. A white man can carry a concealed weapon and it’s no big deal, but when a black man does the same, they want to call out SWAT.

Doc, the other day, I refused to get on an elevator because there was only this white woman waiting to go in as well.  I was afraid of what she could say and that it would be my word against her word.  Who are they going to believe? … Goldilocks crying in distress or the big black wolf?  Fuck that, I don’t need the stress.  No witnesses, it would be better to wait than risk the chance of being a soundbite on the evening news.  Doc, I know I did the right thing and yet I am still pissed off at Goldilocks, the fucking world and myself.

What words do you have for me, Doc?”

Let’s examine the issues:

  • Harold is a young adult African-American male in the mid-range of early adult development. He appears to be highly sensitive to recent media reports of racial profiling and murders.

Regarding the incident in Brooklyn, Harold is referring to the white woman who called 911 on a 9-year-old black male in the mistaken belief that the child had groped her.  A review of video shows that his backpack had brushed up against her.

In session, Harold admitted to being impacted by quotes by law enforcement regarding racial profiling and their response including the following:

“It is what it is. Do you understand?

-Police Officer, providing an explanation to a black male being racially profiled and detained while providing childcare to two white children.

“Anybody can call the police at any time for any reason,” one deputy said of the call. “We’ll respond.”

-St John’s County Sheriff Deputy following a 911 call on a black father cheering on his son at a soccer game

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Analysis: Dr. Kane

Harold is experiencing hyper-awareness and hypersensitivity due to being overwhelmed by his fear of vulnerability and exposure to white fear of black skin.  He views himself as being not believable in the eyes of a hostile and unforgiving society ready to peg him as the big black wolf seeking to ravish the innocence of Goldilocks.

Casual racism is subtly packaged white fear of black skin, and it is an inherently dangerous form of racism.  It combines micro-aggressions (statements, actions or incidents) and macro-aggressions (threats of physical force, law enforcement) with modern racism (beliefs and attitudes) to form aversive racism (engaging in crazy-making interactions with African-Americans.

In addition to vulnerability and exposure to a hostile external environment (i.e. racial profiling, and racial murder,) Harold is in a state of internal conflict.  Fearful of being taunted and viewed as “paranoid” by his friends, Harold has isolated himself from his emotional and supporting resources.

Clinically speaking, paranoia is an instinct or thought process believed to be heavily influenced by anxiety or fear, often to the point of delusion and irrationality.  Paranoid thinking typically includes persecutory, or beliefs of conspiracy concerning a perceived threat towards oneself.

Harold, like many other African-Americans, has been targeted before via racial profiling and as a result, are vulnerable and exposed to death due to white fear of black skin. Therefore, a “reasonable person” in the same circumstances would be fully expected to respond the same way under similar circumstances: it would be expected that a person would remain in a state of hyper-awareness and hypersensitivity.

Harold is not paranoid.  He is not delusional or irrational in his thought process.  He has become hyper-vigilant as he seeks to respond to his vulnerability and exposure to racial profiling and perceived threats of death. To assist Harold, we would focus on identifying emotional/ supportive resources and treatment strategies that would return him to a course of normal vigilance.

Clinical Framework of Psychological Self Protection- Balancing Vigilance

  • Awareness– maintain awareness of your immediate surrounding
  • Alertness-be alert of the possibility of being under observance by others
  • Aloneness-be accepting that aloneness of your presence and possible isolation.
  • Aloofness-protect yourself psychologically during difficult situations through maintaining coolness and distance.
  • Aliveness– remember; maintaining vigilance is key to safety and returning home to your loved ones

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Closing Remarks-Dr. Kane

My Dear Readers,

I am a staunch believer that words and actions have meaning and impact.  It would true to say that not everyone shares this belief. Following a recent writing, a dear colleague and fellow African-American in a sharply worded rebuke chided me in stating that

“Everyone is not into psychology and analysis everything.”

If only this was so…. Perhaps then, there would be less people walking wounded, psychologically impacted, and traumatized.

Across the nation, two communities, one African-American and the other Jewish, are grieving the loss of members through senseless acts of violence.  As they grieve their dead, they quietly take steps to both prevent the next occurrence and prepare again for the next set of losses.

The murderous and senseless killings at Tree of Life synagogue killing 11 members were not the first among racially or religion motivated murders in Pittsburgh in 2018.  News media reports the following:

“In August a 24-year-old white man named Jordan Rocco posted a video to Instagram in which he described how he was going to play a game: He was going to see how many times he could say “n****r” before getting kicked out of bars. A few hours later, he was denied entry to the Little Red Corvette bar on Pittsburgh’s popular North Shore Drive. Unprovoked, he then allegedly attacked two black men on the sidewalk, fatally stabbing 24-year-old Dulane Cameron Jr.”

The media reports continue with:

“The blood that gushed from Cameron’s neck that night in August no longer stains the sidewalk on North Shore Drive. On Monday evening, people walked into the bars to watch “Monday Night Football” or stumbled out for a smoke. There’s no memorial to mark his killing.”

This prior weekend, the University of Kentucky played a home game against the University of Georgia, losing 34-17.  The game was attended by 63, 543 screaming fans excited to see a Wildcats and Bulldogs football game.

The distance from the University of Kentucky in the city of Lexington to Jeffersontown is 68 miles or 1 hour 7 minutes and 5 hours 34 minutes from Pittsburgh.  Although both teams included African-American and Jewish players, there was no memorial or activity identified for the dead of either Jeffersontown or Pittsburgh.

This is how casual racism is successful in sheltering the white majority from its discomfort. They distance themselves from it by immersing themselves in activities that allow for avoidance and disengagement. They are skillful in distancing and identifying those who are involved in racist or anti-Semitic murders as outliers.  In doing so, the group disavows group responsibility yet allowing its members to continue to engage in actions that are psychologically wounding to others.

In closing I leave a special message to the haters, the racists and the anti-Semites.  You may wound us, and yes, some of us will die because of your senseless actions.  However, you will never divide or defeat us.

The African-American and Jewish communities will stand together.  We will bury our dead and we will grieve.  It is in our grief, pain, and suffering that we find strength to go forth.

We will seek justice and we will not be satisfied until justice has been achieved.

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“No, no, we are not satisfied, and we will not be satisfied until Justice roles down like water, and righteousness like a mighty stream.”

-Martin Luther King

 

Until the next crossroads …. The journey continues …

At The Crossroads: Empowerment When Playing The Game Is Not Enough

 

“The natives are restless.”

-New Zealand Parliamentary Debates (1868)

“If I were a black father and I was concerned about the safety of my child, really concerned about it and not in a politically activist way, I would say be very respectful to the police, most of them are good, some can be very bad and just be very careful.”

-Rudy Giuliani, former New York City Mayor

“Life is like a box of chocolates; you never know what you’re gonna get.”

-Forrest Gump

 

My Dear Readers,

Here we go again.  Black parents, be on high alert.  During a brazen convenience store robbery in downtown Seattle several days ago, a black man shot three cops, critically injuring one.  As a result, for the coming weeks and possibly months, police and other law enforcement officers will be looking at every black male with “extra caution and concern.

While the police grow restless, many of the locals are living in fear.  History has shown that when white citizens believe that black males are “dangerously out of control,” excessive violence from police towards those people go largely unnoticed, and if they are noticed, then justifications are made for that violence, or the victim is blamed for the behavior that made that police officer use force.

Fear is in the air.  The recent rash of shootings across the country perpetrated by black men in Cleveland OH, San Bernardino, CA, and Fresno CA, will, as usual, be seen as a reflection on black males in American in general, despite the individual people, places and circumstances in these particular situations.  As a result, the suspicion with which many police departments and officers view black men will and has turned to active harassment and preemptive violence, and thus, black males of all ages should take extra precautions regarding their personal safety.  Although the individuals involved were apprehended, police history with black citizens tells us that this episode of tension has just begun.

In my previous writing, The Visible Man: Running The RACE Smarter Not Harder, I stated that our children are our Achilles Heel; they are our vulnerability, which can be used against us as parents and as individuals. Historically, African-American parents have sought to shield their children from these cruel realities.

I received many responses to that piece from parents and young adults, with mixed results.  Parents felt that they were shamed for providing their young adults a comfortable lifestyle and felt that the piece accused them of not doing enough to prepare their children for the realities of living in a society that can be harsh to and can reject them simply because of the color of their skin.  Comments included the following:

  • “African-Americans have the right to live wherever we choose to. If I choose to raise my children in a suburban community, and I can afford to send them to a private school, that is my business and my right to do so.  You are wrong to suggest otherwise.”
  • “You should be ashamed of yourself, not being supportive of hard working black folks struggling to provide a better life for their children. There is nothing wrong with living in an affluent community and sending your child to a private school.”
  • “Of all people, you should know hard it is to raise black children these days. Instead of criticizing our parenting and putting down our young people, please focus on uplifting our young people, especially our young men. They need all the help they can get!”

