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

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

– Dave Sim, Cartoonist & Publisher

 

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

– Ijeoma Oluo, So You Want to Talk About Race

 

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

– Miles Davis, Miles: The Autobiography

 

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

– Ralph Ellison, Invisible Man

 

My Dear Readers,

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

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

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

 

“In the Spirit of Collaboration”

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

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

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

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

 

Intellectual Knowledge vs Experiential Persecution

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

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

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

– Richie Norton, Author

But when it is lived through repeatedly, statements like…

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

– R. Patient

Capture the depths of what is routinely being experienced.

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

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

Below is such a story…

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Dear Dr. Kane,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Covering Up Pain, Seattle WA

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My Dear Young Man,

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

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

 

The Exhausting Toll: The “Black Tax”

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

Bryant Gumbel, Real Sports host said it well,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

My Dear Young Man,

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

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

How did that work out for you?

Did the alcohol resolve your problems?

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

Did the black tax suddenly cease to exist?

 

The Journey of Self Discovery

My Dear Young Man,

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

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

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

– Martin Luther King, Jr.

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

 

The Five Levels of The Journey

My Dear Young Man,

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

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

 

Self-Empowerment

In this walk we encounter five levels of experience:

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Transformation &The Reflection in the Mirror

My Dear Young Man,

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

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

Speak the truth as to what you need to see?

Speak the truth as to what you want to see?

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

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

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

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

 

Walking the Landscape

My Dear Young Man,

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

Consider the five elements of Walking the Landscape:

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

In your specific situation:

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

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

 

Concluding Remarks – Dr. Kane

 My Dear Young Man,

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

In my statements to the readership, I said:

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

Also…

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

 

White Liberal Intent vs Impact

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Standing…. & Standing Alone

Now, in response to you…

 

My Dear Young Man,

In your letter, you concluded with the following:

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

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

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

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

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I Just Want to Live

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

I’m a young black man

Doing all I can

To stand

Oh, but when I look around

And I see what’s being done to my kind

Everyday

I’m being hunted as prey

My people don’t want no trouble

We’ve had enough struggle

I just want to live

God protect me

I just want to live

I just want to live.

Song by Keedron Bryant (2020)

 

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Until the next time, Remaining … in Our Corner

In Our Corner: “Please Do Better”

“We want an immediate arrest because we don’t think there should be two justice systems in America – one for black America and one for white America.

– Ben Crump, Attorney for the Arbery family

“Until this country can truly acknowledge the ills of its system, we will continue to see black blood drain our streets. “

– James Woodall, President, Georgia chapter of NAACP

“Stop, stop, we want to talk to you.”

-Gregory McMichael (words spoken to Ahmaud Arbery moments before killing him)

911 Call Proceeding the Death of Ahmaud Arbery

Caller: “There is a black male running down the street.” 

Police Dispatcher: “I just need to know what he was doing wrong.”

Caller: …

Minutes later Arbery was shot and killed

“I saw my son come into the world. And seeing him leave the world, it’s not something that I want to see, ever.”

– Wanda Cooper Jones, Ahmaud Arbery’s mother

“It’s just heart wrenching for him that he has to look at his other son and daughter and try to make sense of it. He really thinks that his son was lynched.”

-Ben Crump, Attorney speaking of Ahmaud Arbery’s father

“It’s hurtful.  I just got to be strong for the rest of my family. I got to be strong for my two children.  I just got to be strong for their mama too.”

-Marcus Arbery Sr., father of Ahmaud Arbery

“Your neighbor at [redacted] Satilla drive is Greg McMichael. Greg is retired Law Enforcement and also a Retired Investigator from the DA’s office. He said please call him day or night when you get action on your camera. His number is [Redacted].”

– 12/20/2019 text message from Glynn Police Officer Rash to homeowner, Larry English regarding contacting Gregory McMichael.

My Dear Readers,

I find myself awake at 4:00 am on Memorial Day morning contemplating the state we, as a country, find ourselves in. By the time this blog is published, the American death-toll due to the COVID-19 health crisis will have surpassed 100,000 people. 

Just as the deaths due to COVID-19 seem to have no end in sight, the same can be said about police involved and police related shootings, abuses of authority, and actions taken under the assumption of white privilege that have impacted, ravaged and traumatized black and brown communities across this nation.

During the time of COVID-19:

  • In Brunswick GA, while jogging in his neighborhood, a young black man was stopped and fatally shot by a retired police officer/district attorney’s office investigator.
  • In Louisville, KY, an African American woman was shot eight times, while asleep, by the police executing an arrest warrant in the middle of the night. The deceased was an EMT.  Her offense: None.  The police had the wrong address.
  • In Chicago IL, police officers are under investigation for shooting a young African American male in the subway system. His offense: jumping between train cars.
  • In Pender County, NC, a group of armed white men, led by sheriff’s deputy (who was outside of his jurisdiction), broke into and entered the home of an African American mother and her 18-year-old son.  Their offense: None.  Mistaken identity.
  • In Miami, FL a black physician in front of his residence and family is handcuffed by a police officer.  His offense: Loading tents in his van to give to the homeless and responding to the pandemic.
  • In Wood River, IL, two young black adult males were observed being escorted out of Walmart store under the watchful eyes of a police officer grimacing, gripping his weapon and holster.  Their offense: refusal to remove their facemasks during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Rather than focus on these outrageous actions and inflicted horrors tolerated and condoned by the silence of the dominant group,  I have chosen to focus on the behaviors behind inaction by black and brown people who continue to experience violence while a nationwide pandemic unfolds. 

