The Unspoken Truth: Slave Play, White Fragility, and the Difficulty in Talking About Race

“While it is true that white fragility is an insidious trauma injury to people of color, white people are not raised to see themselves in terms of race.”

-Micheal Kane, Psy.D, Clinical Traumatologist

“When you are told time and time again you’re not good enough, that your opinion doesn’t matter as much; when they don’t just look past you, to them you’re not even there; when that has been your reality for so long, it’s hard not to let yourself think it’s true.”

– The Post

“What does race mean to the person of color?  Everything.  From the first breath taken in life lie to one’s dying day.  Race is incarceration or freedom.  Race is a door that is open or closed. Race is living life thriving or surviving. Race identifies that the space you occupy has been ‘designated’ for you and reinforces for you that others will seek to hold you there for the rest of your life.  Race is everything.”

-Micheal Kane, Psy.D., Clinical Traumatologist

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My Dear Readers,

I am currently preparing to leave for New York City to attend another Broadway play, A Soldier’s Story. It is a murder mystery set on a segregated military base located in Louisiana during WWII. When I return, I’ll share my thoughts. But as I prepare to experience another play with a strong racial interaction, I find myself reflective of the last play I saw and wrote about in the most recent blog, The Unspoken Truth: Slave Play and White Fragility.

I continue to replay the exchange at the conclusion of the play in which two white theater attendees chose to intellectualize the experience and in doing so, denied themselves the opportunity to explore their emotions. The opportunity was lost due to their inability to recognize the general space they occupy as “white spaces.”

The playwright brilliantly utilizes race, sex and trauma to demonstrate the privilege being displayed by the white characters and its impacts on the black characters.  The common theme of the black actors was that racial trauma accruing from not being listened to by their white partners resulted in sexual dysfunction.

The production has been criticized as negatively casting whites as being racist. In response, the playwright Jeremy O. Harris states:

“This isn’t about every white person. This play is about eight specific people and if you don’t see yourself up here, that’s great, you aren’t one of them-you aren’t.”

 

Given this, we can accept that racism is taught and feelings about race are internalized within the psychological self.  Experience has taught me that “every white man is not my enemy and every black man is not my friend.” Experience has also taught me to choose to focus on what lies in a person’s heart and in their actions.

 

One’s Heart & One’s Actions

Harriet Tubman, the Underground Railroad conductor, is one of my heroes.  It was her determination, courage and sense of purpose that empowered her to lead hundreds of slaves to freedom.  Harriet Tubman stated: “God don’t mean people to own people.”

As much as Harriet Tubman is deservedly revered, what is ignored is that she could not have accomplished her objective of carrying those to freedom without the assistance of whites who like her believed that “God don’t mean people to own people.”

However, when slavery ended, the good white folks, content that the objective had been accomplished, stepped away, leaving the newly freed slaves to fend for themselves and to “pull themselves up by their bootstraps.”  Feeling that the mission was accomplished, the good white people became silent to the lynching and screams of the new free blacks as they endured domestic terrorism from Klansmen dressed in white hoods and forced segregation via black codes and state and federal laws.

It is the same as in the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960’s. As Martin Luther King stated:

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

Many whites stood up to walk with him and others and in doing so, were jailed, beaten and killed as well.  When federal civil rights laws, equal rights in housing and employment laws were passed, the “good” white people stepped away once again, feeling that the objective had been accomplished away to allowed the newly franchised people to, once again, “pull themselves up by their bootstraps.”

However, when drugs, crime, unemployment, educational failure and high incarceration ravaged the communities of color, the good white people once again became silent. Today, the majority of the good white people remain silent.

 

What is Privilege?

It is an unearned right, advantage, or immunity granted or available only to a particular group.

In the situation shared by the “good” white people during the slavery era and the civil rights movement of the 1960s, privilege was the ability to remain silent, be content, and simply walk away while others, the only difference being color of skin, continued to suffer.

 

The Crevasse of Fragility: White Privilege.

It is difficult for white people to talk about race.