Young adults, on the other hand, appeared to be more sensitive to my comments about seeking the same comfortable living style they were raised in and the privilege they have experienced in not having to deal with the stressors that come with being black in a white societal structure:

  • I am tired of people like you hating on us. I have the right to live where I want, and go wherever I want.
  • Yeah, I live in the suburbs. I am tired of people staring at me and treating me like I don’t belong here.
  • You old people had your turn. It is our day now.  You and the police can go f__k yourselves.”

I would prefer to embrace the comments and seek to understand the underlying themes of anger, frustration and survival embedded in these remarks.  In essence, these individuals, long ignored, are speaking their truth and they deserve to be listened to and to be understood.

One common theme in these responses emerged for me: the repeated exposure to experiences, acts and incidents of race-related stress in the form of micro-aggressive and macro-aggressive assaults.  This  repetitive exposure can be traumatic and lead to feelings of powerlessness and helplessness.

These are defined in the following:

  • Race-related stress: stress occurring from a race-related adverse event
  • Micro-aggressive assaults: constant repetitive direct and indirect acts (e.g., racial profiling, suspicious intent and stereotyping)
  • Macro-aggressive assaults: fear of and/or threats of physical violence

Many older black people have learned to survive by “playing the game” and in doing so, have achieved upward mobility, social status and wealth.  However, those achievements have not, do not, and will not exempt us from adverse treatment based on the color of our skin.

Our ongoing exposure to race-related adverse events exposes us to the complex trauma of race related stress; as parents, in our attempt to protect our children, we unconsciously pass our fears into our offspring, who in turn, are sent out, vulnerable and exposed, into a hostile societal environment.

Just “playing the game” is not enough to  insure the psychological well-being of ourselves, let alone our children. So, what are we to do?  I have responses for both parents and young adults.

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My Dear Parents,

“What we’ve got to do is hear from the black community.”

-Rudy Giuliani, former New York City Mayor

What do we do?

We must understand that we have the choice to either:

  • Live IN Fear– waiting for the next action or incident of race related stress and therefore being forced to react to the event, or :
  • Live WITH Fear– understanding the immediate possibility of race related adverse events to occur and seeking to prepare a response to the occurring event.

 What can we do?

We can transform the strategy the way we interact with our young adults

  • We can lead by example by understanding that a reaction may place oneself in danger whereas a response can be one that is calming, collective and based on calculation of thought and action.
  • We can cease focusing on protecting our young people from race related adverse events; understanding that in doing so we may be encasing or encircling them with our fears and experiences.
  • We can transform the way in which we seek to parent our adolescents as they move closer to adulthood; with strategies moving away from managing, supervising and directing towards strategies employing advocacy and coaching.
  • We can encourage mental health intervention when our young people become psychologically overwhelmed.

How do we protect our young people from the policeFrom a hostile and rejecting community?  From being impacted from trauma?

We can start by transforming the focus from protection to empowerment.  We can work towards reducing the internalized parental impulse to live in fear and transform the focus from being powerless to gaining empowerment.

Reinforce the ABC model : Advocacy, Balance & Calmness

  • Advocacy– Have an awareness of the social and physical environment in which you work, play, or reside. Understand that even though in the company of others, you are at risk of being profiled and subsequently abandoned by your friends or colleagues when interacting with law enforcement.
  • Balance– When interacting with law enforcement, understand that you, without having being involved in any illegal or criminal activity, may be viewed with suspicion and mistrust. Maintain   Comply with all directions by the police officer.  Make slow body movements.  Keep your hands away from your body.
  • CalmnessSlow down your breathing. Take a respite within the psychological self.  Allow the police officer to control your physical space.  Remember that although the police officer has legal authority, you have empowerment with the self to step away from the encounter… alive with minimum psychological impact.

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Concluding Words

My Dear Young Adults,

Racism will not be legislated away.  It lies buried deep within the human heart. It can and will strike without notice or hesitation.  It is for you to learn how to respond to racism rather than react towards it.

 “Be a bottle of water, not a can of soda.” -Unknown

You can choose to be the water that calmly fills the glass with completeness and fulfillment instead of being the can of soda that, when shaken, explodes wildly and without direction or purpose.

Finally, hold on to the words and wisdom of Valerie Castile, mother of Philando Castile, recently shot to death by a police officer in St. Anthony, Minnesota:

“If you get stopped by the police…comply, comply, comply.”

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For additional information regarding Dr. Kane, please visit http://www.lovingmemore.com

Choosing To Live Empowered

 

“I want this gorilla off my back!!”

-Patient screaming in session, referring to his fear

“Panel discussions on the news (media) and talk shows are useless.  Same old shit.  The feds claim there will be thorough investigations, and the police still keep killing black men.”

-William, 37, high school teacher

“Yet white folks get upset when we riot.  What the hell are we supposed to do…stand around and smile…wait calmly while they kill us?”

-Julian, 16, Student

“When I am out driving, I got my gun lying in my lap…. waiting for the cops.  I am not going out like a bitch with my hands up.  If my car breaks down, and they are going to take me; I am not going out alone.”

-Anonymous

“Man, I am so angry.  I tried talking about the shooting in Tulsa with my white coworkers.  They immediately changed the subject.   White folks don’t care about what or us we feel.  It’s been that way for hundreds of years.”

-Robbie, 46, city employee

“I wanted to talk to my pastor.  Hell, he cancelled church services, saying it was too dangerous to for a black man to be out after dark.” 

-Tim, 28, transit worker

“I tried talking to a white therapist about my feelings.  He sat there looking at me.  Do you know what that fool says, he asks how does the incident make you feel?  I start yelling.  He tells me I need anger management and refers me to see you.  Now what do you have to say?”

-Kevin, 31, laborer

 

My Dear Readers,

Enough.  I have simply had enough.  I have been writing these weekly blogs for three years following the death of my Linda, my beloved spouse.  Last week, I realized that I was burnt out and made a commitment to “take care of self” by taking a break from the weekly blogs. Clearly, a respite was in order and the intention was that the previous week’s writing would be my last for an extended period if, in fact, I decide to return.

Well, today I broke the commitment I made to my psychological self.  The sounds of too much pain and anguish from my patients broke me, and I had listened to enough.  The very last clinical session was the tipping point.  In that session, I saw an African-American veteran suffering from PTSD from the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan.  His safety, he believes, lies with him carrying his concealed weapon.  He is fearful of being pulled over by the police and mistakenly being shot, but he is adamant about his Second Amendment right to bear arms.

I was able to convince him to leave his weapon at home, but the fear of death at the hands of the police remained. He continues to hold to the illusion of a legal and constitutional right that is published as applicable to all American citizens, but in practice, is only really safe for white men to exercise.  When he walked out of my office, I admit, I thought of him as a “dead man walking.”  As he disappeared down the stairs, I saw in him what the majority of black males today in America are doing, feeling and experiencing: living in fear.

Living in fear is not living; instead living in fear is about surviving or simply put, just staying alive.  So how does a black man in this situation live?  By riding around with a gun lying on his lap?  Waiting for a confrontation with the police?  Nope.  That’s just another black man waiting to die.  Might as well call it suicide by cop.  Yes, this poor wretch will go out in his blaze of glory, stereotyped as another crazed black man who had to be killed.

There is another way.  Rather than living in fear that reinforces the desperation to survive, we can move towards transforming fear into empowerment. We can focus on hopelessness, helplessness, and powerlessness by seeking empowerment of the psychological self.  Specifically, we can attain empowerment through utilization of the clinical models ABC (Advocacy, Balance and Calmness) and Taking Care of Self (VETING).

  • Advocacy– Become an advocate for yourself. Know when to hold or show your cards.  Know when to speak and what to say.
    • Don’t expect others who have not lived the experience of being a black male in America to emotionally understand your feelings or experiences.
    • Understand that white blindness (the desire to ignore racial oppression) and black silence (the propensity of black people to remain silent in the face of oppression) is a factor in daily living, but that there are empathetic and compassionate allies both within and outside of law enforcement who are aware of what is occurring and also seeking an end to the violence being directed towards black males.
  • Balance-Remember that your power lies within you, and cannot be taken from you without your consent. Balance your anger with your wisdom.
    • Remember, being stopped/pulled over by the police is outside of your control. However, the way you handle (balance) the situation is up to you.
    • Follow the police officer’s instructions. Show by your actions and behavior that you are not a threat.  Never ever run from a police officer. Remember the Five R’s of RELIEF:
      • Respite-take a breath (breathe slowly)
      • Reaction-own your feelings
      • Reflection-balance your feelings and thoughts
      • Response-decide what appropriate actions you may want to take (if mistreated, file a formal complaint)
      • Reevaluate– the experience, lessons learned and how to respond the next time (accept the possibility that this may happen again)
  • Calmness-Use your balance and your inner empowerment to project calmness to the outside world. Use this to defuse the situation.
    • Do not allow your pride to speak for you.
    • Allow the police officer to control the situation. Remember although the police officer maintains legal authority (power,) empowerment lies within you.  One’s empowerment is a self-driven gift.  It cannot be taken, only given away.

