Rape Culture and The Two Sides of Privilege

“We need to change the culture and it’s on all of us to do that.  Today a Santa Clara County jury gave a verdict that I hope will clearly vibrate throughout colleges, high schools and everywhere.”

-Jeff Rosen, District Attorney (speaking about the rape convictions of Stanford University student Brock Turner)

“She broke down upon hearing the verdict, but she feels validated, that finally her voice has been heard; she was violated and she was happy to hear that the jury saw that too.  Turner now faces up to 10 years in prison.”

-Alaleh Kianerci, Prosecutor

“The case came to a close Thursday when the judge sentenced Turner to six months in county jail and then probation, and ordered him to register as a sex offender (lifetime) for three sexual assault counts; assault with intent to commit rape, sexual penetration, with a foreign object of an intoxicated person and sexual penetration with a foreign object of an unconscious person. When handing down Turner’s sentence, the judge in the case said he feared that imprisonment would have a “severe’ impact on Turner.”

-Palo Alto Online News

My Dear Readers,

I don’t need to rehash the outrage of the judge basing his sentencing on the impact of prison on the offender and not on the crime’s impact on the victim.  We know how wrong that is. This week, I want to think more about the victim, and the concern that should be shown to her.

The 23-year-old victim, known as Emily Doe to protect her privacy, delivered the following words to the judge and the convicted defendant:

“You took away my worth, my privacy, my energy, my time, my confidence, my own voice until today.  The damage is done, no one can undo it.  And now we both have a choice.  We can let this destroy us, I can remain angry and hurt and you can be in denial, or you can accept your punishment, and we can go on.”

—from Emily Doe’s impact statement

These are the words of a young woman with a strong will. The district attorney stated that the victim’s impact statement was “the most eloquent, powerful and compelling piece of victim advocacy that I’ve seen in my 20 years as a prosecutor.”

Reading this, we can comfort ourselves that she is fine, and is moving on with her life. This enables us to return ourselves to our own lives, moving through this highly paced society with the assumption that all is well.

However, all is NOT well.  It is imperative that we do not simply accept this part of the victim’s impact statement and look closely not only at how this young woman continues to survive this sexual assault and how she has responded to its impact upon her life.

This legal case started out as a “no-brainer.”  Two male graduate students, on a late night bicycle ride, observed a male behind a dumpster “with an erect penis humping a half-naked body.”  When they approached him, the young male ran away, was caught by the two bicyclists, and was held until the police arrived and took him into custody.

I have written before about white male privilege and the subtle impact it has on the daily life of so many people. This case may well have been resolved expediently had the assailant been a person of color, a religious minority, or a member of the LGBT community. I am sure that the “concern” that the judge showed for Turner would not have been extended to people with those backgrounds.

However, in this case, this was a young white man from a family with money who was a varsity swimmer and a member of an elite fraternity on campus—which makes this verdict—the judge’s concern for preserving his welfare over that of the person he victimized—the essence of privilege.

So instead of moving on with her life, which a legal hearing, a settlement, and a formal apology would have allowed her to do, the victim must now face powerful attorneys hired by the family, expert witnesses and private investigators who would focus on finding details about her personal life to use against her, loopholes to exploit, and concoct ways to invalidate her account of the sexual assault.

Concluding Remarks Dr. Kane

As I stated at the beginning, all is not well. However, with time, work, and her own strong will, Emily Doe can balance this life-changing event within her psychological self and eventually use it to drive her life and thrive in the future.

This event is a textbook example of complex trauma, and the experiences that Emily Doe shares in her statement show the effects of complex PTSD.  Aside from the initial traumatic event, there are vicarious and remembered traumas that she will continue to suffer, and will need the assistance of significant therapy to recover from.  From her full statement, linked here, she appears to be on her way.

Until the next crossroads, the journey continues…

 

Advertisements

The Privilege of Being Privileged

“I am an invisible man. I am invisible, understand, simply because people refuse to see me. 
When they approach me, they see only my surroundings, themselves, or figments of their imagination– indeed, everything and anything except me.”

–Ralph Ellison,  The Invisible Man

My Dear Readers,

Finding a single topic to focus on this week has been a challenge—there are so many directions to go!  Either way, your responses to my recent writings have provided some good food for thought, and I have noticed a common theme in some of your recent responses, most notably to My N-Word in the White House (May 9) and to Adult Children: Disrespect or Deference (May 16).

—————————-

My N-Word in the White House

In this post, I reviewed this year’s White House Correspondents’ Dinner, where African-American comedian Larry Wilmore referred to our first African-American President Barack Obama as “my nigga,” as part of a joke that he told.  I received numerous emails from parents raising black children who are pulling out their hair regarding their children’s use of the N-word.

One email that piqued my interest was the one I received from a set of white parents who wrote in about their adopted African-American son, whom they have raised from infancy to his current young adulthood.  The parents write the following:

Your posting about the comedian who referred to the President as “my n—a” left me feeling despondent.  Sal, our son, is one of those young people who sees no problem with the use of this term.  It was somewhat mollifying to reflect that he may well have come to that determination even with black parents urging him to reconsider, because as you point out, many young African Americans use that term with one another.  My husband and I have broached that subject many times with him. We know that when things happen to him, he often wonders: “is it because I’m black?” This time, it’s us that wonder: “Do we not understand because we’re not black?” Is this the reason he ignores our arguments about the use of the term?

Hair Raising, Woodinville, WA

————————————–

Adult Children: Disrespect or Deference

I received a volume of criticism questioning the attachment of race or color to the concept of love and respect within a father/daughter relationship.

Dr. Kane,

You are an asshole.  Why are you always linking race to everything you write about when it comes to black people? When are you going to let people be just “people?”  After all, under the skin, we are all just people.

A White Guy With No Name

————————————

The common theme here is white privilege.  In the case of the white parents, they are realizing for perhaps the first time that their privilege may inhibit them in relating to and understanding their son’s point of view.  On the other hand, in the case of the father/daughter relationship, the writer simply wants me to take away the concept of race in the interaction.

For white parents raising African-American children, you simply lose the privilege of having white privilege. You are loving and raising children who, simply by existing, will have a tougher life than you can conceive of, and will have access to a culture that you will not have access to.  Regardless of the love that you share with your children, your children have different forefathers and ancestors, and are subject to a different reality than what you have experienced.

Having said that, regardless of race, a parent’s reality is that despite our teachings, our children may demand to use the language and words that they decree as “fitting” for their generation.  This isn’t to say that you should allow your son to use the word.  Feel free to demand the respect you deserve as parents—there is no cultural reason why your child should be allowed to use words that are offensive to you under your roof.

However, in general, as parents we must want to pick our battles, and there will be many to choose from as our children move forward in a world that fears them, not for the content of their character, but for internalized fears associated with the color of their skin.   We must understand that race will always play a major factor in our lives.  If you seek to ignore or deny the reality of the impact that your son’s race has upon his life, you will be acting out of your privilege—and you have the safety of your dominant group that empowers you to do so—but it will irrevocably harm your son, who does not share that same privilege, and it is not something you can pass along to him.

The response about injecting race into my writings was an interesting one. Will race ever be a nonfactor in human relations?  I suppose so, at some point. Man eventually landed on the Moon.  A black man eventually became President of the United States.   Both actually occurred in my lifetime, so I’m sure that anything is possible.  However, this is still an era where a black man can simply be killed by stepping out into a darkened hallway and then left to die, as happened with Akai Gurley, who was shot by (former) NYPD Officer Peter Liang, who had his second-degree murder conviction downgraded to criminally negligent homicide, and was sentenced to probation and community service.

What happened to Akai Gurley could have happened to the son those white parents wrote in about—and that is a direct result of the reality of racism that people of color face in this country.

Concluding Words

A white colleague and friend once remarked that when looking at me, he saw a friend, he did not see color.   Ben (not his real name) is a good man, but still, a man of privilege.  He, like many of my clinical social work colleagues, is not able to understand the issue of privilege and often willingly close their eyes to the difference, and hence, the damage, that happens to the friend that they care so much about.  Such is the danger of privilege, not only to those who don’t have it, but to the privileged as well.

Until the next crossroads…the journey continues…

In Black And White: When Male Privilege Does Not Exist

My Dear Readers,

I just finished reading an article that, among other things, points out that I am “part of rape culture” simply because I am a male, and that it is useless for me to state denials and objections to this newly gained status.  For all intents and purposes, it is what it is now, and it’s best that I accept it and simply move on to work towards the prevention of rape.

According to Marshall University’s Women’s Center’s website:

“Rape culture is an environment in which rape is prevalent and in which sexual violence against women is normalized and excused in the media and popular culture.  Rape culture is perpetuated through the use of misogynistic language, the objectification of women’s bodies and the glamorization of sexual violence, thereby creating a society that disregards women’s rights and safety.”

So, if I am assumed to be a member of “rape culture” simply because I am of the male gender, does that mean that white people are members of a racist culture, simply because they are white or European ancestry?  Following that logic, we could say:

“Racist culture is an environment in which racism is prevalent and in which racial violence against blacks is normalized and excused in the media and popular culture.  Racist culture is perpetuated through the use of racist language, the stereotyping of black people and the willingness to remain silent and thus be accepting of racial violence, thereby creating a society that disregards the civil rights, liberties and safety of black people.”

