The Visible Man: Every Breath You Take

“Every breath you take
Every move you make
Every bond you break
Every step you take
I’ll be watching you.”

-The Police, Every Breath You Take

“Life is to be lived, not controlled; and humanity is won by continuing to play in face of certain defeat.”

Ralph Ellison, Invisible Man

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My Dear Readers,

I write to you during difficult and tense times in African-American communities and other communities of color throughout the United States arising from a feeling of being unprotected in their own country.

In 1986, social psychologists created the Terror Management Theory.  It describes a basic psychological conflict that results from the friction between the human self-preservation instinct and the rational understanding that death is inevitable and, in some cases, unpredictable.

Although social psychologists may pride themselves in naming the phenomena, African-Americans have been responding to terror management throughout the 246 years of slavery and the following 105 years of state-sanctioned terrorism and segregation, all the way to the more modern and subtle, but still insidious, experiences of police brutality and the prison industrial complex.

As explained under the Terror Management Theory, the conflict produces terror, and the terror is then managed by embracing cultural values or symbolic systems that act to provide the impacted life with enduring meaning and value.  For many diverse and under-served populations, embracing cultural values are critical to developing self-respect and self-esteem.

Below is the story of an individual who reclaimed his life by reclaiming his self-esteem and his self-respect.

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Dear Visible Man,

I’m at my limit. The police, once again, followed me as I was returning home from a long day of working as a Metro Transit bus driver.

I had my two sons in the car; I had just picked them up from school.  At one point, the police cruiser was next to me and then in seconds, he was behind me.  I immediately felt tension in my stomach.  My heart was beating fast. I became scared at the possibilities of what could happen.

As the police cruiser followed, another cruiser joined in behind.  My sons noticed their movements as well.  It was an unreal feeling.  One moment my sons were cutting up, laughing and being playful as adolescents are, then the next moment there is dead silence and a chill in the car.

I felt that my sons were in danger.  My youngest was crying and I struggled to stay calm and get them to focus on me and not the cruisers.  I informed them that we were about to be pulled over and I told them how I wanted them to behave: specifically, no quick or jerky movements.

Suddenly, the lead cruiser pulled slowly next to us, the police officer looked over us and the car, and then both cruisers turned off in the opposite direction.  The joyful mood that we had was gone.   My eldest was angry and shouting, but he became more upset when he realized that his younger brother had urinated on himself.

Upon arriving home, both boys went straight to their bedrooms. They didn’t want to talk about it, and honestly, neither did I. I felt so ashamed and powerless to protect my children.

My wife attempted to talk to us about it, but I had nothing to say. I felt that I had failed my sons as their father.  I felt as if I was no longer a man in their eyes.

When I mentioned the incident to my crew at work the following day, the inability of my white co-workers to accept my experience shocked me. One indicated that it was not a problem because the police never stopped me. He saw my response as an overreaction. Another said that the police get behind him all the time and he doesn’t think about it.

Recently, my eldest showed me a quote from the book Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison. It said:

“I am invisible, understand, simply because people refuse to see me.  Like the bodiless heads you see sometimes in circus sideshows, it is as though I have been surrounded by mirrors of hard, distorting glass.  When they approach me they see only my surroundings, themselves or figments of their imagination, indeed, everything and anything except me.”

My eldest son tells me that the experience made him feel invisible.  He is frustrated and now wants to bow out of attending college next year. My youngest son plays AAU basketball.  Now they want to quit their activities and hang out with their friends.

Both are good students and yet their grades are now slipping. None of my sons have ever been in trouble.  They attend church and bible study regularly.  Now they aren’t interested. I feel that I have failed them as their father.

I have decided that if the police follow me again in the future, I am going to pull over and confront them.  My wife strongly disagrees with me, but I am a man and self-respect and the respect of my sons are important to me.

As a strong black man, I know that I will find agreement with you on the issue of respect.

–Profiled No More,  Seattle WA

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My Dear Sir,

I cannot imagine the psychological pain you are going through during this difficult time.  However, I cannot support you confronting a police officer that you may suspect of racial profiling in order to appease your sense of self-respect. 

Stopping and confronting a police officer while he is carrying out his legal duties, even if you suspect him of racial profiling is not courageous. It is foolhardy, placing oneself at risk of arrest, injury and possible death.

Instead I suggest that you utilize the Five R’s of RELIEF.  Specifically,

  • Respite-take a breath and emotionally step away from the traumatic event
  • Reaction-accept ownership of your feelings of anger, shame, and humiliation
  • Reflection-bring balance to yourself by processing your feelings and thoughts
  • Response-having owned your reactions, now communicate the appropriate response to the external environment
  • Reevaluate-finally, be willing to reconsider, review and revise the actions taken.

As you initiate this process, resist the emotional urge to ask questions in the “why” format.  Such questions provide responses that circle back to themselves, and as a result, they do not bring us full understanding of the foundation of the issue being questioned.  A more useful method of inquiry would be focusing on the “what,” instead:

  • What did I do to protect my sons from danger?
  • What could I have done to reduce the traumatization of my children?
  • What can explain the responses of my coworkers?
  • What can I do to prevent the reoccurrence of the same experience?

 

What did I do to protect my sons from danger?

Your actions indicated following the ABC model, which is Advocacy, Balance, and Calmness. Specifically:

  • Advocacy-you got your sons’ attention, warning them of the potential danger ahead,
  • Balance– you were afraid, but you balanced those feelings with the thoughts around how to behave to leave that counter unharmed, and,
  • Calmness-during the time in which the police cruisers followed and did the slow drive by, you maintained tranquility in your external world.

Under such difficult circumstances you may have felt helpless, but your actions actually empowered you and resulted in your ability to get your children home safely.

 

What could I have done to stop or reduce the traumatization of my children?

You cannot protect your children from their feelings, which may include traumatization.  Calmly bring the subject up with them. As you are protective of your children, your children may seek to be protective of you by not wanting to share their experiences in fear of creating “bad feelings for Dad.”

However, “bad feelings,” or trauma, is already settling within the psychological self of you and your boys.  You can assist your children in processing this experience by sharing the impact the incident had on you, thereby modeling and encouraging similar behavior and actions. Seek counseling or therapeutic intervention if and when necessary.

Remember–  if you shut down or become silent, your actions become the “unconscious” model for your children when responding to situations like this in the future.

 

What can explain the responses of my white coworkers?

In speaking to your white coworkers, you are attempting to obtain understanding and compassion regarding an experience that is completely outside the world in which they live. They may live in a world where they receive community policing and therefore view the police as “protectors”.

Assuming that this is their reality, the experience you had is a completely  “abnormal” experience for them, even though it is an uncomfortably “normal’ experience for you. There is a saying: “You can’t understand someone until you have walked a mile in their shoes”.  Clearly, the brands or types of shoes you wear are unknown to your white colleagues.

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Concluding Words—Dr. Kane

What can I do in order to prevent this happening again?

Nothing.   You do not control what lies deep within the psychological self of another person. Governmental legislation, city ordinances and police departmental directives against racial profiling may influence the decision making of officers on the street, but those officers have power, and that training may not be enough to compel them to deter the racism and/or stereotypes that lies deep within their belief system, if it is there.

You lack the power to prevent incidents of racial profiling by the police from happening to anyone. The traumatic incident that impacted you and your sons occurred because a police officer with the lens of racial profiling observed three black males in your vehicle.  It was his “truth” that a vehicle of three black males could only be engaging in “bad things”.

Following procedure of responding to “dangerous situations” a police officer with the lens of racial profiling called for backup with the intent of making a “vehicle stop.”  It was only after the police officer with the lens of racial profiling did the slow drive by and looked through your window that he was able to remove his lens of racial profiling and see the real truth that a man and two children were in the car.

The police officer with the lens of racial profiling now removed having successfully confirmed no criminal activity, is now able to return to his regular patrol duties. It may be the perspective of not only the police officer, but of your white co-workers as well that since there wasn’t a stop, and there was no harm inflicted on you or your children, that no harm was done.  However, this perspective fails to take into account the impact that the psychological trauma has on you and your family and its status as a microaggression in the form of racial profiling.

DO NOT confront the police in the streets.  You will not win.  The police will not allow you to win.  The power that they have is comprised of the authority granted by a fearful society that is historically accustomed to turning a “blind eye” when it comes to control and law enforcement of black men.

Remember that the police can do no more than the society that commissions them to do.  The police may have power, but individual black people can be empowered in dealing with them if they choose to be.

When faced with such situations, trauma can be impacted or reduced by utilizing the clinical tools of

  • Five Rs of RELIEF
  • ABCs — Advocacy, Balance & Calmness
  • Empowerment– document…document and document. Report police misconduct to the department’s internal affairs unit.

Remember, your empowerment can never be taken from you …unused, you merely are giving it away.

“Play the game, but don’t believe in it- that much you owe yourself…

Play the game, but raise the ante.

Learn how it operates, learn how you operate.”

-Ralph Ellison, Invisible Man

“Life is a marathon

After you learn the game

Learn to run the race,

Focus on crossing the finish line

Run smarter, not harder.”

-Dr. Micheal Kane

Until we speak again…I am…The Visible Man

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When Our Vulnerability Becomes Strength: Empowering Our Children In Police Encounters

“An officer fired at him when he moved his hands upward, as directed, but more quickly than expected.”

–Wichita (Kansas) Police Department explanation of shooting death of innocent victim by the police on 12.27.17, reported in the Huffington Post on 1.03.18

“Life can be running a daily gauntlet

If I can make it through the night

Wake up in the morning

And my son is still alive;

I have won.”

–Dr. Micheal Kane Psy.D

“A weak feature of someone or something that is otherwise strong, which makes them open to attack or failure.”

–Definition of “Achilles Heel”

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My Dear Readers,

In the work of clinical traumatology, my colleagues and I spend countless hours listening to the pain, suffering and wounds of the traumatized.  In most cases, the traumatized individuals tend to ask one specific question in one form or another: when will the trauma be over?

It is apparent that such individuals are seeking a time frame for relief from the trauma associated with the incident or experience that led them to psychological treatment.  No matter how the response is delivered, the reality is that traumatic experiences are permanent etchings on the psychological self.  It never, ever goes away.

