The Visible Man: Transforming From Ejection to Empowerment

“Once let the black man get upon his person the brass letter, U.S., let him get an eagle on his button, and a musket on his shoulder and bullets in his pocket, there is no power on earth that can deny that he has earned the right to citizenship.”

-Frederick Douglass

“Get, get, you don’t belong here, you don’t belong here, you don’t belong here.’”

-Ruby Howell, campground manager pulling gun on black couple having picnic on Memorial Day

“The fact that she used ‘get, get’ like we were a dog. You say ‘get, get’ to a stray dog that’s on your porch.”

-Franklin Richardson, after being threatened by Ruby Howell

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My Dear Readers,

A belated Memorial Day greeting and a heartfelt thank you to those in our military that gave their lives for our nation.  Once again, I leave my self-imposed retreat to communicate to my beloved readership.

In this writing, I direct my focus to an incident that speaks to how important it is that all Americans, regardless of racial or ethnic origin, understand the psychological wounding created and supported in environments immersed in  hostility and hate.

African Americans have an extensive history of psychological rejection by whites and physical ejection from places where whites feel that African Americans do not “belong.”  Historically, whites have utilized laws and “black codes” to restrict and control the movements of African Americans.

In modern times, while the hostility and hate continue to flourish, the methods of restriction and control have transformed.  Today, whites call the police on African Americans who are #WalkingWhileBlack, #SleepingWhileBlack, and #SellingWaterWhileBlack, among others, leading to what I call a Starbucks Moment.  Named for the 2016 story where two African-American males were arrested for sitting in a Starbucks in Philadelphia, a Starbucks Moment: 

“…occurs when a white person, due to irrational emotional reactions from shock, fear, terror or feeling threatened, deceives or manipulates the police to seek the investigation, removal, and/or arrest of a black person for a minor reason or infraction in a space that the black person would otherwise have every right to occupy.”

-M. Kane, (2016)

White people continue to employ this strategy to this day. Some take matters into their own hands by violence.  In 2018, a white retired firefighter was convicted of assault with intent to do great bodily harm for shooting a 12-gauge shotgun at a black adolescent that was lost and knocked on the firefighter’s door seeking directions to his school.   The firefighter’s spouse testified:

“He didn’t look like a child.  He was a rather big man standing there, and also if he was going to school, we have no schools in our area.”

Most recently, an African-American couple searching for a space to celebrate Memorial Day with a picnic, unwittingly wandered onto a private campground.  The campground manager, an older white woman, immediately confronted them with a firearm, saying:

“Get, get, you don’t belong here, you don’t belong here, you don’t belong here.”

While capturing the incident on video, the black couple departed without further comment. Franklin Richardson, a non-commissioned officer in the US National Guard, having recently returned from a nine-month tour in the Middle East, commented:

“You go over there, and you don’t have a gun pointed at you,” he said of his time serving overseas. And you come home, and the first thing that happens is that you have a gun pointed at you.  It’s kind of crazy to think about.”

The video of the incident has gone viral on social media, sparking discussion within the wider African American community, leading some of my readers to reach out to me.

Below are their stories….

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Dear Dr. Kane:

I am a black veteran who has served several tours in Iraq.  I have been wounded, diagnosed with PTSD and I was medically discharged from military service.  I have two teenage sons.  I am living in hell.  I am so afraid that when they go out with their friends that some crazy white person or the police are going to kill them.   I can’t sleep.  What can I do?

-Shaking in Seattle

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Dear Dr. Kane:

I served overseas in Iraq and recently came home.  I served my country only to see the fear in their eyes when white people look at me.  I am afraid that what happened to that Mississippi couple on Memorial Day could happen to me.  My family and I were planning to go camping next weekend—now we have canceled our plans.  My wife is scared.  I don’t like living this way. I am thinking about getting a concealed weapon permit.  What are your thoughts?

-Staying Alive, Tacoma, WA.

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Dear Dr. Kane:

That woman deserved to be fired. In fact, she deserves to be thrown in prison.  She had no reason to bring a gun.  She could have communicated to that couple without being intimidating.  When are white people going to accept us?  We are just like them.  I pay taxes, obey the law, go to church and work a job.  What the hell is wrong with these people?

