The Unspoken Truth: Standing Alone Within The Black Community

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

“You niggers are wondering how you are going to be treated after the war.  Well, I’ll tell you, you are going to be treated exactly like you were before the war; this is a white man’s country and we expect to rule it.” -New Orleans (LA) White City Official Welcome Home Greeting to African-American Troops returning from combat WWI (Barbeau & Henri 1974, p.173)

“In 1943, in Centerville, Mississippi, a white sheriff intervened in a fistfight between a white soldier and black one.  After the black solider got the upper hand, the sheriff shot him to death, then asked the white soldier, “Any more niggers you want killed?’ (Edgerton, 2001, p.136)

“I was utterly powerless.  The State has no troops, and if the civil authorities in Ellisville are helpless, the State is equally so.  Furthermore, excitement is at such a high pitch through South Mississippi that any attempt to interfere with the mob would doubtless result in the death of hundreds of persons.  The Negro confessed, says he is ready to die, and nobody can keep the inevitable from happening.”

-Governor Theodore Bilbo of Mississippi, on why he didn’t stop a lynching                    (Barbeau & Henri 1974, p.177)

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My Dear Readers:

There are three major stressors that can strike or induce fear within the core of the psychological self of the African-American individual.  These stressors are the following:

  • Aloneness- Whatever the activity or environment, (social, work, recreational, etc.,) the African-American individual is usually the easily recognized minority within the group. At some point the individual struggles with isolation and lack of group identification.
  • Shame is a powerful emotion. Shaming is often utilized in the African-American community to maintain adherence to group norms.  It may lead to a wide range of mental health and public health impacts for individuals including self-esteem/concept issues, depression, addiction, eating disorders, bullying, suicide, family violence, and sexual assault.
  • Abandonment can result from being impacted by both aloneness and shame. Abandonment is a subjective emotional state where the individual feels undesired, left behind or discarded. People experiencing emotional abandonment may feel lost and cut off from a crucial source of support either suddenly or through a process of gradual erosion.  Rejection, which is a significant component of emotional abandonment, has a biological impact in that it activates the physical pain centers in the brain and can leave an emotional imprint in the brain’s warming system.

Simply stated, unwanted loneliness, shaming and abandonment can be traumatic and have direct devastating impacts on the individual’s psychological self and physical health.

In this new blog series, The Unspoken Truth, we will focus on historical and inter-generational trauma experiences of members of the African-American diaspora.  The African-American diaspora refers to communities of people outside of the United States who are descended from people of African descent who were enslaved in the United States or the prior British colonies along the east coast of North America.

The above three quotes are taken from my publication Our Blood Flows Red: Trauma and African-American Men in Military Service: Clinical Implications for Working with African-American Veterans with Complex Trauma (2010).  Within the writing, I cite numerous incidents and experiences of African-American veterans in military service from the American Civil War through Desert Storm.

As this blog article is being published I am visiting the Museé du Louvre in Paris, France, researching the participation of black (colored) troops during WWI.

 

So why is the blog writing The Unspoken Truth important? 

  • The Unspoken Truth is important because as the African American author Cynthia A. Patterson has stated:

“Those who don’t know their history are doomed to repeat it.  You have to expose who you are so that you can determine what you need to become.”

  • The Unspoken Truth is important because of men and women like former Baltimore Police Officer & US Marine Corps Veteran Arthur Williams who are committed to public service and who have often given this nation the “supreme sacrifice.”
  • The Unspoken Truth is important because the African-American community must never forgot that its children often STAND ALONE. We must never abandon our sons & daughters. 
  • The Unspoken Truth is important because” ‘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, The Journey of Self Discovery (Dr. Micheal Kane)

 

Those who don’t know their history are doomed to repeat it.  You have to expose who you are so that you are determined what you need to become.”- Cynthia A. Patterson

Many do not know that two segregated divisions (eight regiments) of African-American soldiers (the 92nd and 93rd) served in the American Expeditionary Forces (AEF) fighting in France.  These troops were not allowed to fight under the American flag and instead were “loaned” to the French military, serving under the French flag, wearing French uniforms and using equipment supplied by the French government.

One of these regiments, the 369th “Harlem Hell-Fighters,” served in combat 191 days longer than any other unit in the AEF.  They gave no ground, and not a single soldier deserted or was taken prisoner.  The 369th regiment was highly valued by the French High Command and was rewarded by being given the honor of being the first unit of the Allied armies to cross the Rhine into Germany.   The French commander General Goybet, in referring to the stamina of the African-American soldier stated:

“The most formidable defenses, the strongest machine gun nests, the most crushing artillery barrages were unable to stop them.  These superior troops have overcome everything with supreme disdain of death, and thanks to their courageous sacrifice, for nine days of hard fighting always maintained the front rank in the victorious advance.”