However, there was life before the trauma, so the objective of trauma therapy is to learn how to balance the trauma within the psychological self, and in doing so, be able to “live the life you want, not the life you live.”

Many of my fellow clinicians lean heavily on theoretical frameworks that are typically Eurocentric focused in the field of clinical traumatology.  It is not unusual to see this norm used in the treatment of individuals who have had a single traumatic experience or who have had repeated episodes of the same traumatic abuse, such as  sexual abuse.

However, in many African-American communities across the country, individuals may experience a variety of traumas that are cumulative in nature and occur repetitively through a lifetime, and they often happen concurrently with traumas that are addressed by Eurocentric norms of treatment, exacerbating the impact on the patient.  Specifically, there are 13 distinctive traumas that an African-American person can experience daily.  As a result, the norm for many people may be to regress to a “survival mentality” and the use of destructive behaviors as a coping mechanism to either minimize or deflect the impact of the trauma.

Below is the story of a mother who fears for the safety of her teenage sons.  In seeking to protect her sons, they become her “Achilles Heel,” and intensify her trauma experience.

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Dear Visible Man,

I am a concerned single parent of two black teenagers residing here in Pierce County, WA.  Earlier last week, a Pierce County deputy was shot and killed while stopping a burglary. There was a state-wide intense search for the person who killed him.

Initially, the news media reported the person has been a dark-skinned black man, and then later, the news media stated the police were searching for a light-skinned black man.  As the night went on, it was announced that the person the police sought had been already been arrested and jailed for outstanding warrants on other matters.  It turns out that the man they arrested for killing the deputy was white!

I was relieved and in tears when I learned the man arrested was white.  I had been overwhelmed, worrying about my sons, fearful that they were going to be targeted by the police because of their race.  I made the decision to keep my sons home from school during the time they were conducting the search.

My sons attend a local high school.  Although they get excellent grades and have never been in any trouble, they have been constantly stopped and questioned by police.  I feel, as they do, that there is no apparent reason for stopping them.  It amounts to nothing other than racial profiling.

My decision to keep my sons home created tension between myself and them.  For several days, we had heated arguments.  They feel that either I am treating them like babies or that I have trust issues.

Damn right, I have trust issues!  They are and will ALWAYS BE my babies.  The lack of trust I have is not about them, but about what could happen if they interact with police.  It only takes one nervous or trigger-happy cop and one or both of my sons are dead!

Look at what happened recently in Wichita, Kansas!  I repeatedly saw that picture of that mother crying after the police accidentally shot and killed her son. He was white.  If they could do that to one of their own, what hope do I have regarding my children?

I was born and raised in the Deep South.  In my life, I have encountered racism and mistreatment from white police officers.  I WILL NOT BE ON THE FRONT PAGE GRIEVING THE DEATH OF MY CHILDREN.  I intend to and will protect my children.  They are all I have.

My eldest son suggested that I write to you. Both of my sons feel that my rules on curfew are too restrictive, but they are just kids– they do not understand the danger they are in.

I am a Christian woman with strong faith in God, and I believe in the power of prayer.  However, even as I write this letter, my mind is made up.  I will not be burying my sons. No! No! No!

On Guard, Spanaway, WA

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My Dear Woman,

I ask that you take a moment and simply breathe.  Just take a moment.  It is apparent that the unfortunate shooting death of the police officer within your community has understandably shaken you to your core.  In addition, you are being triggered by the death of an innocent person.

Though an interesting data point, the fact that the young man that was shot is white does nothing to minimize the tragedy or lessen the pain and suffering being endured by his family, or the fear that you hold for the safety of your own children.  The shooting by the SWAT team member was a tragedy.  It should not have happened.  I feel the pain and fear in the undertone….”it could have been my child.”

It is possible that you have unresolved historical or inter-generational trauma relating to memories of the mistreatment and racism encountered during your childhood in the South during those tumultuous years of open, state-sanctioned racial terror and oppression.  I can also see from your writing that two specific traumas: micro-aggression (indirect or covert) i.e., racial profiling of your sons and, macro-aggression (direct or overt) i.e., immediate fear of death by the police has impacted you.

Furthermore, you are also facing invisibility syndrome trauma, which refers to the realization that despite the excellent grades and good behavior, your sons’ achievements mean nothing in the face of assumptions about them based on their skin color, and therefore, they are placed at greater risk of either physical violence or psychological harm.

It is possible that your repetitive viewing of both police involved shootings may have created a foundation of vicarious trauma. Coupled with the aforementioned traumas, you may be responding to post-traumatic slave syndrome i.e., fear of survival in in a hostile world due to your sons’ gender and race

We live in difficult times.  The world and its technology are ever so changing.  We seek to raise our children under difficult circumstances.   As a parent of any race, socioeconomic group, gender or sexual orientation, there are many reasons to be afraid when it comes to the safety of what we hold so dear and precious and yet represents our most glaring vulnerability: our children.

Living In Fear …or With Fear

Rather than live in fear of the unknown, we can take deliberate actions by empowering our children and ourselves and in doing so, learn to live with our fear instead of in our fear.

Instead of restricting your adolescent sons as a means of protecting them, you can engage with them in frank meaningful discussions.  It would be best that they know and are prepared for the reality that, due to no fault of their own, are vulnerable to being viewed as a threat simply due to the color of their skin, and as a result, being targeted as such, and ensure that they are  empowered to deal with that reality in the way they design for themselves.

Sheltering/Protecting or Guiding/Teaching?

We cannot shelter or protect our children from ALL traumatic incidents.  However, we can guide and teach them how to respond to potentially traumatic incidents and by doing so, reduce the impact.  Regarding your fear of police interactions, who other than yourself is best suited to guide them and help them transform the way they interact with the police?

Empowerment Strategies

Whereas the police have power and authority, you can teach your sons that they are not helpless; that they can reduce their stress and future psychological trauma by implementing empowerment strategies.  One such strategy I recommend is the therapeutic model of Advocacy, Balance & Calmness.

Reinforce with your sons the following:

  • Advocacy: Know when to speak and what to say.
  • Balance: Remember that power lies within you and cannot be taken without your consent. Balance your anger with your wisdom.
  • Calmness: Use your balance and inner empowerment to project calmness in your external environment. Use this to defuse intense or hostile situations.

Have frank and specific discussions with your sons.  Prepare them for the fact that police encounters will continue to happen to them due to the color of their skin, and prepare them for each encounter:

  • Know that the police officer will ask for identification, and it is legal for the police officer to do so.
  • Know that one’s identity will be verified in a criminal database that is available to check for warrants and other information.
  • Understand that the police officer will be looking for suspicious behavior from them or from anyone they are accompanied with.
  • Be prepared for a possible stop and search of their personal space and belongings.

In a delicate and deliberate tone, instruct your sons to employ the following behaviors:

  • Keep your hands open and exposed. Immediately tell the police officer: I AM UNARMED.  I AM NOT A THREAT TO YOU.
  • Always comply and follow the police officer’s instructions. Treat all instructions as directions and commands.
  • If under the age of 18, inform the police officer of your age and immediately request that your parent, legal guardian, or legal representative be present.
  • If you choose not to speak, inform the police officer of your intent to remain silent until you have representation. After that, immediately stop talking.
  • Use your powers of observation. Document the incident and any concerns regarding any behavior during the encounter.
  • Remember to get the date, time, location, the license plate and vehicle number of the police officer and the name of the department the police officer works for.
  • If you deem it necessary, file a complaint with the local sheriff or police chief’s office.
  • Remember that the police officer is entitled to use deadly force if they feel physically threatened.
  • NEVER EVER RUN FROM THE POLICE.

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 Concluding Words

My heart goes out to “On Guard” as she seeks to protect her children.  However, in her quest to protect her children, she and other parents in similar circumstances should consider the following:

  • Will my anxiety and fear have a boomerang affect and negatively my children?
  • What skills, training and resources do I have available to prepare my children to respond to racial hostility?

The concern I have is that this parent and other parents likewise may be so focused on “not burying her sons” that she ironically buries their confidence in navigating the realities of their lives in this society.  In that case, the parenting strategy becomes centered on the parent’s prevention of anticipated suffering rather than preparing the child for adulthood in a hostile world.

Invisibility & Trauma

“Invisibility is an inner struggle with the feelings that one’s talents, abilities, personality, and worth are not valued or recognized because of prejudice and racism.”

-Dr. A.J. Franklin, Boston College

Sad and yet true…. to many whites, African-Americans are invisible.  When it comes to law enforcement, African-Americans have the opposite stressor.  We are very much visible, recognizable and observed by the police.   Our encounters start at an early age, and are often traumatic, never forgotten and held permanently within the psychological self.

Even police officers would agree that we live in difficult times.  African-Americans and the police share many common themes.  The police officer in any community is a minority in the community they seek to serve. Whereas people of color are often judged or stereotyped due to their skin, police officers are routinely judged not by their character as individuals, but by the legacy of institutionalized racism that comes along with the badge, weapon and uniform.  The loss of one police officer is a traumatizing impact on the law enforcement community.

It is truly traumatic that black skin is perceived so negatively to such an extreme that it would be normal to assume that black people want to kill police, which is an erroneous assumption usually attributed to peaceful civil rights activist groups like Black Lives Matter, and in this case, the attribution of the murder to a “light-skinned black man” could have led to more shedding of innocent blood.

It is also traumatizing to consider and reflect on the unknown numbers of black men who were stopped, questioned, perhaps with weapons drawn by police officers upset at the loss of one of their own.  I wonder how many black lives have been forever impacted during the search for the suspected shooter.  How many will endure sleepless and sweat full nights?  Or dramatic recalls in nonstop memories?

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

Forrest Gump (1994)

Police officers are constantly training for the unexpected.  On the street, they have to be prepared for anything.  Once again there are common themes shared with the African American community and the police.   When a black man interacts with the police on the street, at the workplace, at school or in his home, does not know whether he is going to receiving “Community Policing” or “Enforcing the Law.”