Empowerment: Taking Care of Self (VETING) 

(V) Vulnerability- Be open to support.

  • Communicate with other black men who are experiencing similar feelings.
  • Seek to identify allies who are empathetic and have compassion for the emotions you are experiencing.

(E) Exposure-be open to your internalized experience.

  • Reveal what is truly going on within you.
  • Have the willingness to be in touch with your pain, suffering and experiences.

(T) Trust-Maintain an ongoing level of trust in the journey you have chosen.

  • Focus on reliance and confidence of your own value, truth and self-worth.
  • Focus on the knowing that in your life, space and meaning that you are truly the priority.

(ING) ING-The constant state of “doing” and “being”

  • Taking care of me.
  • Looking out for me.

Recommendations in Seeking Mental Health Assistance

Although the race of the mental health provider may be a factor to you in seeking assistance, remember:

  • Do not allow concerns about race to inhibit, prevent or deter you from achieving mental health wellness.
  • Look for a mental health provider who is an empathic compassionate listener.
  • Have the willingness to allow yourself to fully explore and express the emotions that are internalized.
  • Work towards the development of a comfort zone that allows the “fullness of you” to be expressed.

Don’t ignore the feelings of your loved ones

  • Embrace your loved ones when departing and returning home.
  • Do a daily check in by phone with spouse and family.
  • Be in regular contact with extended family especially when they reside outside the local area.
  • When away in the evenings, alert spouse and family members of the estimated time of arrival to your destination and/or any stops before arriving home.

Concluding Words- The Meaning of the Content of One’s Character

A fellow colleague recently asked me what it was like being a black man in America.

I am the son of a police officer.  I have also served my country during military service.  I am educated, a homeowner and have raised my children.  I have spoken before the US Congress, and have authored a publication which has been utilized as a teaching tool for graduate schools and clinicians working in the area of complex trauma. In my lifetime I have been stopped and questioned by the police for the following reasons:

  • Driving while black
  • Walking while black
  • Waiting for the bus while black
  • Standing outside a business while black
  • Drinking coffee while black
  • Eating while black
  • Reading while black
  • Waving my arms while black (threatening gesture)

Now due to the recent fatal shooting of the motorist in Tulsa OK, I now have to be concerned with “vehicle trouble while black.” Or, based on what happened to Keith Lamont Scott in Charlotte, NC, “reading while black.”

I live with the knowledge that the color and darkness of my skin is more important to others than my achievements and contributions to society and my community.

As a result of the legacy of police shootings, white folks talk among themselves, black congregations pray, and local police departments throughout the country nervously patrol the streets.  We slowly dance the dance of caution, as we fear the worst and hope for the best as the nation awaits the outcome of the formal investigations of the shootings.

Are the police to blame for the shootings?  Nope.  It is not about blame. Yes, the police culture needs to transform—they are sworn to protect and serve the communities they are in. In fact, the police culture, in its resistance to transformation reflects the values, the stereotypes and prejudices of all of us.

As we seek transformation within law enforcement and the policing of our citizens, the same citizens must want to seek transformation by ending their own white blindness and black silence that is paralyzing the country and our communities.  Until that occurs, black people will continue to be at risk while being either interacting with or under the control of police authority.  Meanwhile, the local police officer will continue to feel that he/she is being tossed under the bus as they continue to go out every day to serve their communities.

 “Should the police shoot me during a brake light check, I just hope I live.  If I don’t make it, Dr. Kane, please tell my wife that I love her, don’t live with hate and raise our sons to be good men”. 

-William, 39, Engineer

 “Black lives matter.  Blue lives matter.”    

“At the end of the day, we all want the same goal, that being to be able to live our homes for the purpose of work, school or enjoyment and be able to return safely to our loved ones.”

-Dr. Micheal Kane

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

A final word:

Martin Luther King Jr. in his I Have a Dream speech stated,

 “I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.”

 “I have a dream that my four children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”

 The dream remains unfulfilled.  Can it be done? We can together to take the dream and make it into a reality.

 Gone again on my respite… See you next year.

 Until the next crossroads…the journey continues…

 

Social Media And The Transformation Of Silence

“Keeping your mouth shut is a great virtue. As in don’t tell anyone else about it—Silence is golden.”-American proverb (1848)

“Silence is of great value? Not to the victims who suffer in silence.”

-Dr. Micheal Kane Clinical Traumatologist & Forensic Evaluator

“All great truths begin as blasphemies.”- George Bernard Shaw

Dear Dr. Kane:

I find it distressing that you are personally attacking the institution of the church within the black community.   If you are going to write about us, I would appreciate that you focus on the good things we do and not publicly air our dirty laundry.

There is a saying: “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.”

Unmoved Churchgoer, Seattle, WA

——————————————-

My Dear Readers:

George Bernard Shaw once said: “Progress is impossible without change, and those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything.”

There are those within the African-American community who, due to their unwillingness to transform, will view my writings as attacks on the institutions that they are seeking to protect.  For some, silence can be a beautiful thing, for others, an ongoing nightmare.

Historically, church elders and others in leadership positions within the African-American community have been willing to silence the voices of those among us who have been sexually victimized out of the fear that the impact of such disclosure will injure the reputation of the community and institution the assailant may have been associated with.

The recent church scandal in Seattle, where a local pastor sought to cover up acts of sexual assaults by the church’s youth minister, is an example of this. The youth minister was ultimately sentenced to 22 years in prison, and the church and its pastor agreed to a financial settlement out of court with several of the victims, but to this day, the pastor and the church leadership continue to maintain their silence on the subject, both in terms of their own experience, and on the issue in general.

There was no community discussion of this sordid incident.  The only information that was available to the public came from local and national media sources. Meanwhile, the ten male victims were relegated to invisibility by the community’s silence, and remain there today.

Judy Jones, associate director for a survivor network for those abused by members of the clergy, acknowledges the importance of discussion and sharing for victim recovery:

Your silence only hurts, and by speaking up, there is a chance for healing, exposing the truth, and therefore protecting others.”

And yet, many of these victims, now young adults or just beginning to enter adulthood, remain silent.  Why?  In understanding the impact of complex psychological trauma, there are several reasons they would refrain from talking about what happened to them:

  • The lack of community validation or the possible loss of their social support system
  • Feelings of shame, guilt and humiliation that are not processed due to the silence
  • Being held partially or entirely responsible for the harm that befell them.

Consequently, these children grow up feeling alone and isolated.  As adults, they may experience a degree of medical and psychological problems including

  • Insomnia
  • Substance abuse
  • Eating disorders
  • Suicidal ideation
  • Anxiety
  • PTSD

When will the African-American community cease ignoring the pain of these victims?

Now. Social media has arrived, and times are changing. Young people are now empowering themselves by taking action and forcing the issue of sexual assault into the light.

One recent incident involves two students from well-known and elite black colleges in Atlanta, Georgia: Morehouse College and Spelman College. Both are single-gender colleges—Spelman is female-only, and Morehouse is male-only—and they are known for the development of leaders in the corporate and political settings.

Media reports indicate that a Spelman freshman was raped by four Morehouse students.

  • The student reported the incident to the Spelman’s Public Safety Department and was sent to the hospital for a rape kit.
  • However, it took the college a month to respond and when they did, the victim was asked whether she was drunk and what had she been wearing during the attack.
  • The victim states that she was encouraged to “let the action go,” due to the relationship between the two schools. As a result, she left the college.

The action (or, in this case, inaction) by both schools created a firestorm of controversy that the school administrators could not control.  There have been ongoing student protests and commentary in social media, under the hash tags #RapedByMorehouse and #RapedAtSpelman.

The students are seeking to achieve the following:

  • An acknowledgment of the nature of rape on college campuses
  • Push college administrators to do more to address sexual violence on campus
  • Foster discussion of the unique dynamics that make it difficult to report sexual assault by black men

Both Spelman and Morehouse have responded to the firestorm controversy.

The colleges have stated they are conducting ongoing investigations, but the Atlanta Police Department, which has jurisdiction over both campuses, states that it is not investigating any incident of rape at either college.

Will there ever be a criminal investigation of this incident?  Hopefully the students will keep the pressure on both college administrations.  The relationship between the two elite schools must play a backseat role when it comes to the protection and welfare of its students.

Concluding Words

What will it take for the black community to acknowledge and openly address the impact of sexual abuse in our midst?

Transformation. Dramatic movement is beginning now with our younger generations.   The Spelman freshman left school because of being pressured by administrators and the lack of support.   Students at both colleges, using social media, forced the issue into the open, keeping it alive and not allowing the school administrators to blame the victim.  Instead, they are seeking answers around the safety and security of their campuses, and the respect of the school in managing and investigating those times when they fall short.  Most importantly, they are seeking an open dialogue regarding the unique and changing relationships between women and men.

