We Live In Interesting Times: White Fear and Black Skin

“It is extremely unsafe to send our boys to the home of any family that we don’t know in this predominantly white neighborhood.”

-Sean Carter, writing in a viral Facebook post about why he refused to allow his adolescent sons to re-deliver a package that was erroneously delivered to his home

“You’ve got to live your life, but when you are living your life, you’re cognizant of the fact that things you do that other people might do, non-people of color might do, could end up differently.  At the end of the day, when I take the suit off, I’m still a black man underneath.  And it’s a daily reality.”

-Darren Martin, former Obama aide, accused of being armed and burglarizing the apartment he just moved into

“They called it, they called it right.  We’re doing our job.  If you done nothing wrong, you’re good to go.”

-Anonymous Police Officer

“I had become a nobody, a thing without meaning or purpose.  I am invisible.”

-Dr. Micheal Kane

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My Dear Readers,

There is a Chinese saying, “May you live in interesting times.”  Although it is generally taken positively, it is actually a curse, not a proverb.  Correctly translated, it means:

 “May you experience much disorder and trouble in your life.”

This “curse” is analogous to the depth of psychological trauma that marginalized people have endured.  In recent blog postings, I have focused on conceptualizing the psychological impact of micro-aggressions upon black and African people from white and European people in America.

A micro-aggression is a statement, action, or incident regarded as an indirect, subtle, or unintentional discriminatory act against members of a racial or ethnic minority group. Micro-aggressions are everyday verbal, non-verbal, and environmental slights, snubs or insults that communicate negative or hostile messages to marginalized people.

A macro-aggression is open aggression towards racial and ethnic minorities on a larger scale.  Unlike micro-aggression, which is covert, macro-aggression is overt physical violence towards those of a different, race or culture.

This week, our focus will be on bringing into understanding macro-aggressions and in doing so, expanding our definition of “A Starbucks Moment,” named after the April 2018 incident at a Philadelphia Starbucks store where a white manager contacted police to have two black men removed from the premises.  No charges were filed, and the two men were eventually released, but the incident was still publicly humiliating and psychologically traumatic for the two individuals involved.  It has also struck fear within the psychological self of black men for themselves and the black community in general.

Starbucks Moments occur in many aspects of commercial, professional, societal and community aspects of American life.  These incidents demonstrate the powerlessness of the black community as a group, and clearly outlines the danger to black people of any white person’s sudden fear, desire, or whim to seek the removal of a black person from public premises.  These incidents are more of a statement about how black people are viewed by white people in this country.

There are some historical and inter-generational themes deriving from slavery, segregation and domestic terrorism that echo in the interactions between both groups.  These themes involve:

  • Power versus the lack of power
  • Primary citizenship versus secondary citizenship
  • Dominance versus non-dominance
  • Privilege versus lacking privilege
  • View & Interconnection of Policing & Law Enforcement

These underlying themes illustrate the difference between a micro-aggression and a Starbucks Moment, which is a macro-aggression.

The willingness of white people to utilize the police to relieve their discomfort around black people becomes a covert way of gentrifying and removal of black bodies from spaces in which they would otherwise be welcome. It truly is aggression on a larger scale—a macro-aggression. It is the willingness of whites to utilize physical and possibly deadly force to effect the removal of the black person from the vicinity.

This is intensified by the willingness of white individuals to allege that the black person is engaged in criminal activity or may be armed and dangerous when it is not true.   In doing so, the responding police officers arrive on the scene prepared and expecting to use physical violence or deadly force to effect the removal.

Consider the following questions:

  • What would possess a white person to see a black person and from that observation have an emotional reaction? Answer: SHOCK
  • What would cause a white individual to seek out protection from the police? Answer: FEAR
  • What would cause a white person to be deceitful and manipulate the police to believe that the black man is armed and dangerous? Answer: TERROR

The immediate reaction of shock, fear and terror is an indication that the white person is also psychologically impacted when faced with their own internalized perceptions. This happened to myself and a patient of mine recently in my office building.

As my patient and I were walking down the hallway, passing the restrooms, a young white female child comes running out the restroom, promptly followed by her father.  The father sees us, two black men, in the hallway, is startled, and moves protectively towards his daughter. He cautiously leaves the area.  In his body language, I observe the following:

  • Shock– There is two black men in this professional building. They clearly do not belong here.
  • Fear-There is two of them and only one of me.
  • Terror-They are going to rape and kill my daughter.