-Disgusted in Shoreline, WA

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Observations-Dr. Kane  

There are common themes in the words of these individuals.  They are male, African American, and veterans of our armed forces. They are responding to ejection and rejection during times of hostility and hate, and this psychologically impacts them.

While these men are unable to control the negativity being directed towards them, they can mitigate the impact of their psychological distress by working to transform the following behaviors and/or actions:

  • Living in Fear to Living with Fear
  • Letting Go the Illusion of Power
  • Cease Seeking Acceptance from Others

 

Living in Fear to Living with Fear

Historically, white people, as the dominant group of people in this country, have used fear as a method of controlling the lives of African Americans.  This fear has been implemented in courts, in laws, in law enforcement, and enforced through discrimination and domestic terror, such as lynching.  Between the ending of the Reconstruction era in 1870 and the height of the Civil Rights Movement in 1968, 4,000 African-Americans were murdered via the rope and lynch mobs. There are numerous documented incidents of police involvement in these events or awareness of them.

African Americans, despite this pressure, continue to show the capacity to improve their social economic status, even though the remain psychologically impacted due to racial, historical and inter-generational traumas, among many other kinds of trauma.  In some cases, such as the one shown in the letter from Shaking in Seattle, African Americans live in daily fear for the safety of their children.

It is also likely that he is directly communicating his fear to the psychological core of his sons, even as he seeks to protect them from a hostile external environment. Shaking in Seattle can improve his situation and provide a protection strategy for his teenage sons by understanding and showing them that fear is simply an emotion being felt.

He can choose to embrace his fear, normalizing his feelings and by doing so, model this method of addressing these events for his teenage sons. In transforming the way he views his fear, Shaking in Seattle can teach his sons self-preservation strategies and how to respond when interacting with law enforcement and individuals such as the campground manager when they display threatening or intimidating behaviors.

 

Letting Go of the Illusion of Power

Staying Alive in Tacoma is also living in fear.  However, unlike Shaking in Seattle, due to the campground firearm incident, Staying Alive in Tacoma has canceled outdoor activities that bring joy to him and his family.  Furthermore, Staying Alive in Tacoma is considering obtaining a concealed weapon permit, which may make things worse.

It would be a mistake for Staying Alive in Tacoma to obtain a concealed weapon permit.  By doing this, he places the responsibility for his protection on an external source: a concealed weapon.  In doing so, he gives away his personal empowerment from his internal source: his ability to effectively communicate.

A clear example of empowerment comes from the very incident that produced this reaction. When the campground manager pulled her weapon, the African-American couple utilized communication to defuse the situation, exited the area and prevented the possibility of deadly harm.

It is a foregone conclusion that based on the stereotypical beliefs and fears held by the dominant society as well as their ability to manipulate law enforcement, Staying Alive in Tacoma will have intermediate, unannounced, and ongoing contact with law enforcement.

It would be wise for African American males to use self-empowerment strategies and treat both law enforcement and individuals who display threatening or intimidating behavior  the way that Forrest Gump treated a box of chocolates: like you don’t know what you are going to get.  

 

Cease Seeking Acceptance from Others

Disgusted in Shoreline simply expects fairness.  He views himself as having achieved the successes that the dominant group requires African Americans to be in order to be worthy of living: class status, home ownership, and being upstanding taxpaying and law-abiding citizens.

In his frustration of being denied acceptance by the dominant majority, he fails to see that the rejection he places on himself as he seeks this acceptance is a moving target.  Despite his remarkable social and economic achievements, Disgusted in Shoreline may suffer from Post-Traumatic Slave Syndrome, and as a result, lacks “psychological wholeness.”

The solution for Disgusted in Shoreline may be to stop seeking acceptance from others.  Since that desired acceptance is racially motivated, therapy can help with balancing the desire to be accepted by white people. However, the question that remains is whether he can begin the Journey of Self Discovery and in doing so, learn to want, love, and value the psychological self.

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 Concluding Remarks-Dr. Kane

 Casual racism is a term used to refer to society’s or a particular individual’s lack of regard for the impact of their racist actions upon another person.  Casual racism has become more insidious as it has become expressed through white comfort and discomfort.”  -M. Kane

Disgusted in Shoreline leaves us with an interesting question: “What the hell is wrong with these [white] people?”