The rape victim at Spelman will not become invisible. Rather than close their ears to the suffering, the students at the two colleges embraced the victim, keeping the incident alive via social media and seeking change within their community.

The history of slavery, segregation and domestic terrorism are key factors in the behavior of both the church leadership in the first case, and the school administration in the second. Shame, humiliation, and learned powerlessness are historical factors, which are well known within the African-American community.  For many, the focus was to survive their circumstances, and in order to do that, they had to keep their heads down, and do nothing about the harm to others that occurred around them.  This behavior has been passed down from generation to generation.

However, today we can empower the psychological self.  We can speak out when we see wrong is being done.  We can embrace those who are suffering and create options that will impact their recovery and the recovery of our own communities.  We can and must want to do more and stop settling for less.

I see the beginning of this transformation with the words of Mary Schmidt Campbell, President of Spelman College:

We are a family and we will not tolerate any episode of sexual violence.  No person should ever have to suffer and endure the experience she or he has recounted on social media.”

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

“In the end,

We will remember not the words

Of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.”

-Martin Luther King Jr.

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Until the next crossroads…. the journey continues…

Policing Your Emotions In The Just World

“A white prospective patient enters my office, seats himself, and upon seeing the numerous educational and professional achievements, including a doctorate and two masters’ degrees hanging on my wall, asks, “Are you any good?”

-Dr. Micheal Kane, Clinical Traumatologist & Forensic Evaluator

To be a Negro in this country and be relatively conscious is to be in rage all the time.”

-James Baldwin Writer

“You know, sometimes we’re not prepared for adversity.  When it happens, sometimes we’re caught short. We don’t know exactly how to handle it when it comes up.  Sometimes we don’t know what to do when adversity takes over.  And I have some advice for all of us.  I got it from my pianist Joe Zawinul who wrote this tune.  And it sounds like what you are supposed to say when you have that kind of problem.  It’s called mercy, mercy, mercy.”

-Cannonball Adderley “The Cannon” Jazz Musician

A true story:

I was alone in a hotel lobby in Cleveland Ohio.  My husband and children had just returned to our room to retrieve something that somebody had to have before we left for my sister-in-law’s wedding. 

I had gone to a lot of trouble shopping for the children and myself.  My tailored emerald-green silk dress was made from fabric my husband had brought from Thailand, and my shoes were dyed to match.  My nails and hair were done, and my outfit was topped off with a brand new mink jacket that my husband had worked hard to buy for me.  I was sharp. 

As I waited for the elevator to return my family to me, two young white men came out of the hotel bar and headed my way.  When they got within earshot, one of them loudly exclaimed, “She must cost at least $100!”  His companion laughed as they walked past what was left of me.  

 I looked at my clothes, trying for a minute to determine what was it about me that had given them the impression I looked like a hotel hooker and not simply a well-dressed wife and mother.  My tears gleamed on the fur as I stood there with my head bowed.  

I knew that I had to pull myself together.  I knew that my husband would be furious if he heard my story and would want to confront the men who had left me feeling so devastated.  My children would be upset if I was upset.  Our day of celebration would be spoiled. 

When the elevator finally arrived, I looked shaken, but I managed to blame it on my excitement.  It wasn’t until the end of the day that I told my husband about the experience, and he was as angry as I’d anticipated. 

I never wore those shoes or that dress again.

 -Dr. Gail Elizabeth Wyatt, clinical psychologist and Author, Stolen Women (page 27-28)

My Dear Readers,

Dr. Wyatt, like many of us, was raised to believe in the three tenets of the Just World Theory:

  • The world is benevolent
  • The world is meaningful
  • The self is worthy

It is these values that give rise to the American dream of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.  It affirms the belief that the individual is capable of anything, that hard work pays off, that what goes around comes around, and that buying into the moral precepts and rules of behavior imposed by the greater society will keep the uncertainties of life at bay.

In all respects, Dr. Wyatt succeeded at all of these things, and for the most part, reaped those benefits.  However, just in that short encounter at the elevator, she became a victim of a complex trauma known as Just World Trauma.

Just World Trauma occurs when the rules and guidelines put forth by the greater society for success are then violated by that very same society.  The patient, in believing that they would be treated justly by the world whose rules they have been following, would be betrayed—not by a particular individual, but by all of society.  

 Just World Trauma is one of 13 subtypes of complex traumas African-Americans can be exposed to cumulatively on a daily basis. In this case, Dr. Wyatt suffered:

  • Race based trauma-being viewed as a prostitute because of the color of her skin
  • Micro aggressive assault trauma– the sexual comments were verbalized loudly with the intent to be heard and inflict emotional damage
  • Invisibility Syndrome Trauma– the role of mother and spouse was denied of her

Dr. Wyatt’s reaction to this encounter are typical of African-Americans who are subjected to this trauma:

  • Reaction– She reacted by emotionally trapping the traumatization within and questioning what she had done (her behavior, her dress) to deserve such treatment and to be viewed as a prostitute
  • Response-She chose to remain silent. She made the decision to “pull myself together” and not tell her family.
  • Sacrifice-She sacrificed her psychological self to protect her family by being silent about the encounter at first. She stated “my husband would be furious” and “my children would be upset if I was upset.”

Dr. Wyatt took the hit for the good of the family; she chose not to have their day of celebration be spoiled.  Interestingly enough, Dr. Wyatt’s decision not to tell her husband immediately may have saved his life.  As a woman who knew what her man would or would not accept, this was clearly unacceptable.  Had her husband confronted these men, there may have been a more tragic and psychologically devastating outcome.

Suffering in Silence

 African-Americans have historically understood the need to be silent even in the midst of great suffering and powerless, in order to survive.

I was compelled to stand and see my wife shamefully scourged and abused by her master; and the manner in which it was done, was so violently and inhumanly committed upon the person of a female; that I despair in finding decent language to describe the blood act of cruelty.”

-Unknown contributor

The survival of black Americans through their silence has changed little from slavery to the modern day.  It is through black silence we have learned to adapt in the following ways:

  • Learn to behave one way, even if you felt another
  • Never discuss the kind of abuse you were experiencing
  • Live with a sense of dignity in spite of the abuse

 Today, these adaptations have resulted in African-Americans:

  • Feigning submission, happiness and complacency in spite of whatever emotion the individual may actually be feeling.
  • Experiencing trauma that may result in sleeplessness, fears of impending doom and flashbacks that won’t go away
  • Using coping mechanisms such as dissociation in order to maintain emotional distance from the psychological wounds impacting one’s life.

The ABC’s of Empowerment: Ending Black Silence.

  •  A (Advocacy)- End the silence, speak for the psychological self (“I will accept that only I can advocate for my mental wellness.”)
  • B (Balance)-Seek balance of feeling and thoughts (“Only I can bring balance within me as to what I feel and think.”)
  • C (Calmness) Expel calmness to the external world (“I can and I will bring calmness to my external environment.”)

 

Concluding Words

 “African-Americans have shown the endurance to survive and achieve during times of hardship and adversity.  Now we must demonstrate the ability to run the race smarter, not harder.”

-Dr. Micheal Kane

Our parents in their wisdom have taught us that to succeed we must learn the rules and play the game.  We have tended to our psychological wounds with silence and other substances like food and alcohol for decades. Now, we must combine learning the rules and playing the game with running the race smarter, not harder.

To those who may be curious as to my response to the micro-aggressive assault, i.e. the question, “Are you any good?”

My response was simple: I asked the individual to accompany me to the building’s waiting room, where I suggested he seek an appointment with one of the white therapists in the building.  In leaving, I remarked, “I choose my patients. If you were not sitting on the couch, someone more deserving of my assistance would be.”

I will not allow someone to take from or minimize what I have worked so hard and sacrifice so much as I walked my journey of self-discovery.  I will advocate for me, obtain balance within my psychological self and in doing, achieve calmness in my external world, and I encourage all others to do the same.

“Life is like a marathonFinish the race; don’t worry about coming in first place.  Cross the finish line.  Just finish what you start.”

-Ten Flashes of Light for the Journey of Life , www.lovingmemore.com

Until the next crossroads…the journey continues…

Censorship and The Survivalist Mentality

Living in a closed system is slowly quietly sucking out the life and killing us, one by one.

-Micheal Kane, Psy.D, Clinical Traumatologist

Author, Our Blood Flows Red

Our lives begin to end the day we are silent  about things that matter.”

-Martin Luther King Jr.

My Dear Readers,

I typically make a habit to re-post my blogs on a listserv focused on black social workers and mental health providers.  Recently, one of my blogs, The Yearly Celebration Is Gone: Is Black History Over? was, to my surprise, deemed “inappropriate” by the moderator and consequently, was rejected for publication.  No other explanation was provided, and no one else commented on the situation.