It appears that the police are learning skills, tactics and strategies in dealing with us.  Perhaps it is time that we focus on learning and teaching each other skills, tactics and strategies in dealing with the police.

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

–Martin Luther King Jr., August 28,  1963

 

Until we speak again,  I am … The Visible Man…

The Visible Man: Complex Trauma, Invisibility, and Obsolescence

“Racial minorities are more likely than white Americans to be arrested.   Once arrested, they are more likely to be convicted; and once convicted, they are more likely to face stiff sentences.”

-United Nations Human Rights Committee report (2017)

“I don’t know that nigger.  But I know he is a nigger. And that’s all I need to know.”

-Retired Confederate General Sandy Smithers, The Hateful Eight (2015)

My Dear Readers,

Are black males becoming obsolete in this country?  Black males are no longer being sought for manual labor. They are in fierce competition with whites for blue-collar jobs, that continue to be sent overseas.  They aren’t being trained or prepared for work within the IT industry, either.

Black males are perceived as being of limited use, constantly in survival mode, and cornered off in decaying urban environments.   There is the supposition that black males, like any other endangered species, may soon vanish from the American landscape.

There are several reasons for this perception:

  • Incarceration: One in every three black males born today can expect to go to prison at some point in their life, compared with one in every 17 white males.
  • Education: The estimated national 2012 high school graduation rate for Black males was 59%.
  • Homicides: Black victims of homicides were most likely to be male (85%) and between the ages 17 and 29 (51%)

Except for political and clergy leadership, only muted responses have come from the African American community, if there is a response at all to the statistics coming from recent incidents involving police violence.  The reason for this is Complex Trauma.

Complex trauma is a form of psychological trauma.  It is more than simple post- traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).  It usually means that a person has suffered several traumatic events often beginning in childhood and continuing through adulthood.

Below is one young’s man story…

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Dear Visible Man,

I am a 24 year old African-American man seeking your help.  I am scared and confused.

Recently I had a police officer pull his weapon on me during a traffic stop.  He stopped me because one of the bulbs in my brake light was out.  He recognized me as one of his classmates in high school and even for a moment, reminisced on playing high school football, put away the weapon, and then told me to get the brake light fixed and “have a good day.”

How could I have a nice day after that? I am a college graduate, and I have a great job working for a tech firm here in Seattle, but I live in fear of being harassed by the police.  I have been stopped numerous times, either walking or driving, and all those stops were suspicious. All I want is to be free.  I simply want to be left alone and work hard to succeed in the goals that I have chosen.

Throughout my life, I have dealt with harassment and threats from within my community. I have dealt with racism from whites and threats of violence and acts of intimidation.  I grew up in survival mode without a father figure and struggling with a drug-addicted mother.  Both of my brothers are in the prison system.  I am alone, having nightmares and at times, just holding on to my life.

I am very angry about what I have seen and what I have experienced.  It’s like I am reliving my childhood and adolescence.  I try talking to other black males, but they are too busy hating on me while numbing their own pain by getting high off of marijuana or drinking alcohol.

People talk about role models for black men, but I don’t need another man to tell me how to get a job.  I need to know that I have value, that I am worth something. The older black men I know are either locked up in prison, addicted to drugs or just trying to make it on survival mode. I just want another black man to talk to.

I can’t remember the last time a black man told me that I matter.  But I can remember the last time a black man threatened me.  I feel caught in the middle– threatened by those who hate me for my success and harassed by those who are view my skin itself as a threat.

At work, and at home, I look around and don’t see anyone like me.  My white coworkers tell me that I am being paranoid, and they might be right– I feel like I am going crazy.  Am I becoming obsolete? What can I do?

-Feeling Shaky, Seattle,WA

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My Dear Young Man,

You have been through a lot in your 24 years of life. You are correct; you are not crazy. Paranoia is a mental condition characterized by delusions of persecution, suspicion and mistrust of people or their actions without evidence or justification, and that is not what I see here.

Given your history and the numerous incidents of micro- and macro-aggression you have experienced, your hyper-vigilance and stress is to be expected. The fear of physical violence from the police and other members of your community and their repetitive nature can adversely impact a person’s mental, physical, and emotional states.  It can often be very difficult to function at work and it hinders involvement in interpersonal relationships.

Complex trauma is the exposure to adverse experiences such as violence, abuse, neglect, and separation from a caregiver repeatedly over time and during critical periods in a child’s development. Psychologically, the African-American community is drowning in complex trauma and has retreated into survival mode.  We have lost a generation of black men in prison.  Approximately half of males will not graduate from high school, which impacts employment, marriages, and the growth of families.

Complex trauma can have long-term impact on an individual’s mental health.  That impact can be further complicated when it is simultaneously activated and reinforced by the use of drugs and participation in violent acts. In doing so, both the trauma itself and the method of soothing or numbing the pain arising from that trauma are both normalized for the individual, who then loses the ability to conceive of other ways of living.

Research suggests that the impact and effect of complex trauma is directly related to age of onset, type of violence, relationship to the perpetrator, impact on the environment, the degree of isolation and the amount of support received and the amount of support received following the traumatic experience.

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Concluding Words

My Dear Young Man,

To respond to an earlier question about becoming obsolete, the fact that you continue to strive for success in your objectives as you face overwhelming pressures from both within your community and interactions with police is an affirmation that black males are not becoming obsolete.  In reality, you are responding to ongoing challenges that are not of your making.

This is the time to achieve ABC: advocacy, balance and calmness.

  • Advocacy: Empower yourself by becoming an advocate for the psychological self. Seek to achieve mental health wellness.
  • Balance: Compare the internalized value and assets of the life you want to live to the life you have already experienced. Come to terms with your own stress and anxiety.
  • Calmness: Avoid self-medicating to soothe emotional pain. Instead, be open and available to your internal questions and concerns.  Use your balance and inner empowerment to project calmness to the outside world.

Be open to seeking mental health treatment.  We are losing a generation to incarceration, violence and drug/alcohol abuse.  We continue to cripple our lives by refusing to seek mental health assistance.  In doing so, we only weaken our resolve, add more obstacles to the journey of self-discovery and hamper the experience that we call LIFE.

My dear young man, there are role models. LOOK IN THE MIRROR. In your quest to strive and not just survive, YOU have become a role model for those seeking to do the same.  Go out and find individuals and allies regardless of color, race and ethnicity, who think and live life like you.

Best wishes to you on your journey of self-discovery.

Regards,

Dr. Kane, Psy.D

Clinical Traumatologist

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

Complex Trauma does not go away by

Simply pushing it to the back of your

                                    mind.

It is a thief that lurks around until it finds an open door.  It flashes.  It screams as it leaps into my soul.

It is a thief that steals in the day or in the night.

Enough is never enough.

It steals and steals and steals.

It plucks and sucks the life, slowly

                           From me. 

-Micheal Kane

 

Until we speak again….The Visible Man

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

The ABCs of Parenting With (And Not In) Fear

“You must listen to me, my son. They don’t hear your voice.  They just see the color of your skin.  You understand?

It’s okay son…I know you want this to be over.  I’m right here.  I will be right here.  But you don’t give up.  You hear me? As long as you still grab a breath, you fight.  You breathe… keep breathing.

My son… I’m right here.  You hear me?

All I had was that boy – and he took him from me.

I ain’t afraid to die anymore.  I’d done it already.”

-Hugh Glass, The Revenant  (2015)

My Dear Readers,

In the 2015 movie The Revenant, the explorer Hugh Glass, played by Leonardo DiCaprio, experiences the same psychological traumatization that black parents experience in today’s society while seeking to protect their children.   In the film, Glass struggles to help his headstrong, half-Native American, teenage son understand the danger he is in due to prejudice about his race, and how to survive and stay alive in the “world of the white man.”

Later in the movie, having been severely wounded in an encounter with a grizzly bear, Glass watches helplessly as his son is murdered, which symbolizes the end of Glass’ own life, and leaves him simply a spirit looking to avenge the death of his boy.

In this, the month of graduations, proms, and other celebrations of the transition from one stage of life to another, we also live with the fear of more violence towards our black adolescents, and the spirits of black parents seeking justice for their murdered children.  This week, we will hear the words of a distraught mother who is “living in fear” of losing her 17 year-old son as he prepares to leave for college.

Below is her story…

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Dear Visible Man,

I need your help.  I don’t what to do or who to turn to. I am so frightened.  My only child Christopher is graduating from high school and preparing to leave home this summer for early entrance into a college located across the country.

In high school, my son is seriously committed to his studies.  He has stayed away from drugs, hasn’t been involved with negative people or groups, and he has been mindful of the importance of good decision-making. He was involved in student government, sports activities, and he was a young deacon in our church.  Still, I am afraid that none of this will matter when he goes out into the real world.

I have begged him to remain here in and attend one of the local schools.  I recently read a news story about a young African-American male college student in Maryland being stabbed to death by a white supremacist, and I am fearful of what could happen to him, as I will not be there to protect him from that danger.

As a young black adolescent, he has had his share of hostile encounters with the police that had overtones of racial profiling.  Recently my son and his friend were stopped and searched by the police as a matter of precaution due to the recent shootings in Mississippi.

I am at a point where I am so worried that I can’t sleep without medication and my hair is has begun to fall out.  My son understands this, but he still wants to go on with his plans. Needless to say, there is a lot of anger and tense feelings in our home. Please advise me as to what to say to him.

-Breaking my Heart, Des Moines, WA

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My Dear Woman,

As a parent of two adult children, I have empathy for your concerns.  Although my son has lived on his own for many years, there never goes a day that his safety is not on my mind. When there is an “officer-involved shooting” involving a black man, I know he is not involved, but still, I am concerned about the profiling and treatment he may receive when coming in contact with police officers.

Being a parent is can transform you. Regardless of our racial backgrounds,  parents spend years assisting in the developmental staging in the lives of our children.  Consequently, we are either supervising, directing, managing or administering the lives of our children for a long period of time.

However, once our children move from late adolescence to young adulthood, we should not only expect changes in their behavior and actions, but we must also seek the same for ourselves.