The writer of the article points out the following:

“I saw how my desire for a woman to satisfy me ran deep. Even my curiosity, a trait that always made me proud, was marred with the same sort of male-centric presumption that fuels rape culture. I expected to be satisfied. That attitude is the problem. I started reading and kept reading until I understood rape culture and my part in it.”

The writer points out the following behaviors that contribute to rape culture:

  • Blaming the victim (“she asked for it”)
  • Trivializing sexual assault (boys will be boys”)
  • Sexually implicit jokes
  • Tolerance of sexual harassment
  • Inflating false rape report statistics
  • Publicly scrutinizing a victim’s dress, mental state, motives, and history
  • Gratuitous gendered violence in movies and television
  • Defining “manhood” as dominant and sexually aggressive
  • Defining “womanhood” as submissive and sexually passive
  • Pressure on men to “score”
  • Pressure on women to not appear “cold”
  • Assuming only promiscuous women get rape
  • Assuming that men don’t get raped or that only “weak” men get raped
  • Refusing to take rape accusations seriously
  • Teaching women to avoid getting raped instead of teaching men not to rape

With some changes, these could just as easily be examples of racist culture behavior.  Doing this, however, perpetuates the idea that mandatory inclusion in either culture solely based on gender or race is valid and ignores the disservice it does to the individual who, regardless of their gender or race, does not subscribe to the behaviors attributed to either culture.

The writer, a white male, takes the position that he is a member of “rape culture” and being so, makes it his mission to make women comfortable while he is in their presence.  For instance:

“When I cross a parking lot at night and see a woman ahead of me, I do whatever I feel is appropriate to make her aware of me so that:

a) I don’t startle her,

 

b) she has time to make herself feel safe/comfortable, and

 

c) if it’s possible, I will approach in a way that’s clearly friendly, in order to let her know I’m not a threat. I do this because I’m a man.”

Any male can choose to initiate these behaviors or actions as indicated.  In doing so, he is voluntarily taking on the responsibility of recognizing the woman’s vulnerability—something he can do without the risk of personal loss or potential harm to himself.  However, if the male in this situation was black, his presence may actually serve to heighten the woman’s fear, and in doing so, increase the risk for that black male.

I will provide an example of incident in which a black man attempted similar actions of creating comfort for the woman:

“While leaving my office in the late evening, I found myself walking behind a white woman.  I made my presence known by humming a tone. As she got into her vehicle I continued to walk past her.

Two minutes later, I found myself surrounded by police cars and spread over a patrol car.  The woman, although aware of my presence and safe in her vehicle still called the police on me, claiming that she was in fear for her safety.”

In contrast, the writer of the article describes his actions when he comes into contact with a woman who is unknown to him:

“Basically, I acknowledge every woman I meet on the street, or in an elevator, or in a stairway, or wherever, in a way that indicates she’s safe. I want her to feel just as comfortable as if I weren’t there. I accept that any woman I encounter in public doesn’t know me, and thus, all she sees is a man — one who is suddenly near her.  I have to keep her sense of space in mind and the fact that my presence might make her feel vulnerable. That’s the key factor — vulnerability.”

In this statement, the writer acknowledges the power of male privilege, and his focus on having a woman feel comfortable in his presence is an affirmation of both his willingness and ability to be able to let go of power should he desire to do so.

A black male doing the same would place himself at risk of being accused of setting the stage for a sexual assault of another type of crime—because the woman’s assumptions about the man because of his race would trump the efforts of the man to make her comfortable from a gender perspective . To prevent both the accusations and targeting, it would be in the best interests of the black male to avoid visual or verbal contact with the female as well as maintaining a safe distance.

The argument of mandatory culpability because of gender or race is that the designation serves to victimize and takes away any empowerment of the individual to either transform his specific behavior or to advocate for transformation to a gender and racial equity society. Essentially, regardless of what he does or does not do, he will be viewed as threat to another’s “vulnerability.”

Furthermore, the designation serves to blame potentially innocent men and boys for actions that may not be under his individual locus of control. If black males did as the writer chose to do—acknowledge that because of his gender, he is a member of “rape culture,” they would be affirming already held stereotypes about black men and thereby setting themselves apart to be targeted and victimized.

It may be that what theorists have conceptualized as rape culture, is actually a different way of viewing male privilege.  The common theme between rape culture and male privilege is that males are holders of the privilege that is used to inflict psychological and physical wounds on women—one of the most powerful of these being rape.

Male privilege can be defined as a special right, advantage or immunity granted or available only to individual as a class due to their institutional power in relation to women as a class.  While every man experiences privilege differently due to his own individual position in the social hierarchy, every man, by virtue of being male, benefits from male privilege.

Although the writer makes a big deal of “letting go of male privilege,” it is clear that he can, at any time, restore that privilege, and he knows it.  As a result, the designation of “belonging to the rape culture” would have minimum consequences for him and for people in his same class and racial societal group.  However, such a designation for black males would only provide support for stereotypes and have long term consequences as well as targeting by factions of the dominant majority, such as law enforcement, the judiciary, and legislative bodies.

I am not suggesting that black males do not maintain male privilege; on the contrary, black males enjoy male privilege within the boundaries of the African-American community. However once the black male steps outside of his community, he loses his comfort zone, and like females, he too is at risk, but this time, by giving credence to the racial assumptions held by the dominant majority.

Concluding Words

The willingness of the writer to accept the designation of being a member of “rape culture” is comparable to the publication of the nonfiction book entitled “Black Like Me.” The 1961 publication is based on the story of John Howard Griffin, a white journalist living in Dallas, TX.

Under the care of a dermatologist, Griffin underwent a regimen of large oral doses of the anti-vitiligo drug methoxsalen.  In addition he spent fifteen hours daily under an ultraviolet lamp to darken his skin to that of a black man.

In doing so, he spent six weeks traveling on Greyhound buses throughout the racially segregated states of Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Georgia.  The objective was to pass as a black man and in doing describing his experience.

It appears that Griffin’s experience of living as a black man for six weeks was traumatic.  Following the publication of the book, he received an outpouring of letters of support from sympathetic whites, helping him to get through the “stress of the experience”.  Furthermore, his exposé of racism and hatred towards the black male resulted in such hostility and intense death threats to his family that he moved his family to Mexico for several years.

The traumatic experience of Griffin passing as a black male for a limited time, as well as the hostility and death threats which followed his publication, all illuminate the impractical nature of generalizing a group for their gender into mandatory membership of rape culture.  Furthermore, it affirms that blacks and whites as it relates to maleness, do not share privileges of gender equally.

The writer of the rape culture article is able to conceptualize himself without penalty as a member of rape culture.  The consequences of a black male being held to mandatory membership will, by its nature, have severe and even deadly results.  Furthermore, Griffin’s exposé of black male life shows that male privilege, as true today as it was then, is nonexistent outside the boundaries of the African-American community

One can only imagine the relief that Griffin, a white man, felt after his six weeks of “passing” as a black man was over, and then imagine the horror he felt as the hostility and death threats towards his family for his actions began.

We wear the mask that grins and lies

It hides our cheeks and shades our eyes,

This debt we pay to human guile;

With torn and bleeding hearts we smile,

We wear the mask.

 

Until the next crossroads…the journey continues.

 

A Black Man Ain’t Nothing: Male Privilege and Suffering In Silence

My Dear Readers:

I have dedicated this year to exploring the harm that male privilege inflicts within the African-American community. I am very much aware that male privilege is alive and well in all communities regardless of race.  However, in this blog, I intend to focus on the culture of silence that exists within the African-American community.

In the blog Just World Trauma And the Loss of Individual Responsibility (4.27.15), I wrote about the sexual assault of a young woman by three young men in broad daylight on a beach as she lay unconscious. I remain troubled by two questions that I posed in the blog:

  • Why would these men engage in behavior in which they know to be morally wrong and outside the value system of the communities from they come from?
  • Why would these young men engage in behavior that would not only result in criminal charges, but ultimately result in incarceration and lifetime registration as sexual offenders?

In the earlier blog, I suggested that the men involved in the sexual assault were engrossed in a psychological phenomenon known as “groupthink.”  When a person is engaged in groupthink, individuals surrender their personal responsibility and allow the group’s collective behavior, which may be dominated by another member, to become the norm and the acceptable direction for themselves.

However, I believe that the reasons (not justifications) for the behavior of these young men extend further than groupthink. Instead, I believe that the young men were responding to historical trauma.  Furthermore, I would suggest they were acting in the manner of “male privilege,” which is a response to historical trauma.

Historical trauma is best described as “the intergenerational transmission of responses to cumulative massive trauma associated with historical events that affects a given culture, group, country, religion or ethnicity.” Historical trauma and its intergenerational transmission is one of the many traumas that can frequently impact African-Americans, in some cases, on a daily basis.

All African-Americans are descendents of people who were traumatized by slavery, so it is safe to say that all African-Americans have unresolved issues of historical trauma due to being descendents of slaves and the ramifications of segregation.  Both of these systems—slavery and segregation—were supported by violence (lynching, beatings) or threats of violence (burning of crosses).