“That which is fragile must be protected and defended regardless of the traumatic impact upon others.” – Dr. Micheal Kane

A crevasse refers to a deep hole within the earth. One can say that a crevasse exists in the relationships between whites and people of color. One characteristic of this deep hole is the weight of “privilege” being held by whites and how the privilege impacts these relationships.

When a person of color enters a room full of whites, that person is immediately scrutinized, held in suspicion, or seen as a curiosity.  Whites do not do the same to each other because, they are not raised to see other whites in terms of their race. White is the normal; all others merit curiosity at best, suspicion at worst.

Without recognizing they hold the privilege of whiteness, they have created the “innocence of spacing.”   This innocence creates the ability of white people to walk among people of color without recognizing general spaces as “white spaces”. It may be via this innocence that white people engage in actions and behaviors that are not intended to be racist and yet, are traumatically impactful to the person of color.

Let’s explore the following three examples, using these descriptive terms: (WP) white person and (POC) person of color, and (TI) looking at the possible traumatic impact.

 

Example #1: Get Out of My House 

POC and WP have a close friendship for many years.  While enjoying an activity at WP house, they get into a verbal tiff, the first over their many years of friendship. However, to POC’s surprise, WP orders POC to leave his residence.  POC pleads with WP about this action, but WP stands his ground.  POC leaves.  Several weeks later, WP invites POC to return to his home.

  • Question: Was WP being racist for ordering POC out of his home?

Answer: No.  It was WP’s home.  WP has the right to determine who can be in his home.

Traumatic Impact– POC viewed the ejection as a flashback of past experiences of being rejected from “white premises.”

  • Question: Will POC accept WP’s invitation to return to his residence?

Answer– Being that people of color have a repeated history of being rejected by whites, the POC assumed that, a history of friendship, that WP’s residence was a “safe place” and as a result of being ejected, that assumption was shaken.

Traumatic Impact -POC may now have conflicts, perhaps not about the friendship but about putting themselves at risk of being further traumatized by being ejected from the house again.

 

Example #2: The Status of being a N.O.T. (Novelty, Oddity and Token)

 POC is invited to a formal luncheon in a prestigious forum in which POC is the only non-white person in attendance. Following the event, as the guests are leaving, WP sitting next to him turns to POC and with a warm friendly smile, and says, “Thank you for coming, you represented well.”  POC is stunned, accepts the “compliment,” and smiles graciously while receiving another invitation for another formal engagement.

  • Question: Was WP’s compliment racist?

Answer: Yes. WP did not turn to the other five table guests and thank them for coming.  Nor did he tell the five white guests that they “represented well.”

Traumatic Impact: POC may be responding to the trauma of invisibility.  This occurs when one’s talents and abilities are not recognized.  He realized that he was being stereotyped as extraordinary and as “one of the good ones.”

  • Question: Will POC attend the formal engagement to which he was so “graciously” invited?

Answer: No.  Having been stunned by the truth as to his value as a N.O.T., the POC could find himself suddenly “unavailable” to attend the engagement.

Traumatic Impact: POC realizes that being observed and scrutinized and being “on show” is emotionally draining and psychologically overwhelming.

 

Example #3: The Anger Man

POC is engaging in a dialogue via email with WP with the intention of going on a date to further explore the relationship.  In the dialogue, the POC’s communications style is direct and the POC refers to something that WP said that was racially insensitive as being hurtful and triggered past experiences of racial trauma.  WP responds with an apology for “insulting” POC. Several days later WP emails POC stating the date is canceled due to the email encounter being intense and angry.

  • Question: Was WP being offensive to POC by assuming that POC was insulted by the racially insensitive remark?

Answer: No.  POC stated he was triggered and hurt.  He never indicated he was insulted. The POC sought to provide understanding so WP could be aware. The POC knew that hurting or triggering them was not the WP intent.

Traumatic Impact: POC was triggered by words and in seeking to advocate for himself is once again being viewed as the angry black man.  Communication on both sides will terminate due to the fear of perception and labeling.

  • Question: Is there a right or wrong in this situation?

Answer: No, it is the fear of being misperceived and mislabeled.  The reality is both parties are being misunderstood.