What is wrong with these people?  White people are unable to talk about racial issues related to African Americans.  They are aware that despite the illusion of American self-sufficiency, this nation is built on the blood, sweat and tears of slavery.

Many may believe that the campground manager deserves to be fired, or thrown in prison, as Disgusted in Shoreline wrote. However, this emotional response only serves to deflect and identify the problem as belonging to an isolated individual, instead of something the dominant society views as a collective responsibility.

This denial of collective responsibility places White America in a “psychological prison” in which they go about their daily lives ignoring the culture of hostility and hate they live within, and then when confronted with it, expecting redemption and atonement from people of color.

Like African Americans, white people in this country are psychological traumatized.  Although they are in denial, they too are impacted by historical and intergenerational traumas. White people in these situations do not know how to obtain relief.  Therefore, they also suffer in silence.  They are impacted by Complex Moral Injury Syndrome and White Supremacy Trauma.

In this land, true healing will only occur from empowering the psychological self and arising above hostility and hate.

There are many who share the sentiments of Ruby Howell, the campground manager:

“Get, get, you don’t belong here, you don’t belong here, you don’t belong here.”

African-Americans have fought, spilling blood and dying so people like Ruby Howell can live free.  This is our home as well.  We are not going anywhere.

We are staying right here.

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The Negro Speaks of Rivers

I’ve known rivers:

I’ve known rivers ancient as the world and older than the

     flow of human blood in human veins.

My soul has grown deep like the rivers.

I bathed in the Euphrates when dawns were young.

I built my hut near the Congo and it lulled me to sleep.

I looked upon the Nile and raised the pyramids above it.

I heard the singing of the Mississippi when Abe Lincoln went down to New Orleans, and I’ve seen its muddy bosom turn all golden in the sunset.

I’ve known rivers:

Ancient, dusky rivers.

My soul has grown deep like the rivers.

-Langston Hughes – 1902-1967

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

NOTE: Please join Dr. Kane for:

Black and Thriving: African/American Perspectives on Mental Illness

A Juneteenth Panel Discussion

June 17, 2019, 2pm-4pm

Langston Hughes Performing Arts Institute

104 17th Ave S, Seattle, WA 98144

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.

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.

—————————-

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

——————————–

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.

—————————————————-

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

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.

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

 

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

-Richard Pryor, Comedian

 

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

-Beverly Johnson, Model & Actress

My Dear Readers,

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

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

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

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

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

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

Below is such a story…

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Dear Dr. Kane:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stepped On, Can’t Man Up, Oregon

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My Dear Man,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Should I relocate to another city, county or state? 

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

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Concluding Words- Dr. Kane

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

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

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

 Learn from your previous actions

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

-Ten Flashes of Light for the Journey of Life

 

 Dr. Micheal Kane….The Visible Man

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Coming Out: Nightmare or Gift?

 

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that.  Hate cannot drive out hate. Only love can do that.”

-Martin Luther King Jr.

 

My Dear Readers,

There comes a time when a parent may have to choose between their spiritual and cultural beliefs and their love for their children. There are times where we as parents get stuck in the darkness of our beliefs. In these times, we should look to the wisdom and strength of our adolescents to show us the light.

This is such a story…..

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Dear Dr. Kane

I hope you can help me.  My husband and I have prayed, we’ve met with our pastor, and we are now considering seeking counseling.  My 15 year-old son has recently informed us that he was gay.  Needless to say, we were shocked, as was the core of our family unit shaken. We are a strong Christian family, and we attend church services regularly.  My husband is a renowned senior deacon and I am the director of the Sunday school my son has attended since kindergarten.  Due to our positions and standing within our church, we are concerned about the response this will cause should anyone find out this information.

He brought us together and told us after last Sunday’s meal. The first thing my husband said was: “You’re telling me that you are a faggot?” I just burst out in tears.

My husband and I are confused.  Our son is very masculine.  He’s on the first-string varsity teams in both basketball and football, and he is co-captain of the football team.  While he was growing up, we never saw any indication that he was interested in other boys. Since the announcement, my husband remains emotionally distant from our son. He avoids speaking to him more than is necessary. As a result, our son is devastated and withdrawn.  It is difficult for me to watch, because I know how much my son admires his father.