My patient and I nodded to each other.  We were both keenly aware of and psychologically impacted by the father’s reaction.  Through no fault of our own, we were subjected to the unwitting assumptions and fears of the white man in the hallway, and as a result, we were all at risk of that Starbucks Moment—the police being called on us for simply being the wrong color in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Interestingly, the only person not impacted psychologically was the little girl herself, who went prancing along, singing in the hallway, oblivious to the emotional turmoil of the adults around her.  However, it is only a matter of time before she will learn the fear that overtook her father in that moment, and she will choose how she will react in her adult life.

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Concluding Words Dr. Kane

I am continuing to evolve the Starbucks Moment as a concept.  In its current incarnation:

A Starbucks Moment can occur when a white person, due to emotional reactions possibly due to shock, fear, terror, feeling threatened, may use deceit or manipulation; for a minor reason or infraction, utilizes the police to seek the investigation, removal and/or arrest of a black person from a space that they would otherwise have every right to occupy.

 One of my patients recently shared her experience and humiliation as four police officers questioned her in a grocery store parking lot near her home in a predominantly white community.   An unknown accuser observed her and contacted the police.

White fear of black skins is an inherently dangerous form of racism.  Just as it combines micro-aggressions   (statements, actions, or incidents) with macro-aggressions (threat of physical violence), it also combines modern racism (beliefs and attitudes) with aversive racism (engaging in crazy-making interactions with African-Americans).

Recent examples of crazy-making incidents include a white woman calling the police on a black family for BBQing on Lake Merritt in Oakland, CA , or a Black Canadian was stopped and questioned by the police as he was sitting in his car, reading.  A white woman had called in stating he had been acting “suspiciously.”

There is the reality that the majority of black people are psychologically impacted by these events in the following ways:

  1. Those who have been psychologically impacted by racially profiled resulting in police contact;
  2. Those waiting with uncertainty and without notice to be racially profiled and psychologically impacted
  3. Those preparing themselves for the next opportunity of racial profiling by a white accuser resulting in unwanted contact with law enforcement.

When a black individual is impacted by white fear, what can they do to prevent the ongoing actions resulting in being questioned by the police?

“Life is a series of choices…. none of which are new. The oldest is choosing to be a victim or choosing not to.”

-The Accountant (2016)

To provide a clear and adequate answer it is important to understand how Starbucks Moments differ from other forms of macro-aggressions. This question can be answered in several parts:

  • Understanding and contextualizing the difference between fear and white fear.
  • Focusing on ownership and responsibility rather than blame and fault regarding one’s emotions
  • The willingness of the person being psychologically impacted to be proactive rather than reactive

 

Fear is an emotion. White fear is a response.

Fear is an emotion to be normalized, not rejected.  It is an unpleasant emotion caused by the belief or something is dangerous, likely to cause pain, or a threat.  White fear of black skin is abnormal as it is an unreasonable fear based upon racist beliefs, stereotypes and personally derived perceptions.

 

Conceptualizing ownership and responsibility of one’s emotion versus than blame and fault.

White fear is a reaction without ownership. Although the person denies being racist, such feelings are deeply ingrained and because of its covert and hidden nature, the blame and fault is placed on the victim’s blackness.  If that black person had only not been in the identified place or not given the white person the perception that they were acting suspiciously, calling the police would not have been necessary. The problem with this is that no black person can control the perception of a white person who believes they are in the wrong place.

 Willingness of the person being psychologically impacted to be proactive rather than reactive. 

“They (the police) can’t be here for us.”

-Rashon Nelson & Donte Robinson, prior to their arrest at a Philadelphia Starbucks

 White fear of black skin is a powerful mechanism. Black people who find themselves impacted by these situations must want to acknowledge that they do not have the power to prevent the modern/aversive racist from calling upon law enforcement for community policing, but they are able to focus on what to do when the police arrive.