Watching the Sleight of Hand Trick & The Puppeteer

In this writing, I will avoid diving deeply into the “sleight of hand” trickery being played out by the dominant group acting against communities of color but, it must be addressed in order to understand why these communities, who consistently experience unspeakable violence, have remained quiet in the face of the acts listed above.

Government leaders, many of whom are members of the dominant group, give press conferences and release statements that are filled with language they think the impacted communities want to hear. They try to appease the people; they create the illusion that, this time, steps are being taken to prosecute those involved and prevent other incidents from happening in the future, when in all actuality, they are doing this in hopes of containing the reaction of the impacted community long enough for the all too short communal memory to kick in and these victims names are lost to history. For a bonfire to burn out, simply don’t feed it any logs.  Just stand by in silence, and watch the flames flicker down and burn out, then wait until life returns to normal.

Common Thread-Watching the Bonfire

With these types of incidents, there is a common series of actions that occur once they are brought to light. Black and brown communities:

  • Express public outrage through demonstrations, marches and, protests
  • Put pressure on public officials for statements of condemnation
  • Demand public investigations, both state and federal
  • Demand disciplinary actions, terminations, arrests
  • Call for criminal trials leading to incarnations
  • File civil lawsuits against local municipalities resulting in either depositions, legal settlements, or long, enduring, court room trials that are covered in social media

Although the writing will be centered on the tragedy of Brunswick GA, in which a black life was tragically taken, this is my story.  

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My Dear Readers,

Recently in a LinkedIn posting, I reviewed an article in which two black men working as subcontractors for FedEx in Georgia, were fired for posting a video on social media showing a customer racially abusing them.  Among the comments, one stated:

“Good thing they weren’t jogging lol.”

The comment was “liked” by two others as well as viewed by seven including me. Initially I was struck by the insensitivity, understanding that another young black life had been lost not too far from where the racially abusive actions had occurred.

I responded to the individual with the following (the name has been changed to protect their identity):  

“Robert, a family is grieving, and black and brown people are traumatized.  Parents are fearful of seeing their children for the last time as they go out and engage in activities.  Empathy and compassion are warranted and appreciated.  Please do better.  Be heartfelt, not heartless.”

I received the following from “Robert”:

“That wasn’t supposed to be funny, that was a serious statement.  But you work with the cops, so I don’t expect you to understand.  Please do better!!”

Initially, I was disturbed by the young man rudeness and sarcasm.  After clarifying my work responsibilities as well as explaining that I do not work for the police, I stated:

“It may be a generational issue however, upon reading your comment, I was unable, especially with the ‘lol’, to understand that you were making a serious statement. It may be that your statement is more of a reenactment of the “survival mentality” that African Americans have become accustomed to utilizing when feeling hopeless following a repeat of traumas that are forced upon our community. I do take seriously your comment, ‘Please do better.’ I will seek to do better as I will be writing a blog posting on LinkedIn in which among other feedback, I will feature the psychological impacts of your ‘Good thing they weren’t jogging lol’, comment. I will of course notify you when the blog is posted. I would be most interested in your feedback. Thank you for sharing.”

Keeping in mind a fellow writer on LinkedIn, Curtiss, who stated, in not so many words, “every experience ain’t about you”, I have taken a moment to breathe and use one of my own clinical models.

The Five R’s of RELIEF

In my clinical practice I have taught my patients the clinical model of the Five R’s of RELIEF:  Respite, Reaction, Reflection, Response and Reevaluation, which encourages proactive strategies and actions.  Looking at the situation through this lens, I began to realize that there was some truth in the young black man’s sarcastic retort of “Please do better!!”.

I was able to realize that if I responded defensively or in kind to the statement, that I would be furthering the sleight of hand trick being played by the “puppeteer”, the dominant group, and the “audience”, members of the marginalized group that maintain the status quo, would be focused on the argument between myself and the young man and not on the life tragically lost “jogging while black”.

The “I” Factor: I heard you…. But are you listening?

In the end, whatever message I sought to communicate would have been minimized by being only heard and lost because it was not listened to and understood. What is the difference? Simple.

When only hearing, words enter one ear and exit through the other.  Listening, using the following elements of my clinical model “The “I” Factor”, requires information, involvement, integration, implementation, and impact to lead to understanding.

So, with the focus on listening, I say that the comment of the young man with the initial reaction of laughter and the sarcastic retort of “Please do better” is not the main issue. It’s rather an outlying issue of how we treat or view each other within the African American community. 

Pointing the Finger… Black Silence

And what about “black silence”?

In response to the LinkedIn comment, “Good thing they weren’t jogging, lol” two individuals showed their support by “liking” Robert’s statements and another four individuals contributed their own comments to the main article. Yet none, other than I, responded to Robert’s words. There is no evidence that more than seven individuals even saw the article. 

But what if other African Americans saw Robert’s words. And, what if, after doing so, they simply chose to dismiss, ignore, and not respond?

Simply asking “Why did they choose to be silent?” is circular and we learn nothing from it.