My son told me in confidence that he is attracted to another boy who is in his class.  He asked him out on a date to the first school dance.  The other boy said yes, and the look on my son’s face as he was telling me was priceless.  I want to tell my husband, but I am concerned as to how he will react.

My husband is a good man.  I know he loves our son and is proud of his achievements in his academics and sports.   He is always bragging to the other fathers in the church about him.  Now, he comes up with excuses not to attend his football games.

My son tells me that he has already told his close friends, who also attend our church.  He was happy when they reacted positively by giving him fist bumps.   However, knowing how our community feels about homosexuality, I am fearful of what will happen should the church members and our close friends find out.

Please advise me what to do.  What do I say to his younger brother, who looks up to him? How do I address the relationship between my son and his father?  How do I bring them together?  Can counseling help?  What would you do if you were in my place?  I would appreciate any resources or recommendations you have.

Fearful Mom, Federal Way WA

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My Dear Woman,

Before I begin to respond to your concerns, I want to applaud the maturity your son has shown in his actions and behavior.   I can only assume he is fully aware of your strong religious beliefs.  Understanding this, he chose not to hide and instead brought the two of you together as his parents to share this part of himself. For families, the home must be seen as a safe and secure space where the individual can find shelter from an often hostile external world.  When the safety and security of the home has been psychologically impacted, it is essential that harmony be reestablished.

I have a therapeutic model that can assist in responding to this situation.  The model is called S.A.F.E.T.Y:

(S)  Slow down your mental and emotional processing. Work towards calmness in the psychological self.

  • Statements and actions coming from reactions of panic and desperation may create more stress and have long-term implications.
  • For example, being asked a derogatory and vulgar question about his sexual identity by his father may have a detrimental impact on your son’s self-esteem and self-confidence.

(A.) Acceptance that the experience that has created moments of emotional unbalance.  Moving forward, focus on healing and not removal of the experience.

  • The experience is now a permanent fixture within the psychological self. It cannot be removed, replaced or transformed.
  • This is the time that your son needs his parents the most. Do you think it was easy for him to bring his parents together and tell you his truth?  Especially, since he knows your beliefs about homosexuality, your elevated positions in the church, and in the African-American community?

(F) Focus on the choice of living with fear instead of living in fear.

  • You and your husband have to choose whether to focus on what the church community and your friends will say once the “word” gets out, or not. If you choose the former, then you will have chosen to live in fear of the gossip and how it will impact your standing in the church and community.
  • If you choose to focus on the wellness of your family and to be physically and emotionally available for your son, then you have chosen to live with fear and not allow the gossip to hold and control you and your relationship with your son.

(E) Empower the self to transform.  Where change can be temporary and thus unstable, moving back and forth, in transformation there is no going back, one can only go forward. You move forward with a sense of direction and permanence.

  • Your son showed incredible courage in sharing his sexual identity with you, knowing that he will be subjected to rude and mocking remarks.
  • Consider the pressure and stress that your son endured knowing once he made his sexual feelings/identity known, there was no turning back. Understanding this, he still chose to go forward, sharing awareness and not maintaining secrets from you.

(T) Trust and listen to your own inner voice.  Allow the self and its love to guide you.

  • Consider the willingness of your son to have trust in his direction as he steps out into the unknown.
  • Consider the belief and faith that you had in getting to where you are today. Have the willingness to trust what may become a new journey.

(Y) Your journey; you are standing at the crossroads and only you can decide in direction you will travel.

  • If your church and community is unwilling to accept your son, you may have to choose between your church, your community, and your son.
  • Identify your true friends and support base as you continue to ponder your decision. Will they continue to stand by you?  Or will they be silent 

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Concluding Words

My Dear Woman,

When your son’s date accepted his invitation to the school dance, your son shared his joy with you. You saw the joy on his face.  He shared with you a very special moment.  In doing so he gave you a gift.  The fact that he told you is meaningful and special. Are you willing to accept it?

Resolving the relationship between father and son.

What can you do regarding their relationship? Answer: be a bystander, do nothing.  Your focus should be on building a closer relationship between yourself and your son.  Do not allow yourself to be placed in the middle and be forced to choose sides.  You cannot win, and you will not be able to navigate the distance between the two of them. Your husband may be experiencing an internal conflict between the societal and cultural meaning of maleness as it relates to African-American fatherhood and his love for his son.  He may also be responding to feelings of shame and humiliation in relationship to the other fathers involved in church and sports activities. If so, only he can bring resolution to these feelings.