At the end of the war, General Goybet, speaking directly to the African-American soldiers said:

“Dear friends from America, when you re-cross the ocean, do not forget the Red Hand Division.  Our pure brotherhood in arms has been consecrated in the blood of the brave.  These bonds will never be severed.  Always keep the memory of your general, who is proud of having been your commander, and remember his affectionate gratitude.”

However, the African-American soldiers were never allowed to celebrate and were never recognized for their participation in the war.  Towards the conclusion of WWI, when African American combat troops were reassigned back to American military command, they were not allowed to participate in the victory parade in Paris on Bastille Day.  Furthermore, the white American command denied their representation in the huge war mural, “Le Pantheon de la Guerre,” which depicts representations of all allied soldiers who contributed to the final victory.

The final humiliation occurred when these same African-American soldiers, combat hardened from many battles, were assigned to labor battalions charged with recovering unexploded artillery shells and reburying the war dead, highly psychologically and physically traumatizing work.

 

Men and women like former Baltimore Police Officer & US Marine Corps Veteran Arthur Williams who are committed to public service and who have often given to this nation the ‘supreme sacrifice”

 Following the most recent blog The Visible Man: Balancing the Black Code of Silence on the Thin Blue Line, I received scathing rebuke for my support of Officer Williams and my “shaming” of the African-American community regarding its lack of support, its abandonment and its unyielding criticism of the black police officer following the release of the video nationwide.

Officer Williams has been charged but has pleaded not guilty. He has not had his day in court.  However, he has already been convicted in the court of public opinion, particularly within the black community.  Of most concern were the open relentless public attacks by leading black media:

  • “He resigned because of the shame of letting his people down was to much to bear.”
  • “Arthur Williams, you have become what your community hates.”
  • “An investigation has been ordered. What the hell is an investigation needed for?  We investigated the video all weekend.  We can clearly see what is going on.”

These are examples of chronic or excessive shaming.  The primary objective is to make the targeted person feel unworthy, defective and empty.   Shame can be debilitating, toxic and extremely destructive.  Shame separates the individual from the psychological self.  It creates an internal crisis that attacks the inner core, triggering a downward spiral of negative self-talk.

Shame can be defined in several ways:

  • A painful emotion caused by a strong sense of guilt, embarrassment, unworthiness or disgrace.
  • An act that brings dishonor, disgrace or public condemnation.
  • An object of great disappointment.

 

The African-American community must never forget that its children often STAND ALONE.  We must never abandon our sons & daughters.  NEVER.

Across the United States, the fall season of 2018 marks the beginning of another academic school year.  For many of these youngsters, this time marks the beginning of the latest leg of their journey of academic achievement.  It is also a reality that due to a shortage of African-American male teachers, administrators, mentors, counselors and other allied staff, m many of these youngsters will never see or engage with appropriate male figures of their same ethnicity during their formative educational journeys.

To attempt to fill the gap and provide experiences for these children, African-American males from various professions and occupations throughout the nation have begun to welcome these children to their first days of school and encourage their positive start to the school year.  Many of these men arrive in business suits, and uniforms/equipment representing their diverse professions, trades and occupations.

The message that is communicated both verbally and by their presence is that “we are here to support you” and “you are not alone’ and “we stand with you”.  The children rush to line up and receive “high fives,” cheers and applause from these male role models as they march into the building or classroom.

Let’s assume that one of these children lives in a single parent household was so inspired by one of these men that he decided to dedicate to his life to public service.  Let’s assume that the visual presentation of these men modeled for this young child teamwork, brotherhood and images as to what a black man stood for.

Let’s assume that this experience led to him joining the United States Marine Corps and serving two tours in combat risking his life for his country.  Then let’s assume that following military service, this young man became a police officer in the community that he grew up.  Duty, honor, teamwork, and brotherhood were his foundation from observing those men as a little boy who did not have father figure in the home.

Then let’s assume that this young man has become an icon for his community, a loving husband, an excellent father, providing care for his disabled mother and when possible, serving in mentorship roles for black boys who grew up “just like him.”  All of this beginning with the observation of those committed black men who came to his elementary school every year to provide support and encouragement.

Then one fateful day…. this young man, usually calm when working with members of the community, loses his cool and assaults a citizen while in the process of carrying out his duties as a law enforcement officer.  Following the incident, his employers and the community he has served both vilify the young man in the media and turned him into a pariah.

Twenty years ago, this little boy looked up to the group of men and trusted that they would be there for him.  Yesterday he was a valued member of his community, well respected.  Today, without having the opportunity to tell his side, he has been branded by public opinion and rejected by the community he loves. Consequently, he must now respond to the three major stressors that can induce fear within the core of the psychological self of the African-American individual; loneliness, being shamed, and abandonment.