We can transform the way in which we parent utilizing two models: the ABC’s of Parenting Young Adults & Living With Fear.  In the first, the parent seeks to do the following:

  • Advocacy-become an advocate for your young adult. The focus is on providing encouragement and support to your adolescent’s independent and movement into adulthood
  • Bystander-become an observer of your young adolescent life, instead of controlling In order to do this, you must come to terms with your own stress and anxiety.  Be willing to watch your young adult make mistakes and wrestle with their choices and decisions with the exception of life-threatening situations.
  • Coaching-be open and available for your young adult’s questions and concerns. Provide your advice and consultation upon request.  As a result, your knowledge and guidance is more likely to be valued when the young adult requests it, rather than when the parent forces it.

As parents of black children, however, we have the added responsibility of preparing our children to function and thrive in a world that may be hostile to them simply because of the color of their skin.

On August 23, 1963, in a speech during the historic March on Washington, Martin Luther King Jr. said:

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

Fifty-four years and two generations later, Dr. King’s dream has not yet materialized.  Meanwhile as we share his dream with our children, we as parents must help to shape the manner in which they live their lives by serving as mentors and modeling healthy behaviors and actions. This can be achieved with the therapeutic model of Living With Fear, Not In Fear. 

When we live in fear, we allow our fear to take over our lives and dictate the limits of our possibilities.  We opt not to take chances because of the fear of failure and/or loss.

When we live with fear, we acknowledge that fear is here—it has always been and will always be here—however, it is a hindrance in our lives.  Instead of avoiding the things we fear, we face it directly, and respond.  When we execute that response, we learn to embrace our fear as a part of us.

Fear is ALWAYS here.  Fear as an emotion is a permanent fixture.  Fear is here forever…it never left.  It is for the individual to choose a direction: to live IN their fear or to live WITH their fear.

When we choose to live IN our fear, we make the conscious decision to not share our light and talents with the world.  When we live WITH our fear, we balance that fear in a way that still allows us to share ourselves with the world.

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 Concluding Words

 My Dear Woman,

You closed your letter by asking for advice on what to say to your son, but I want to speak directly to you.  As a parent of a child who will soon become a young adult, the time has come for you to step aside and allow yourself to transform, and embrace your newly defined roles as advocate, bystander and coach.   Your current actions are based on living in fear as well as seeking to maintain a protective cloak around your son.

The dangers you seek to protect him from are real and not imagined, don’t get me wrong.  However, as you urge him to seek success, the actions you take out of your own fear may actually cripple him by negatively impacting his self-esteem, confidence and identity.  All that you have committed to and worked so diligently, will now be weakened as he becomes unable to depend on his own responses to the psychological trauma that awaits his arrival as a young black male into the world of adulthood.

I urge you to hold on to belief, faith and trust in the foundation that you have given him as he has developed into the young man you love so much.  Finally, allow yourself the freedom to move on in transforming to remaining active in his life as an advocate, bystander and coach.  Look toward what is newly possible for your own life.

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

New Possibilities

Life is a journey

filled with new possibilities.

And sometimes because of

the person you have

become

You find yourself in the right

place at the right time for….

new possibilities

-Dr. Micheal Kane

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Until we speak again….The Visible Man

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

The Visible Man: The ABCs of Black Male Safety

 

“Officer, Don’t shoot!  Please don’t kill him!” He’s just 12 years old!  If you got to kill someone, kill me instead!”

-A distraught mother

 “Yes, I feel guilty and relieved. I get on my knees every morning and scream to my Jesus, Thank you Lord, for protecting me from misery. Death knocked at my door, but it didn’t happen to me.”

-Mary, a mother of three adolescent boys

“The white policeman shot my son as if he was trying to kill a deer running through the woods.”

-Walter Scott’s father, North Charleston, SC

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My Dear Readers,

Every African-American male in this country who drives a vehicle has traveled by bus, or has been an air passenger has been a victim of racial profiling by police or other law enforcement agencies, whether they know it or not.

Regardless, of education, socio-economic status, class, or income, all black males are vulnerable to being viewed as a threat simply due to the color of our skin, and as a result, being targeted as such.

Targeting (in terms of human interaction):

  • A person, object, or place selected as the specific aim of an attack.
  • To look at or examine something or someone carefully in order to find something concealed.
  • A person or thing against whom criticism or abuse is or being directed.
  • To look at or beneath the superficial aspects of to discover a motive, reaction, feeling or basic truth.

The U.S. Supreme Court has held that racial profiling violates the constitutional requirement that all persons be accorded equal protection of the law. Understanding that racial profiling violates the protection requirement of the constitution, why do police officers continue to engage in such practices?

1) Because they hold the stereotypical belief that a particular individual of one race or ethnicity (in this case, black) and gender (in this case, male) is more likely to engage  in criminal behavior and,

2) They hold the power in determining who receives protection as indicated in the law and who receives enforcement of the law.

An example of being the recipient of enforcement is the following:

“In Newark, New Jersey, on the night of June 14, 2008, two youths aged 15 and 13 were riding in a car driven by their football coach, Kevin Lamar James.  All were African American.  Newark police officers stopped their car in the rain, pulled the three out, and held them at gunpoint while the car was searched.  James stated that the search violated his rights.   One officer replied in abusive language that the three African- Americans didn’t have rights and that the police “had no rules.”  The search of the car found no contraband, only football equipment.”

The actions and words of the police officers words directly reflect the belief upheld in the Dred Scott decision of 1857, where the US Supreme Court Chief Justice Roger Taney wrote that a black man has “no rights that a white man is bound to respect.”

Keeping that in mind, the past few months nationwide have been severely psychologically impactful within the African American community, specifically males.

  • West Memphis, TN 5/19/17– a police officer fatally shoots a 12-year-old who he observed having a weapon in his waistband. Upon further review, it was discovered that the weapon was a toy.  The incident is under administrative review.
  • Tulsa, OK 5/18/17– a white female police officer was acquitted in the shooting death of an unarmed black motorist in 2016.
  • Balch, TX 5/2/17 – a 15-year-old black male riding in a vehicle is shot and killed by a white male police officer. The officer is dismissed from the police force and currently charged with murder.
  • North Charleston, SC 5/2/17– former police officer pleads guilty for violating the civil rights in the shooting death of an unarmed motorist. During a previous trial, a jury deadlocked without a verdict in which the video evidence shows the former officer firing six shots into the back of the fleeing motorist.
  • Nashville, TN 2/10/17- a police officer shot and killed a black male during a physical confrontation following a traffic stop for running a stop sign.
  • Minneapolis, MN, 1/24/17– a police officer was charged with second-degree assault with intentional discharge of a firearm for shooting into a vehicle with six occupants. The officer acknowledged firing into the car when the driver was no longer a threat to his safety.

Despite the Constitution’s guarantee of equal protection under the law, it is the black man’s reality in America that when it comes to daily interaction with the police “there is no guarantee of protection for those of our complexion.” 

  • How do we insure our physical safety and emotional wellness?
  • How do we protect ourselves from unreasonable search and arrest?
  • How do we protect our children?

 The ABCs of Safety: Black Males: & The Police

We can transform the way in which we interact with the police. Where the police have the “power” and authority, we can adapt strategies to empower our children, adolescents and ourselves.

One such strategy is the therapeutic model of Advocacy, Balance & Calmness.  The objectives of this model are to minimize the amount of  psychological trauma that may result from interacting with the police and to improve your opportunities for a safe withdrawal from the encounter. This is achievable through the following:

  • Advocacy– Know when to hold or show your cards. Know when to speak and what to say.
  • Balance– Remember that your power lies within you, and cannot be taken from you without your consent. Balance your anger with your wisdom. 
  • Calmness- Use your balance and inner empowerment to project calmness to the outside world. Use this to defuse the situation.

When you encounter the police:

  • Know that the police officer will ask you for identification, and that it is legal for them to do this.
  • Know that your identity will be verified in a criminal database to identify any warrants or other notices against you.
  • Know that the police officer will be looking for suspicious behavior from you and from anyone with you.
  • Be prepared for a possible stop and search of your personal space and belongings.

What do you do when you are stopped by a police officer?

  •  Keep your hands open and exposed. Immediately tell the officer:  I AM UNARMED.  I AM NOT A THREAT TO YOU.
  • Always comply and follow the police officer’s instructions. Speak in a respectful tone.
  • If you are under the age of 18, inform the police officer of your age and be sure to request that your parent, legal guardian, or legal representative be present.
  • If you choose not to speak, inform the police officer of your intent to remain silent until you have representation. After that, immediately stop talking.
  • Use your powers of observation. Document the incident and any concerns regarding any behavior during the encounter.
  • Remember to get the date, time, and location, the license plate and vehicle number of the police officer and the name of the department the officer works for.
  • If needed, file a complaint with the local sheriff or police chief’s office.
  • Remember that the police officer is entitled to use deadly force if they feel physically threatened.

Knowing and understanding your ABCs can help you maintain the demeanor and mental clarity to make sure that you correctly and safely advocate for yourself, maintain your internal balance, and project an air of calmness into the situation.

———————————————

Concluding Words

“Life is like a box of chocolates; you never know what you gonna get.”   Forrest Gump (1994)

I recently saw a YouTube video where three black boys around 12 years old were playing basketball in their front yard.  A police cruiser pulls up, the police officer draws his weapon and assumes a defensive position behind the door of the vehicle.  The police officer yells at the kids, “get on the ground, get on the ground.  The kids, shocked and scared, complied with the directions.  The mother comes out of the house screaming and crying “don’t kill my babies.”  The police officer tells her “Mam, go back into the house.  The scene ends with no shots being fired.  Good outcome?  No one hurt. Really?

Welcome to the Rites of Passage for black adolescents. This is the starting point of their psychological trauma.  They will never forget the incident in which a police officer drew a weapon and placed their lives at risk.

Sadly, this scene has become normalized procedure for police departments and is repeated on a daily basis in the lives of black males.

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

Life can be running a daily gauntlet

If I can make it through the night,

Wake up in the morning,

And my son is still alive;

I have won.

-Dr. Micheal Kane

*****************************************.

Until we speak again….The Visible Man.