The real question is…What is the foundation of the fear response causing the dismiss, ignore and be silent behavior?

Three answers:

  • Survival
  • Resilience
  • Lacking in post-traumatic growth  

Survival Mentality: “Good thing they weren’t jogging, lol”

Robert’s flippant response following the tragic killing of one of his community paired with his adamant claim that it was a serious, not sarcastic, statement shows that he may be living in fear. This could be an example of how black people respond to these violent events.

The response can also be an example of his survival mentality (believing that you are willing to do whatever it takes to survive), that was passed down to him inter-generationally from his parents, grandparents, and great grandparents and taught to him by his church, his school, and his community to use humor to dull the pain of repeated trauma.  

With that survival mentality, it allows you to see the fact that they weren’t killed as a victory and not as a symptom of the underlying malaise of race relations in America.

 The use by the dominant group of law enforcement as a weapon, individuals professing the right to stop and interrogate blacks and simply white privilege is not new.

Resilience: The Art of Surviving to Thriving

The western origin of the definition of resilience is a person’s mental ability to recover quickly from misfortune, illness, or depression.  Therefore, resilient people develop a mental capacity that allows them to adapt with ease during adversity. Bending rather than breaking under pressure.

The assumption is that the resilient person is strong, and that strength gives a person the ability to overcome. The dominant group has placed the African American individual on the pedestal of being resilient and therefor able to withstand any number of abuses and traumas.

 In return, African Americans have internalized the belief of resilience regarding their ability to survive actions of racism, oppression and discriminatory treatment in hopes of one day reaching identifiable symbols of success in order to try to exert control over the incidents of violence and oppression.  

Existing, Surviving, Driving, Striving & Thriving- The Illusions vs. the Truth

The African American community consistently fails to recognize the “sleight of hand” trick being played by the dominant group. The path, as I developed in the Five Stages of the Journey of Self Discovery, which begins at existing, is omitted by the dominant group.

 The focus by the dominant group is intentionally placed on surviving to thriving.  Thriving will consistently be denied to you because the stages of driving (empowerment) and striving (direction and pacing) are omitted. 

Furthermore, to keep the game in play, a few “chosen ones” are permitted to sit along with the dominant group however, they will never be fully accepted.  This is the “carrot” that is auspiciously dangled in order to maintain the imbalance of power between the African American community and the dominant group.

Post Traumatic Growth-Balancing & Not Overcoming Traumatic Impacts

African Americans daily face 12 forms of racism and 14 subtypes of trauma.  Although it is known that our children will continue to face regular acts or incidents that will be so traumatic and impactful that they would be carried over into adulthood, we still do not create measures to assist them to balance these traumas.  Rather, the focus is overcoming traumatic impacts through the falsehood of resilience (strength), and silence (shaming).

African Americans residing outside the land from which they originate are the wealthiest, the most educated and hold more homeownership and socio-economic status than other Africans.

Despite these accomplishments, African Americans continue to maintain a survival mentality, live in fear, and act in ways that are reactive and not proactive.

Concluding Words-Dr. Kane

The bonfire created by the tragic killing in Brunswick, GA will eventually burn out. The history of African American action is one of inaction such as waiting for someone, some Black Messiah to come along and lead our people to freedom. 

Yes, there have been such individuals like, Harriet Tubman, Frederick Douglass, Marcus Garvey Shirley Chisholm, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Malcolm X to name a few.  Yes, celebrities will lend their names and statuses and preachers and politicians will use this tragedy as a pulpit to keep their names alive.  Yet what will transform?  How will we transform? 

Who will be the next black person to die?

Will he or she be your child or mine?  Will she be in her home asleep only to die in a hail of bullets due to a mistaken address?  Or will he be jogging, walking or just sitting in his car in his neighborhood, one in which others have determined that he does not belong.

Dear Robert,

I want to thank you for sharing your comments.  You are right.  We must all… do better.  You have an opportunity to do so. Instead of defending, focus on the ABCs: achieving, believing and conceiving. Please do better.

Best regards, your elder, 

Dr. Micheal Kane

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

Honoring Our Heroes on Memorial Day

LT. Colonel Lemuel Penn

Lemuel Penn joined the Army Reserve from Howard University.  He served in World War II in New Guinea and the Philippines earning a Bronze Star with Valor.  Penn, father of three, was 48 years old at the time he was murdered by Klansmen.

The two Klansmen were tried in state superior court but were found not guilty by an all-white jury.  They were later found guilty of the lesser charge of “violation of civil rights” and received minimum sentences.

The 6888th Central Postal Directory Battalion

Led by its black female commander, Major Charity Adams Earley, it was the only all-female, African American battalion serving overseas in France during World War II.

At the time, there were more than seven million American troops stationed in Europe. The task of sorting and delivering mail was difficult due to common names, soldiers on secret assignments and wartime conditions. At the time, there were more than seven million American troops stationed in Europe and receiving letters from home was an important way to keep up the morale of the troops on the front lines.

These enlisted women worked eight-hour shifts, seven days a week, despite having to respond to racism and segregation while performing their duties.

Major Earley felt that reacting to racism caused more problems than it solved and insisted that the 6888th Battalion look past the prejudice directed at them by the men retuning from the frontlines. Major Earley’s efforts lead to a US recruitment tour to encourage more women to enlist and were instrumental in easing the inclusion of African Americans and women into military service.