 

“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, The Journey of Self Discovery (Dr. Micheal Kane)

Prior to leaving for Paris, France, I had a therapy session involving a young African-American male whom I will call Mark.  He is an articulate, well-spoken college educated African-American man in his 30s who has been married five years and recently announced that he and his spouse were pregnant.  Mark has no history of arrest/convictions. Mark is a low-level manager in the service industry.

Mark initially came to therapy to process his feelings of workplace invisibility and conflict stating the following:

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

The evening that Mark came to session, he was enraged, reacting to three incidents that had occurred the prior day.   First, he had the ongoing stress of having to wear the “mask of politeness” while dealing with people who he felt disrespected him daily.  Second, he had a bitter and intense argument with his spouse, who he felt, due to the pregnancy, was being a ‘bitch.”

To cool off from these two events, Mark decides to see the movie Won’t You Be My Neighbor, about Fred Rogers of Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood, selecting  this movie because of its “calming and aesthetic qualities.” As the movie begins, Mark pulls out his cell phone to turn off the sound, and a white male sitting behind him, under the mistaken belief that Mark is about to talk on the phone during the movie, throws a handful of napkins at him, initiating the third and most significant incident.

The napkins miss Mark’s head narrowly, but Mark turns to the man and loudly shouts in front of many (also white) witnesses:

“I will kill you if you ever throw anything at me again.”

Mark subsequently sits back down to watch the movie. As he does, the anger brews within Mark.  Following the end of the movie, Mark has a few choice words with the man and then proceeds to lie in wait for him at the exit door.

The man, seeing Mark outside the door waiting on him, instead sent his female date to the exit to see if the “coast was clear’.  Upon spotting Mark, she begins talking on her cell.  Mark, assuming she was calling 911, abruptly left the area.  As for the storm of anger, fortunate for the man and Mark himself, that storm exploded in my office instead.

In session, Mark is sober and intense.  The incident at the theater is over, but Mark is still triggered.  So, I asked the question: what was your plan once the man came out of the theater?  Mark exploded with the following:

  • I wanted to go through him
  • I wanted to break him into a thousand pieces
  • I wanted to destroy him
  • “You don’t throw things at a grown man…He broke the rule”
  • This guy represented everything I hate about my life.

There it is.  Mark was able to see that real issue wasn’t the third incident; rather it was really about the totality of him being a black man having to endure disrespect and invisibility on a daily basis.  Mark was able to realize that he had, for just that moment, lost his perspective, and in doing so, placed himself at risk of being arrested, convicted and possibly shot if the wrong police officer were to arrive—incidents that would no doubt significantly impact his life and the life of his family.

Fortunately, during the therapy session, Mark was able to step away (take a respite,) hold his feelings (embrace his reactions,) walk the journey (reflect on his feelings & thoughts,) share his words (respond externally,) and then consider alternative strategies (reevaluate his actions.)  The goal of doing this is to assist Mark in “getting on and off the mat every damn day” while avoiding the possibility of enduring damaging consequences.    His reality is simple… whether he likes it or not, he must return to that mat “every damn day.”

“To err is human”….. In some cases, there is no room for error. 

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Concluding Words

My Dear Readers,

I write for the general readership, but in some cases, I address concluding words to specific populations.  In the last blog, I addressed my concluding words to the African-American community.  Today, I address my remarks to three specific groups:

  • The little black boys and girls who are beginning their first days in elementary school.
  • The group of black men standing at the school house; representing professions, occupations and trades who come to the elementary school house every fall term to welcome the children to school.
  • African-American parents.

 

The little black boys and girls

My Dear Little Ones,

As you begin your journey, I encourage you to stay focused and remember that no matter what your dreams are, only you can make your dreams come true.  There may come a time in which individuals will offer words of encouragement or “promises” seeking to motivate your success. Remember:

  • Learn to be careful with who you choose to share. Decide after careful consideration who to trust. Then trust with caution and consistently verify.
  • Respect all, love all, and yet remember that trust is earned, not given away, to the undeserving.

 

The group of black men standing at the schoolhouse.

“Beware of Greeks bearing gifts.” – Virgil, The Aeneid (II, 49)

My Dear Brothers,

Every year around the beginning of the school year, I always get a call from so & so individual or organization stating that “the brothers” are going to show up at a school to welcome back black youngsters and encourage them to have a good school year.  The only requirement is that the men must appear in either suits/ties or the uniform and tools of their professions.

I always politely decline.  My response is always the same.  I’m busy.  What, too busy to welcome back black boys and girls?  Nope, too busy preparing to assist the psychologically wounded and emotionally devastated little and big ones who are isolated, alone and abandoned after you welcome them back to school.