Furthermore, both your husband and son may have unresolved feelings regarding the derogatory and vulgar question your husband asked when your son came out to you.  However, your husband does not “owe” your son an apology.  If he truly has such a derogatory view of his own son, then he should stand firm on what he said and in doing so, allow the son to see his father as he truly is, a bigot who is unable to love his son for the person that he is instead of the person that he wants him to be. However, if your husband sees and accepts that he has committed an injury to his son, then he should extend to him the  “gift of an apology,” as an apology is a gift from one to another and not a debt that is due or owed.

Relationships among family and friends

Your son is moving towards developing a healthy sense of self as well as positive self-esteem.  He has informed his friends and in doing so, he took the risk of losing those friendships.

In regards to his younger sibling, given as to how much his younger brother looks up to him it is highly unlikely that your son’s sexuality will change the love that thrives between the two.  Of course, you can assist in this by working to resolve your own feelings about your son’s sexuality.

Recommendations & Resources

  • I would recommend family counseling to assist the family members in exploring ways to communicate openly as well as explore concerns relating to sexual identity
  • Contact the PFLAG chapter (i.e. Parents & Friends of Lesbians and Gays) nearest to your community
  • List of resources available on the website of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender Health (LGBT Health) located on the home page for Center for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC)

Finally, you asked, “What would you do if you were in my place?

If I found myself in a similar situation, I would embrace my son and continue to assist him in preparing to live openly in a world that may not be welcoming to his sexual orientation or racial identity.  I would move forward with him on the journey of self-discovery.

“One does not go back.  Time cannot be reset.  One can only go forward and in doing so, focus on the journey of self-discovery.”

-Dr. Micheal Kane, The Visible Man

 

 

 

 

White Privilege: Aversive Racism And The Nature of Denial

“I am not a racist…I am a church going guy.”

My Dear Readers,

There are times when we take actions that may be harmful or traumatic to others, even though it is beneficial to ourselves. Racial matters often fall into this category.

Aversive racism—a form of racism where an individual denies racist intent, but still acts in ways that are racist—is especially insidious and harmful to the individuals who are impacted. Because of the overt denial of racist intent, the target person who appraises the behavior as racist may then be labeled as over-reactive or paranoid in the shared interpersonal environment, leading to further marginalization.

In recent writings, I have explored the concept and impact of male privilege, but in this writing, I want to explore the concept of white privilege and its impact on the privileged person as well as the victims of that privilege.

White privilege can be defined as a special right, advantage or immunity granted or available only to individuals as a race due to the perception of institutional power in relation to individuals of a different race or ethnic group. Similar to male privilege, where every man, by virtue of being male, benefits from male privilege, the same can be said about white privilege.  Every person who is white experiences privilege differently due to his/her own individual position in the social hierarchy, but every person by virtue of being white benefits from white privilege in some way, shape, or form.

The common theme in aversive racism is the denial of racist intent.  In the psychological realm of interpersonal relationships, however, we must not only consider the intent, but we must also remain mindful of its impact on society.

Below is such a story…..

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Dear Visible Man,

A friend of mine who reads your blog  suggested that I write to you regarding something that happened to me recently, so here I am.  A few days ago, while talking with my friends, I asked the new guy, who is black, a few questions about race.  I was surprised that he got upset and filed a complaint against me.

This resulted in a hearing where I was labeled as a racist.  That’s not fair—I was only asking questions.  He is light skinned, nearly white, and I asked him how he got along with the dark-skinned blacks.

Although I say the N word from time to time, I did not call him a nigger.  I merely asked him why he and his people could use the N word, yet if whites use it, they are called racist.

Instead of answering my question, he got quiet, got up, and left the room.  He didn’t say anything, but the other guys in the room and I could tell he was angry.

Next thing I know, he has snitched on me to human resources, and I had to attend a hearing with him.

I do not understand why he was so angry or even if he was, why he didn’t speak to me directly.  Like I said, I was only asking questions.  I don’t come in contact with any black people regularly, and he is the only black guy at work.