Since there aren’t any stated guidelines on posts, I was confused as to why this arbitrary decision was made, and no other remarks were made.  I will never know what was “inappropriate” about this blog entry.

I believe that this was an act of censorship.  Censorship can be defined as the following:

“The suppression of speech, public communication, or other information which may be considered objectionable, harmful, sensitive, politically incorrect or inconvenient by groups or institutions.”

Hmm…Have my writings this year met the standard for censorship within the African-American community?  In my recent writings, I have advanced the following points:

  • The African-American community is responding to ongoing cumulative incidents of complex trauma. Not only is this trauma psychologically wounding, but individuals who experience complex trauma continue to remain vulnerable to the impact of these experiences.
  • The African-American community is a closed system. Generally, closed systems are isolated and not economically sustainable, relying on a small labor force that is dependent on a more open system.  As a result, closed systems can be particularly susceptible to psychological wounds arising from the experience of complex trauma.
  • The African-American community engages in avoidance and denial behaviors. Avoidance is the act of dodging, shunning or turning away, where denial is the failure to acknowledge an unacceptable truth or emotion.  It can also be the refusal to accept the reality of an event or the reliability of information received.

I acknowledge that these assertions may be met with strong disagreement by those who read it, but censorship is a weapon of silence.  Where avoidance can prevent something from happening and denial comes from an event that is too uncomfortable to accept or reject, censorship effectively removes the threat or controversy from view and in the silence that follows, creates the illusion to the community that the threat or controversy never existed, and therefore, the balance or harmony within the closed system remains untouched.

The listserv functions as a media platform, but it can also stand as a microcosm of the African-American community.  When communities like the one on this listserv become vulnerable to censorship, it, like the African-American community it serves, becomes a closed system.  Its members are descendants of generations upon generations of people who have endured 400 years of horrendous acts of racism, oppression, and discriminatory treatment.

By censoring “inappropriate” posts, the moderators not only suppress information, but they reinforce complex traumas inflicted on its readership. During the time of segregation, many of us who have experienced the denial or limiting of access to information firsthand.

Censorship of information by media platforms due to arbitrary decisions and lack of formal allows people, communities, and organizations to live in fear. When we live in fear, we allow our fears to take over our lives and dictate the limits of our possibilities.

When we live in fear, we often use that fear as a hindrance and an excuse for not accomplishing what we are working to accomplish.  Instead, I suggest that we can learn to embrace our fear, and respond to it in a way that allows us to thrive within an open flourishing system.

The pain of operating in a survival mentality in a closed system allows us to clearly see the benefits of transformation to an open system.  By doing this, our communities and organizations can transition from serving its own agendas by controlling the flow of information, to providing clear guidelines targeted towards the service and enhancement of the people it serves.

Closing Remarks-Dr. Kane

The issue here is not the power of the moderator, but the silence of the community.  When a community accepts censorship, it reinforces its own isolation and encourages individuals to adopt the survival mentality in its closed system.

Media platforms dedicated to black audiences throughout many African-American communities across the country are designed to be “non-activist,” meaning that its role is to pass along information such as regional legislative agendas, job announcements and research opportunities.  Meanwhile, “activist” issues such as those below continue to add to the complex traumatization of our community:

  • In 2016, a CDC study determined that 50% of all Gay African-American males will contract HIV in their lifetime. Gay and bisexual Black males have a have a one in two risk of contracting HIV in comparison with one in 11 for white males.
  • The same study found that one in 48 black women are likely to be diagnosed with HIV in their lifetime compared to one in 880 white women.
  • Only 10% of 8th grade black males in America read proficiently.
  • 1 in every 16 African-American men is incarcerated in comparison to 1 in every 106 white males.
  • One in every three black males can expect to be to prison in their lifetime.
  • Black males were three times more likely to be searched during a traffic stop than white motorists.
  • African-American males are twice as likely to experience the use of force during encounters with the police.

There is much more that these media platforms can do to assist in the empowerment and psychological wellness of African-American communities across the country.  Maintaining a non-activist stance will only reinforce the current state of survivalist mentality and not move us towards empowerment.

Recommendations:

  • Media platforms must encourage a range of discussion regarding issues impacting the psychological wellness of the African American communities throughout the country.
  • Media platforms must establish specific guidelines and structures defining the appropriateness of submitted articles
  • Media platforms must provide notification of regional and national conferences focused on the wellness of black communities, such as the National Association of Black Social Workers, whose conference is taking place this week in New Orleans.

Finally, let us not ignore the dangers of silencing through censorship. The Russian poet & dissident Yevgeny Yevtushenko once said:

“When truth is replaced by silence, the silence becomes a lie.”

I will continue to submit my truths for publication to all media platforms, including the one that silenced me.  I will allow my actions, rather than the acceptance of silence, to speak on my behalf.  I encourage those who disagree or have different perspectives to voice them for all to listen.  This is the benefit of residing within an open system and democratic society.

Until the next crossroads…the journey continues…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Just World Trauma and the Black Middle Class

 

“(White Interviewer) Your son Langston, a student at Brown, was questioned while in a public park by police. What had you said to him about situations like this? 

I remember when a neighbor of ours, who was not black, got into trouble and the police brought him home.  I walked my son outside, pointed down the street and said, “They wouldn’t have brought you home.  You’d be in jail.”

-Dr. Eddie S. Glaude, Jr.  Chairman African-American Studies Department, Princeton University

“He treated me like I was a nigger.” (Incident in which police officer forced a member of the Seattle City Council to spread eagle over his car refusing to believe that he was a councilmember)

-Richard McIver Councilmember, City of Seattle 1998-2010

My Dear Readers,

This week, we will examine one way that complex trauma asserts itself in our lives: Just World Trauma. Just World Trauma has a devastating impact upon the black middle class as it attempts to claim the benefits and privileges it feels are deserved.

Many white and black people believe that black people have achieved middle-class status.  Both groups maintain an unconscious belief that all you need to do to keep bad things from happening to you is to follow the rules and guidelines of the culture within which they live. In my clinical practice, I hear countless stories from African-Americans regarding how upsetting it is to be viewed as those people, thereby denying them the benefits that come with being members of the middle class. An example:

A black executive and three white colleagues enter a four-star restaurant.  As he follows the hostess to be seated, another patron, without paying attention, nonchalantly asks him for a menu and to pour his water (both pitcher and menu are placed on the opposite side of the table).  To the chagrin of his colleagues, he pours the water and hands the patron the menu. When questioned in therapy why he took that action, he shrugged momentarily and the tears began rolling down his face.

Just World Trauma begins when one societal group comes to the realization that its path to the “good life” is being blocked by the conscious and unconscious beliefs (stereotypes, prejudices) of the other societal group.  Traumatization can occur when individual members of one group repeatedly push back and in the act of doing so, constantly re-experiences psychological wounding and distress.

The African-American community is a closed system, which is a system that is isolated and not economically self-sustainable, that relies on a small middle class and a labor force that is dependent on more open community systems to maintain itself. As a result, the black middle class can be particularly susceptible to psychological wounds arising from the experience of just world trauma as it attempts to negotiate its strategic position as gatekeepers between the two communities.

There are two barriers that prevent the achievement of the black middle class from doing this.  One, the white community views black people as monolithic; that is, having a massive, unchanging structure that does not permit individual variation.   Two, privilege is defined, controlled and maintained outside of the black community.

The white community is an open system.  As the dominant majority, it is politically strong and economically sustainable.  The open system allows individuals to travel without hindrance, moving freely to interact with other units within the group (business, professional organizations etc.), and external environments (interstate, international etc.).  As the dominant partner in the relationship with other communities, it sets the standards in which others can be designated “privileged, “ thereby accessing the benefits offered within its flourishing system.

There are questions that warrant understanding and hopefully bring awareness.  What is privilege?  How does privilege differ between blacks and whites?  Privilege is a special right or advantage available only to a particular person or group of people.  Privilege can be emotional or psychological, regarding personal self-confidence and comfort, or having a sense of belonging or worth in society.

Definitions of Privilege include the following:

  • Male Privilege-is the granting of special rights, advantage or immunity that is made available to individuals of a specific gender. Every male (regardless of race) by virtue of being male benefits from male privilege.
  • White Privilege– is defined as a special right, advantage, or immunity granted or available to only to individuals of a specific race (white) due to the perception of institutional power in relation to individuals of a different race or ethnic group.
  • White Male Privilege-is privilege accorded to white males only. This privilege is unlimited, has no boundaries and supersedes all other privileges.
  • Select Privilege-is a privilege accorded to white females and wealthy, elite or influential males/females individuals of a different race or ethnic group. Those selected are carefully chosen as being the best or most suitable for close contact with those holding white privilege.  This privilege is granted or conferred or revoked (exception-white females) at the discretion of white males.
  • Intra-Group Privilege is created by those holding white privilege and is extended to of a different race or ethnic group, holding college level education and middle class status. Those holding intra-group are gatekeepers and act as the bridge between those holding white privilege and the other ethnic or racial groups. Similar to select privilege, it is discretionary and can subject to revocation at any time.  This privilege which allows access to perks and benefits is highly sort after; is difficult to obtain and subject to loss at any time
  • Limited Privilege-is privilege that is created within a specific ethnic or racial group. Here specific members achieve status and esteem through what is valued or validated within the confines of the community. Unlike White Male Privilege, which is powerful and has no boundaries, limited privilege lacks meaning, worth or value outside the confines of its community.