The Visible Man: Running The RACE Smarter, Not Harder

 

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

-James Baldwin, Novelist (1924-1987)

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

-Anonymous

“You can run, but you can’t hide”

-Joe “The Brown Bomber” Louis, World Heavyweight Boxing Champion (1937-1949)

My Dear Readers,

The African Diaspora is a term commonly used to describe the communities throughout the world that are descended from the historic movement of people from Africa during the Transatlantic Slave Trade from the 1500 to the 1800’s.  In addition to North American and Europe, the African Diaspora includes South America and the Caribbean.

Between 1525 and 1866, in the entire history of the slave trade of the New World, 12.5 million Africans were shipped to the New World.  Of those 10.7 survived the dreaded Middle Passage. (Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade Database, 2014)

Following the American Civil War and the passing of the 13th (freedom), 14th,  (citizenship) and 15th (voting rights) amendments to the Constitution, these Africans went on to endure another 150 years of oppression in the form of segregation, Jim Crow laws and domestic terrorism by groups such as the Ku Klux Klan.  After the turbulence of the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s, African-Americans have finally achieved acceptance… somewhat.

Today I prepare for my own journey to Washington, D.C., for the celebration of the descendants of the African Diaspora at the  National Association of Black Social Workers 49th Annual Conference.  The focus of this year conference is: “Unmasking Politics & Policies: Strengthening the Black Family.”

This organization and its conference focuses on issues that impact the black family, which have historically been ignored and where acknowledged, underserved by other mainstream social work organizations.

It is not lost on me that unlike my ancestors, who came to this region of the Diaspora traumatized, chained together, naked, and soiling on themselves, I can travel as a free man. Yet, freedom for a African-American man today comes at a price…. constant vigilance.

————————

Dear Visible Man,

I so angry I don’t know what else to do.  I am 19 years old and a college student.  When I was recently home visiting with my family, I was accosted by the police and arrested for obstructing a police officer.

I was handcuffed, booked into the county jail and forced to spend the night in a cell where I was treated like a caged animal.   The next day, I was released without any charges being filed.

The police stopped me for no other reason other than being black driving in a suburban neighborhood.   When the police stopped me, I turned on my video recorder.  The officer told me several times to turn it off, but I politely refused, stating that it was my legal right to videotape the interaction.

I knew I was right about this because I learned it in my class last semester.   The next thing I know, I am being pulled out of my car and thrown on the ground, handcuffed and placed in a police car.

The police violate my rights and I am the one who goes to jail?  For what? Being in a white middle class neighborhood?  I happen to live there.  That’s right—I live there, the very same community where I attended private school.

If I had been white, this bullshit would never had happened.  I once read about the same thing happening to a white guy driving for Uber and the police who stopped him let him go without arresting him after he refused to turn off his own video recording.

What does he have that I don’t have? White male privilege.  My parents tell me I can get ahead by playing the game, staying out of trouble and getting an education. But what does that get me?  I get to spend the night in jail with brothers I have nothing in common with.

I’m looking forward to getting back to my lily-white private college in the Midwest.  At least there is an advantage to being one of the few black males on campus and the only one studying chemical engineering—everybody knows me and they don’t see me as a threat.   I’ve been home for a week, and I have been stopped more times in that week than the three years I have been away at school.

Despite the comfortable life that my parents provided me, I know that racism for me is never going to end.  My parents told me about racism, but I wish my parents had warned me better.  The hell with this; I’m going back to school, I’m gonna find a graduate program, and stay there.

-Searching for Safety, Tacoma

———————————–

My Dear Young Man,

I can see the emotional suffering and psychological trauma in your letter.  However, what you did not acknowledge is the anguish and suffering of your parents.  You are, as all of our children are, our pride and joy and yet, you are also our Achilles Heel.

An “Achilles Heel” is defined as a weak or vulnerable point on a person of overall strength, which can lead to downfall.

As parents, we do what we can to protect our children from the horrors of the world.  In your case, your parents, blessed with financial capabilities, sheltered you in a protected world (i.e., suburban home, private schools etc.)

However, as parents, we can only do so much.  There comes a developmental stage in your life commonly known as “young adulthood” in which you must gather the skills, knowledge and wisdom to protect yourself.

If you understand from your parents teaching you to “learn to play the game” then it is up to you to take it to the next level of “running the RACE smarter, not harder.”  The RACE I am referring to is Responsibility, Accountability, Consequences and Empowerment.  Specifically:

  • Responsibility –you are alone and must therefore advocate for yourself.
  • Accountability-you may be called to answer for things not of your making or choosing. Therefore, you must seek balance in your thoughts and feelings and maintain awareness to your surroundings.
  • Consequences– can be transformed into responses instead of unprepared reactions. It is through our alertness that we maintain calmness in our external environment
  • Empowerment-we can achieve the objective of leaving the incident alive with the minimum impact of emotional distress or psychological trauma.

————————————-

Concluding Words

My Dear Young Man,

There are three realities in an African-American’s life:

  • One, racism is a growing cancer that is well bedded in the fabric of America.
  • Two, racism will be here long after you are gone.
  • Three, you can thrive; achieving the life you desire despite the long term psychological impacts of racism.

It is ironic that you have chosen to “go back that lily-white private college in the Midwest” where you are known as one of the few African-American males on campus.  The underlying message may be that you are seeking a “protected environment” in which you can enjoy the privileges of a lifestyle you have not earned, because of the fact that it was given to you by your hard-working parents.

 “You can run, but you can’t hide.

Running away as far as you can for safety will not help you avoid the emotional wounds and psychological damage that awaits you in the future of being a African-American man. You have the choice of continuing to live in the emotional wound created in the incident or you can empower yourself by walking your journey of self-discovery.

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

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

We are born to live and live to die.  The question of the journey of self-discovery, notwithstanding our contributions, is the quality of the lives we live and the lives we touch.

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

Yesterday has passed, today is fading and tomorrow is not promised.  Stay with the moment.  Walk the journey of self-discovery.

-Dr. Micheal Kane

For more information regarding Dr. Kane visit http//www.lovingmemore.com.

The Visible Man: They Will Figure It Out

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

-Ralph Ellison, “The Invisible Man” (1947)

“Invisibility is an inner struggle with the feelings that one’s talents, abilities, personality, and worth are not valued or recognized because of prejudice and racism.”

-Dr. A.J.  Franklin, Boston College

My Dear Readers,

The opposite of visibility is invisibility. Everyday, people live their lives openly and clearly in front of us, but we observe them without really seeing them.   We will discuss this phenomena in a series called “The Visible Man.”

The Visible Man

The objective of this series is to provide a voice for the individual who finds themselves to be invisible based on their ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender, socioeconomic status, or religious affiliation. We aim to create a safe environment in which individuals can share their feelings when they encounter situations arising from their invisibility in society that makes them feel invalidated, under-valued, unwanted or underappreciated.

 ———————-

Dear Visible Man:

I am a 27-year-old African American male.  Being an elder in the community, I wanted to get feedback from you regarding an incident that recently happened while I was riding the light rail system in Seattle.

While I was sitting there, I observed these five teenage boys acting up, talking loud, cursing, and repeatedly using the N word with each other.  As I sat there shaking my head in disgust, I took a moment to remember the times when I was a similar age, remembering that my friends and I did the same type of ridiculous and immature behavior.  I eventually figured it out, and I believe they will too.

Unlike me, however, these kids took it to a different level by talking loudly about “jacking and robbing” the passengers on the train, and now, these teenagers and myself are the only black males on a train filled with wide-eyed, tight lipped and frightened white people going home after a long day at work, being terrorized by a “wild bunch.”

I understood what the kids were doing.  They thought it was cool to get a rise out of the white folks.  It made me feel uncomfortable because at their age I had been there before.

I know that these kids saw themselves as being invisible to the white folks on the train, much like I did when I was their age. They were using their words, tones and nonverbal cues to be seen and to gain respect.  Like I said, I get it.  I have been there before.

However, now that I am older, I see a difference today that I didn’t truly understand when I was their age.  These transit riders actually had quite a bit of power in redirecting my life, and they would on these kids as well.  I saw fear in the eyes, and anger in the tightened jaws of these white people.  I saw women clutching their purses/hand bags more tightly.

What I didn’t see was movement. Just silence.  There were riders who stared at me with those fearful piercing eyes, pleading, as to say “You’re an adult, you should say something to them.”   The elderly woman sitting next to me said, “Those boys need a talking to.” I knew she was talking to me.

I just sat there.  The elderly woman shook her head in disgust.  I knew that the disgust wasn’t just for the young kids; it was also being directed at me for not taking action.

It was weird and disturbing sitting on the light rail that evening going home to my wife and two girls.  It was as if there were two worlds, the kids in one, and the white transit riders in the other, neither really being seen or understood by the other. Maybe I could have done something to resolve the situation, but I did nothing.

When we arrived at the station, the transit police appeared out of nowhere and removed the young males from the train.  The train continued on its journey and we were all more relaxed, but the silence remained.

I don’t know what happened to the kids who were removed by the transit police.  I was told by an officer that they could probably be charged with felonies for making threats, even though they did not take any action.

Should I have done something?  Could I have passed on some wisdom, knowledge, or experience? Or will they just have to grow older and figure it out, like I did?

My wife tells me by staying out of it I did the right thing.  I am walking around with a lot of guilt. I just don’t know.

Looking In The Mirror,  Seattle

——————–

My Dear Young Man,

It appears that you are responding to the many external voices and non-verbal communication that was swirling around you not only during the incident but also now as you write your letter.  I am referring to the following:

  • The adolescents acting inappropriately
  • The words and disgusted look of the elderly woman
  • The piercing eyes of the transit riders
  • The police officer who spoke about the possible felony charges
  • Your spouse who feels you did the right by staying out of the fray.

However, I feel the real issue is the common experience you shared with the adolescents:

“I know that these kids saw themselves like myself as being invisible to the white folks on the train.”

This feeling of invisibility is a form of complex trauma that is called the Invisibility Syndrome.  This is the psychological and emotional distress that African-Americans, in this case, males, endure as they attempt to establish an identity within the context of a larger society that utilizes racism to either exclude them from or force them to conform to societal rules and structure.