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

“Those who try to hold on to their world views following trauma are often more fragile, defensive and easily hurt.  Their wounded assumptions are at risked of being shattered again and again.

-Stephen Joseph (2011)

Until the next time,

Remaining … in Our Corner

In Our Corner: Living The Dream, or Existing In The Illusion?

“Flattery will get you nowhere.  Flattery does not work.”  -Idiom

“One thing is certain in life… we will all die one day.  Thus, the focus must be on those we touch, how we live, and what we experience.”

-Dr. Micheal Kane, Clinical Traumatologist

“There is no growth without discomfort.  Being honest can be uncomfortable. It is freedom that comes from being honest.”

-Delbert Richardson, Ethno-Museologist,                                                                           American History Traveling Museum, Seattle, WA

—————————————

My Dear Readers,

In the last blog, I asked for “white people of good conscience to work within their communities as we black folk continue to work within our own.”

As I expected, I received strong responses from readers,  one in particular that was strongly critical of my direct focus on men’s issues within the African-American community at the expense of a focus on black women, or reflection about the role that I play regarding sexism within my community.

This writer, an outspoken black woman, has a good point.  She points out that having traditionally focused on white privilege and its impact on the African-American community while ignoring privilege within the community, key members continue to suffer in silence.

The writer is correct when she refers to misogynistic behavior within the African American community. It is hypocritical for a community to be united in its commitment against racism, but then remain silent regarding male privilege and misogynistic behavior.

Misogyny is the hatred of, contempt for, or prejudice against women and girls.  It can appear in numerous ways, including social exclusion, hostility, patriarchy, male privilege, belittling of women, violence against women and sexual objectification.

What lies at the root of misogyny is the conscious or unconscious habit of placing a masculine point of view at the center of one’s worldview, thereby systematically marginalizing the feminine point of view.

Without question, rampant misogyny is an issue within the African-American community, and yet it is not one that we are willing to engage with.  We speak in one voice to the role of the black woman in the family, the church and community, but we encourage silence instead of dialog when we deny actions that denigrate the women in our community.  We say we want to hear what women in our community have to say, but when the words are not flattering, the woman speaking becomes a “man-hater” and “usurper of the black man’s role in the community.”

In the blog “Showing Up As Real MEN and Leaving As Little Boys,” I shared one woman’s regarding her interactions with black men and got the following response from a reader:

“[I was]Using a Black woman (?) to spew vitriol and hatefulness, giving her a sanctimonious platform to castigate Black males. She sounded as though she had multiple issues needing immediate attention.”

The reader may have been correct that the woman had “issues” needing “immediate attention.” In my therapeutic work I have listened to numerous black women express similar feelings, sharing the impact of psychological wounds received from sexism and misogyny within our community.

In this case, however, the reader is not genuinely concerned about the woman’s health; this is an attempt to derail the conversation and distract from the role that black men can play and have played in creating these “multiple issues needing attention.”   The women who exposed their feelings may be utilizing this platform posting as a means of empowerment— something that I strongly support and encourage them to continue to do.

And, I strongly encourage black men to not just hear what is being said…  but to listen.

—————————————-

Dear Visible Man,

I am writing to share my concerns regarding the sexism and misogyny that is occurring within the African-American community. I have two real examples: my lazy-ass brother and my dependent, can’t-seem-to-take-care-of-himself-uncle.

You write often about white privilege and I acknowledge and agree with you that white privilege is a major concern for black people.  However, you clearly choose to remain silent about black male privilege that is also a daily reality in the black community.

It burns me up to watch these two worthless fools come over for Sunday dinner and be waited on hand and foot by my mother and grandmother.   When I complain, these misfits shut me down, calling me a hater.

Both are living in their dreams.  My brother spends his time smoking weed and still trying to play pro basketball, which he aged out of long ago.  His backup plan is to be a rapper. Imagine how likely that is.

My uncle, on the other hand, not only drinks and smokes weed, but he spends his social security money on the lottery, hoping for that one big win.  I have a son and I don’t want my son to hang around them and pick up their shameful behaviors.

I am sick of enduring this bullshit at home and then having to deal with sexism and the racist bullshit that occurs within my workplace.

So, Dr. Kane, instead of talking about white privilege, maybe you should trying focusing on saving these privileged black men who are living off the sweat of others in their own community.

-Pissed Off Sister Who Has Seen Enough, Seattle, WA

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My Dear Woman,

I want to thank you for your remarks.  Your words are direct and speak to your experiences as a woman and mother within the African-American community. I acknowledge that for empowerment and growth to occur within our community, there must be voices raised, avenues provided, and foundations developed so that we encourage meaningful dialogue as we seek to engage on this topic.

There are some things that you described that I want to directly respond to:

  • The behaviors of your uncle and brother
  • The concern regarding your son mimicking or modeling his male relatives’ behavior

First things first: my goal in this work is not to “save” anyone, and I apologize if anything I have written implies that.  As a clinical traumatologist, I serve as a companion and guide walking with those who are seeking the journey of “self-discovery.”   Rather than to save, my role is to assist those who want to empower themselves.