There are six factors that tend to lead to the intergenerational transmission of cumulative massive trauma.  These include:

  • Economic exploitation
  • Sexual exploitation
  • Physical coercion: killing, threats of physical force, police violence, promotion of chemical dependency
  • Exclusion from power, including the use of the law to invoke control, denial of voting rights, lack of representation
  • Control of ideology, culture and religion: forcing of a religious system, control of language, and:
  • Fragmentation within the culture: promoting a select few from the subordinate group and giving them special benefits, the creation of competition and envy.

Historically, the African-American community simply weathered these challenges like the sturdy oak tree sways to and fro during intense and mighty storms.  In this case, the intense and mighty storms are the ongoing assaults of racism, oppression and discriminatory treatment by institutions of the majority, formal and informal while state, local and federal governments stood idle and silent.

Male privilege in this case presents itself as communal protectiveness of black men.  It is a legacy of slavery, the years following the Civil War, and racial violence that had occurred since that era.  Male privilege in the African-American community was a communal response during a period from 1870 to 1968 in which 3,959 blacks; mainly males were subjected to lynching.  Historically, due to lack of governmental protection, and repetitive violent assaults, the black community developed a method of encirclement and strategy of “silence” when it came to responding to inquiries from whites about black males.  The black community, through its many years of racism, oppression and discrimination, has learned that the system, and often the white people within it, are not to be trusted.

Consequently, the black community, specifically women, are expected to protect males as well as not expose the community to shame, disrepute, embarrassment or humiliation. As the males are protected from the system and the community is not exposed, rape therefore becomes a privilege that thrives and solely for the enjoyment of those men who take advantage of it.

In statistics provided by the federal government, we can see the reasons why the community seeks to protect black males:

  • Although people of color make up 30% of the United States’ population, they represent 60% of those in prison.
  • The prison population has grown by 700 % from 1970 to 2005.
  • The incarceration rates disproportionately impact the African-American community.
  • 1 in every 16 African-American men is incarcerated in comparison to 1 in every 106 white men.
  • One in every three black men can expect to go to prison in their lifetime.
  • Black males were three times more likely to be searched during a traffic stop than white motorist.
  • African-Americans were twice as likely to be arrested and
  • Almost four times as likely to experience the use of force during encounters with the police

This protection of males as a value in the community is reinforced and therefore passed from generation to generation.  However, what this creates is actually a culture of silence—not only as a barrier in which information is not shared outside the group, but it limits the information that is shared within the group.

Communal protection of males from the harshness of the criminal justice system begins early in a black adolescent’s life, and for good reason.  According to the Sentencing Project, even though African-American juveniles are 16% of the youth population:

  • 37% of their cases are moved to criminal court
  • 58% of African-American youth are sent to adult prisons.

Children become the agents of intergenerational transmission, are taught to maintain family secrets. This may result in the willingness of the family and community institutions such as churches to sacrifice individual members in order to maintain the secrecy of the larger group.

An example of this occurred in the Puget Sound area of Washington State.  In September 2012, a member of the African-American clergy pleaded guilty to 22 charges of sexual molestation and rape of boys.  As reported in the media, the clergyman admitted to sexually abusing 10 boys from 1997 through 2011.

The church hierarchy immediately went into protective mode.  The church leadership refused to provide direct assistance to or accept mental health counseling for the boys who were abused and their families. Instead, the leadership suggested its willingness to make cards and brochures regarding mental health services available to the parishioners in the church’s foyer.  To this day, it is unknown whether the sexually abused boys and their families actually received any mental health treatment or other psychological services.

Like these children, black women are expected to bear the weight of and to protect the community.  This is evidenced by the unwillingness of black women to report incest and rape or seek assistance such as mental health treatment or other psychological services. Black women are expected to stay in the protective mode and in doing so resort to “raising their daughters and loving their sons.”  The unwillingness of the family and community to report sexual assault reinforces that rape is a male privilege that will be protected by silence.

There are numerous examples of leadership within institutions of the African-American community who by their actions support rape as a male privilege.  Either maintaining silence or supporting the perpetrator, in either case, isolating and abandoning the individual who was victimized, condones this.

On such example is following the conviction of Mike Tyson of raping a beauty pageant contestant Desiree Washington, the nation’s largest black religious denomination supported him with a rally and petition drive to keep him out of prison.

At the same event, one well-known minister remarked,

“You bring a hawk into the chicken yard and wonder why the chicken got eaten up.  You bring Mike to a beauty contestant and all these fine foxes just parading in front of Mike.  Mike’s eyes begin to dance like a hungry man looking at a Wendy’s beef burger or something.  She said, ‘No Mike, no.’ I mean how many times, sisters, have you said ‘No’ and you mean ‘Yes’?”

Male privilege, although clearly a benefit for males, can be fully achieved only with the assistance of women.  Sometimes this assistance is voluntary and willing.  The large number of women who were supporting Mike Tyson and cheering the minister making the comments is evidence of this.

Those individuals, including children witnessing this event may come away with the understanding that women can prevent rape by altering how they dress or by acting a certain way.  Furthermore, there is the clear message that women are responsible for the prevention of rape, not that men have a responsibility to not perpetrate a rape.

It is widely known that African-American men are treated harshly by the criminal justice system.  So when a woman decides not to report a man for rape because of the knowledge of what is occurring in the penal institutions, the male is not being held accountable and male privilege is satisfied through the woman’s silence.

Furthermore as there now exists 70% of black households are headed by women without a male figure involved, there are situations in which women knowingly shelter men through protectiveness. It is a combination of exposure to historical trauma and awareness of how black males are viewed by the majority, to minimize an incident in which a sexual assault occurred.

Such minimization by women serve to blame the rape victim for the sexual assault. It is not uncommon to hear the following statements from female relatives of males accused of sexual assault to allege the following:

  • She must have done something.
  • If she had not been out there in the first place…
  • Shameful, look at what she was wearing.
  • She doesn’t look innocent to me.
  • She was probably asking for it.

Such victim blaming comments are ill directed.   This only serves to create the opportunity for males to either escape or avoid accountability thereby once again, benefiting from male privilege.

Concluding Words

As a mental health clinician, specifically a trauma specialist, I often see the emotionally and psychologically wounded who are forced to bear the weight and protect the image of the larger group.  I have listened to those victimized in sexual assault, mostly being perpetrated by people who they trusted.

Male privilege is a failed concept that cannot protect black boys and adolescents outside of the reach of the black community.  Harsh school punishments, from suspensions to arrests have led to high numbers of black youth coming in contact with the juvenile justice system at earlier and earlier ages. This is indicated in the following education statistics for the year 2009-2010:

  • 242, 000 were referred to law enforcement
  • 96,000 students were arrested and of this number
  • Of those numbers, black students made up more than 70% of those arrested.

It is clear that the three males who raped the unconscious woman on the beach knew what they were doing was morally and legally wrong.  It is doubtful that they considered the impact their behavior upon the young woman or themselves. It is unlikely that they realized by their actions that they would be caught, face criminal charges and if found guilty, become incarcerated and be registered and labeled as sexual offenders for the rest of their lives.

It is also unlikely that they realized that by their actions, they were not only throwing away a college education at a prestigious university and also promising careers and professional opportunities.  It is unlikely they considered any of this. Why? Because they came from a community in which they as males received the protection of male privilege.  In this case, however, the community will now revert to the model of communal protectiveness  and be silent as it seeks to avoid shame, disrepute, embarrassment or humiliation.

“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.

-Ten Flashes of Light For the Journey of Life

Until the next crossroads…the journey continues.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Deadbeat Dads: The Traumatic Impact of Male Privilege

My Dear Readers,

The position I hold within the mental health community is a special one.  I am a clinical traumatologist, which means that I specialize in treating and studying trauma and its impact upon the human psyche.

Trauma in and of itself is unique. There are actually nine different types of trauma that a person can experience on a daily basis, and many of these types can occur simultaneously.

As both a healthcare provider and a member of the African-American community, I often assist others in responding to external traumatic impacts such as racism. However, I am choosing the year 2015 to focus on the impact of male privilege within the African-American community.

The reason for this focus is simple.  Trauma can be as deadly as a malignant cancerous tumor.  Unprocessed trauma can have long-term negative psychological effects.  So, what interests me is exploring how unprocessed trauma intersects with male privilege in the African-American community, and whether these effects are limited to just the African-American community.

First, let’s define the term.  Male privilege is a term for social, economic, and political advantages or rights that are made available to men solely on the basis of their gender. A man’s access to these benefits may also depend on characteristics such as race, sexual orientation and social class.

Male privilege occurs in communities regardless of race, so male privilege is not limited to the African-American community.  However, the impact of privilege manifests itself particularly in the African-American community as lack of access to education and opportunity, and the inability to achieve one’s full potential, both on the men themselves, and others who are impacted by their actions.

There are very few who would deny that racism has prevented African-Americans from full access to the places where key political, economic, and social decisions are made.  This denial, coupled with the way that black men are viewed and have historically been dealt with, has placed the African-American community in “survival” mode.

It is in this survival mode that the community has closed in to protect its males and in doing so, has granted benefits to them that have been denied to them by the larger and predominantly white society.   As the resources in the greater society available to black men decline due to the effects of incarceration, severe mental illness, drug addiction, homicide, and others, the African-American community continues to absolve men of specific responsibility and in doing so, reinforces male privilege.