Having had this experience before, you were aware that the teenagers were simply attempting to be seen and to gain respect, but you also had the experience of being an adult and noticing the fear emanating from the other riders, and understanding that that fear came from the things you had done yourself not long ago.  Now that they (you) are visible, it’s now your role to protect the adults from the ones you were once like.  But, you did nothing, and now you are questioning yourself, having doubts, and feeling the shame and guilt.

Before you drown yourself in your own psychological destruction, consider this:

  • You were the lone African-American male adult in the transit car.
  • The adolescents could have been armed.
  • There was no guarantee that the other transit riders would have assisted you if the teenagers had assaulted you.
  • How much would the riders have appreciated the stand you took? Would they have visited you in the hospital, paid your medical bills, or taken care of your family while you recovered?
  • If you died as a result of your intervention, would the transit riders console your wife, and raise your daughters?

Concluding Words

My Dear Young Man,

It may be your belief that “it takes a village to raise a child,” but in the light rail car that evening, the village did not exist.  It was just the group of teenagers, frightened transit riders, and you.

In your focus on the kids and the other transit riders, you have failed to focus on the responsibility you have to keep yourself safe and to return home to the loving arms of your family.  The police did not just happen to show up and remove the kids from the transit car.  Someone who felt threatened notified the police, who moved quickly to resolve the threat.

Your first responsibility is to yourself.  Keep in the mind the following:

  • Me-Although others may view you as invisible; you are made of flesh and bone. You are visible to you and to those who know, respect and care about you.
  • Myself- Remain vigilant; remember that as a African-American male in a society that chooses to view you as invisible, you must want to accept that there will be times when, despite being in the company of others, you will still be alone. You must want to maintain awareness of your surroundings and be alert to potential dangers.  You must want to accept the reality that others can abandon you during times of conflict or when you need their help the most. 
  • Mine– There are those who love you, depend upon and wait for your safe return every day. You can begin the process of caring for your loved ones by first taking care of yourself.

 

Kofi Annan, former Secretary General, United Nations (1997-2006) once said:

“Knowledge is power, information is liberating.  Education is the premise of progress, in every society, in every family.”

You may wish to share your wisdom, knowledge or experience, but those you wish to share with must be open and willing to receive.  And perhaps, like you, they too will figure it out.

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

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

-Dr. Micheal Kane “Ten Flashes of Light

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

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

 

 

 

Complex Trauma And Black Femininity: The Double Whammy

“Women are discriminated against as a group, regardless of race and ethnic roots. African Africans are discriminated against as a group, regardless of gender.  Since we are both Black and women, that how we get the ‘double whammy.’

-Terrie M. Williams, Author

“I love my man better than I love myself.”

-Bessie Smith, Any Woman’s Blues

My Dear Readers,

Last week’s entry created a variety of responses.  In the writing, I responded to the concerns of a young woman who appeared willing to endure psychological trauma in the form of emotional and physical abuse in order to save her marriage.   In doing this, she shared her concern that divorce would adversely impact her image and the image of her family within her sorority and church communities.

Four African-American women of different ages, backgrounds, and marital statuses responded to this article, and I will respond to them this week.  As I read their words, I noticed another common theme, the difficulty of life as a black woman.  Terrie Williams calls this “the double whammy.”

Below are their stories…

Dear Dr. Kane,

Your blog made me think of the many things I have seen black women go through during my 50+ years.  There are so few men for African-American women.  African-American men often don’t want them. Men of other races are not interested in them.

Many women hang on because they don’t see another option and feel that a bad relationship is better than no relationship at all.  I have known women who felt there was no hope in future relationships if they left the relationship they were in.  This took their choices away from them.

Making It Work, Tacoma, WA

Dear Dr. Kane,

I am 28 years old, college educated and single. My most recent attempt to get to know a black man ended when the fool told me he had two kids from two women with a third on the way. What kind of man goes out cheating while his woman is about to have his child?

Some of my friends believe that “black men ain’t shit,” but I know that isn’t true. My father was an excellent model for me.   He was a loving husband and good father.  He passed away last year, but throughout my life, he gave me the foundation and values that I expect from a man to consider him to be a good potential partner in a relationship.

My question is this: where are the black men who had the strength and wisdom like my father?  I want to develop a relationship with a real man and not a half grown man who lacks maturity.  You’re the expert—please point me in the direction of a few good (grown up, black,) men.

Little Boys Need Not Apply, Renton, WA

Dear Dr. Kane,

It’s hard for black folks out here.  Most black folks are struggling to keep their families together.  Shouldn’t you be giving us words of encouragement? It seems like you are encouraging people to leave their families!

Sometimes, hitting happens in a relationship.  I’m not saying that it’s right, but that woman you wrote about needs to work things out with her husband.  I disagree with you and I would tell my daughters and sons to stick it out. Not everyone can be blessed with the perfect relationship like you have.

Holding Up Families, Seattle, WA

Dear Dr. Kane,

I need your help.  I don’t know what else to do.  My best friend is involved in a physically and emotionally abusive marriage.  She has taken the baby and left her husband before, but now she’s returned to him.  This has happened several times.

My girlfriends and I have done an intervention, provided her with resources and escorted her to a lawyer’s office for a consultation. However, she just told me that she is going to stay with him so that she can work on her marriage.

This sickens me.  I can’t stand by and listen to how he is abusing her and the baby.   I am losing sleep, I can’t focus on my own work, and I am reliving the abuse that occurred in my own parents’ marriage.  What can I do to save both my friend and myself?

Scared & Tired, Kent, WA

My Dear Women,

Thank you for sharing your words and experiences with me.  In reviewing your concerns, I have four points that I want to address in my response:

  • African-American men do not value or want African-American women.
  • If you are an African-American woman in a relationship with an African-American man, it is better to stay in that relationship, regardless of how bad it is, than to leave that relationship and risk never being in another relationship. Most young African-American men are lacking in maturity and aren’t able to fill the shoes of men of earlier generations.
  • African-American families must stay together, regardless of the costs. Domestic violence is not acceptable, but it is reasonable to expect that domestic violence may occur occasionally within the relationship, and the relationship still be worth staying in.
  • I want to stand by my best friend. I want to save her from an abusive relationship, and in doing so, I also want to save myself from reliving the abuse I witnessed in my own life.

Point 1

African-American men do not value or want African-American women. 

Without a doubt, there are African-American men who, for a variety of poorly conceived reasons, either do not value or do not want to be involved in intimate relationships with African-American women.  This may be one of many reasons to explain the lacking in availability of suitable men.

However, this reasoning is simply an excuse to accept things as they are and to not continue to seek out a healthy relationship.  This is a false illusion. To remain in an abusive relationship is to commit to the complex trauma that maintains it.

There is no difference between the impact of psychological trauma on African-American women and on African-American men.  In all cases, trauma reinforces the structure of fear, incapacitating the individual so that they develop a level of comfort within the traumatic environment, which helps them to continue to live in their fear.  Instead, the individual woman seeking a positive relationship must want to embrace her fear, remove herself from a dysfunctional relationship and maintain hope that she will find a positive relationship with another individual.

Point 2

Therefore, if you are an African-American woman in a relationship with an African-American man, it is better to stay in that relationship, regardless of how bad it is, than to leave that relationship and risk never being in another relationship. Most young African-American men are lacking in maturity and aren’t able to fill the shoes of men of earlier generations.

There is a widely held assumption and belief that African-American men of the previous generation were better equipped, stronger and more capable than the inferior and weak men of today.  These are false generalizations and illusionary beliefs.  I am aware of no clinical research that would sustain this false concept.

Although the technology has changed, the closed system that existed within African-Americans 25-50 years ago remains with African-Americans today.  The major difference is that the men of earlier times lived more closely together in a predominantly African-American physical and geographically centralized community, which gave off the image of strength, while forcing the individuals within that community who did not conform to its norms to suffer in silence.

The concept of the “man-child’ has always existed among African-Americans.  It is evident in situations where modeling of African-American male adulthood is scarce and mentoring in what it means to be a black male is even more lacking. As a result, black males of similar ages learn from, support, and mentor each other, which often leads them down a different path.  In these cases, some learn from the burns they suffer, and others never learn.

Point 3

African-American families must stay together, regardless of the costs. Domestic violence is not acceptable, but it is reasonable to expect that domestic violence may occur occasionally within the relationship, and the relationship still be worth staying in.

 This theme embodies one of the major issues in African-American geographical and societal communities.  Staying in an abusive relationship only serves the societal agenda of maintaining the image of a well-functioning family, regardless of the hidden reality of the emotional trauma and psychological injury suffered by those involved and as a result, that trauma and injury is passed on to the next generation.

The theme is well conceived, but it is destructive to the individual, as it only minimizes the suffering of the individual and sacrifices them for the image of the intact family.

Point 4

I want to stand by my best friend.  I want to save her from an abusive relationship, and in doing so, I also want to save myself from reliving the abuse I witnessed in my own life.

 The best friend has made her choice. She is choosing to remain in a dysfunctional and failing relationship.  In seeking to save her marriage, she is sacrificing not only herself, but the welfare of her infant who remains vulnerable and exposed to abuse within the family relationship.

Witnessing this situation has triggered the recollection of the writer’s own complex trauma from her parents’ relationship.  She now has the difficult choice to either empower herself by letting go of her friend,  or focus on saving a person who says she wants solutions to these problems, but is still  unwilling to leave the dysfunctional relationship.

Concluding Words

“We’ve incorporated it in our own mentality today that, no matter how much pain I’m in, I will keep moving, keep performing, keep working.”

-Dr. Brenda Wade Clinical Psychologist, Author

African-Americans in today’s world continue to respond to complex traumatic injury and psychological wounding.  The legacy of slavery has created a tradition of complex trauma passed down from generation to generation that serves only to further isolate and maintain suffering in silence among African Americans.   We can move towards openness by individually assuming the responsibility to heal from our own complex trauma.  Specifically, individuals must want to:

  • Cease depending on our societies, communities, and even our families to acknowledge our psychological injury or emotional pain. They can provide support, but they cannot provide the validation that we can only get from ourselves.
  • Understand and prioritize our emotional well-being.
  • Understand the difference between saving and empowering. Saving firmly holds us to the past and present, but empowerment propels us into the future.
  • Take the plunge; explore the possibility of living with fear and letting go of living in

Fear is here. Forever.  We either live in or with.  You must choose.