Combining the techniques of ABC (advocacy, balance and calmness) and the Five R’s of RELIEF (respite, reaction, reflection, response and reevaluation) can help in these situations. Specifically:

  • Respite-become your own advocate. Step away from the event psychologically. Inhale and exhale deeply.
  • Reactions-Take ownership of your reactions. Release your personal space to the responding police officers. Prepare yourself psychologically to be questioned, physically searched and the possibility of being detained and arrested.
  • Reflection-Bring balance to what you are thinking and feeling. Bring calmness to your internal environment.
  • Response-Maintain calmness in speech and tone. Be present, observant, and silent when appropriate.
  • Re-evaluate– Collect your thoughts, feelings and observations. Record and remember as much as you can so you can recount the incident, step by step.

I have been asked how black people fight white fear.  The answer is that it is not our fight.  We must want to empower ourselves to respond to white fear.  In that empowered response, we learn to embrace those who fear us.  Hopefully one day, white people will be able to accept instead of continuing to deny their racism.  In doing so they can begin the movement towards truly transforming America into the great diverse nation it was intended to be.

“Here is what it is.  They don’t like you.  They don’t dislike you.  They are afraid of you.  You’re different.   Sooner or later difference scares people.”

-The Accountant (2016)

“Respond; don’t react.  Reactions tend to be emotional, immediate, intense and often fueled by fear or anger.  Reactions create trouble for ourselves and the people around us because they are reflexive, rather than well thought out.”

-Dr. Micheal Kane

Until We Speak Again…I am…The Visible Man.

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The Visible Man: The Toll of Invisibility

“During the second conversation, we asked members to leave per our policy noted on the scorecard, voices were raised, and the police were called to ensure an amicable resolution.”

-Jordan Chronister, Co-Owner, of Grand View Golf Course, York County, PA

“I felt we were discriminated against. It was a horrific experience.”

Myneca Ojo, golfer speaking to the York Daily Record

“We did not do anything wrong and were soon asked to leave by five police officers”

-Tshyrad Oates, removed from a LA Fitness location in New Jersey

“The front-desk employee was confused and thought the member was a guest because she was not working when this member checked in the first time. Regretfully, from there our staff unnecessarily escalated the situation and called the police rather than work through it.”

-Jil Greuling, Executive Vice President of Operations for Fitness International

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My Dear Readers,

It is essential to understand that racism comes from a set of core values and beliefs that one group holds against another group. In the last blog, I explored the broad categories of attitudinal and behavioral racism. I also spoke openly about the impact of trauma created by forms of modern and aversive racism and discussed the concepts of primary and secondary group status.

In theory, all citizens of the United States are equal. However, the lived reality of people of color, particularly African-Americans, is different. Overtly racist practices and systems that supported white supremacy—the theory that whites or Euro-Americans are superior simply because of their skin color have become unpopular, but covert and passive-aggressive forms of bigotry have come to the forefront of society in new ways recently.

The example in the last blog of the two black men in the Starbucks waiting for their friend is a perfect example of this new covert style of micro-aggression that can have severe psychological impacts in the lives of African-American people. I call this having a Starbucks Moment.

A Starbucks Moment is when a white person, for a minor reason or infraction, utilizes the police to seek the investigation, removal and/or arrest of a black person from a space that they would otherwise have every right to occupy.

There are some historical and intergenerational themes that echo in these interactions that contribute to making these Starbucks Moments just as harmful to both the white and the black person involved:

  • Power versus the lack of power
  • Primary citizenship versus secondary citizenship
  • Dominance versus non-dominance
  • Privilege versus lacking privilege
  • View & Interconnection of Policing & Law Enforcement

 

In addition to the forms of racism previously mentioned, the primary group utilizes three forms of racism to maintain superiority and control over the secondary group:

  • Individual Racism involves discrimination towards people of color. It is the belief that one’s own race is superior. It is the reasoning for a person’s behavior that maintains distance and separation from others based on perceived superior and inferior positions, but is often to the detriment of the person who considers themselves superior.
  • Institutional Racism-restricts people of color from having choices, rights, and mobility. It is the utilization of as well as the manipulation of legitimate institutions to maintain the illusion of superiority and the reality of separation from an integrated society with the intent of maintaining an advantage over others.

 

  • Cultural Racism-is a combination of both individual racism and institutional racism in that it propagates the belief that one race’s cultural heritage and history is superior over another’s. This justifies the belief that there can be no improvement or change in the status of the “inferior” group, therefore ensuring the continued perceived superiority of the “superior” group.