My dear brothers, arriving at school wearing your suits and uniforms, clean shaven and smelling good are great for the imagery and photo opportunities that you will no doubt receive in the media.  However, what happens after the cameras are gone? My brothers, are you in the classrooms?  Are you in the hallways?  Are you mentoring our youngsters?  Can they come to you and share their stories, their pain and their nightmares?

Why is it always an elementary school?  What about choosing a middle school?  Even better, choose a high school … to come and greet the upcoming adolescents and young women and men who are soon to join us and must struggle in a world that is often hostile or uncaring…to us.  Instead, you consistently select elementary schools whose principals are so starved for positive black role models, that they are falling on top of each other to invite you in…. for your photo op.

My Brothers, there is a saying “Beware of Greeks bearing gifts.”  It means to not trust enemies bringing who bring you presents, for they could very well be playing a trick.  You may not be the enemy in this situation, but encouragement and no follow through causes one to consider whether or not you are bringing gifts full of false promises leading to psychological and emotional wounding.

My brothers, 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.

As black men, we are psychologically wounded.  We have endured. We have suffered. And we have survived.  Healing is our responsibility.  Now is the time to empower the psychological self.  I leave you with the following “Flashes of Light” for your psychological tool kit:

“Once burned, we learn.  If we do not learn, we only insure that we will be burn again and again and again until…we learn.” – Dr. Micheal Kane, “Ten Flashes of Light”

 

The African-American Parent

My Dear Parent,

I believe we live in a time where society shows less tolerance for our errors and provides far more opportunities for our failures.  My patient Mark learned after the theater incident the same lesson that Officer Arthur Williams learned: that   “To err is human, and … In some cases, there is no room for error.  NoneMark was fortunate to have a therapy session where he could explore the S Pathways:

  • having a safe and secure place (therapy)
  • where he could search within the psychological self,
  • ending the silence and
  • releasing the submerged materials lying deeply below.
  • Mark was able to sustain security in self,
  • reinforcing his self-esteem and self-concept
  • during his work of self-discovery.

I am currently consulting with a white colleague on a case in which the father, an African-American believes that a child needs to learn early and often to “do as they are told by authority and accept what they might see as unfairness and learn obedience.”  The father feels that if his son does not learn to obey without protest, he is at risk in the future of being killed.

The black father has good intentions and is clearly concerned about the physical safety of his child.   However, the father is “reacting” as he is “living in his fear” and is therefore unable to see the possible psychological wounding or traumatization he may be unwittingly setting up for his son.

It remains essential for African-American parents to learn healthy methods to assist their children to live and thrive in hostile or non-supportive environments.  Children should be encouraged to learn when it is appropriate to question authority and when it is essential to remain silent, essentially balancing physical safety and psychological wellness.  One such method is Five Steps of Alertness:

  • Alertness is the state of active attention. It is being watchful and prepared to meet danger or emergency, or being quick to perceive, analyze a situation and act to either protect or secure the self.
  • Awareness is the ability to directly know and perceive, to feel, to be cognizant of events. More broadly, it is the state of being conscious of one’s surroundings.  Awareness may be focused on what is occurring internally such as a visceral feeling, or on events occurring in the external environment.
  • Aloneness is the ability to recognize one’s gender or ethnicity as unique. There will be situations where, through no fault of yours, you may be considered to be separate from or different than others within the same or similar group.
  • Abandonment is an emotional state in which the individual may feel undesired, left behind or discarded. The individual can protect the psychological self, minimizing the impact by reinforcing one’s self esteem and self-concept.
  • Alive & Well is actively engaging in the pursuits of self-determination. It is the activity of moving toward self-empowerment and self-actualization—that is, the attainment of dreams and desires.  It is the individual’s responsibility, and it cannot be delegated or assigned to another individual.

It is the parent’s responsibility to provide empowerment strategies so that our children learn to live WITH their fear, and not be stifled by living IN our fear.  If our children are to stand on our shoulders it must be done with advocacy, balance and calmness.

Empowerment can begin by adding the following ‘Flashes of Light” to the parental psychological tool kit.  Teach your children the following:

  • Life is like a marathon. Finish the race; don’t worry about coming in first place.  Cross the finish line.  Just finish the race.  Finish what you start.
  • A wise person learns from their mistakes, makes corrections and finds the right path; the foolish one will continue without direction, never finding the path even when it is in front of their face.

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“When Will You Be Satisfied?”

“We can never be satisfied as long as the Negro is the victim of unspeakable horrors of police brutality.

We can never be satisfied as long as our children are stripped of their self-hood and robbed of their dignity.

No. No. We are not satisfied, and we will not be satisfied until justice rolls down like water and righteous like a mighty stream.”

-Martin Luther King

Standing Alone……The Unspoken Truth

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