This is having a devastating effect on and exacerbates traumatic outcomes within the African-American community by damaging the interpersonal relationships between men and women, and extending its harmful impact to children and adolescents.

This phenomena is better understood from the voice of a woman who, in telling her story, speaks on how male privilege has impacted her family.

Below is such a story………

————————————————

Dear Dr. Kane,

I hope you can help me.  I really don’t know what to do.  I am a black woman and the single parent of three children.  I have a son in college, a 14 year-old daughter, and my youngest, a girl,  is 4 years old.

I know that there are many other women in my situation, but I am writing out of concern for my children.  They have not seen their father since I divorced him two years ago after discovering he had an affair that resulted in another child.

Although we have three children together, my ex-husband was able to manipulate the system and was only ordered by the court to pay $500.00 per month for child support. Can you imagine, $500.00 a month when we have three children? It is even more sickening that he has refused to pay that.

In the two years since we divorced, he has not been consistent in his payments. In fact, the last payment I received from him was in November 2014 for the grand amount of $1.17.  You read that right—he sent his three children $1.17 which, if divided three ways amounts to $0.39 per child!  As a result, I provide for my children as much as I can on my elementary school teacher’s salary.

For a person who was too impoverished to pay child support, he’s spent thousands of dollars fighting for joint parental and decision rights and court ordered visitation.  Now that he has it, he refuses to contact his children regularly or be involved in their lives whatsoever. Although he lives no more than five miles away, he has not seen his children in two years.  My four-year-old has started to call one of the dolls she plays with “Daddy,” and lately, she has been calling her older adult male cousins “Daddy” as well.  When I sat her down and reminded her that these relatives were her cousins, she only smiled at me and did not respond.

I am also worried about her older sister.  She is a “daddy’s girl” and has taken it very hard that her father has refused to contact her.  She has become emotionally withdrawn and routinely isolates herself in her bedroom.  I am thankful that at least she continues to maintain excellent grades.    However, I know that my daughter is deeply hurt by her father’s actions.  When I ask her if she has contacted her father, she becomes silent.  I have attempted get him to contact her but he refuses to do so.  Instead, he tells relatives that I have turned the children against him.  I have never said anything negative to the children about their father.  Although the four year old is too young to understand, my other daughter is devastated by the lack of contact.

He does not do anything for his children.  There is no acknowledgment of their birthdays, and there are no gifts from him for Christmas.  He failed to attend his daughter’s graduation from middle school.  He refuses to pay any part of the cost of tuition and books for her private school.

Due to my financial situation, I was forced to sell the home we shared as a family, and we—my two daughters and I—are now residing with relatives. My teenage daughter lives in a room the size of an extended closet.  My four-year-old shares a bedroom with me.  She recently said to me, “I lost my daddy when we moved from the old house.”

I wish he would act like a man, act like a father.  Where is his sense of responsibility? What can I do?  For their sake, should I reach out to him again?

Pulling My Hair Out, Tacoma WA

—————————————————————————————-

A WORD FROM DR. KANE 

As a traumatologist, I see a number of possible issues that face this family, both as individuals and as a whole.

The Female Parent

As I read, I can hear the guilt and powerlessness she feels regarding how the children are being affected.  She may begin to constantly question her choices in men, and as a parent, she may attempt to use herself to fill the place of the children’s father or seek out men to replace him.

As you can see from her letter, she is an excellent provider and role model for her children. She will often sacrifice her personal wants and needs to seek economic success for her children and encourage them not to copy her failures, particularly in choosing men.

It is feasible that that she will have trust issues when it comes to men and will  consciously and unconsciously communicate these concerns to the children.

The Eldest Son

The eldest son may feel shame regarding the actions of his father towards the younger children.  He may seek to “man up,” or elevate himself psychologically to the status of “man of the family,” as well as seek to distance himself from the traits he sees in his father.

As a young adult, he will become the protector of his younger female siblings. Like his mother, he will also sacrifice his personal needs and wants to protect them from further injury from other men, including their father. He will work hard to serve in the father role and will take on such duties as escorting his siblings to activities that require the father’s role or involvement.  He may be the one who, when the time comes, walks his sisters down the aisle of matrimony in his father’s place.

He will have to learn to balance his own unresolved feelings of anger and resentment towards his father with his commitment to being there for his siblings and finding himself as he enters adulthood.   He may also have difficulty developing intimacy with women as he seeks to prove to himself that he is not a “loser” like his father. He may have a sense of ongoing bitterness and unresolved anger that will last a lifetime as he continues to reflect on the reality of his father abandoning the family.

The Adolescent (Daddy’s Girl)

Not enough concern can be stated regarding this specific individual.  She may do well academically and excel in sports activities on the surface, but she will continue to harbor deep psychological pain due to her father’s abandonment.

She will be successful in masking her emotions, but it is highly likely that she will have deep and intense trust issues regarding relationships with men.  Such feelings will no doubt impact her ability to form interpersonal relationships with others, especially men.

The 4 Year-Old

Of all the individuals involved, this one is the most vulnerable.  She was two years old when her father abandoned the family.  Unlike her siblings, she only has fading memories of him.  As those memories continue to fade, in calling out “Daddy” to other men, she may be seeking to maintain some loose association with him.

Her comment regarding losing her daddy when the family moved from the old house shows that she is acknowledging the loss of her father, and as a result, the little memory of him that she has.  Her mother’s concern that “daddy issues” will be a continual presence in her life even as she enters adulthood is a very valid one. She may very well seek out father figures in her intimate relationships as she moves towards adulthood.

Concluding Words

There were several reasons why I chose not to write in my usual format for the Visible Man for this week’s entry, but the biggest one is that I wanted to focus on the impact that follows when a man uses his privilege—in this case, his ability and willingness to just walk away from the family he created. By doing this, he has not only increased the suffering of the four people directly involved, but he has created trauma in them that they will take into the larger community and into their interactions with others, creating more traumatic experiences for those they may encounter. From there, the trauma continues to spread, like ripples in a lake.

It is my hope that this blog will be a wakeup call to the numerous African-American men who have walked away from their families, showing them the impact of their actions, and as a call to action for political, social, and economic leaders within the African-American community to recognize and support those who are suffering in silence and the impact that mental trauma such as this has on the larger community.  The time to do something is NOW.

To Deadbeat Dad:

You have utilized your privilege to abandon your family. As you age and become frail, you may want and need the attention of the same children you have left behind. You will one day regret the way you have treated your children. You cannot hide from the truth of your actions.

As fathers we can make mistakes, and given the opportunity we can also take actions and learn from such mistakes.  Do not use the demise of your marriage as an excuse for abandoning your children.  This is not an error that can ever be corrected once your children have grown.

“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.

One day, when you are fragile, you may have to ask your children for a glass of water.  If it is too late, you may have to understand how your actions have caused them to turn their backs to you.

Until the next crossroads…the journey continues…

 

Men of Iron Can Have Tears Too

[originally published on March 21, 2013]

My Dear Readers:

Can a Real Man Express Emotions other than Anger?