I agree that a sense of privilege is deeply implanted within the African-American community.  However, the actions and behaviors of your male relative you have identified are not examples of that privilege.  Those are  the actions and behaviors of people who are existing and surviving.

The difference is this: within the Journey of Self Discovery, there are The Five Levels: existing, surviving, driving, striving and thriving.

  • Existing-The journey is bleak and lifeless for the individual. Life is barely lived, let alone enjoyed or even experienced.  Nothing is produced or gained by the individual at this level.
  • Surviving-The focus of the journey is to remain alive and breathing. The individual attaches minimally to life, lives in fear, and is in a constant state of desperation.  There is little gain, but not that much for the individual at this level.
  • Driving-At this level, the search for empowerment begins. The individual wanders, seeking direction, and in doing so, learns balance and reinforces the psychological self.  At this level the individual learns the importance of empowerment.
  • Striving– At this level, the individual has a solid hold on their life and is fully experiencing their psychological self. The individual lives with their fears, and is successfully implementing empowerment strategies in their lives.
  • Thriving- The individual has attained full realization of the psychological self and completed the Journey of Self Discovery. The individual has mastered their self-empowerment strategies, and can use this knowledge to support others and as a foundation for future journeys.

It appears that your uncle is simply existing, where your brother is surviving.  I understand your frustration and concern for the welfare of your male relatives, but these are your frustrations and concerns, not theirs.

Your uncle and brother are not living their dreams at all.  Dreams are workable hopes and desires that can be made true.  Instead, your brother and uncle are just two of the many African-American men who are, by their inaction and destructive behavior, “living in their own illusions.” Furthermore, their behavior may be a way of medicating psychological wounds through the utilization of alcohol and drugs.

This isn’t to say that you should just accept their behavior, especially when it is truly unacceptable and impacts your household.  And yes, in recent history, black women have been taught to give men benefits of the doubt that many do not deserve.  However, this appears, from my experience, to be something quite different.

The questions to be placed before your uncle and brother are the following:

  • What do you want for the psychological self?
  • What are you willing to do in order to achieve what you want?
  • What is your motivation? What are your ultimate goals before you close your eyes forever?

I would recommend that you allow your uncle and brother to serve as role models for your developing son.  The definition of a role model is a person whose behavior, example, or success is or can be emulated by others, especially by young people.

However, role models can also examples of failures to be observed, learned from and not to be emulated by young people.

  • Interact with males who behaviors you want your son to model. Consider conducting comparison and contrast situations with male relatives (or non-relatives) whose behavior you deem appropriate for your son.
  • Consider the psychological and emotional damage you can inflict on your son by shielding him from this and not being there to help him understand the difference between “dreams” and “illusions.”
  • Create a space where your son can be open and vulnerable with you so that he can openly discuss feelings associated with his observations.

One of the most important responsibilities of a parent is to prepare the child for their entry into the adult world.  Under your close guidance, there are lessons and experiences that your son and others can gain, and in doing so, add to their developing foundation and psychological self.

As for your uncle and brother, it is never too late to learn new skills or transform their behavior.  However, to do so is based on their desire to do so, and not your concerns or your needs.  Staying within an illusion is a choice; one you may not agree to and yet one you must want to respect.

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Concluding Words-Dr. Kane

You don’t drown by falling in the water; you drown by staying there.” 

-Edwin Louis Cole

 

My Dear Brothers,

I have no flattering remarks for you.

I write for the general readership, but in my In Our Corner blogs, I want to direct my concluding remarks specifically to black men as we walk the journey of self-discovery.

Regardless of our social status, education and achievements, black males for the majority are not valued by white society.  However, this is neither an excuse nor an explanation for the psychological wounds we inflict on the members of our own community, specifically black women.

There will be those among us who, due to their own psychological wounds and lack of self-concept, will be unable to look within themselves, and would rather focus on questioning my personal motives. This is expected, but not productive.

Transformation can only begin with embracing acceptance and letting go of denial. There are those who are not ready to transform themselves, so their journey of self-discovery will not be complete until they accept themselves, the roles they have played, the mistakes they have made, and the impact those things have had on others.  For some, that journey is a short one.  For others, it never began.

If you are angry after reading this, I invite you to be with that anger.  Feel it out and inquire of yourself why you feel that way. Accept that anger as a natural part of you but get curious about what you have experienced that has triggered that in you.  Transformation and self-discovery can only occur by exploring the depth of your feelings and finding the root cause of it, instead of mindlessly finding a way to just dull the symptoms of it. Be willing to walk the journey of self-discovery with yourself, warts and all.

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

Searching for meaning is like drawing

Etching for life.

Asking for direction can bring

Breath for tomorrow

Risk taking has its challenges

Earning another opportunity to

Endure which bring wisdom.

Zest is what it’s about

Experience the Journey of Self-Discovery

-Dr. Micheal Kane

 

Until the next time,

RemainingIn Our Corner.

In Our Corner: Erik Killmonger and the Inner Pain Of African-American Men

“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.”

-Paul Dunbar, We Wear The Mask

“I want to return to the scene of the crime.

I do not want to go back.

Going back can only bring pain, suffering and unresolved memories

Returning, I am armed with wisdom and knowledge, which I can take into my future.

I am empowered.

Whatever I was, I am no longer.

The past is what is what it was.  It cannot be recovered.