It is reasonable for members of the dominant majority, especially those from situations of middle or upper class standing, to openly deny possession of privileged status within their community.  The benefit of privilege is one either unconscious or conscious, is taken for granted.   Either way, within the group there is the assumption that persons of social status, education and wealth expect to be treated “differently.”

It would be a dangerous error, both physically and psychologically, for members of the black middle class to choose a similar assumption.  Richard McIver, a city council member of Seattle during the World Trade Organization Ministerial Conference of 1999, was pulled from his vehicle and manhandled roughly by a Seattle police officer.  The incident, is described by Jean Gooden, a white fellow council member who witnessed it:

“Councilmember McIver and I were on our way to an official dinner.  We were stopped by a Seattle policeman who did not recognize him as a council member, refused to believe he was a public official, and insisted on making him stand spread-eagled up against his car.  He never forgot that, not so much because of the indignity, but that others did not believe an African American might be a city councilmember.” – Jean Gooden

In an interview with the local media, McIver angrily said: “He treated me like I was a nigger.”  The incident was one of complex trauma, specifically Just World Trauma.  The idea of a just world is built on three premises:

  • The world is benevolent
  • The world is meaningful
  • The self is worthy

The belief in a just world falls in line with the American dream of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. In the theory, there is the belief:

  • That the individual is capable of anything,
  • That hard work pays off,
  • That what goes around comes around and
  • That buying into the moral precepts and rules of behavior will keep us safe from all the uncertainties of life.

The fallacy of the Just World principle is that it was developed for those who are a part of the dominant culture and have developed these beliefs because following the rules and guidelines of the culture within which they live actually has made them immune from adverse events.  In essence, the just world is actually just privilege restricted to a specific group.  Members of the dominant group can grant temporary membership into the dominant group for others by extending select privilege to specific individuals.  The caveat is that the extended privilege is subjected to challenge and revocation at any time without reason or cause.

This may have been the situation in which Mr. McIver found himself in when he was confronted by the Seattle police officer.  Having been granted select privilege due to his powerful position as a council member of a city population with a population of half a million, Mr. McIver may have considered himself to be immune to the policing action which was occurring around him as he drove through the WTO protests.  His status of select privilege was revoked when the police officer in viewing his black skin, forced him to spread-eagle on the hood of his own car.

The action taken against Mr. McIver occurred despite the assurances of a white female councilmember that he indeed was a member of the city council in route to attend an official function. The words of the female colleague may have been ignored due to her own status of select privilege being granted because of being a white female.  Nonetheless, it was a clear situation where white male privilege “trumps” the privilege and power of a white female.

When African-Americans of middle or upper-class status “forget” the rules that they once had to adhere to when they were non-privileged, traumatic experiences can occur through the action of revocation.  The action of revocation of select privilege occurs ongoing in cities across the United States:

  • Henry Louis Gates, (7.16.2009) professor at Harvard University, following a report of burglary, being questioned by the police as he is standing in his home. He was later arrested and charged with obstruction for refusing to provide identification. (select privilege revoked due to refusal to provide identification).
  • James Blake, (10.8.2015) professional tennis player, tackled, thrown to the ground and handcuffed outside an expensive four-star hotel in downtown Manhattan New York. Apology for mistaken identification extended by New York Police Commissioner (select privilege revoked due to black male being out of place (a four star hotel))
  • Blac Youngsta (1.9.2016), a rapper, thrown to the ground, gun placed at his head by Atlanta Police officers following his withdrawal of $200,000 of his money from an upscale bank (select privilege revoked because of belief he as a black man is not supposed to have that amount of money i.e. the rapper is a millionaire)
  • Condoleezza Rice (date unknown) it was reported in the media during the early days the Bush Admiration, when she was serving as National Security Advisor, a white male Secret Service agent physical shoved her away when she was traveling with President Bush (select privilege revoked due to failure to be recognized by an individual holding white male privilege)

Select Privilege is extended to those designated as worthy of association due to their status of being wealthy, influential or elite.  These are the individuals who make the national media headlines when the revocation of their selected privilege occurs, primarily because these revocations occurred due to mistaken identity or failure by the white individual to recognize the celebrity, statesman, or high ranking individual. These are usually resolved by the white individual extending an apology, the privilege is restored, and the matter is considered “resolved.”

Just World Trauma is a major factor in psychological wounds occurring within the black middle class.  As stated earlier the black middle class is a small isolated group within a closed system.  The black middle class consists of individuals who either were born into this structure or those who had “pulled themselves up by the bootstraps, by consistent hard work in order to buy homes, create wealth and send their children to college.  A major role of the black middle class is to serve as “gatekeepers” between the two communities.

In return for fulfilling the role as gatekeepers, the black middle class is granted intra-group privilege. This privilege allows access to perks and benefits available within the open system, which is flourishing, unlike the closed system, which is focused on survival.  However, in order to obtain this privilege, there is   a certain unwritten expectation that the person being granted this privilege will assist in maintaining the physical and psychological safety of those holding white privilege.  These may include:

  • Never openly challenging the formal or informal authority of a member of the dominant group. Questioning (not challenging) can be done privately, but at the end of the day, obedience is expected.
  • Always remember that intra-group privilege is inferior whereas white privilege is superior. Never forget your place in the hierarchy.
  • Take steps to ensure the comfort of the privilege group and the acceptability of the imbalanced relationship.
  • Never forget that the “perks” and “benefits” of intra-group privilege can be taken away at any time through the action of revocation.

Psychological injury—that is, just world trauma—can result when revocation of privilege:

  • occurs without warming,
  • mistaken identity
  • inflicted due to the individual “forgetting his/her place” in the assigned order or
  • refusal to submit to the formal or informal authority of the ranking privileged individual.

The following incidents are examples of possible psychological trauma due to revocation of privilege:

  • An African-American honors student in a predominantly white high school in Oldham, Kentucky in a class assignment of reading “To Kill A Mockingbird” was asked to draw a picture to describe his feelings, drew his views comparing today’s police with the KKK. The drawing, publically displayed with other class member drawings, was heavily criticized by white parents and demands were made to remove the offending drawing.
  • A mother in Alabama became extremely angry when her 7-year-old son, an honors student was pulled out of class and suspended due to the school principal not approving of his style of haircut. The mother states he was teary eyed and walked home with his head down. She said, I told him, don’t hold your head down…continue to make these A’s and B’s this is all about nothing”.  The superintendent of the school district acknowledged there was no defined policy on hairstyle, rescinded the suspension, and allowed him to return to school.

Just World Trauma is not specific to race therefore it can occur to anyone.  It forces a person who is now in a state despair to say to the psychological self:

  • “I did everything right.”
  • “I followed all the rules.”
  • “How could this have happened to me?”

However, the difference is that where just world trauma may be a one-time event for a person holding white privilege, it can be ongoing and cumulative for a black person who holds intra-group privilege.  For example:

On 3.2.16, the police were called to check upon a call made by two employees of a local athletic club.  The two employees, citing fear for their lives, called 911 because of a suspicious black man breaking into the club.  Upon arriving, the police immediately recognized the black male to be Seattle Seahawks star safety Kam Chancellor, who explained that he had stopped by the club, seeking information on it so that he could purchase the closed down, defunct club.  Chancellor later tweeted the following:

  • “Good thing the cops know I am a good guy and stealing isn’t in my blood. I work for everything I get.”
  • No, all I wanted was a number and they waved me off like a fly without answering me.”

 Closing Remarks-Dr. Kane

Question: How does one stop the infliction of Just World Trauma?

  • One cannot stop the infliction of Just World Trauma by one individual or a group upon another. This form of trauma is a result of a privilege being provided that not only maintains forced separation, it allows and at times encourages individuals of one group to psychologically injure others who are not part of their group.

Question:  Then, there is nothing that one can do to treat Just World Trauma?

  • Small group therapy, family therapy, and individual education can respond to just World Trauma.  For example, referring to the quote by Dr. Glaude: 

“I remember when a neighbor of ours, who was not black, got into trouble and the police brought him home.  I walked my son outside, pointed down the street and said,” They wouldn’t have brought you home.  You’d be in jail.”

Dr. Glaude provides a clear example of what could have happened in that situation if he had had higher privilege.  In taking his son outside to witness the treatment of his white neighbor, the message to his son is simple: Don’t ever think that your middle-class status will entitle you to the same treatment.