     One of my favorite actors is Ving Rhames. I have enjoyed his real life hard-hitting spoken lines in the action movies in which he has been featured.  He is currently starring in the drama series, Monday Mornings, as Dr. Jorge ‘El Gato’ Villanueva, the chief of trauma surgery at a fictitious Portland, Oregon hospital.  Ving Rhames plays the role of Dr. Villanueva with the same intensity and strength he is known for in his other roles.  However, after viewing a recent episode, Rhames’ portrayal of Dr. Villanueva left me significantly disturbed.
     In this episode Dr. Villanueva’s son appears at the hospital with a butcher knife protruding from his stomach cavity.  The trauma team members immediately go into action to save his life.  The scene that sent off my alarm occurred in the intensive care unit while Dr. Villanueva’s son is recovering after many hours of intense surgery.  This is the first time Dr. Villanueva has an opportunity to see his son, after a butcher knife was removed from his stomach and the surgical team worked to try to save his life.  A potentially monumental scene if you consider all that had just come before it.  However, upon waking up from surgery to find his father standing over him, Dr. Villanueva’s son, a young adult male, simply tells his father “don’t cry, okay?”  In response Dr. Villanueva stands there silent, emotionless and staring back at his son until the program breaks for commercial.
     Wow!  What a powerful scene.  Can you imagine?  One’s child hovering between life and death following the surgical removal of a huge butcher knife from his stomach, and no emotions are expressed?
      What a strong portrayal for an African-American actor.  No doubt there are many African-American men who would be praising Ving Rhames for his portrayal of Dr. Villanueva in that specific scene.  Just closing my eyes and listening I can hear the echoes of men, old and young, saying “I want to be like that; hard, strong and silent.  A man of iron. Now, that’s what it is like to be a man, a real man.”
     Really? A man of iron?  Or just another stereotype of African-American men created by scriptwriters?   In a way the portrayal reminds me of Shaft, Superfly and other “cool brothers” being portrayed on the screen in the 70’s & 80’s.  Strong, tough, silent and cool.  The difference being that the African-American actor has been “promoted” from private detective or drug dealer (violence) to chief of trauma surgery (educated and professional).
      We have much to thank the scriptwriters for.  In casting Ving Rhames in the role of chief of trauma surgery, the African-American male character although still menacing and feared by colleagues and patients alike is a “good guy.”   Times have changed.  Or have they?  The role taken on by Ving Rhames is a combination of (a) that which is expected and predictable by some, i.e., menacing, strong and fearsome and (b) that which is desired by others, i.e., professional, competent and educated.
      Stereotyping is as “old as water and twice as young.”  A stereotype can be defined as a widely held but fixed and oversimplified image or idea of a particular type of person or thing.   Realistically speaking stereotyping only serves to reinforce the fears that are maintained by the “larger group” i.e. family, community and society.
      In the dramatic scene with Ving Rhames’ characters’ son, the dialogue and lack thereof reinforces in African-American men that despite whatever horrifying circumstances (what could be more horrifying than surgery to remove a butcher knife protruding from your child’s stomach?) a “real man” does not cry.   No, as stated in the scene, a “real man” stands there and “takes it.”   Takes it?  Takes what?  What the hell does that mean?
      A “real man” stands his ground.  To express tears is to be weak.  A real man does not express his tears nor expose his “weakness.”  Wow!  That was a powerful scene by Ving Rhames.  That was a powerful message that is being sent to African-American men and the young male adolescents following in their footsteps.
      Let us not minimize the power of visual and words as both can strongly impact human behavior.  In recall of the sensational role of Sidney Poitier as Detective Tibbs in the 1967 dramatic movie In the Heat of Night when Detective Tibbs is being questioned by the racist police chief Bill Gillespie (played by Rod Steiger), when asked by the police chief, “what do they call you boy?” In defiant and assertive response, Sidney Poitier replies, “they call me Mr. Tibbs.”
       Living in the segregated South during the time of the film’s release, I recalled how life was during those solemn times.  The racism that African-Americans endured was within itself humiliating and overwhelming.  That one short statement in my opinion served as a lighting rod and energized a disempowered community.
       I recalled grown men speaking among themselves with a combination of tears in their eyes and grins on their faces when speaking about that specific scene in the film.  That one sentence gave hope to those who felt there was none.  That one sentence confirmed and echoed the downfall of segregation as it was known at that time.   The film and its powerful dramatization went on to win the Academy Award for Best Picture.
The point being, once again, to illustrate the visual impact on the consciousness and sub consciousness of the viewer.  A powerful message can serve to persuade others of specific behaviors not only to be desired, or wanted, but most importantly, to be expected.
      As I stated earlier, Ving Rhames is one of my favorite actors.  It is unlikely that he performed the scene with the thought in mind of setting the “bar or standard” as to how African-American men are suppose (or not supposed) to respond to their emotions.  I have no doubt that he may be an excellent role model.  He cannot be held accountable for the choices of others to place limitations on their own emotional responses.
      It is my concern that the dramatic expression by Rhames (and similar other examples) will be used as a justification, excuse or affirmation as to why we as African-American men are or should be aloof from our emotions.  It is unrealistic to believe that if this had really occurred that Ving Rhames would have been as stoic and tough in the scene as the scriptwriters were portraying Dr. Villanueva.
      The scene is so hard, tough and stoic.  No doubt Ving Rhames will receive lots of positive feedback for the strength in his betrayal of an African-American man in a professional role.  Yet, I would have wished him to appear at the end of the episode to remind the viewing audience that this was merely a script and not the way he would have reacted or responded had it been a real life situation.
      However as we know, this is “entertainment” that cannot risk being compromised with a dose of reality at the end of the show.  Fat chance.  Having Ving Rhames appear at the end of the episode stating “it’s all part of the act” would defeat the purpose of the scriptwriter’s portrayal of the emotionless African-American man and likely confuse those from the viewing audience who have already unconsciously accepted the stereotype as true.  Professional and educated; yet, menacing and intimidating.  Controlled fury, yet stoic.
      Yes indeed.  Stereotypes are old as water and twice as young.  We as African-American men will continue to be stereotyped as long as a dollar can be achieved in the maintenance of a “fearful viewing public.”  Sad and yet, true.
It is therefore up to the individual man to choose for himself the type of person he wants to be as well as to be okay in expressing true emotions such as fear, loss, sadness and tears.  It is for the “real men” to advocate for self and model for others, especially younger males, the true qualities of being a man and in doing so give breath and options to the Iron Men being casted before us on television and Hollywood.  We must want to define ourselves and openly respond to those images, which clearly do not represent us.
       By the way, to answer the question, yes, real men do cry…. I have had the opportunity to do so in recent days and it feels damn good.
Until the next crossroads, the journey continues.
Dr. Micheal Kane

On Black Women, The Crooked Room, and Dear White People…

My Dear Readers,

This week, I have invited Mia Smith from RevolutionsDaughter.com back to guest post on Loving Me More.  I was curious about her take on the movie Dear White People, and I wanted to share with you what she had to say.  Enjoy!

Dr. Kane

—————————————————————————————————-

I must not have completely worn out my welcome with Dr. Kane, because he’s asked me to write another guest blog for Loving Me More, and I’m super honored, as usual.  This time, he wanted to hear my take on the movie Dear White People, which I saw with him 2 weeks ago.

I won’t spoil the plot too much, but based on his blog last week, we had vastly different takeaways coming out of that movie– which I think was the point of it.  There was so much to digest and to process, I would be surprised if we had the same feelings about it.

However, where the general depiction of young black people at an Ivy League college grabbed him, I found myself particularly drawn to the key black female characters: Samantha “Sam” White, the mixed-race, light-skinned black revolutionary played by Tessa Thompson, and  Colandrea “Coco” Conners, the dark skinned black woman who wants to be accepted into privileged white society played by Teyonah Parris.

I’ve written before about the portrayal of black women, particularly young black women in cinema, and I found the female characters in Dear White People to be refreshingly three-dimensional and well-developed– which was, in and of itself, a double-sided sword.  On one hand, it was great to see black women realistically portrayed, and on the other, it was kind of like the lyrics of Roberta Flack’s song “Killing Me Softly;”  they were strumming my pain with their fingers and singing my life with their words.

In my mind, the entire movie is about finding and living the truth of your personal identity in the midst of a society that wants to force you to quiet down and conform, in the case of Sam White, or in the case of Coco Conners, being your own comfort in the face of rejection from a society that doesn’t accept you, no matter how much you try to conform to what they want.

Melissa Harris-Perry, in her amazing book Sister Citizen: Shame, Stereotypes, and Black Women In America, calls this “the crooked room,”  referring to post-WWII cognitive psychology research on field dependence.  In these studies, which focused on an individual’s ability to find the upright in a space, subjects would be placed in a crooked room, and then asked to align themselves vertically.  In some cases, people were tilted by as much as 35 degrees and still felt like they were perfectly straight, simply because they were aligned with images around them that were equally tilted.

Harris-Perry relates this to the condition of black women in American society in this way:

“When they confront race and gender stereotypes, black women are standing in a crooked room, and they have to figure out which way is up.  Bombarded with warped images of their humanity, some black women tilt and bend themselves to fit the distortion…To understand why black women’s public actions and political strategies sometimes seem tilted in ways that accommodate the degrading stereotypes about them, it is important to appreciate the structural constraints that influence their behavior.  It can be hard to stand up straight in a crooked room.”

And that’s how I felt in watching Sam White and Coco Conners– like we were all in our crooked rooms with transparent walls, watching each other trying to stand up straight.

Sam White

For all of her passion, fire and bluster, Sam White, at the end of the day, was simply the “Strong Black Woman,”  a trope that has been used since time immemorial to describe (and sometimes trap) black women.  She is the voice of the minorities on campus, and the nagging conscience of the white majority, with her controversial “Dear White People” radio show, her successful campaign to lead the predominantly black residence hall on campus, and the rallies that she organizes on campus.  She is an instrument, a tool– the black and other minority students use her to advocate for the rights that they want, but either cannot or will not achieve for themselves, the white students use her as the common enemy to unite themselves, and the men in her life see her as a possession, this powerful person that they can have as an ally to further their own egos, or someone to challenge and take down because she is a threat.  Yet, she continues to do this because she only sees herself through those images, and although she is aligned with those images, she is still tilted.

The scene that broke this for me– and made me cry– was the scene where she was heading across the quad to her friends/revolution team in preparation for a rally, and Sam gets a call from her mother, telling her that her father’s health wasn’t doing well.  Her father’s sickness has been an undercurrent through the whole movie– showing the internal stress that Sam silently deals with on a daily basis while she is fighting all of these battles at her school– but it’s only at this point, with these large tears streaming down her face, that she turns to her crew after the call, and instead of any of them, these black people who have followed her, instead of ANY of them simply asking what’s wrong, they just ask “Are you ready to go? We need you.”

That hit me right in the gut– I’ve been in that situation before.  When I replay that scene in my mind, I see my mother, sister, aunts, grandmothers, so many other pivotal black women in my life, who have been in that situation, and instead of running away like Sam did at that moment, they dry it up, suck it up, and perform, only to break down in a spectacular way at some other point in the future– but this actually was  Sam’s breaking point.