He seemed to be an okay person, so I felt it was okay to ask him racial questions. If he didn’t want to answer, then he should have just let it go instead of being a snitch.

As a result, I have to take a racial sensitivity class and there is a stigma being placed on me.  I hope he is happy now.  Because of him, the atmosphere at work is really cold and not as relaxed as it was before.  People don’t talk to him out of fear he is going to file a complaint.

I only want to find out more about him and his race.  I feel that if it is okay for blacks to use the word nigger, then it should be okay for us white people to do the same.  I feel that our freedom of speech is being taken away from us while black people are being treated special.

He’s cooked his own goose, if you ask me.  He gets all the jobs that we don’t want to do.  I hope he gets the message that what he did to me was not cool.  We let him in and accepted him as one of us and in return, he acted like a bitch by snitching.

I am angry that I have to attend a race sensitivity class. I don’t understand why black people get so angry and over small issues like race.  I am hoping that he will read this and realize he isn’t wanted here and quit.

I am not a racist.  I am a church going guy.  I should not be penalized for asking questions. Hell, I bet you don’t even have the balls to post this.

Really Pissed Off, Grays Harbor County, WA

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Dear Privileged,

I begin my writing by addressing you as privileged due to your callous attitude towards this issue, which is a sensitive and uncomfortable subject to many people, not just African-Americans, given the nature of the historic interactions (including, but not limited to, slavery and segregation) between races in the United States.

In your letter, you state that you were merely asking questions to enhance your understanding of African-Americans, but the tone of your letter implies that you have another agenda.

It feels like you are using sexually offensive language (“he’s acting like a bitch”) and challenging me as to whether I “have the balls to print this” in an attempt to gain an reaction.  So, I will provide a response that I hope will be educational.  As I stated earlier, race is a sensitive subject and uncomfortable subject for many.  In my practice, I seek to create a secure and safe venue to engage in such discussion, and this is no different.  In doing this, I hope to educate you and others whom may face the same issues.

You may be a “church-going guy,” but neither that, nor your intentions exclude you from expressing inappropriate comments, which can reveal your racist tendencies.

Consider this:

  • Having no prior personal relationship or rapport with the “new guy,” why would you ask him questions that are personal in nature?
  • What was your purpose in asking him questions about “getting along with dark skinned black people”?
  • Why would you ask these questions during a group discussion and not during a one to one interaction?

Your questions may, on their face, be harmless, but in that work environment, in a group situation, and without taking the time to develop a personal relationship with that man, asking such questions may not only have created a very uncomfortable environment for him, but may also have been humiliating for him.  After all, when did he become the spokesperson for all black people?

It is clear that you were upset that he filed a formal complaint about the incident instead of speaking to you.  You said:

“If he was angry, he should have acted like a man and spoken to me directly.”

You pointed out yourself that he became silent and left the room.  There is no “if” about how this interaction made him feel; you and the other men knew he was angry.  Consider the following:

  • None of you followed up with him or checked on him after the incident.
  • He was the new guy in the organization. What was he supposed to do?

His choices were clear and simple; either he accept the insulting behavior and humiliation, which would leave him open to more incidents, or he could file a complaint, which would create a boundary indicating the limits of what is or is not acceptable behavior.  In doing so, the offending behavior has been duly noted and has ceased.

You said that prior to him filing the complaint, you thought he was an “okay guy.”  Now, he’s a “bitch” for “snitching” on you.  Understanding that the term bitch and snitch have negative meanings, consider the following:

  • His coworkers now view him negatively because he advocated for himself.
  • If he didn’t advocate for himself, he may view himself negatively.

Given the choice of viewing himself negatively or worrying about how you view him, he chose to advocate for himself and risk the displeasure of his coworkers.  Given the outcome, he chose the path that was most beneficial for himself.

There are always consequences for our actions.  Consequences are merely responses to the actions taken.  However, in this situation, you feel that he has “cooked his own goose”. So now, the person who was victimized by your actions is now being:

  • Given the silent treatment by his coworkers,
  • Blamed for creating an uncomfortable work environment,
  • Forced to handle the tasks and assignments that the other coworkers don’t want, and,
  • Is being subjected to passive-aggressive behaviors by your coworkers to force him to resign from his job.

In essence, the black worker is now being blamed for your actions. You and the coworkers who are acting in support of you are victimizing him once again.