Question:  Understanding that Just World Trauma can occur at any time, under circumstances outside of my control, I feel scared and powerless.  What can I do?

Although we cannot prevent just world trauma from happening to us, we can learn how to live with fear instead of living in fear, and when we are confronted by just world trauma, we can:

  • learn to minimize its impact by maintaining vigilance and awareness
  • work towards treating the psychological wound and
  • develop a means of balancing the psychological wound as one must prepare for other types of complex trauma which are waiting and likely to occur

 More articles on this can be found at www.lovingmemore.com::

  • African-American Males & The Police ((vigilance & awareness)
  • The Five R’s of RELIEF: Living WITH, Not IN Your Fear(Treatment)
  • The I Factor: Balancing the IN’s & OUT’s of Information (Balancing)

We cannot prevent just world trauma, but we can learn to recognize it, treat it, and heal the resulting psychological wounds by identifying ways to balance the resulting complex traumas that intrude into our lives.  Failure to do so will only result in repeated wounding due to the complex trauma we will continue to experience.   

Once burned, we learn. If we do not learn we only assure ourselves that we will be burned again and again and again until …we learn. 

-Ten Flashes of Light in the Journey of Life

 Until the next crossroads…the journey continues…

When Being “One Of The Good Ones” Doesn’t Save You

But by the grace of God, I am what I am, and his grace to me has not been in vain.  In fact, I worked harder that all of them—yet not I, but the grace of God in me.

1 Corinthians 15:10

 

 There but for the grace of God go I.

John Bradford,  (1510-1555) Evangelical preacher and martyr

My Dear Readers,

Next Monday is the first Monday of the month, so we will, as usual, post the next episode of Bobbi’s Saga, the story of a woman’s recovery from repeated sexual abuse as a child and the trauma she continues to suffer from it.  As a result, today’s blog, will be the last new posting for 2015.  These final weeks mark the third year since we started this blog, and I want to thank you, my dear readers, and my hardworking staff for all of the support and encouragement that you have shown me this year.

As I prepare for my annual hiatus from writing this blog, I want to return to a discussion about racial stereotypes that started with last week’s blog.  In that blog, Fear and Stereotypes: It’s Not (Really) About You (11.23.15), I wrote about a middle aged black attorney who, due to others’ internalized stereotypes about the sexual inclinations of black males, was forced to resign from his law firm.   I wondered how other black males reacted when they read the article.  Did they see themselves being victimized in the same manner?

I wondered whether other black men were saying to themselves “That could have been me.  How many of them thanked God that it didn’t happen to them? How many of us black males really realize how we walk on eggshells every day, while we work our jobs along with the dominant majority?

This is not an unfamiliar story regarding Black males who have the potential to be successful or influential. But, is it worth it?  How do you respond to the stress of going into work day after day with the potential to lose your job due to misconduct that exists only in the mind of your accusers?

The attorney’s career was destroyed due to gossip and the rumor that he was a physical threat to women in the workplace.  Even if he hadn’t actually done anything, those rumors suggested, the simple reality of his presence around women may trigger urges that he could not control.  Either way, for the safety of the workplace, he had to be removed from the organization.

How do people come to these decisions?  If you take the premise that simply because of this particular race and this particular gender, urges to attack women are present, then the decision makes perfect sense.  However, believing that premise means that you have to believe quite a lot of things about what it means to be black.  Other than a specific color, it is connoted in negative terms.  The word black is often used in situations that are tragic and disastrous; to describe the state of mind of a depressed person, full of gloom and misery; to describe emotional feelings such as anger and hatred; or the state of being evil or wicked.

The disdain attributed to the word black is evident in the manner with which white Americans, and American society in general interacts with black people.  There are a few exceptions where black refers to something positive, such as “being in the black” and “Black Friday,” the beginning of the holiday shopping season, but in general, the more prevalent use of the word describes negative things.

When applied to black people, such harsh views have led to the conceptualization of black males in terms of antiquated and just plain made-up stereotypes and generalizations about African Americans and African American culture.  In the early 19th century, black people were portrayed as being joyous, naïve, superstitious and musically inclined, which played to the advantage of white slaveholders, who could justify slavery by saying that the slaves were “happy” with their lot in life.  In 1844, the US Secretary of State and slaveholder John C. Calhoun argued that there was scientific proof of the necessity of slavery:

“The African is incapable of self-care and sinks into lunacy under the burden of freedom.  It is a mercy to give him the guardianship and protection (slavery) from mental death.”

Stereotypes of black people changed immensely following the end of the American Civil War in 1865. African American slaves as a whole, now free, were seen in terms of violence; that they would jump at any chance to murder and mistreat white people in general and in particular, sexually abuse white women, and they could do so because they possessed superhuman strength and sexual virility.  It was these stereotypes that so inflamed the fears of whites that they created “citizen protection groups” such as the Ku Klux Klan, formed in 1865, and continued to fuel fear and hate for the next 125 years, giving birth later to the era of Jim Crow laws and racial segregation.

Although the influence of the KKK has diminished in modern times, and racial segregation has “legally” ended, many of those same stereotypes continue to play a role in modern society.  Today’s media has played a key role in not only reinforcing these stereotypes, but also enhancing the fear that comes with it.

In film, black males are overwhelmingly shown in a stereotypical manner that promotes notions of moral inferiority.  In a study conducted in 2001, that identified male roles and actors characterized by race, it was found that when it comes to:

  • Using vulgar profanity: black males 89% white males 17%.
  • Being physically violent: black males 56%, white males 11%
  • Lacking self-control: black males 55%, white males 6%.

The news media is guilty of this as well.  Black males are more likely to be appear as perpetrators in drug and violent crime stores on network news.  It was in the 1980s the news media regrouped its stereotypes of black males shifting into primary images of drug lords, crack users, the underclass, the homeless and subway muggers.  It’s only been in the last ten years that the news media has begun to show a spectrum of good black men along with evil black men.

Stereotyping not only impacts black males; it also creates stress, panic and anxious feeling for their families.  Consider the fear that lies in the hearts of black mothers and fathers about their sons either driving, walking or simply “chillin’” on the streets now at risk of being swept up and stopped, detained or arrested simply for being black and male and fitting the white mental stereotype of what a gang member looks like.

In stereotyping there is the assumption that “white” is good and successful, where black is not good and leading to failure.  There is also the assumption that if one is good, then good things will happen.  If one is bad, then bad things will happen.  The problem with this belief is that it also assumes that the reverse is true: that if bad things happen to you, then there must have been something bad about you that brought it about.  The trouble is that that reasoning is leveled at black people more than it is leveled at white people.  Given this, it is easy to see why your average black male questions why they should even attempt to succeed when regardless of their success, they can expect to be always greeted with questions, doubts or suspicion.

Henry Louis Gates, Jr., a well-known African American professor at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts, returned to his home in Cambridge on July 16, 2009 after a trip to China.  After locking himself out of his home and finding another way to enter it, Gates was arrested by police in his home, after a neighbor called 911.  Why were the police called?  From the description of the person who made the call, the perpetrator wasn’t Henry Louis Gates, Jr., or a Harvard professor, or a world-renowned author, but simply a “black male” who was out of place in the neighborhood.  The only reason the caller could fathom for this to happen was that this black male had to be burglarizing the residence.

The assumption that led to the arrest of Dr. Gates is reinforced with the conceptualization of white privilege.  While the term privilege typically connotes the enjoyment of enhanced or additional advantages that others do not have, the privilege that is referred to here is subtractive: whites do not have to deal with the systemic disadvantages that blacks and other ethnic minorities experience, such as higher unemployment rates, and closer scrutiny and violence from police.  The term privilege, in this context, describes the freedoms that white people may not recognize they have, such as the presumption of innocence, the ability to speak freely without threat of violence, and the affirmation of their own worth, simply because they are human.

Where white males have “unlimited privilege,” there are times when “limited privilege” is granted to a small group of black males.  These males, often successful and wealthy African American people, receive a message from the dominant majority that even though he is still prone to the “characteristics” (read: stereotypes) of his race, his training, education and accomplishments have made him “acceptable” to the dominant majority, and thus, worthy of this limited privilege. However, there are four unwritten yet very important caveats to this gift:

  • You must never, ever forget your place, which is always at the bottom of the pecking order. You will be reminded.
  • Although you are accepted as a member of the group, your membership can and will be challenged and possibly revoked at any time by those holding unlimited privilege.
  • Once revoked, it can be earned again, but you will remain under intense scrutiny by members holding unlimited privilege with the expectation that you are repentant and or/silent about what has happened to you and whether it was just or not.

In essence, this is what occurred to Dr. Gates at the time of his arrest.  It was reported that Dr. Gates reacted angrily towards the police officer upon answering his door and after being directed to produce identification to prove he was the owner of the spacious residence.  Based on Dr. Gates’ irritated tone and arrogant refusal to produce the demanded identification, the police officer arrested him, charging him with “obstruction of justice.” During the arrest, this proud, educated, well trained black man was treated just like any street thug who got mouthy with the police.