Traumatic Impact: Unfortunate, because of fear on both sides, what could had been, will never be.

 

Common Themes in the Examples 

  • There was no intention of WP to create traumatic impact.
  • The actions of WP triggered memories of unresolved trauma within POC.
  • POC may respond in a manner that is psychologically restrictive.

 

Possible Lessons Beneficial for White People 

  • Focus on the impact of the actions rather than your own intentions.
  • Direct and open communication between WP can be viewed as advocacy and assertiveness, not something negative. Allow and expect the same between POC and WP.
  • Novelties, oddities and tokens are to be observed in zoos, not at the dining table.

 

Concluding Remarks: Transforming White Fragility to Empowerment

The examples reflect microaggressions that happen daily to people of color.  Microaggressions are brief, common, and daily verbal, behavioral, or environmental indignities. Whether intentional or unintentional, they communicate hostile, derogatory, negative or prejudicial slights and insults towards any group, particularly culturally, racially or ethnically marginalized people.

I recall a comment made to me by a well-respected white male professor 35 years ago who questioned a high grade I’d received on scholarly paper I had written.  He asked, “There is a rumor going around among the faculty that the female students are writing your research papers in exchange for sex.  Is it true?”

I was dumbfounded.  I was expecting praise and accolades for excellence and instead I was being insulted and questioned, as the only black male in the class, if I was sexually gratifying my fellow white female graduate students.

I bled that day; the traumatic wound was raw during my two years of graduate study.  Did this highly respected scholar intend to wound me?  No, but I was wounded, nonetheless. To me, by stating that there was a rumor going around the faculty about me, he caused me to question what exactly the faculty thought about me.

If questioned today, I am sure that faculty member and others who may have shared his opinions would deny their racism or the intent to harm.  However, the comment was racist and more importantly, regardless of the intention, the outcome and impact of the comment on me was never considered.

Harriet Tubman, in achieving her freedom standing at the line separating the slave state from the free state, remarked:

“I had crossed the line.  I was free; but there was no one to welcome me to the land of freedom.  I was a stranger in a strange land.”

I feel Harriet Tubman’s words stirring in my blood and spirit.  Harriet Tubman, the Black Moses of the enslaved, led the terrorized, traumatized and inhumanly mistreated to the “Promise Land” of freedom.  Amen!

However, she could not have accomplished her objectives without the help of white people and freed blacks that supported her cause.  I too have benefited from relationships with well-meaning and caring white people. The depth of my gratitude is countless, ranging from:

  • The female cafeteria worker who quietly fed free lunches to me, a scrawny colored kid in an all-white school, risking her employment.
  • The teacher’s aide who understood the importance of education and assisted me in obtaining my general education diploma before being discharged from the military.
  • The Associate Dean of the School of Social Work, Dr. Ted Teather, who patiently tolerated my immature student militancy and,
  • A fellow student, colleague and good friend who stood by me following the death of my beloved spouse

All of these individuals contributed to my success and life’s journey without asking for anything in return.

Although privilege is an unmerited right, advantage, or immunity granted or available only to a particular group, it comes as a responsibility that becomes a burden when the weight is balanced.

No longer can the privileged hide behind:

  • I pulled myself up by hard work
  • I did it on my own! No one ever gave me a damn thing
  • I sweated and earned my piece of the rock!
  • My ancestors didn’t own slaves!

 

What can White People do about White Privilege?

When instances of white privilege are clearly apparent, the ABC’s of Empowerment can bring relief to the physical, psychological and emotional self.

  • Advocacy-Speak to yourself, acknowledge your white privilege.
  • Balance-Psychologically step away and embrace your white privilege while weighing what you are thinking and feeling.
  • Calmness-While holding your psychological space, allow yourself to be centered and reflecting on ways to assist in the empowerment of others who do not hold the privilege.

“Just try new things. Don’t be afraid. Step out of your comfort zones and soar.”

-Michelle Obama

To those who choose to respond to white privilege and white fragility I say, it’s okay to be afraid.  Rather than be in fear, walk your landscape and in doing so, walk with your fear instead of living in it.