Until that moment, when Sam finally breaks under the pressure, nothing would have changed– and indeed, as she runs back to her safe haven to find a respite, they follow her, banging on her door, demanding the strong black woman that they have stood on, even Gabe, her white lover, who is the only one she actually lets in.  And even that is fraught with guilt– because she’s the black revolutionary, she couldn’t be seen with him, but her heart and her true identity yearns for him, because he is the only one who truly sees her.  He is the only one she can really be vulnerable, and thus, be truly herself, with.

It is after this realization that Sam disappears from the story for a bit, and while everyone focuses on how “Sam has let us down,” and “We can’t do this without Sam here,”  Sam chooses to take her hair down– effectively taking off the uniform of the revolutionary, and chooses to truly accept who she is, a black woman with a white father whom she actually has the nerve to love, and a white lover that she also trusts and loves — and through this, she does really become her own person, and more powerful than she ever was before.

Coco Conners

Coco, on the other hand, is the anti-hero, and although as a black woman, I am conditioned to be on #TeamSam, there is something amazing about the Coco character and the phenomenal young actress Teyonah Parris, who plays her.

Coco is a beautiful dark chocolate black woman, tall and svelte and sensual, with bright blue eyes and long-straight black hair.  She is always impeccably dressed, and well spoken.  Like her revolutionary counterparts, she is articulate and very intelligent, but with one marked difference– she wants nothing to do with her fellow black men and women.  She wants nothing to do with her race, opting for the silky black wig that she wears, and the bright blue contacts she puts into her eyes.  She bemoans the fact that she has been assigned to the predominantly black Anderson-Parker residence hall, and wishes that she was assigned to Becket Hall, home of the wealthy whites.  She doesn’t like to date black men, and thinks that Sam White and her ilk are terrorists and troublemakers.  She is what Sam calls a “nose job,” meaning that if it was possible for Coco (who prefers to be called  that to her “ethnic, ghetto name” Colandrea) to change her skin color and have a nose job to become white, she would.

None of this is lost on Coco.  She plays it off as being a realist– that she does what she has to do to get what she wants, and this is just the best way of doing so, but what grabbed me about the character is that she is truly a woman without a country– tolerated, but never really accepted by the white culture that she wants so much to be a part of — except to be objectified and fetishized by the white frat boys–  and ostracized by a black community that she would never be “black enough” for, even if she tried.

Coco’s experience in the crooked room is one of shame– her trope is of Sapphire, the seductress, but it arises out of shame– shame of herself, and shame over the rejection of the society around her.  Melissa Harris-Perry likens this to the experience of the character Pauline Breedlove in Toni Morrison’s book The Bluest Eye: 

“Absorbing white standards of beauty and virtue made her ashamed and unable to love herself , her children, and her life. When the ugliness of her life makes beauty and order impossible in her own home, she escapes this shame by clinging to the trappings of whiteness…Two decades before clinical psychologists  conceived a theory of the collective effects of shame, Morrison’s painful tale of the Breedloves explicates the  burden of shame that black girls carry.  Through Claudia’s (the narrator) jealous rages about Shirley Temple, Morrison reveals how black girls are forced to live in a world that declares Shirley Temple beautiful and worthy… (values that are) denied to little black girls like Claudia.”

In Coco’s case, she is beset by the spectre of Sam– Sam, who is wild and unruly and disagreeable, being the natural choice for a reality show that Coco desperately wants to be on. Coco wants to be seen for who she is and the considerable talents that she has, but nothing that she does accomplishes that, short of becoming the stereotypical black woman that she has spent so much time and effort to distance herself from.

As a young black woman born in a middle class family, I recognize a lot of myself in Coco, although I have been conditioned to identify with the likes of Sam. But, as a dark-skinned black woman in a world where black people often gravitate to the light-skinned, biracial likes of Sam, I know what it is like to be Coco.  I know what it is like to want to stand out and be accepted so badly that you will shame yourself to do so.  I know what it is like to be so talented, to have so much to offer, and to work so hard, but to have things given to others simply because they can be.  I was just lucky that I found my own identity early enough so that I didn’t experience what Coco did in the movie.

Coco’s breaking point came at the Pastiche Halloween Party, where an invitation, later revealed to have come from Sam herself, invited the white students to “get their crunk on”  by dressing as black people and in blackface– a party that Coco attended, in the hopes of joining the Pastiche writing staff. She went in her blue contacts and in her blonde wig, but she, being the only black woman in a party where black people were lampooned and caricatured, her own attempt to “flip the script” went unnoticed.  Even being the lone “white girl” in a sea of “black people”, she was still invisible, still not accepted.  When she ran into the newly emancipated Sam, who only attended the party to document it for her media project, Coco tries to explain herself, saying that she’s “not going to fault these white people for wanting so much to be like black people,” and that she “won’t apologize for being a part of it,”  but that, in and of itself, was an apology.  And by the time she takes off her own blonde wig outside the party, we realize that although she may have thought she was playing the game smarter, she was actually being played herself.

Personal and Racial Identity

At the end of the film, the feeling is that everyone eventually finds themselves, but not really.  Sam has found happily ever after by accepting her biracial heritage and having the courage to step out publicly with her white lover, Gabe, even though she gets many a side-eye from her former revolutionaries, but Coco still wanders– she makes love to the popular black man on campus, looking for acceptance there, but only finds that he doesn’t want to be associated with her in public– the same way that Sam once treated Gabe, and the same way that many powerful white men treated their black mistresses in history.

However, Coco does finally get her shot at the reality TV show, and as the movie leaves off, she has the opportunity to not only create a brand new identity for herself, but also a brand new reality.

The question I’m left with, however, is this: why is Coco’s destiny such a question mark, when Sam’s is so neatly tied up?  Is it because Sam is light-skinned and therefore more palatable to men?  Is it because Sam is the hero and we are conditioned to root for the hero?  Or is it much more similar to reality, in which the light skinned black girl discovers her identity because it has already been decided for her, where us dark-skinned girls have to create our own?

So many thoughts, so many questions… until later,

Mia

The Fictional Male Character: Holding Onto Old Stereotypes & Creating New Ones

My Dear Readers,

     There is a thin line between fact and fiction. Fiction is the ability to live life in an imagined world, making it up or changing it to suit the observer.  Fact is the reality of how we live our lives. Television, combined with the human need to not only be close to pain, but to make sense out of life, has succeeded in making the line between fiction and fact thinner.

     I recently had the pleasure of watching the première of a new television series, Murder In The First.  It is a crime drama that takes place in San Francisco involving two police detectives.  In this episode, Inspector Terry English, an African American played by Taye Diggs, is grasping the reality that his wife has stage 4 pancreatic cancer that has invaded her liver and kidneys.

     When his wife is sent home to live out her remaining days, Detective English, unable to stay at home with her, remains at work working to solve a complicated murder case. In one dramatic scene, he tells his female partner, Inspector Hildy Mulligan (played by Kathleen Robertson) the following:

      “I can’t go home and watch her die.  I can’t and won’t do that.”

     This is soon followed by another dramatic scene in which Detective English loses his composure and self-control while interrogating a suspect, resulting in physically assaulting the suspect.   Despite this horrible situation—the pending loss of his wife, the lapse with the suspect—he is backed by a compassionate and enduring cast of fellow officers who do what they can to support their colleague in his most difficult time. 

     The episode concludes with Inspector English at another murder scene, receiving a call on his cell phone that his wife passed away.  As the camera comes in for the close up, you can see the pain and anguish in his facial expression.  Inspector English was true to his word as he followed through on what he said to partner,

      “I can’t go home and watch her die.  I can’t and won’t do that.”

     He did not go home.  She was alone without him when she died.  She died alone.

     We, the audience, are left with a mixture of feelings.  There may be anger that he let her die alone.  There also may be pity or compassion for him and his inability to come to terms with her death and his living on without her.   We are left in awe and looking forward to next week’s episode.

     That was fiction.  It was a story developed by scriptwriters sharing ideas on how the character should look and feel, and how to draw the audience into this emotional turmoil.  As the episode concludes, we know one thing to be true…it’s a fictional story with actors.  No one really died.  It is all make believe.  As the audience, we “feel” for and “connect” with the character of Inspector English, and feel grateful that he has the support that he has, but still, what was explained in the episode was fiction.  However as an individual member of the audience, I am left feeling empty, disappointed. 

     Why? A wonderful opportunity was missed.  Here is the storyline of a African American man, who is about to lose his beloved spouse after a courageous battle fighting cancer.  And yet, the story focuses on his emotional conflicts about and his inability “to watch her die”, leading him to allow his wife to die alone. What? 

     There was an opportunity here to drop the racial stereotypes forced upon African American males.  Instead the script focuses on casting him as a warm, compassionate loving spouse, who is at times a conflicted and emotionally distant, reserved (cold) person who can suddenly explode in fury upon a helpless derelict (being played by a white actor) being held in police custody. 

     Here was an opportunity to move beyond the stereotypes of the conflicted stoic angry black man.  Yet the scriptwriters stay within the perceived stereotypes.  Why?  If the lead actor had been Caucasian, no doubt the script would had:

  • Focused on the actor being with his spouse as she took her last breath.

  • Focused on the calmness and control of the lead actor and not allow him to go savagely violent on a helpless person under police custody.

  • Focused less on tension derived from interactions based on race and more on interactions based on human want and need, such as grief and loss, compassion and nurturing.