 The Visible Man…Dr. Kane 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

REPOST: To Come Out of The Shadows: To Be or Not To Be

Originally posted on July 8, 2014. 

My Dear Readers,

Many assume that psychotherapists like myself  can look into a person’s eyes and see the trueness of the individual.  Of course, that is not true.  When a person comes to the therapeutic session, he or she brings their individual truth, or more specifically, what they view to be their truth, with them.

Even without a face-to-face encounter, we can still sense pain and suffering. We can still uncover and discover what lies within the psychological self and work towards recovery.

Where the homicide detective speaks for the dead, the psychotherapist can assist the living to find one’s voice.

Below is such a story…

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Dear Visible Man,

I am a 28 year-old black male, I am educated, and I have an excellent job in corporate America.  And, I have had sex with five different women in the past week.

I am writing because I want to examine my behavior.  I view myself as a product of my environment, meaning I associate with a group of men who, for lack of a better word, chase skirts and keep tabs on the numbers of hits they make.  I have come to seriously question what I am doing.  I know what I am doing is not right and I am playing with the feelings of these women.  I believe I am now at the place in my life in which I want to be in a serious relationship.

I have decided to start attending church again and engaging in activities with other people of my age.  What do you think of my chances of turning this around and finding a good relationship?

Tired of Trolling, Seattle, WA

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Dear Trolling,

I received your correspondence with great interest, curiosity and a lot of questions.  I sense a combination of fatigue and regret, but what’s missing is a direct sense of shame in your actions and behavior.

I am curious as to why you chose “Trolling” as your signature.  The term trolling can be defined in several ways; such as a means of fishing with a baited line, a person singing in a carefree manner, and finally, a way of provoking others.

Now comes the question (s):

  • Why are you really writing?
  • What is there to gain by staying in the shadows?
  • Are you standing at the crossroads?  If so, will you continue the same behaviors or go in a different direction?

“What do you think my chances of turning this around and finding a good relationship?”

I have two responses.  Indulge me.

Response #1: In a few short terms….

  • POOR
  • Absolutely not!
  • A snowball’s chance in hell

Response #2: You are lying to yourself.

  • You are hiding in the shadows, refusing to reveal your true self .
  • You are conflicted, wanting your cake and seeking to eat it at the same time.
  • You are wounded, yet you are fearful of healing the wound.

Young Man,

Stop trolling. Life is not carefree and most importantly, there is no free lunch.  If you want the meal, prepare to pay for what you eat or in this situation, prepare to pay for your actions.  Use the following model of RACE (responsibility, accountability, consequences and empowerment), come out of the shadows and allow the light to shine upon you. You may find that reality can be empowering.

You seek to place blame for your actions, on your environment (that is, the group of skirt chasers you have aligned yourself with.)  Stop being a victim and take RESPONSIBILITY for your actions.

Be willing to ask yourself the following questions:

  • Since you chose this path, why did you seek membership in such an illustrious group of fine young men?
  • What privileges or prestige did they offer you?
  • What are the actions and behaviors of the group that causes you to reject group membership?

You chose to associate with these people because they offered you something you value, and in rejecting that group, you fear that you are losing that privilege and prestige.  Instead, have the willingness to:

  • Prepare for the pressure of the group to force your return.
  • Prepare yourself for the new direction that may be unknown to you.
  • Reinforce and validate yourself as you go alone without the protection and safety of the group.

You have a successful life, a life desired by many, but you want it to be carefree.  As it was stated earlier, there is no free lunch.  Seek ACCOUNTABILITY for actions taken.

Be willing to ask yourself the following questions:

  • Why do I want (or need) continuous and meaningless sexual encounters to fulfill me?
  • Do I love me?  If I do love me, then why am I seeking others to fulfill me?
  • Do I truly desire change?  How do I account for my actions?

Be willing to assume accountability for your actions. These are things you will carry as you walk the journey of life, for they cannot be undone. In assuming accountability, have the willingness to:

  • Acknowledge the damage you have done to others and yourself.
  • Take witness to your actions, valuing and validating the experience.
  • Advocate.  Share with others what you have experienced and learned.

You may be successful, but your actions are indicative of an individual who is emotionally wounded and psychologically injured.  Your endless use of sexual encounters attest that you are searching for something. CONSEQUENCES are reactions to what we “do or do not do.”

Be willing to ask yourself the following questions:

  • So in my longing, my search, what have I fulfilled?  What have I found?
  • When I stare into the mirror, what creature do I see?
  • When I go to bed or wake up, whom is the person laying next to me?

Be willing to acknowledge the impact your behaviors may have on others, especially the women who have strong feelings for you.  In understanding the consequences of what was done (or not), live with the knowledge that these women:

  • Will carry a searing wound along with your memory. Their dreams and desires, which included you, will go unrealized and unfulfilled.
  • They will take the awareness of being “played, used, or toyed” into future relationships and in doing so; the innocent will be made to suffer for your behaviors.

EMPOWERMENT is energy, a force that burns and builds from within.  It thrives on the human core values of belief, faith and trust.  Can you look within?

Be willing to ask yourself the following questions:

  • Am I truly seeking change from within or new fertile ground in which to resume old behaviors?
  • Can one who has done bad things transform into doing good?
  • As I turn around to examine the journey so far traveled, what have I learned?

The person who can answer these questions is the one who seeks the answer—you.  Just be aware that:

  • One can run away and yet one cannot hide.. hide from self.
  • As all travelers know…wherever one goes, the baggage is likely to follow.
  • Self is the first person one sees upon awaking and the last one before sleep.

Concluding Words

Young Man, come out of the shadows. As you stated,

“I want to be locked down in a serious relationship.”

Have the willingness to ask yourself the following questions:

  • When you are locked down, whom will you trust to hold the key to your freedom?
  • Under what terms will you be allowed out?
  • Since when does the inmate give the guard the key to his freedom?

Young Man,

In responding to your writing and without knowing who you are and what your experiences have been, I have looked into the psychological self of an individual who has been wounded and who is likely to continue to wound others unless there is an intervention.

The goal of seeking a serious relationship will not remove, seal or help you “forget” the pain that you have been carrying. You, like others, deserve a life without pain and suffering, and given that, bear the responsibility of not creating pain and suffering for others.  I urge you to seek therapeutic assistance.

To achieve a positive outcome in therapy, you must be willing to let go of societal beliefs that seeking therapy is an acknowledgement that you are crazy.  Instead, you can live in the truth that you are struggling on the journey you are traveling and that therapy can be a way of is responding to the wounds that have impacted your life.

Come out of the shadows.  As you stand at your crossroads, I wish you the very best.  Safe journeys.

The Visible Man

Fear and Stereotypes: It’s Not (Really) About You

 

I was drunk. Stoned, too, and feeling sorry for myself.  I wanted to die.  So I set my black ass on fire.

-Richard Pryor, Comedian

 

It’s like a dark cloud moving in, and it’s not something you can say “Snap out of it” to.

-Beverly Johnson, Model & Actress

My Dear Readers,

As I was leaving my local post office the other day, I noticed four white males, approximately in their 40s and 50s.  As I drove by them, I eyed them with suspicion, believing that they were up to something.  They seemed out of place in this part of town, and I’d never seen them before. For a moment or two, I wondered if I should contact the police and inform them of my concerns.

The police would probably ask what the suspicious behavior was, and I would simply say that they just looked suspicious.  I wondered, given the number of them and how dangerous they looked, whether the police would send several patrol cars and be ready for any trouble.  Not sure of what to do, I drove away…. cautiously.

Sounds silly, right?  Not only is it not silly, it can be very dangerous and traumatizing when three police cars rush up to you and your friends while you are just walking in the neighborhood.  Such an incident occurred when four of us, black men in our 40s and 50s, were walking recently.   Someone driving by evidently did not recognize my friend (he and his family had recently moved into the neighborhood) and called the police to notify them that “suspicious characters” as we were called, “were roaming the neighborhood looking for homes to burglarize.”

Following a few tense minutes, we showed our identification, which brought a look of embarrassment to the officers’ faces and after that, they quickly left. One of the four of us was a trial court commissioner.  The other two were a dentist and university professor, and of course, I am a psychologist.  On our way home in silence, one of my friends commented that perhaps the next time we go walking, we should wear signs saying “WE ARE THE GOOD ONES” and go door to door introducing ourselves.  This was followed by laughter and a few choice words that I dare not repeat here.

My point is that simply by being black men, we are held to deep-rooted stereotypes.  This experience further shows us that all black males, regardless of age, clothing, income and social status, are at risk at being stopped and questioned simply because of the way that they look. The passersby would see the white males holding a group discussion as “white males holding a group discussion,” instead of attributing any motive to them. What separates us from them is they have the privilege of not being assumed to have ill will, and when it comes to us, it just depends on how whites view you.  Are you a good one or bad one?

And then there are the stereotypes or beliefs that can destroy a person’s career, hopes and ambitions or simply drive a person to sit at a bar and down shot after shot of alcohol.

Below is such a story…

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Dear Dr. Kane:

I am frustrated.  After numerous attempts to stop a false allegation against me, I feel like I’ve been hit by a brick.  I am now sitting here wishing I was drunk and trying to figure out what I am going to do.  My wife called me from her bed at the hospital and suggested I take some time away from drinking, collect my thoughts and write you this letter.

I am 42 years old, African-American, and an attorney, originally from a small town in the southern United States, now living in a city in the Pacific Northwest.  My father brought the family to the Pacific Northwest to escape the overt racism and the segregation (which still goes on to this day) in the area in which we lived.  When we were kids, our father used to force us to watch movies like Roots and Mandingo.  There would always be the stern warning to “stay out of white folks’ mess” and to steer clear of white women.   We were young and really didn’t understand what he meant, and he never explained it. We were just to obey him and never question him.