 

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Yesterday has passed, today is fading and the future has not been written.

Stay in the moment.

Experience the fullness of what life offers

today, letting go of today as you prepare for tomorrow.

-Dr. Micheal Kane

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You only are free when you realize you belong no place – you belong every place – no place at all. The price is high. The reward is great.

-Maya Angelou

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Standing Alone…. The Unspoken Truth

The Unspoken Truth: Slave Play and White Fragility

“The play shows the unconscious ways that white people take up space, that they don’t leave open for black people.”

-Jeremy O. Harris, playwright, Slave Play

“…[It’s] a whole bunch of stuff about how white people don’t get how racist they are.”

-Comments shouted by angered white woman to playwright Jeremy O. Harris during discussion session following play

“This isn’t about every white person.  This play is about eight specific people and if you don’t see yourself up here, that’s great, you aren’t one of them-you aren’t.  These are eight specific people that are in a play that is a metaphor for our country and therefore doesn’t represent every single person in it.”

-Jeremy O. Harris, playwright, (in response to the white woman’s criticism)

 

My Dear Readers,

As 2019 comes to an end, I would like you to join me in a recounting of my travels during the year. I’ve made two trips to Europe to research the psychological trauma experienced by African American soldiers fighting for democracy while under the command of white segregationist political and military leadership during World Wars I & II.

I also completed a 15,000-mile round trip journey to Ghana, West Africa where I stood at the Door of No Return at Elmina Castle.  It was through this narrow door that frightened and traumatized Africans were forced into the bellies of slave ships to be carted to the “New World” as human chattel.

Finally, I chose to do something very different and extraordinary to conclude the year. I took a 5,000-mile round trip excursion to see a Broadway play called Slave Play.

Slave Play, created by Jeremy O. Harris, boldly examines power, sex and history through the lens of three interracial relationships. In the play, Harris seeks to show how white people refuse to hear black people and how they don’t allow black people to work out the magnitude of their traumas in their presence.

Without giving too much away, the play depicts the lives of three interracial couples involved in a present-day therapy treatment program in which they act out their sexual dysfunction issues based on a treatment protocol known as Antebellum Sexual Performance Therapy (ASPT).  It is a radical role-play-based therapy intended to help black partners reengage intimately with white partners from whom they no longer receive sexual pleasure.

The scenes are set in the pre-Civil War South and move towards interactions set in the 21st Century.  They depict psychosexual power games between an enslaved black person and a white Southerner with provocative items such as bull whips being symbolically utilized during demonstrations of domination and submission.

During the first scene, there are three vignettes of seduction and copulation:

  • A female slave who seduces Massa Jim by throwing herself on the cabin floor and twerking.
  • A sexually frustrated Southern belle bounces seductively on her great big canopied bed and her very handsome servant has no choice but to service his lusty mistress.
  • A white indentured servant sexually gratifies his black overseer.

The ASPT concludes in the final act of the play with the three couples processing and talking through the experience. Though it is apparent that the therapy is supposed to focus on the black characters, the white characters wouldn’t shut up and allow them to process their thoughts. This demonstrates the playwright’s clear intent to show the failure of whites to receive information about the traumatic experiences that their black lovers so desperately want to share.

Unlike films of this genre, plays make the audience actively participating observers. The films usually focus on the white master or mistress’s inhumane treatment of humans whose only difference is the color of their skin.  Scenes of rape, brutality, violence, and unimaginable cruelty dominate and in doing so, often forces the psychological self of the white observer to retreat in horror, shame and, most importantly, denial of what is truth in American history.

The brilliance of Slave Play is that its focus is not on the physical torment of enslaved peoples but rather on encouraging the audience to listen to the psychological trauma that arises from those traumatized.

The play seeks to confront the past and yet also focus on the unhealed wounds of the present while not shying away from causing possible discomfort to its white audience. It is a willfully provocative and entertaining production.

 When White Discomfort Transforms into White Fragility

“This isn’t about every white person.  This play is about eight specific people and if you don’t see yourself up here, that’s great, you aren’t one of them-you aren’t.” 