Your initial actions created trauma for this man whose only action was to come to work.  Now, he is at risk at being traumatized again.  This form of trauma is known as “insidious trauma”.

Insidious trauma arises when there is an accumulation of negative experiences affecting members of a stigmatized group.  Racism is considered to be a form of insidious trauma because it constantly denigrates the value of the intelligence, skills and capabilities, and the very lives of the people who suffer from its effects.

Concluding Words

Why are black people angry? We are reminded every day that due to the color of our skin that we will always have to engage in emotional and psychological warfare.

When will this insidious trauma end?  Never.  It will not end because you and people like you are unwilling to accept responsibility for your actions and behaviors.  As a result, your unwillingness to do so reinforces resentment and racial hatred towards the person you have targeted.

The claim of innocence and desire of protection for freedom of speech so that whites can be allowed to use the word nigger is preposterous.

It is a reality that the N word is an imprint of pain and sorrow, even for those who utilize the word in order to be “cool”.  To do so in ignorance or without concern only serves to add to the invisibility of the history and suffering that African-Americans and other races have endured.

It is a tragedy that anyone who understands what African-Americans have gone through would want to stand under the Constitution and defend the right to use this very heinous and destructive word.  No good can ever be made of it or come from it.

African-Americans share a common experience.  We understand the pain and suffering of slavery and segregation.  We also engage in destructive behaviors such as using the N word.  The use of word is traumatic regardless of who uses it and the purpose they use it.

We can agree on one issue, however: forcing you to attend a racial sensitivity class is unreasonable. Knowledge can only benefit those who seek such information.  It cannot be forced upon the ignorant.  It is clear that you choose not to advance.  It is regrettable that you will no doubt continue to allow your racial hatred to consume you.

A wise person learns from his/her mistakes, makes corrections and finds the right path; the foolish one will continue without direction, never finding the road even when it is in front of his/her face.

-Ten Flashes of Light for the Journey of Life

The Visible Man

 

 

 

The Choice You Make: Conflict or Harmony?

My Dear Readers,

Conflict is a reality within our lives.  In fact, we unconsciously want conflict.

Why? Because we find balance and calmness in conflict.  As a result, even though conflict among our loved ones can be painful to watch, we often feel the need to be the bystander.

Typically, when individuals seek psychotherapy, it is because the individual wants it.  Psychotherapy is like hopping on a train: it can be a rough journey, but in therapy, the individual seeks a “safe, secure space to spill their spoilage.”

There remains an old saying:

“You can lead a horse to water but you can’t make him drink.”

Below is such a story….

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Dear Visible Man,

Simply put, I need help for my son.  I am an African-American woman who at a young age had two children.

I had my two children at a young age. At the time, my husband was an excellent provider, and we lived well. However, our lives went downhill in the late 1980’s when he fell into the grip of crack cocaine addiction, and I made the decision to end the relationship.  As a result, my ex-husband was never involved in my son’s life.

I went on to marry another person who was a great stepfather to my children.  He was always involved in their activities, and was very supportive of them.  Unfortunately, he passed away after a long illness when my son was in his early teens

This was the beginning of a very difficult time for my son.  He had problems in school, began associating with a rough group of kids and started smoking marijuana.  We managed to keep it together for a while, but when he turned 19 years old, I caught him selling drugs out of my home.

This behavior was clearly unacceptable.  I put him out of my home, and he has been living on his own for the past 10 years.  He now has a good job with benefits and has left the rough crowd and the drug scene.

So what’s the problem?  The problem is the tension and poor communication between my son and his father. I have attempted on numerous occasions to get the two of them together and have failed.

My son is angry with his father for not being involved in his life.  When speaking of him, he refers to him as “the sperm donor.”  On the other hand, my ex-husband is angry with my son because during the one time he attempted to reach out to him, my son severely cursed him out. His father now feels disrespected as a man and has ceased all communication with him.

In general, I am very concerned about how this is impacting my son’s life.  At one moment he can be calm and laughing, but the minute his father’s name is mentioned, he goes into rages, and afterwards, shuts down. I have spoken to him about counseling, but he has rejected it, saying that nothing is wrong with him and he can handle himself.  However, he is unable to see that others are being impacted by his behaviors and negative moods.