I live today, to understand and uncover.

I seek tomorrow.  To explore and discover…

Self.”

-Dr. Micheal Kane, Returning to the Scene of the Crime

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My Dear Readers,

In the previous blog, I wrote about the  the unconscious messages of betrayal and loyalty within black male and female relationships in the movie Black Panther.   I observed that in the movie, black women were portrayed as being loyal, committed and unquestionably trustworthy, while black men were characterized as being deceptive, disloyal, and therefore, untrustworthy.

The responses to my commentary on the portrayals of the film’s depiction of male betrayal and trustworthiness were immediate and wide-ranging, from hostility and suspicion, to questioning my motives, to accusing me of taking the movie too seriously in my analysis.

All of these response types have one common underlying theme: fear.  It is normal for an individual or a society as a whole to fear what they do not understand.  In this case, the film itself and my analysis of it may have exposed  feelings that are generally unconscious until one is faced with something that challenges black men to look within their psychological selves.

Charles from Fort Lauderdale, FL writes:

“Your article Black Panther got me to think about my own betrayal of relationships throughout my life.  As I sit here typing, I am allowing myself to feel the trauma as well.

I can see now that I don’t trust women but tend to use women, which I believe is the root of my own pain.  So now I have learned not to ask the why question but rather, the what is the foundation question.  I just would like to say thank you for walking with me on this journey.”

In this, our third In Our Corner post,  we return to Black Panther, which has now grossed over $1B.   This week, we will focus on the villain Erik Killmonger.

  • Why is Erik Killmonger a key representation of African-American men?
  • Why is he cast as a dark, yet sympathetic villain?
  • Why is he being depicted as an angry black man, raging out of control?

I have written before that why questions provide responses that are circular back to themselves, so as a result, they do not help us to understand the foundation of the question we ask, which often gives us a more useful answer than simply why one thing or another happened. So, we ask:

  • What is it about the character of Erik Killmonger that he captivates the audience as the sympathetic villain?
  • What is the impact of the pain, the hurt, anguish, and the rage that lives within Erik Killmonger?

Erik Killmonger’s appeal to African-American audiences comes from his character being a clear and direct representation of the generational and psychological trauma of the North Atlantic Slave Trade, but not as a depiction of being sold into slavery and the ensuing centuries of racism, discrimination, and oppression, but as the result of that sordid experiment—generations of people who were, despite that severe adversity, able to thrive and become successful.

In this respect, Killmonger’s is a story of his success in gaining education and skills, mastering the cruelty that he was shown as a child, and wielding it with an efficiency and glee that surpasses even the most evil slave master.

However, this is not how he was born; this is what was crafted by King T’Chaka abandoning young Erik in America after killing his father, and Killmonger is who he had to become in order to survive: to emotionally detach from himself as a human being, and the feelings associated with that, evident in his comment to his father N’Jobu on the ancestral plane, when N’Jobu noticed that Erik shed no tears for his memory.  Erik, a dry-eyed child, simply said:

 “People die every day.  That’s just part of life around here.”

What motivates Erik Killmonger? A frighteningly rational and focused hate for King T’Chaka’s and Wakanda’s traditional stance of non-intervention in the face of the profound suffering that he and other African descendants of the ones who were taken have experienced, feeding into a righteous anger. Where Wakanda could have helped, yet did nothing for generations, Killmonger, knowing his royal lineage and having prepared for ritual combat and to take the throne all his life, is more than willing to use what he has to help those that he knows suffer throughout the world.  In essence, by killing T’Challa, the last of his line, in ritual combat, he kills Wakanda’s apathy of the suffering of Africans in the entire diaspora.

“I lived my entire life waiting for this moment.  I trained a lot.  I killed in America, Afghanistan, Iraq… I took life for my brothers and sisters right here on this continent!  And all this death just so I could kill you.”

But, it’s not all just an altruistic desire to liberate Africans around the world.  Killmonger, the abandoned child of Wakanda, is different from most African-Americans in that he actually knows what country he is from, and knows for sure that they abandoned him intentionally, and in that, there is a desire, also coldly rational, within Killmonger to inflict the same or greater harm on those who inflicted such catastrophic harm on he and his family, and to put an end to anyone else who would have adopted that same philosophy that harmed so many.

“The world took everything away from me.  Everything that I ever loved!  But Imma make sure we’re even.  Imma track down anyone would even think of being loyal to you! And Imma put their ass in the dirt, right next to Zuri!”

What is Erik Killmonger?  He was a little boy who lost his father.  He was a child who was abandoned by his family.  He is the psychological self, seeking attachment, belonging and connection.  He has the words and actions of a villain, yet he has many redeeming qualities, and a more than valid ax to grind against the other members of Wakanda’s royal family.  Still, he is dangerous: he is the “angry black man” who cannot be reasoned with, he is believed to “lack control,” and he must be destroyed.

In the final fight scene, many will question why T’Challa offers to heal Killmonger and save his life—this is because T’Challa sees the error in his father’s (and in Wakanda’s) attitude towards the world and specifically, those who were taken from African countries and their plight, and sincerely wants to make a change.