-The words of Jeremy O. Harris, playwright, in response to numerous calls for the play’s removal from the theatrical stage.

During an interaction with the playwright, one white audience member angrily storms out the event, yelling that “I have undergone hardships ranging from rape to false arrest to single motherhood. How am I not marginalized?”

Is this woman and women like her marginalized? Given her statement, yes, she is. However, her words and actions reflect her inability to provide space for the expression of traumatic impact in the lives of others.  Her discomfort has now been publicity transformed into an example of “White Fragility”.

It would be a mistake to focus on the question “why are white people so fragile?”. Questions that lead with “why” are circular and distract from fully examining the foundation of the issue. With that in mind, let’s seek to answer the issues of white fragility utilizing the framework of “what”.

  • What is white fragility?
  • What is the foundation of white fragility?
  • What is the behavior of white fragility?
  • What is the expectation of white people towards people of color regarding white fragility?

What is white fragility?

White fragility is a form of aversive racism that encourages individuals to engage in interactions with people of color by overtly denying racist intent while acting in ways that feel racist to the person being impacted.

What is the foundation of white fragility?

White people are not raised to see themselves in terms of race or to see general spaces as “white spaces”.  Consequently, this insulation can render white people “innocent” of the concept of race.  It is this “innocence” that gives rise to white fragility.

What is the behavior of white fragility?

When the behavior is pointed out to the white person, the white person reacts, often negatively, to the concept that they are racist, and expects the person of color to be sensitive to their racial innocence, requiring the person of color to make them feel safe including:

  • A softer tone
  • Looking deeper for their intent
  • Disregard the impact of their actions
  • Never giving feedback again.

What is the expectation of white people towards people of color regarding white fragility?

People of color are expected to provide safe nurturing environments for white people, regardless of the psychological danger to themselves and if this is not provided, the person of color is regarded as unforgiving, unkind and oversensitive.

 

White Fragility and Insidious Trauma

People of color may develop feelings of powerlessness and hopelessness as they continue to be psychologically and emotionally impacted by white fragility.  This form of trauma is insidious due to its nature of constantly denigrating and demeaning the intelligence, skills, capacities, and the value of the lives of people of color.

Awareness of Reactions & Responses

Reactions to white fragility may create fight or flight responses which prepare the physical body, the intellectual mind, and the psychological self to react to danger.  However constant, repetitive triggering of these reactions also release hormones such as cortisol, which contribute to weight gain, heart damage, and other stress-related health issues.

 

Healing from White Fragility

When instances of white fragility arise, the ABC’s of Empowerment can bring relief to the physical, psychological and emotional self.

  • Advocacy– Speak up for yourself and don’t depend on others to do so on your behalf.
  • Balance– Psychologically step away and embrace your emotions while weighing what you’re feeling and thinking.
  • Calmness-While holding your psychological space, allow yourself to be centered as you deliver your external response.

 

Concluding Words

“White Fragility is the discomfort and defensiveness on the part of the white person when they are confronted by information about racial inequality and injustice.”

-Dr. Robin DiAngelo, author

My Dear Readers,

As I was exiting the play, I overheard the comments of two white males who’d also been in attendance. One asked the other “what did you think about the play?  The other individual responded, “It was interesting.”

Interesting.  Only interesting?  The question was a set up for denial of feelings.  Because the question did not focus on feelings i.e. “what did you feel about the play?” The person asking the question subsequently gave the respondent “a way out” from touching the foundation of his feelings.

This answer kept both the questioner and the respondent on the intellectual level and denied them, as well the white actors, the insight and willingness of exploring the foundation of the traumas being felt by black actors.

As I stood there absorbing the remark, I understood the benefit of traveling the 5,000 miles to allow the psychological self to experience a theatrical performance that provided the reality of psychological trauma of not only of those sold into bondage but also of those who continue to experience traumas 400 years later.

Sitting in that theater, if willing, one could conceptualize the commentary among buyers as they ignored the pleading cries of fellow humans held in bondage as they sold and bartered for them like cattle.  Interesting, indeed.