 

From Disagreement to Disturbance

Disagreements and disputes are inevitable between humans, and in a free society such as ours, they are bound to happen. Disagreements can be had in a spirit of friendliness, and without serious injury to the relationship, and therefore, creating a healthy environment for people to achieve a reasonable settlement to the dispute.

Recently, a disagreement is seen more as an indicator of a person’s personality and temperament—thus, any show of passion or emotion is immediately seen as a disturbance, warranting the presence of police to “keep the peace.”  In some cases, however, the disturbance is wholly made up,  and the police are now manipulated to punish the other party by removing them from the location—and given the tendency of police to use additional force with black people, the action of calling the police can become an assault via law enforcement as punishment for not complying with the first person’s opinion.

Over the past two months, there have been more of these incidents across the country.  Known incidents include the following:

  • (4.18.18) Secaucus NJ, -LA Fitness employee called police under mistaken belief that two African-American men had not paid membership fees. Upon finding that this was untrue, the police forced them to leave anyway without providing a reason.
  • (4.24.18) Grand View Golf Course, York County, PA –Five African-American women were “playing too slowly” and police were called because they refused to leave upon demand of the course owners.
  • (4.30.18) Rialto, CA–A woman called 911 about burglars at her neighbor’s house. The alleged burglars were three black women with their suitcases checking out of the house they had rented as an Airbnb. As they were leaving, they were greeted by six police officers and a helicopter.
  • (5.1.18) New York City, NY– Apartment dweller calls police on “Armed African-American Man” burglarizing a nearby apartment. Police find that the African-American man, a former Obama aide and now special assistant to commissioner for the New York City Department of Social Services, was moving into his new apartment and was unarmed.
  • (5.3.18) Charlotte NC –LA Fitness manager calls police on black male who “fit the profile” of a person breaking into lockers. The person was surrounded by four police officers, seized, taken to the police station and detained. They later discovered they had the wrong guy…it was another black person with a long criminal record and no relation to the person who was arrested.
  • (5.8.18), St. Louis MO– Nordstrom Rack employee calls the police on three African-American young males that he suspects of shoplifting; they were high school students and one college coed shopping for their prom outfits. Nordstrom Rack CEO flies to St. Louis to apologize for the incident in person.
  • (5.9.18) Yale University– New Haven CT, White graduate student calls police on black female observed sleeping in the common dorm area. The black woman was also a graduate student and was taking a nap in the dorm’s common area.
  • (5.10.18) Warsaw, NC— following a complaint by a black male regarding poor customer service Waffle House the employee calls police. The incident results in the police pushing the on tuxedo wearing male against the plate-glass window, choking him and slamming him into the ground.

 

The Toll of Invisibility: Why Would They Lie? 

Recently, while seeking to meet with a white colleague who lived in a predominantly white community, I arrived a few minutes early and waited for the arranged time.  My colleague arrived as scheduled and while we were meeting, four police officers came to the home, demanding to see my identification.  They had been told that a suspicious and possibly armed black man was seen surveilling the house.

During the interrogation, one of the police officers asked, “Why would the person lie?”  It was only after the repeated assurance of my colleague, a fellow mental health therapist, that the police were convinced that I was not a threat and I was allowed to remain in my friend’s home. 

These are some of the emotional and psychological reactions that surfaced for me:

  • Power-A person holding primary group status decided that my presence was not wanted in this community
  • My status as a secondary citizen had been confirmed by the interrogation and demand for identification
  • Dominance was established in the belief that there was no reason for my unknown accuser “to lie’
  • Privilege– based on the word of my white colleague and member holding primary group status, I was allowed to remain.
  • View & Interconnection-My unknown accuser was receiving excellent community service whereas I was receiving suspicion, misdirected questioning and intimidation.

 At the end of the day, this was psychological trauma for me.

The person notifying the police sought:

  • My removal from the environment
  • Intentionally provided the impression that I was armed and dangerous
  • Placed my life in jeopardy of serious injury or death

Sought to achieve a solution to disagreeing with my presence in the neighborhood by calling the police to remove me, forcibly, if needed.  

Like many black people, I have made the decision that in the future, I will meet white friends and colleagues in public accommodations such as restaurants, cafes or coffeehouses located in racially diverse or other identifiably safe environments for people like me—people of color.  However I still am reminded that safety and security is only a perception, and the next Starbucks Moment can be just one moment away.