But, Killmonger rejects the gesture—his inner pain and the fact that he failed in his life’s mission means that he truly has nothing left. He can’t use vibranium to liberate the Africans outside of Wakanda that he wanted to help.   He couldn’t possibly live in the society he tried to destroy as a citizen, much less as a prisoner who murdered both Zuri and a member of the Dora Milaje. (His attempted murder of T’Challa was done through ritual combat, so it wouldn’t count as a crime towards him.)  Rather than be locked up, Killmonger responds:

“Nah. Just bury me in the ocean with my ancestors who jumped from the ships because they knew that death was better than bondage.”

That quote made me and many others in the theater gasp upon first hearing.  Of course, this is who we as African-Americans would have wanted to be, right?  The ancestors who chose death over bondage?  Who kept their dignity instead of succumbing to generations of rape and murder and cruelty?

But there is something different here.  Our ancestors jumped into the ocean to get away from unjust, barbarous chattel slavery.  Killmonger, on the other hand, simply doesn’t want to face punishment for using the colonizer’s tools and tactics to murder two of the African people he claims to want to lead.  The African-Americans in his mother’s lineage who survived slavery enough to create him as a descendant would have something to say about death being better than bondage when they had to endure bondage to ensure that their bloodline, which led to him, survived.   Surely we can revere those who endured as much as we can revere those who refused, right?

This isn’t to say that the lessons of Killmonger cannot assist us in our own journey of self-discovery.  They can.

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Concluding Words- Dr. Kane

My Dear Brethren,

I write for my general readership, but as with all In Our Corner blogs, I want to direct my concluding remarks specifically to black men as we walk the journey of self-discovery.

Black Panther is an excellent movie, and both its conscious and unconscious messages are breathtaking and worthy of uninterrupted discussion regarding psychological trauma in the African-American community.

For those who question my motives and intentions, I seek to influence the intellectual mind by keeping it balanced with the psychological self.  These discussions are incredibly important for the African-American community, and specifically for black men in that this film allows its black male characters to have rich emotional lives, and they are not simply heroes and villains—they are real, complex people, in real, complex situations.

A clear yet unconscious message in Erik Killmonger is that he was abandoned by family, he utilized the country he was left in to transform himself into a stone cold assassin, and used that unimaginable strength to impose his will on the country that abandoned him. While his success is admirable, the pain in the psychological self that drove that success also contributed to his failure and eventual demise because he never integrated that pain and transformed it into something that served him better.

You can hear Killmonger’s psychological self screaming when he talks about the pain he grew up in, and the pain he feels for other Africans in the diaspora.  This is a result of complex trauma, a myriad of 13 separate types of traumas that African-Americans face on a daily basis, which can be draining and overwhelming.

Mark, age 32, describes his trauma:

“I get on and off the mat every damn day.  Every day I go in and face people who either ignore or disrespect me.  At the end of the day, I feel alone and abandoned.  Every day I trudge forward.  Every day.”

Trauma is a permanent etching on the psychological self.  The memory of the incident at point of traumatic wounding or injury will never ever go away.

However, in choosing to opening up to others, such as friends and loved ones, and when wanted, seeking counseling or therapy, the individual can learn to balance the traumatic wound or injury achieving advocacy, balance and calmness in walking the journey of self-discovery.

Steppin’ Into Tomorrow

We cannot step back into our past,

Nor must we want to.

It is our fear of the unknown that chains us.

The future holds new possibilities

We can journey into the future

Holding onto Belief, Faith and Trust …

In Self.

-Dr. Micheal Kane

Until the next time…Remaining In Our Corner.

In Our Corner: Betrayal Trauma and the Psychological Self in Black Panther

“Wise men build bridges, foolish men build barriers.”

-T’Challa, Black Panther

“We should be building bridges to the rest of the world.”

-Rep. John Lewis, US House of Representatives/Civil Rights Activist

 “Bridges or barriers: which ones are you building?”

-Dr. Micheal Kane, Clinical Traumatologist

————

My Dear Readers,

In this installment of “In Our Corner, ” let’s talk about the largest grossing Marvel comic movie ever, Black Panther. I can’t say enough things about it.  Excellent. Well done. Captivating.  It left me wanting more and more.

It featured a black superhero as the lead and an almost entirely black cast with powerful roles for both black men and women.  It focused on a contingent of bad ass black women led by a seriously bad ass black woman who together kicked lots of ass throughout the film.

Featured in the fictional African nation of Wakanda, the country’s technological advancement and economic progress provides a safe and equitable society where black people, especially children and women, can thrive—all conscious messages of the film that satiate the hunger of black audiences for a positive identification with a leading black superhero, but can drown out the voices  of those who may want to discuss the unconscious messages hidden in plain sight.

Betrayal & Loyalty: The Unconscious Message

Most of the major black male characters (except T’Challa himself and M’Baku, who never promised loyalty) betray the throne of Wakanda or someone who is close to the king.