I am going to reach out to his father once again to see if he would reach past his own anger and help our son.  I would appreciate any advice that you have so I can pass this on to my son.  It hurts me to see him in so much emotional pain.

A Mother’s Love, Seattle, WA.

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My Dear Woman,

First, I want to extend my condolences regarding the passing of your beloved.  It appears that now that he has passed away, you are turning your focus towards the relationship of your son and his biological father.

Although I was born in New York City, I was raised in the segregated South.  We have a saying “You don’t call the plumber when the toilet is working.” That can also be loosely translated into” if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

Both quotes describe aspects of human nature—the inability to simply leave things alone and avoid attempting to correct, fix or improve what is either already working or sufficient.  One of the consequences of not leaving things alone is that your efforts are risky and may backfire or create problems that you did not intend.

Before you go further and perhaps create confusion, ask yourself the following:

  • Why am I unable to listen to what my son is saying?
  • Why am I determined to force a relationship between my son and his biological father?
  • What damage am I creating in the relationship between my son and I?

Your son is no longer a child. He is an adult.  He has the right to determine or decide whether he wants his biological father involved in his life.  Furthermore, he has the right to have or hold onto his anger.

Although you may have compassion and remember that his father was an excellent provider during your son’s infancy, the reality is that regardless of what reason, excuse or justification he or you may have, your son feels that he was “abandoned.”  It is essential that you do not seek to change or repair their relationship. Ultimately, it is up to them.

Follow the model Five R’s of RELIEF,

  • Step to side, take a moment, take a breath (RESPITE);
  • Own your feelings (REACTIONS);
  • Process what is occurring in front of you (REFLECTION);
  • Share your words (RESPONSE) and
  • Give yourself time to review what has occurred (RE-EVALUATE).

Your son is wounded by the abandonment.  Furthermore, he may still be grieving the death and loss of the stepfather who raised him.  Finally, due to his unresolved anger, your son may be responding to his own internal conflict associated with his feelings toward both father figures.

Be honest with yourself.  Are you, by your actions, stating, “I know what is best for you?” Are you really attempting to force them into a relationship that neither wants?

Although you say that your intent is to improve communication between father and son, it is not your wound to heal.  Both individuals are emotionally wounded and have victimized the relationship. It is their relationship to fix.

Instead of the biological father being “bad” or the son as being “disrespectful” it would be helpful for both individuals, using the Five R’s of RELIEF, to examine the following:

  • Why do I feel wounded? (Answer: drug involvement).
  • What actions or behaviors bind us together? (Answer: drug involvement)
  • What were the actions or behaviors that led to both of us being ejected from the home? (Answer: drug involvement).

There is no right or wrong here.   Both individuals at an early point were in emotional pain and turned to drugs as a means of medicating the emotional pain.  This contributed to the ongoing wounding of both people.

They must want to stop the bleeding and begin the process of healing the wound.  Both individuals must want to seek common ground, but this is not possible as long as they continue to live in fear of each other.

Individuals with long standing emotional pain may choose to live with the pain rather than take the opportunity to move forward and learn other coping methods. Individual psychotherapy rather than counseling would be a different way to allow both of them to work towards what is so desperately needed: emotional balance.  In psychotherapy, the therapist becomes the guide and companion on the journey called self-discovery.

The therapist’s role is to provide a Safe, Secure, Space for their patients to Spill their Spoilage.  It is within this environment that the therapist and the individual seeking treatment walk the journey together, uncover hidden pain and trauma, and work through it together.

Concluding Words

My Dear Woman,

In life, there are things we want and yet cannot have. Regardless of your good intentions, you will fail in achieving your objective of improving communications between father and son.  Your son is no longer a child.  As an adult, he has a right to choose his own direction, even one that you strongly disagree with.

Both men, father and son, must want to improve their relationship. Before they do this, however, they must want to stop the bleeding and begin the process of healing their individual wounds.

You cannot do this work for them. Your involvement is clearly not desired.  By continuing to force the issue, you risk damaging your relationship with your son.

They have the opportunity to stop being victims and survivors.  If they choose to do so, they can become empowered, and begin to drive, strive and thrive in their journeys.  The song remains the same: Fear is here. Forever.  You must choose to live in or live with your fear.

The Visible Man