While it is true that white fragility is an insidious trauma injury to people of color, white people are not raised to see themselves in terms of race. This inability to see themselves in terms of race and consequently “innocent of race” does not prevent them from inflicting invasive and psychologically traumatic wounds that persist. So, claims of “my ancestors did not own slaves” does not absolve them of the guilt and shame of knowing that the white majority profited from slavery. Their denial of what is true only serves to reinforce their white fragility.

 

What can White People do about White Fragility? 

When instances of white fragility arise, the ABC’s of Empowerment can bring relief to the physical, psychological and emotional self.

  • Advocacy– Speak to yourself, acknowledge your white fragility and do so even when others refuse to do the same.
  • Balance-Psychologically step away and embrace your white fragility while weighing what you are feeling and thinking.
  • Calmness-While holding your psychological space, allow yourself to be centered as you deliver your external response and move forward to live the life you want and not the life you have.

New Possibilities

Life is a journey filled with new possibilities.

And sometimes because of the person you are, or have become, you find yourself in the right place at the right time for…

New possibilities

-Micheal Kane

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Because my mouth
Is wide with laughter
And my throat
Is deep with song,
You do not think
I suffer after
I have held my pain
So long?

Because my mouth
Is wide with laughter
You do not hear
My inner cry?
Because my feet
Are gay with dancing
You do not know
I die?”
― Langston Hughes

 

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“I, too, sing America.

I am the darker brother.
They send me to eat in the kitchen
When company comes,
But I laugh,
And eat well,
And grow strong.

Tomorrow,
I’ll be at the table
When company comes.
Nobody’ll dare
Say to me,
“Eat in the kitchen,”
Then.

Besides,
They’ll see how beautiful I am
And be ashamed–

I, too, am America.”
― Langston Hughes

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I will begin the New Year by returning to New York in January 2020 to see another Broadway production regarding the impact of trauma on African Americans.  This play, A Soldier Play, takes place on a Louisiana army base in 1944 where a black Sergeant is murdered and a black investigator must fight with his white leadership to find out the truth.

Blessings to all in the coming year!!

 

Standing Alone… The Unspoken Truth

The Visible Man: The Opening of Invisibility’s Old Wounds

 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’  But I tell you, do not resist an evil person.  If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also.”

Matthew 5:38-39 (NIV)

“So I say to you: Ask, and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.  For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.”

Luke 11: 9-10 (NIV)

“I had crossed the line.  I was free; but there was no one to welcome me to the land of freedom.  I was a stranger in a strange land. But I was free, and they (my family) should be free.

-Harriet Tubman, Conductor, Underground Railroad, Army Scout & Civil Rights Activist

Police Chief Gillespie: “Virgil-that’s a funny name for a nigger boy that comes from Philadelphia.  What do they call you up there?”

Detective Tibbs: “They call me MISTER Tibbs!”

-In the Heat of the Night (1967)

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My Dear Readers,

As we move towards the holiday season, we want to be thankful for what we have, for the blessings our Creator has bestowed and the lives we cherish. And yet there are those who are faced with difficult choices.

In my previous blog, The Perfect Storm Part II, I quoted the following from the Army War College written in 1936:

“As an individual, the Negro is docile, tractable, lighthearted, carefree and good natured.  If unjustly treated, he is likely to become surly and stubborn.  He is careless, shiftless, irresponsible and secretive.  He is immoral, untruthful, and his sense of right doing relatively inferior.  Crimes and convictions involving moral turpitude are nearly five to one compared to convictions of whites on similar charges”.

So, here we are in 2019…. not much has changed regarding how African American males are viewed by the dominant group.  Except now, given the portrayals in the media, the stereotype of black men being easily moved to violence has been reinforced.

Too many times we have witnessed black men being sanctioned in the sports arena or arrested and hauled off to jail due to their “violent nature”. Just recently, the media repeatedly played the “shocking” violent assault of a white football quarterback by an opposing player who was black.