 

What are the psychological consequences that Dr. Gates faced after his arrest?

  1. He may have felt humiliated due to the media circus that broadcasted this incident around the world for his students, friends, family, and colleagues to see.
  1. Even through the charges were dropped, the arrest, fingerprints and mug shots will be maintained in the federal National Crime Information Center (NCIC) database, and will remain there even past his death.
  1. Each time he leaves or enters the country, or is stopped and questioned by the police, the information regarding the police explanation, not the overall context, of the arrest will be made available through the computerized records of the NCIC.
  1. Gates will continue to relive the traumatic memory of being arrested for the rest of his life. Among the memories of his impressive achievements, he will also keep this in his memory and will take it to his grave.

Although he was likely aware of this already, Dr. Gates simply received a reminder that regardless of his status or his achievements, he is still a black man, and will be judged by the beliefs and stereotypes of black men, whether they are true or not. His limited privilege was revoked. He may have had the ability to believe that he had the ability to be given the benefit of the doubt, or to be allowed to be human and emotional, but at the end of the day, that is not something that is available for a black man.

 

Concluding Words – Dr. Kane

There are lessons here regarding racial stereotyping, gossip and rumors that we as black men can benefit from.

  • To be successful with school and workplace politics: decide after careful consideration who to trust. Then trust with caution and consistently verify.
  • Respect all, love all, yet remember that trust is earned, not given away to the undeserving.
  • Once burned, we learn. If we do not learn we only assure ourselves that we will be burned again and again and again until …we learn.
  • Betrayal is based on intent. A true friend will never betray you; a betrayer can never be a true friend.
  • To err is human” is a common expression, but we should not believe there is always room for error. In some cases there is no room for error. None.

 

 IN THE END, LET YOUR GOOD WORKS AND ACTIONS SPEAK FOR YOU.

 MY BEST TO YOU ALL.

I will see you at the crossroads… as our journey continues.

 

Dr. Micheal Kane

Walking the Talk: Actions Speak Louder Than Words 

“Our lives begin to end the day we are silent about the things that matter.”

Martin Luther King

My Dear Readers: 

As I write this week’s blog, I am preparing to lead a workshop at the 32nd Annual National Organization of Forensic Social Workers (NOFSW) conference in Arlington, VA.  The objective of my workshop, The Culturally Competent Clinician/Forensic Evaluator, is to assist service providers in understanding the importance of providing a “Safe Secure Space to Spill Spoiled Stuff,”  particularly when working with members of the African American community.

Despite being a clinical traumatologist and forensic evaluator with 30 years of experience and an excellent understanding of the subject matter, it is still difficult for me to convey the impact of racism, oppression and discriminatory treatment experienced on a daily basis to a group of service providers who, while well-intentioned, can only intellectualize those emotions.  Despite these differences, we all will have one characteristic in common: as members of the organization i.e. NOFSW and representing various institutions, we all hold organizational/institutional (O/I) privilege. I find this privilege to be the one that is the most frustrating.  It is real, but illusionary.  It is perceived as reachable, yet it remains unattainable for those who are not born to it.

In the previous four weeks, I have explored various concepts of privilege, including:

 Male Privilege: Every male, by virtue of being male, benefits from male privilege.  It is the granting of special rights, advantage or immunity that is made available to individuals of a specific gender.

  • White male privilege is unlimited, i.e., has no boundaries.

White Privilege can be defined as a special right, advantage, or immunity granted or available only to individuals of a race due to the perception of institutional power in relation to individuals of a different race or ethnic group.

  • White female privilege is limited, i.e., limited to the boundaries designed by white males.
  • White females and African-American males/females will never attain white male privilege.

Limited Privilege is typically the purview of black males, which only has meaning, productivity and esteem within the confines of the African-American community.

  • 1 in every 16 African-American men is incarcerated in comparison to 1 in every 106 white males.
  • One in every three black men can expect to go too prison in their lifetime.
  • Black males were three times more likely to be searched during a traffic stop than white motorist.
  • African-American males are twice as likely to be arrested and almost four times as likely to experience the use of force during encounters with the police.

Intra-Group Privilege is privilege that is created and reinforced within a social group.  As with other forms of privilege, intra-group privilege not only has its perks and benefits, it can be psychologically harmful as well.

  • African-Americans strive to obtain white privilege, which can be revoked, terminated or taken away at any time.

Organizational/Institutional (O/I) privilege is defined as a specific right, advantage or immunity granted or available only to those individuals as a class in an identified group holding organizational/institutional (O/I) power.  Unlike male privilege, where is limited to those of a specific gender, organizational/institutional (O/I) privilege is open to both genders and all races, but in practice, is often restricted only to members of the dominant culture.

Organizational/institutional (O/I) racism differs from organizational/institutional privilege.  In O/I racism, there is an intentional act of restricting people of color from choices, rights and mobility and includes the use of, as well as the manipulation of legitimate institutions with the intent of maintaining an advantage over others.

The holder of O/I privilege, in contrast, may not intend to impose such restrictions on people of color and more often than not, is unaware or in denial of their privilege.  This may result in unintended acts of aversive racism.

In aversive racism, the aversive racist says, “I am not a racist, but…” and may engage in crazy –making interactions with African-Americans by overtly denying racist intent while acting in ways that feel racist to their target.  An example would be the state clinical social work organization of which I belong to located in the Pacific Northwest. Its leadership, in response to the massacre at the Mother Emanuel AME church in Charleston, S.C., stated:

“We are all sickened, grieving and angry over the massacre in Charleston S.C.  It comes after endless shocks of killing of Black men and youth across the country.  To this we add the repeated killing of the mentally ill by a system that seems completely untrained and unprepared to help them…. …How do we as clinical social workers think about this, and more importantly, what are our contributions and challenges?”

This is the part of organizational/institutional privilege that frustrates many professions of color in the same field.   While members of the privileged group are intellectualizing, debating and discussing their feelings on how the system “seems completely untrained and unprepared,” many more black people and the mentally ill will continue being killed. Instead of talking about the issues and worrying about mission statements and codes of ethics, there are those among us who urge action on behalf of these beleaguered communities.

Clinical social work organizations like this one may be unaware of not only the disservice they are doing to the communities they claim to be concerned about, but also of how they may be viewed by those same communities. In a recent survey of the state social work organization, it like other similar state organizations around the country found itself to be predominantly White/Caucasian, heterosexual in private practice and over the age of 50 possessing 15-30 years of experience in the profession.  Results in the survey concluded the following:

  • 100% of the respondents see racism as a clinical issue
  • A vast majority 86% felt their practice was culturally responsive/competent
  • 95% responded affirmatively when asked if frameworks, treatments and /or interventions addressed or incorporated diverse groups.
  • At the same time almost 49% felt race was a barrier in building alliances with clients. Roughly 98% felt race was a factor in transference and countertransference.
  • Close to 85% of respondents felt comfortable about talking about racism, but that number was reduced to 75% when speaking of race or racism with clients
  • 79% indicated they felt competent in addressing oppression, racism and racial inequality with colleagues.
  • 98% of respondents felt they would benefit from additional clinical training on diversity and /or racial equity
  • The percentage of members identifying themselves as people of color fell to 6% of the membership, which is far below from the designated target range of 30-34%.

Concluding Words

The finding of the survey may suggest the following:

  • The majority of those surveyed holding organizational/institutional privilege view themselves as being culturally responsive and competent
  • A large number (25%) felt uncomfortable about speaking of race or racism with clients
  • A large number felt competent in addressing oppression, racism and racial inequality with colleagues.

Being mindful that only 6% of the organization are identified as people of color, the survey suggests that the white members feel comfortable and competent “intellectualizing” these subjects, but may need more training in actually addressing oppression, racism and racial inequality with members of the same organization and others. This is the privilege afforded to those of us who belong to organizations and institutions designed to help the traumatized and the oppressed.  As long as these organization views themselves as “non-activist organizations,” there will be nothing more to come from them beyond their words.

The I/O privilege have one characteristic in common, the belief that in intellectualizing, debating and discussing the issue, they feel in their hearts they are achieving something.  Are these individuals racist in their intention? No. However, when confronted, they remain in denial of the racist outcome, even though there was no racist intent.

It is to the benefit of people of color that mental health and forensic professionals of color continue to assist our colleagues in understanding the need for activism as an organization and in learning so, balance awareness and knowledge about our communities.  We want allies of all colors to work with us on the frontline, but to do so, it is imperative that they gain awareness and knowledge of the community they seek to serve.

“Occasionally, I wished I could walk through a picture window and have the sharp, broken shards slash me to ribbons so I would finally look like I feel.”

-Elizabeth Wurtzel, Author of Prozac Nation

Until the next crossroads…. the journey continues.

 

 

 

 

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