I graduated from college, got accepted to law school, where I was selected for law review, and I graduated at the top of my class.  I became the first African-American male to join my law firm, and I excelled. My senior partners often hinted that I had a place permanently within the firm if I wanted it. I had been there for ten years. I really thought that I’d “made it.”

Then one day, the senior partners asked me to join them in the main conference room.  They had a serious look on their faces.  I thought I had messed up on a case and was about to be chewed out.  Instead, in very serious tones, they said that they’d been hearing comments from the other associates that I was sexually harassing the female staff members.

I was shocked.  I thought it was a misunderstanding then I realized that depth of trouble I was in.  When I asked who I had allegedly harassed and about the associates making these false statements, I was told that the information was confidential.  They refused to disclose any of the details of my transgression to me, saying that they had to protect the identities of the victims and informants.

I vehemently denied the allegations, reminding them that I was happily married for eight years and had two young children, but it was clear by the looks on their faces that they either did not believe me or didn’t care about what I had to say for myself.  One of the senior partners stated that the firm had already went through a costly lawsuit over sexual harassment and therefore did not want to be associated with another.  Another partner indicated that although no formal complaint was being made against me, the people who brought this situation to their attention wanted to give them and me a “heads up”.

It was suggested that I leave the firm with the understanding that I would be provided a reference.  Faced with no support from the senior partners and now clearly being given the message that becoming a junior partner was out of the question, I quietly resigned.  I have been seeking positions with other law firms in the area and so far, no one is returning my calls or answering my emails.

Not knowing what else to do, I emailed the managing partner of my previous firm requesting a written statement affirming no support for the allegation against me.  I was stunned when he replied that as agreed upon I had been provided a reference and the firm considered the matter closed.  Closed? What the hell is he talking about? Closed?  This is about my livelihood, my career, and my ability to provide for my family.  And he considers the matter closed?

Now I am sitting in a bar with my laptop writing to you. I never saw this coming.  All I have done is excel.  Is that wrong?  I am not a criminal.  And yet, I feel as if I am being treated like one. It is hopeless.  There is nothing I can do.  The only thing I have faith now in are my friends, Johnnie Walker and Jim Beam.  At least they don’t doubt me.

Stepped On, Can’t Man Up, Oregon

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My Dear Man,

Please humor me and affirm that the buddies you are referring to are not Johnnie Walker Scotch or Jim Beam whiskey.   Your wife is in the hospital recovering. Who is looking after your children while you are at a bar getting drunk?

In my clinical practice, I have a firm rule about not interacting with or responding to those who come to the therapeutic session either drunk or high on drugs.  However, for the sake of your wife and children, I am going to make an exception.

I have several questions that I would like you to consider:

  • If the situation is so hopeless, why are you writing me?
  • What are you going to accomplish by downing shot after shot of Scotch?
  • Your spouse is in the hospital recovering. She’s in this mess with you.  Do you realize the steps of abandonment, neglect and abuse, which you are beginning to take?
  • What about your children? Need I say more?

My Dear Man, I am not going to provide a pep talk or suggest that you “man up.” Yes, you have been stepped on.  The question is, are you willing to empower yourself to remove that foot from your back? If you are willing to do so, then say farewell to your so-called friends.  Consuming alcohol while you are in despair is really a simple way to medicate the emotional pain that actually wreaks more havoc in your body and the psychological self.

There are times where unintended words or actions can lead to misinterpretation. Sometimes this results in the allegation of improper behavior.  Should this happen, it should be immediately clarified so that such action does not occur again.

There are several questions that can be generated from your writing:

  • Why did this happen to me? What did I do? I am not a criminal
  • Why won’t the former organization assist me in proving my innocence and clearing my name?
  • What can I do to stop these allegations which have now turned into gossip and rumors?
  • Should I relocate to another city, county or state?

(1) Why did this happen to me?  What did I do? I am not a criminal. All I did was to excel at my work.

First, three things your detractors are going to say to justify their behavior and relieve themselves of their guilt are:

  • “This isn’t personal
  • “It simply wasn’t a good fit
  • “It was done for the good of the organization”

They are lying to themselves and anyone who is listening.  The brick that hit you did not just fall out of the sky.  It was intentionally tossed by your haters. They struck you while your spouse was in the hospital, knowing that your attention would be focused on her and your children during her absence.

It’s also true that it wasn’t a good fit…. for your detractors.  It may have frightened them that you were getting too close to the senior partners.  The law firm reached out to you, the first African-American associate to be hired.  It was done for the good of the organization, which was doing just fine without adding “diversity”.  Clearly they were not interested in leading the singing for Michael Jackson’s “We Are The World.”

Why did this happen to me?  What did I do? I am not a criminal? 

This is happening simply because in your ability to succeed, you became a threat to the status quo.  This is not about what you did.  It is about what you failed to do; you failed to maintain your place in the pecking order (e.g., them first, you last).  As for not being a criminal, you are the next best thing:  a living, breathing, black, male = FEAR.

Racial codes have been an integral part of maintaining order in the United States.  As racism grew in the 19th Century it was accompanied by racial stereotypes and myths.  Among such stereotypes were the following:

  • Black men are well endowed
  • Black men are extremely sexually virile
  • Black men have lustful desires for white women
  • Black men love rough sex/thug passion
  • Black men are players and have lots of women

Among the most pervasive and strongly believed stereotypes is the black man as a rapist of white women.  Historically, black men are given the death penalty more than white men.  Regardless of the law, a black man could be arrested at any time and lynched without trial simply on the word given by a white man.   Such allegations were often used against troublesome blacks or blacks who were in position of leadership.

The allegation of rape against a white woman was also a means to steal a black’s man property.  Once the allegation was made, the accused was either given time to “disappear” or left to waiting for the lynching.  Very little has changed today when the allegation of inappropriate sexual behavior has been made against a black man.

Today’s “disappearance” occurs in a form of a quiet resignation from the organization.  One day the person is at work, and at a moment’s notice, without any reason provided to his or her co-workers, the offending person is gone or has disappeared.  Lynching today has been replaced by gossip and rumors, which serve to either prevent any possibility of resuming one’s career in another organization, or a swift termination and disappearance.

In this situation, your detractors succeeded in two ways: forcing you out the organization quietly, and killing your career so that you can no longer be a threat.

Why won’t the former organization assist me in proving my innocence and clearing my name?

The answer can start off by the following question “why should the organization assist you?”  Should they assist because you’re innocent?  Or because it’s the right thing to do?

The key and unmistakable word is former.   As far the organization is concerned, they have kept their word by providing a reference and not “formally” disparaging you as you seek employment.  Therefore, having done their due diligence, they simply want you to go away.

Simply put, the organization is a business that must go forward.  The senior partners may acknowledge privately that forcing your exit was wrong, but they will never publically acknowledge this.

What can I do to stop these allegations, which have now turned into gossip and rumors? 

Nothing.   Gossip and rumors serve other purposes besides ruining your professional and personal reputation. There is a need to keep the remaining workers in the organization in fear of losing their jobs.  The message is clear: get out of line, and you too can one day disappear. The fact that you are married, have two children, have high ethical standards and most importantly, never had a history of such inappropriate sexual behaviors means nothing when it comes up against deeply held beliefs, myths and stereotypes about black men.  Besides, they believe that even if you didn’t do it, you were probably having fantasies about doing it.  So at the least, getting rid of you was a “preventive measure” to protect the organization.

Should I relocate to another city, county or state? 

Why bother to relocate?  If the gossip and rumors aren’t waiting to greet you at your new destination the allegations will not be far behind.

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Concluding Words- Dr. Kane

Instead of focusing on the organization to assist you, focus on your own empowerment.  Be willing to advocate for yourself, find balance within the psychological self, and seek calmness in your external world.   Sitting at the bar downing shots of alcohol will only serve to further disempower you as well as move you away from the goals of maintaining a meaningful marriage, providing for your children and moving upward in your legal career.

Seek empowerment through following the clinical model of the Five R’s of RELIEF below. In following the model, seek to do the following:

  • Respite (time out): Find an environment in which you can rest as you endure the trauma that is before you. Breath so you can relax, relaxes so you can think and think so you can take action.
  • Reaction (own your feelings): These are your feelings. No one knows the fear you are experiencing like you do.
  • Reflection (process feelings and thoughts): Embrace your fear. Become aware of its discomfort.  Discuss your situation with supporters and consider the options before you.
  • Response (actions taken) Hold your reactions within while you share your actions with the external world.
  • Reevaluate (evaluate) Take time to review the actions you took. Identify what you learned and what you would do differently if you were faced with this situation again.

 Learn from your previous actions

Only you can decide your next move.  It is for you and no one else to choose which path to take.  The signpost on one path refers to the same old thing: drowning yourself in misery with your friends Johnny Walker and Jim Beam.  The other path indicates something new and different. You already know what alcohol has to offer.

Alcohol and other drugs may make you feel good or relieve the pain momentarily, but these are nothing more than poisons that you are putting into your body.  As you continue this behavior, you give up your power to be that successful black man that you have the capacity and the desire to be.

Remember that you are not the first black man to be falsely accused of wrongdoing by those who conspire against you.    Rather than focus on attempts to refute the allegation, identify worthwhile strategies to empower yourself so that you can make the best choices for your mental, emotional, and psychological health, and that of your family.  Define the goals, to be achieved. Identify the objectives (means, methods) to be utilized in achieving your intended goal.

There will always be haters placing obstacles and barriers in front of you as you seek to fulfill your goals along the journey.  Each time you succeed by moving past the object of contempt, you add strength and empowerment to your foundation.  The truth is that they cannot stop you or deny your success.  The haters cannot take your empowerment away; you can only give it away by surrendering yourself to drugs and alcohol and not accomplishing your goals. 

Be committed to doing “good works” and let these actions speak for you. 

 

“To err is human” is a common expression, but we should not believe there is always room for error. In some cases there is no room for error. None.

-Ten Flashes of Light for the Journey of Life

 

 Dr. Micheal Kane….The Visible Man