 

Concluding Words-Dr. Kane

 The Protection Perception

“They called it, they called it right.  We’re doing our job, “an officer said.  “If you do nothing wrong, you’re good to go.”

Law Enforcement-Black or African-American

“I had become a no body, a thing without meaning or purpose. I am invisible.”

-Dr. Micheal Kane

 On 04.13.18 in Rochester Hills, MI, a 14-year-old African-American boy, having missed the school bus, was shot at after knocking on a door seeking directions to the school.  The adolescent was unhurt.  The shooter was arrested and criminally charged.  Case closed? No.

Events like this make black people particularly concerned about their safety and welfare, and particularly that of black children.  As a result, black parents take extreme safety precautions and advise their children to do so as well.

One black father wrote on Facebook that he refuses to allow his adolescent sons to drop off a package that was misdelivered to his home to a neighbor’s home. He asks that the delivery service return and pick up the package and deliver it correctly, stating that:

“It is extremely unsafe to send our boys to the home of any family that we don’t know in this predominantly white neighborhood.”

Racial profiling and the utilization of law enforcement to effect the removal of undesirables remain a slippery slope that furthers the psychological wounding between the two groups.  White people see these events as isolated, and seek to punish the individuals directly responsible, where black people see these events as simply symptoms of deeper societal issues that white people seem to either be oblivious to or choose to willfully ignore.

St. Louis, MO NAACP President Adolphus Pruitt, following the Nordstrom Rack incident observes:

“These kids, they’re owed an apology, but at the end of the day, it goes down to what can we do to keep this from happening to folks.  After all of this was said and done, Nordstrom cannot fix society on its own as it relates to these stereotypes.”

At the end of the day, we are left with the statement of Darren Martin, the former Obama aide, accused of burglarizing his own apartment:

“You’ve got to live your life, but when you’re living your life, you’re cognizant of the fact that things you do that other people might do, non-people of color might do, could end up differently.  At the end of the day when I take the suit off, I’m still a black man underneath.  And it’s a daily reality.”

—————

“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)

Until We Speak Again…I am…The Visible Man.

The Visible Man: Having A Starbucks Moment

“They can’t be here for us.”

-Rashon Nelson & Donte Robinson, prior to their arrest at a Philadelphia Starbucks

“The police officers did absolutely nothing wrong.”

-Richard Ross, Philadelphia Police Commissioner

“Anytime I’m encountered by cops, I can honestly say it’s a thought that runs through my mind.  You never know what’s going to happen.”

-Rashon Nelson (speaking to AP News about fearing for his life)

“Players who have not followed the rules, specifically pace of play, have voluntarily left at our request as our scorecard states.  In this instance, the members refused so we called police to ensure an amicable result.

During the second conversation, we asked members to leave per our policy noted on the scorecard, voices were raised, and the police were called to ensure an amicable resolution.”

-Jordan Chronister, Co-Owner, Grand View Golf Course York County, PA

 

My Dear Readers,

After five years of grieving the loss of my beloved spouse Linda, I am in Paris, France celebrating the year 2018 as my breakout year, the year I emerge from darkness into the bright shining light that the world has to offer.

As I depart the country, I leave behind the recent incidents of psychological devastation impacting African-American citizens. In a previous writing, I had suggested that it was time to begin a conversation regarding the impact of whites calling upon the police to intervene, eject or arrest African-Americans for believed slights or perceptions.

One of my readers, Mike Willbur MS LMHC, a colleague in the mental health profession, responded to me, suggesting that fear is the element and wanting to know where do we start.  I was intrigued and conflicted by the question.

How do we get all Americans, regardless of race, to understand the impact of fear and traumatization? How do I help to bring understanding without intellectualizing this major issue that impacts the lives of millions of people, both white and black on a daily basis? 

I choose to respond to the element of fear by seeking to further define the themes that create fear and lead to these traumatic moments.

 

What Is A “Starbucks Moment?

This occurs when a white person, for a minor reason or infraction, utilizes the police to seek the investigation, removal, and/or arrest of a black person.  This is done under the premise of community policing.