     Another opportunity lost.  We really can’t blame the scriptwriters.  In fact, we can’t do without them.  They are only giving us what the viewing audiences want. This is a glimpse of the new and improved version of today’s “acceptable” black man, who is:

  • one who is professional, speaks well and with warmth,

  • but is emotionally conflicted, detached at times, incapable of responding to his own emotions, and

  • capable of exploding at a moment’s notice in savage, violent fury.

     The modern scriptwriters have updated today’s stereotype of the African-American man.  Gone are leading roles depicting black men as flashy, pathologically sexual, uneducated, and drug addicted.  Now they have been replaced by black men who although not flashy, are well educated, professional, and while less focused on the “sexual tension”, there remains the possibility of the character’s temper flaring.  

     This was no simple task for the scriptwriters.  They had to balance the need to have characters that are familiar and understandable by their audience with being sensitive enough to avoid an accusation from the African-American community that the depiction is demeaning.

     So, a makeover was required.  Like the recent updates to comic book characters such as the X-Men and Iron Man, the  scriptwriters have been successful in updating the image of the African-American man, who is now more sophisticated than his earlier stereotyped predecessor.

      Despite this modern improvement, however, the old stereotypes are still visible.  He is still unable to articulate what’s really going on inside him.  As in the old stereotype, the modern black male characters remain psychologically wounded and conflicted when responding to his emotions.  This is an Angry Black man, out of Control (ABC).   

     Instead of being revolted by his fury and uncontrollable wrath in dealing with the suspect, the viewing audience is encouraged to cast their pity upon him due to the loss of his spouse, a loss that he is apparently incapable of shouldering.

     Fictional story with fictional characters; another opportunity missed. The savagery of his anger and his emotional detachment is accepted because it fulfills the stereotype of what is expected from black men.  No doubt that the series will play upon the shame and guilt and the ensuing psychological damage that Inspector English will carry throughout the series for his decision to work versus being there as his wife takes her last breath.

     And yet, there are real black men in the world today that are being ignored (or dismissed).   Men who sit with their spouses, holding their hands, cleaning their bodies and feeding them as they wait for that moment of that last breath.

     That was my story.  My wife Linda, who passed away peacefully at home last year, did not die alone.  In fact, she was true to herself– always thoughtful, waited for me so I could get home and be with her as she went to be with our heavenly Father.

     I have no doubt that there are many Black men in this world who are just like me, loving spouses who until death greets us as well, will have the knowledge and memories of being there, for her final breath.  My Linda and many loving spouses like her did not die alone.

     As I stated earlier, there are many men of diverse ethnic backgrounds who have similar stories to share, but these stories will never be told.  Why? One reason could be the fact that it contradicts the accepted and familiar stereotypes that are necessary to maintain the interest of the viewing audience.

Concluding Words

     So who is to blame here?  The scriptwriters? The media?  Society?  “White folks” would be an easy target—after all, they are the viewing audience, right?  Nope, sorry. To do so would be giving “black folks” a free pass.   The reality is that black people also buy into those old stereotypes and continue to buy into the stereotypes that are being developed today.

     Instead of focusing on blame, let’s focus on responsibility.  Let us focus on the healthy relationships that we want to develop among ourselves.  If the scriptwriters are focusing on what they perceive as be the “needs” of the viewing audience, then it is up to all of us to work at letting go of the stereotypes, focusing on the “real and fact” instead “fantasy and fiction.”

     Of course, this is no light or easy task, and yet it can be the first step of the Journey of Self Discovery.   It can be in that journey, we find out who we really are and what we can truly be.  Truth being, it may not be accomplished in my lifetime however we can chose to “focus on the journey, not the destination.”

 Until the next crossroads…the journey continues.

Suffering in Silence: The Pain Of Domestic Violence

What the hell?! This is a story, a novel, right?

      “The son wishes to remember what the father wishes to forget.”
                  Yiddish Proverb
I recall a time many years ago about a man living downstairs in my building who would come home and physically beat his wife.  Although this was a time in which one “minds one’s business,” my father, after hearing the fighting day after day, one day asked him why did he hit his wife.  The man’s response was that “if I didn’t beat her, she would feel that I did not love her.”
I remember the nights of placing my hands over my ears to muffle out her screams as I attempted to sleep.  I remember my parents acting as they had heard nothing.  I remember the gossiping of the ladies as they talked about the beating Harriet got that night.
I remember the silence of the men folk who shunned the person doing the battering.  I would ask my father why did the men not come together and talk to him.  He would tell me to hush; it was not their business.  Yet I could feel his anger and shame.
These distant memories of a time long ago are reawakened by a book I’m re-reading. The novel Mama, published by Terry McMillan in 1987, tells the story of Mildred, mother of five, black and dealing with the jealous rampages of her husband, Crook.
I had barely begin reading and was in the midst of chapter one when Crook, in a drunken state as he is beating his spouse Mildred with a belt, states:
      “Didn’t I tell you, you was getting too grown?”  Whap. (The sound of the belt). “Don’t you know your place yet, girl?” Whap. “Don’t you know nothing about respect?”  Whap. “Girl, you gon’ learn.  I’m a man, not a toy.”  Whap. “You understand me.”  Whap.  “Make me look      like a fool.”  Whap. (p.8)
I am shocked.  I want to put the book down and yet I choose to continue.  I must continue. As I read on, I see that Crook has thrown the belt onto the floor and collapsed next to Mildred on the bed, going to sleep.  Now, I am really just amazed.  This man has just given his spouse a stiff ass whipping and he is brazen enough to lie next to her and go to sleep?  What the hell?  This is a story, a novel, right?
Reading on I see that Mildred gets up and heads for the kitchen.  I say to myself, there is going to be hell to pay; the devil is going to get his due.

She yanks the black skillet out and slung the grease into the sink.  Before he knew  what was happening, Mildred raised the heavy pan into the air and charged into him,    hitting him on the forehead with a loud throng.  Blood ran down over his eye and he      grabbed her and pushed back into the bedroom.  The kids heard them bumping into the wall for seemed like forever and then they heard nothing at all. (p.9)

The kids?!  They did this with the children being present or within distance to hear? Everything?  What the hell?  This is a story, a novel, right?

Freda hushed the girls and made them huddle under a flimsy flannel blanket on the  bottom bunk bed.  “Shut up, before they hear us and we’ll be next” she whispered      loudly.  She tried to comfort the two youngest, Angel and Doll, by wrapping them inside her skinny arms, but it was no use. They couldn’t stop crying.  None of them understood any of this, but when they heard the mattress squeaking, they knew what was happening.(p.9)

Let me see if I understand this.  The drunken husband, Crook beats his wife.  Mildred in turn hits him on the forehead with a skillet causing blood to run.  Both are now in the bedroom engaging in sexual intercourse.  The children are in the next room traumatized and listening to their parents engaging in sexual intercourse. What the hell?! This is a story, a novel, right? And what about the impact on the children?

Money ran from his room into Freda’s.  When Money couldn’t stand it any more, he   tiptoed back to his room.  He flipped over his mattress, because the fighting always made   him lose control of his bladder.  He would say his prayers extra hard and swear that when he got older and got married he would never beat his wife; he wouldn’t care whatshe did.  He would leave first.(p.9)

Wow.  The boy is so traumatized that he loses control and wets the bed?  Then he prays extra hard.  The behavior continues to repeat itself.  There is no change.  Is God listening?  What the hell?! This is a story, a novel, right?
Damn.  What about the other children?  Freda, and her little sisters.  Angel & Doll, they are babies.

The girls slid into their respective bunks and lay there, not moving to scratch or even    twitch.  They tried to inch into their separate dreams but the sound of creaking grew louder and louder, then faster and faster. “Why they try to kill each other, then do the nasty?” Bootsey asked Freda. “Mama don’t like doing it,” Freda explained.  “She only doing it so Daddy won’t hit her no more.”

      Sounds like she like it to me.  It’s taking forever,” said Bootsey.  Angel and Doll didn’t     know what they were talking about. “Just go to sleep,” Freda said.  And pretty soon the     noises stopped and their eyelids drooped and they fell asleep.”(p.10)
So what do the children learn from this experience?  After fighting with your husband, you force yourself to have sex with him.  You do this so you can avoid being beaten again. What the hell?! This is a story, a novel, right?
Yes.  This is a story.  A true story, which is occurring everyday within the African-American community.  Below are a number of statistics that speak to Intimate Partner Violence (IPV) in the African American Community. This information is made available through the Institute on Domestic Violence in the African-American Community (IDVAAC).
·      In a nationally representative survey conducted in 1996, 29% of African American women and 12% of African American men reported at least one instance of violence from an intimate partner.
·      African Americans account for a disproportionate number of intimate partner homicides.  In 2005, African Americans accounted for almost 1/3 of the intimate partner homicides in this country.
·      Black women comprise 8% of the U.S. population but in 2005 accounted for 22% of the intimate partner homicide victims and 29% of all female victims of intimate partner homicide.
·      Intimate partner homicides among African Americans have declined sharply in the last 30 years.  Partner homicides involving a black man or black woman decreased from a high of 1529 in 1976 to 475 in 2005, for a total decline of 69%.
·      Intimate partner deaths have decreased most dramatically among black men. From 1976-1985, black men were more likely than black women to be a victim of domestic homicide; by 2005, black women were 2.4 times more likely than a black male to be murdered by their partners.  Over this period, intimate partner homicides declined by 83% for black men vs.55% for black women.