Specifically:

  • Erik Killmonger (Michael B Jordan) betrays his girlfriend Linda by killing her when she is held hostage by Klaue
  • W’Kabi (Daniel Kaluuya) betrays T’Challa/Black Panther when he sides with Killmonger and his plan to send Wakandan weapons into the world
  • Zuri (Forrest Whitaker) betrays his friend Prince N’Jobu when he tells King T’Chaka about the stolen vibranium
  • Prince N’Jobu (Sterling K. Brown) betrays his brother King T’Chaka father of T’Challa/Black Panther by conspiring with Klaue to smuggle vibranium out of Wakanda
  • King T’Chaka (John Kani) betrays his nephew Erik Killmonger when he leaves him alone in America after killing Erik’s father

 There are four unconscious themes being portrayed regarding black men and women:

  • Regardless of age, status and occupation; the black women in the film are loyal and committed to either a specific person (T’Challa/Black Panther), its people/country (Wakanda) or an idea/entity (the throne of the king).
  • Black women are unquestionably trustworthy
  • Black men are not loyal and cannot be trusted
  • Black men will betray and sacrifice the women they love (Erik Kilmonger and Linda, W’Kabi and Okoye)

 

The Psychological Wounding of Unconscious Messages

Already there are those within the African-American community who feel forced into silence out of fear that they will be shamed or ridiculed if they dare to criticize the largest grossing black film of all time.  As a result, they smile, nod in agreement and continue to suffer in silence.

One of my black male patients Alex, (not real name, age 29) spoke of having mixed feelings after seeing the film. He felt joy in finally seeing a black superhero, but also experienced depression and anxiety, recalling the betrayal of the black men in his life:

“I remember my mother saying black men ain’t shit and the fact that my father and uncles chased multiple women.  To this day, I have trust issues with other men and I am unable to remain loyal in relationships with women.”

When he shared his response to the movie and the feelings it brought up for him, Alex was ignored, laughed at and told that he was taking the movie too seriously.  As a result, Alex shuts down, internalizing his feelings and starting to isolate himself from others.  He began reacting to nightmares, flashbacks of memories of his own shameful actions towards women. He recalled having cold sweats and crying uncontrollably.

We could ask “why,” but “why” questions provide responses that are circular and therefore not helpful in getting to the foundation of the issues.  To get to that foundation, let’s focus on “what” questions:

  • What was Alex experiencing?
  • What was the basis of Alex’s depression? Nightmares? Flashbacks?
  • What drove Alex’s feelings of guilt and shame?

The answer: Alex was responding to betrayal trauma that, although long buried within the psychological self, had been “uncovered” when he watched the film.  There were scenes in the film that activated his memories and now create an active and ongoing recall of his past actions.

 

Betrayal Trauma

What is betrayal trauma?  Betrayal trauma is the violation of implicit and explicit trust.  To clarify these terms

  • Implicit trust – implied through not plainly expressed.
  • Explicit trust – stated clearly and in detail, leaving no room for confusion or doubt.

The violation of implicit and explicit trust can occur in many different ways, including but not limited to:

  • Being unfaithful in a relationship
  • Negligence in guarding or maintaining information shared in confidence
  • Intentionally revealing or disclosing information shared in confidence.

The impact of betrayal can be defined as traumatic since it impacts the individual’s frame of reference as it relates to their worldview, identity, and spirituality.  Betrayal trauma is distinct because for the trauma to be successfully inflicted, the individual must have allowed the betrayer access to their psychological self’s three internal resources: belief, faith, and trust.

 

The Pain of Remaining Silent

One of the issues that Alex was struggling with was his desire to remain loyal to his community in community by joining in the community acknowledgement of the film while responding to his own feelings.  He felt caught in a “no man’s land” between wanting validation and acceptance from his social group, while at the same time, dealing with the impact of the movie on his psychological self.

To attribute the activation of his trauma to the movie would be tantamount to Alex blaming the movie for his own issues—something that would not have sat well with his friends and family, and on a broader level, the black Americans who were so excited about the movie.

The implied consequence of sharing his feelings and not being part of the love for the movie would have shown him to be an enemy, so he chose to hold his opinion, and in doing so, he denied the impact of the movie on his own self-concept, and reinforced the silence he continues to suffer in.

 

Prognosis

Despite all of this, Alex’s prognosis is good.  In therapy he is learning that instead of choosing between loyalty to his community or facing his unresolved issues and behavior he is able to balance both by being supportive of his community in acknowledging the film while simultaneously exploring his own behavior.

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Concluding Remarks-Dr. Kane 

My Dear Brethren,

Although I write to the readership, I want to direct my concluding remarks specifically to black men as we walk the journey of self discovery.

I believe the film Black Panther to be of excellent quality and content.  Just like other noteworthy black films such as The Color Purple, Amistad, and many others, this film has the potential to be  psychologically impactful and worthy of open discussion regarding psychological trauma in the African-American community.

“In times of crisis the wise build bridges, while the foolish build barriers.”

-T’Challa/ Black Panther

It is understandable that black women and men are suspicious of each other,  given the manner that black people as a whole have been treated over the last 400 years in this country, and the issues of betrayal and loyalty within our own community/intimate relationships.

Understanding these feelings, we must decide whether to build bridges with open communications or maintain those barriers.

I recommend this: Be kind to your psychological self….Find a safe and secure space to speak and release your stuff, such as with a therapist or counselor.

“Wakanda will no longer watch from the shadows.  We cannot.  We must not.  We will work to be an example of how we, as brothers and sisters on this earth, should treat each other.  Now more than ever, the illusions of division threaten our very existence. We all know the truth; more connects us than separates us.  …. We must find a way to look after one another, as if we were one single tribe.”

-T’Challa/ Black Panther

Until the next time….Remaining In Our Corner.