There are five themes that coincide to create the occurrence of “Having a Starbucks Moment”

  • Power versus the lack of power
  • Primary citizenship versus secondary citizenship.
  • Dominant group versus non-dominant group.
  • Privileged versus lacking privileged.
  • Views & Interconnection of Policing & Law Enforcement

There was the now widely known incident at the Starbucks store in Philadelphia in which two African-American men were arrested while waiting for a colleague to conduct a business meeting.

There has been another incident occurring in Pennsylvania in which white golf course owners called the police to remove five African-American women members of their club because they were “playing too slowly.” Unlike the Philadelphia Starbucks, the police, upon arriving at the scene and conducting interviews, decided that the matter was not one that warranted police intervention.

The white owners of the golf course justified their actions by declaring that the five black women, in playing slowly, had failed to abide by the course’s rules and policies.  They added that they had offered full refunds, but the group refused to leave, so the police were called in to remove them.

If an arrest had been made, the following would had been the result:

  • The five black women would have been handcuffed, placed in a police vehicle, taken to jail, fingerprinted and had mug shots taken.
  • Those fingerprints and mug shots would had become a permanent record in the national computer database, the National Crime Information Center (NCIC)
  • Resulting in the ability to track their movements nationally and internationally through the International Crime Police Commission (INTERPOL)

The five themes leading to a “Having a Starbucks Moment is detailed in the following are detailed in the following:

  • The Power versus the Lack of Power.
  1. White Americans have power or potential access to power.
  2. Black Americans either lack power/lack access to power or are risked of being stripped of the power granted to them by those in power.
  • Primary citizenship versus secondary citizenship.
  1. Primary citizenship consists of individuals of all genders; are of the group holding power are racially white, and are identified ethnically and culturally as Euro-Americans. Primary citizenship is a status passed on between generations.
  2.  Secondary citizenship consists of individuals of all genders; are of the group lacking power; are racially black and are identified ethically lacking power are racially black, ethnically/culturally as African-American. Secondary citizenship is a status passed on through the generations. 
  • Dominant group versus non-dominant group.
  1. White Euro-Americans have dominant group status, a status passed on through the generations.
  2. Black African-American group has non-dominant status, a status passed on through the generations.
  • Privileged versus lacking privilege.
  1. White Euro-Americans are viewed with having privileged status; a status that is often fervently denied by the individuals within that group.
  2. Black African-Americans have non-privileged status and fervently seek having such privilege, which is either denied or provided on a selected basis.
  • Views & Interconnection of Policing & Law Enforcement
  1. White Euro-Americans view the police positively and connect with them in “community policing,” which is an understanding that is passed on through the generations.
  2. Black African-Americans view the police with suspicion and connect with them in “enforcing the law,” which is an understanding that is passed on through the generations.

 

I am not a Racist, but what if I Walked like a Duck, and Quacked like a Duck?

In taking part of this conversation, white or Euro-Americans must seek to hold themselves for actions and behaviors, whether conscious or unconscious, that are racist in nature and serve to denigrate black or African-Americans.   Racism can be divided into two broad categories, attitudinal and behavioral.

In attitudinal racism, individuals or groups are denigrated because of shared characteristics.  Behavioral racism can be any act by an individual or institution that denies free and equal treatment to a person or person because of shared characteristics or ethnic group membership.  The outcome of either can result in physical or psychological stressors producing physical or psychological responses that over time can influence health outcomes of those who are impacted.

The white or Euro-American may staunchly deny or be unable to perceive their actions towards blacks or African-Americans as racist.  Those holding such beliefs may be engaging in patterns of behaviors defined as modern racism or aversive racism.

In modern racism, individuals do not define their beliefs and attitudes as racist but rather their beliefs are based on “empirical” evidence, such as news accounts, social media, movies, or television. Modern racism is insidious because those who practice this deny racist attitudes in a defensive manner, but engage in racist actions that they justify based on their supposed evidence, which usually takes the form of anecdotes or personally- based beliefs.

Aversive racism, another form of insidious racism, is a set of abstract moral assertions and beliefs impacting the lives of African-Americans.  Specifically, the aversive racist says, “I’m not a racist, but…” and may engage in crazy-making interactions with African-Americans by overtly denying racist intent while acting in ways that feel racist to their target.  Due to the overt denial of racist intent, the individual(s) targeted who appraises the behavior as racist may be labeled as “over-reactive” or paranoid” resulting from the interaction, leading to further marginalization.