BE AWARE OF THE RISK FACTORS FOR INTIMATE PARTNER VIOLENCE (IPV)

Intimate partner violence among African Americans is related to economic factors, and happens more frequently among couples that:
·      Have lower incomes.
·      Where the male partner is underemployed or unemployed.
·      In couples where the male is not seeking work.
·      In couples that reside in very poor neighborhoods, regardless of the couple’s income.

Relational Risk Factors

·      Alcohol problems (drinking, binge drinking, dependency) are more frequently related to intimate partner violence for African Americans than for whites or Hispanics.
·      As with other abusive men, African American men who batter are higher in jealousy and the need for power and control in the relationship.
·      As with women of other races, among African American women killed by their partner, the lethal violence was more likely to occur if there had been incidents in which the partner had used or threatened to use a weapon on her and/or the partner has tried to choke or strangle her.
·      Among African American women killed by their partner, almost half were killed while in the process of leaving the relationship, highlighting the need to take extra precautions at that time.
·      Among African American women who killed their partner, almost 80% had a history of abuse.

FAMILIARIZE & UNDERSTAND THE IMPACT OF ABUSE

Black women who are battered differed in the following ways than black women without the history of abuse in that they often:
·      have more physical ailments,
·      have mental health issues,
·      are less likely to practice self sex
·      are more likely to abuse substances during pregnancy
Black women who are battered are at greater risk
·      for attempting suicide
·      of history of being abused as a child
·      for being depressed
·      suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder

LEARN ABOUT THE DYNAMICS OF ABUSE

Domestic violence re-occurs.
·      In a large sample of battered black women, in about half the cases in which abuse happened, the violence did not happen again.
·      However, over 1/3 of women reporting abuse had at least one other incident of severe domestic violence in the same year
·      And one in six experienced another less severe act of domestic violence
Women attempt to leave abusive relationships.
·      Seventy to eighty percent of abused black women left or attempted to leave the relationship.
Women in abusive relationship need the support of friends and family.
·      Battered black women who reported that they could rely on others for emotional and practical support were less like to be re-abused, showed less psychological distress and were less likely to attempt suicide.

CHILDREN LEARN FROM THEIR LESSONS WELL FROM THEIR PARENTS

Teen Dating Violence
Black youth are over represented as victims of teen dating violence.  In a 2003 national study of high school students
·      Almost 14% of African American youth (vs. 7% of white youth) reported that a boyfriend or girlfriend had “hit, slapped or physically hurt them on purpose” in the last year
·      Boys (13.7%) and girls (14%) were almost equally likely to report being a victim of dating violence
Concluding Remarks
With some many new and current publications by African-American writers, it is unclear for me as to why I chose to return to the past to read Mama again. I feel truly blessed that I did pick up the book and continue to be captivated by the pain and suffering that occurred during my childhood as well as the reality that the same pain and suffering continues today.
During my parents’ day, the mindset was keep to your own business. That was the norm back then.  Shame on them.  There can be no justification or excuse for intimate partner violence.  Furthermore, there is no justification or excuse for YOU to do nothing if you observe or know that this unacceptable behavior is occurring to a friend, coworker or family member.
It is great news, a true blessing that the number of partner homicides in the African-American community has dramatically decreased 69% (1529 in 1976 to 475 in 2005). However, one death from partner homicide is one too many.  One child traumatized, and having to go throughout life without a parent due to the homicide by the other parent is simply more than our community can bear or tolerate.
Take action.  Speak up.  Follow the framework as developed by Dr. Micheal Kane.  Do the RITE Thing!

                  The RITE Thing

R = Recognize- The person is in danger.
I   = Intervention- Provide assistance. Identify   resources.
T  = Transform- Take action.  Ensure safety.
E  = Empowerment- Look towards the tomorrow.    Plan and work towards the future
For more information regarding domestic violence victim services and treatment services for batterers that may be available within your local community contact:
·      The local domestic violence hotline
·      The local community crisis clinic
·      The local United Way agency
·      The local state office responsible for the welfare of children, youth and families.
·      The local police or law enforcement agency
It was in my parent’s generation and those preceding them that they were taught to mind their own business.   Today is not that day.  We can and we must do different.
A wise person learns from his/her mistakes, make corrections and finds the right path; the foolish one will continue without direction, never finding the road even when it is in front of his/her face.  (Ten Flashes of Light for the Journey of Life, Micheal Kane).

      “SUFFERING IN SILENCE”

To end the suffering
We must no longer be silent.
If we do not speak,
It is a certainty that no one will listen.
Words will never arise from silence
Speak.
—Dr. Micheal Kane
Empower.  Empower her.  Empower him.
                  Empower Self.
The journey continues…..

Victory at the London 2012 Olympics: Is It All About The Hair?

Well after a seven-month hiatus, I am returning to writing Crossroads.  I took time off to respond to major transitions in my life including the passing of my mother and refocusing my clinical work from the University of Washington to practice private.  The change in work now allows for time to provide healthcare to my beloved spouse, my Linda.

The death of my mother was a great loss to me.  She was one classy lady.  She passed away early this year on Valentine’s Day.   In her lifetime she saw the integration of African-American women and men in the armed forces (1948).  Furthermore she lived to observe African-American women achieve history by being first in various categories.  In the decades beginning from her birth (sunrise) to her death (sunset) she was able to observe the following achievements:

·    Otelia Cromwell, first African-American female to receive a doctoral degree from Yale University (1926)
·    Mary McLeod Bethune, first African-American to head a federal agency, National Youth Administration (1938)
·    Hattie McDaniel, first African-
American to win an Academy Award, Best Supporting Actress, Gone with the Wind (1940)
·    Leontyne Price, first African-American to appear in a telecast opera, the NBC’s predication of Tosca (1956)
·    Patricia Roberts Harris, first African-American woman Ambassador of the United States, Luxemburg (1965)
·    Shirley Chisholm, first African-American to campaign for the US presidency in a major political party and to win a US presidential primary,  Democratic Party New Jersey primary (1972)
·    Vanessa L. Williams, first African-American to win the crown of Miss America (1983)
·    Dr. Mae Jemison, first African-American woman astronaut, Space Shuttle Endeavour (1992)
·    Condoleezza Rice, first African-American woman to be appointed National Security Advisor to the President of the United States (2001) and first African-American woman to be appointed Secretary of the US State Department (2005)
·    Michelle Obama, first African-American First Lady, wife of the first African-American President of the United States (2009)
Unfortunately, my mother did not live to see the 2012 London Olympic Games in which Gabby Douglas became the first African-American to win the gold medal in the gymnastics category of “Women’s Individual All-Around Final.”
I know had she lived to see this great occasion, she would have been proud of Gabby.  She would have understood the challenges and sacrifices that this young woman made when in her early adolescence, she left her family and moved 1500 miles away to live with a Caucasian family to pursue her dreams of becoming an Olympic competitor.
My mother, in remembering sending her own children off to battle during the integration of white-only schools, would have understood the sacrifices and struggles Gabby’s mother had to endure so her daughter could attain a moment never before achieved by a female of her race.
Although my mother missed this great moment in history, I am glad she was not here to witness the embarrassing and shameful behavior of African-Americans who chose to humiliate Gabby by focusing not on her great achievement, but rather on downgrading her because of their “lack of satisfaction” with how she wore her hair.
My mother would have been shocked (as I and many others were) that people were focusing on Gabby’s perceived “bad hair” or “lack of hair grooming.”   Having resided in the southern United States, my mother would had chalked this up to “ugly, ignorant talk” and the ravings of “racist folk” attempting to keep a “hard working sista” down.
My mother’s face would have frozen in utter disbelief to find out that such negative ugly words and behavior came from African-Americans.   The question being asked by many is why?  Why would we engage in such behavior?
In discussions with African-Americans regarding this incident, I have heard opinions that the hair comments were ignorant, stupid and without class, etc., made by individuals who hide behind the anonymity of the internet and therefore they should be discounted.  Yet, the hair comments have served to emotionally wound one courageous woman and have the potential to hinder others who seek to follow their dreams and passions.
African-Americans historically have been under pressure to succeed.  We have fought for the right to serve and die in our nation’s military even if it meant the humiliation of serving in segregated units.  We have fought for the right to contribute and be represented in all sectors of American life and society.
Today’s generation of African-American youth represents past and present commitments to accept the challenge of “being the first”, “affirming the race” and “representing us” at all times.   Many of us are grateful and appreciative of these valuable commitments.
Regretfully, there will always be those who will look for the negative and search for reasons to put another person down instead of identifying the positive and lifting the person up.  Those who feast on the bandwagon of negative imagery will find the taste to be either bland or bittersweet.  Substance will always reveal beauty and character.
I know if my mother would have been alive to witness Gabby’s accomplishments, she would have embraced her and lifted her up as if she were her daughter.  Because she is.
She is our daughter, our sister and our Gabby.   We are extremely proud of her.
By the way, no, it is not all about the hair.  It is about commitment, hard work and dedication of the athlete, her family and her community.
It is about Gabby and her success.
Go Gabby go!!
Until the next Crossroads.