The incident resulting at the Starbucks appears to be one of modern racism.  There is the indication that the white or Euro-American manager for whatever reasoning did not want the black or African-American men in “her” place of business and notified the police, resulting in their arrest and removal. The flip side of this incident would have the modern racist declaring, “Well, if only they would have left, or not come in at all, the arrest would not had been necessary.”

The golf course incident is a clear example of aversive racism.  The declarations of the co-owner were simply “we allowed them in to our establishment.  They failed to obey by the rules of the club.  We asked them to leave. They refused.  The police were called to ensure an amicable resolution.”

 

Concluding Words-Dr. Kane 

“To err is human… In some cases there is no room for error. None.”

– Dr. Micheal Kane

 We may breathe the same air but it still appears that blacks (or African-Americans) and whites (or Euro-Americans) live on two on two separate planets.   I agree with my colleague Mike Willbur MS LMHC that fear is the element.  It is my opinion that this is where we must start.

Fear is a factor deeply ingrained in both groups.  I am not a white or Euro-American.  As a black male and African-American, I acknowledge the fear that lives within me on a daily basis regarding the fact that any interaction with a white person can abruptly change the course of my life.

Several days prior to leaving for Paris, I had my own Starbucks moment at a local Starbucks in Seattle.  The incident only lasted several minutes, but it so easily could have ended badly and changed the course of my life forever.

I was in line waiting when a white woman who was in a hurry jumped ahead of me and sought to get her order in.  The white Starbucks employee took notice of what had happened and began to assist her, ignoring me.

I am a 260 dark skinned African-American male, and was one of now two people in line, the other being the white woman who demanded to be waited on. Am I now invisible?

Many thoughts went through my mind:

  • Should I say something in a polite way to the interloper and the Starbucks employee?
  • If I do, will I be perceived as being threatening by either of these women?
  • Will the Starbucks employee or the interloper call the police?

When the police arrive, the bottom line is this:

It is my word versus the word of two white women.

Here are the facts of my life:

  • I have earned a doctorate and two master’s degrees. I am internationally trained in clinical traumatology.
  • I have served on three separate clinical faculties in one of the top ten research universities in the United States.
  • I have published material which is taught in graduate schools and utilized within the US Veteran Affairs healthcare system.
  • I have served as a clinical consultant to the Black Congressional Caucus Veteran Braintrust.
  • I am a founding member of the Editorial Board for a peer reviewed journal.
  • I currently served the legal and judicial system as a forensic evaluator and expert witness on trauma related issues.

This is the reality in my life:

  • I have never been arrested, fingerprinted or jailed.
  • I am a honorably discharged veteran of military service.
  • I am the son of a police officer.
  • I am an African-American residing in a country in which there are those who either fear me or are threatened by me simply because of the color of my skin.

What could happen to me in this situation:

  • I am going to be arrested, taken to jail, fingerprinted and mug shots taken.
  • I am going to have to incur the expenses of hiring an attorney to respond to possible legal charges.
  • I am going to have a permanent arrest record thus allowing law enforcement to track my movements nationally and internationally .
  • I would have been publicly humiliated and traumatized by the experience thereby bearing psychological wounds for the rest of my life.

What I Did:

  • I chose to not speak to the interloper.
  • I brought the matter to the attention of the Starbucks employee.

The Response:

  • The employee response was “I’m sorry…what can I get you?”
  • A telephone call later to the store manager, who said, “I will look into the matter.”
  • A written correspondence to the district manager- no response as of today.

I made the best decision of a very difficult and humiliating incident.  There was no police intervention, but there was no amicable resolution either.  And, I remained alive and free and made it to Paris, the City of Light, where I am currently enjoying a well-deserved vacation before returning to respond to more Starbucks Moments!

 

The Mask

By Maya Angelou

We wear the mask that grins and lies.
It shades our cheeks and hides our eyes.
This debt we pay to human guile
With torn and bleeding hearts…
We smile and mouth the myriad subtleties.
Why should the world think otherwise
In counting all our tears and sighs.
Nay let them only see us while
We wear the mask.

 

Adieu from Paris!

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

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

———————–

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

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”

————————–

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.

——————————

 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…

———————————-

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

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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…

————————————–

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

————————–

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.

—————————–

 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

——————

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

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