The black player asserts that he was reacting to a racial slur made by the white player.  The white player denies doing so.  The league states there is no evidence of a racial slur being made.

In the end, the black player is out of football for the remainder of the season and will forever be seen as the perpetrator of a vicious assault and the white player will forever be seen as the victim.

These actions reinforce stereotypes that African American people endure daily. However, below is a story that will not garnish national headlines, even though its outcome and impact can have psychologically similar effects on the people involved.

Below is a story of a young man who has endured racial micro-aggressions and now must make the difficult choice of reacting or responding. Either way he must be willing to walk the landscape… alone.

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Dear Dr. Kane,

I am an African American man residing in a major city in the Midwestern United States. I am writing to you out of anger and despair. I recently read your blog about the black man who wanted to physically assault the next white man who insulted him and I find myself in a similar situation.

I am in the last year of my pediatric surgery residency. I have endured years of psychological abuse ranging from youthful bullying and taunts of “wannabe white boy” because I simply wanted to do well in school to more recently, the Associate Dean of my university screaming at me, upset about the trash not being removed from his office after mistaking me for a janitor. An apology would have been appreciated, but none was extended.  Instead, he acted as if it never happened.

During my undergraduate and now medical education, I have endured constant negative comments about my race, my abilities and my standing in my prestigious academic program.  One of my professors even inferred, in open class, that I was taking the seat of a “more deserving student” who now, due to diversity concerns, had been denied a promising career.

A new and ongoing situation is occurring, and I and I feel I can no longer take the abuse. I have clinical rounds every Tuesday morning and I usually arrive an hour early to study in a large lounge area scattered with multiple tables and chairs.  As I stated the room is quite sizable yet people walking by have the “tendency” to step over my feet and disturb my concentration while I am reading.

To resolve this problem, I placed two chairs around me creating a short detour and granting me space. While others have taken the hint and walked around, one person has taken it upon himself to challenge the boundary that I have created.

On several occasions, he has intentionally moved the chairs and walked through my crossed off area. I know what he is doing.  He is a white male who works in the lower levels of the facility.  He is asserting his white privilege.

As he walks past me, he gives me a sidelong glance, challenging me to confront him.  He only does this when I am sitting alone without the benefit of witnesses.

My friends suggest that I do what I feel and beat his ass and let him know who he is messing with, but I know that would only bring momentary satisfaction and endanger my career, so I hold it in.

When I get up in the morning, brush my teeth and stare at my reflection in the mirror, I don’t like what I see. I see a weak, wannabe male who is absolutely powerless and it bothers me. It angers me. I feel like I have reached my limit. I feel I must respond for my own dignity, my own integrity.  This abuse can go no further. I can no longer accept this disrespect.

Last week, I couldn’t sleep.  I got up early and went to the lounge and arranged a larger barrier of four chairs and a table as my border then sat there and waited for him… He never came.

My feelings have left me confused.  I was raised in the church.  I am a man of faith.  My pastor even told me to “turn the other cheek” but why should I, so he can spit on that cheek too? I want to beat him down so bad that I can taste it. Part of me feels I may have done it that day had he shown.  I know I would be arrested but part of me doesn’t care.

I am confused.  I don’t like feeling this way.  I have thoughts of hurting myself.  Can you help me?

Holding On By A String, Midwest, USA

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My Dear Young Man,

First, I want to thank you for taking the time to write.  Second, I want to congratulate you on your extensive and exhaustive journey to achieving your academic and professional goals.

In responding to your words, it is for you to decide your direction as to what path you will take. It is also for you to understand that as you walk the landscape, you will be walking alone.

Let’s look at some of the real problems:

Bruised ego

The ego is the part of the mind that mediates between the conscious and the unconscious and is responsible for testing reality and providing a sense of personal identity.  Yes, you have been challenged and now you are allowing the insult to be invasive and cause you to question your personal identity.

Question: Ask yourself, what is different now? After all these years of enduring insults, yet having the clarity of vision to keep forging toward your goals, what about this incident has you now questioning your personal identity?

 

Transference

Transference is the redirection of feelings and desires and especially those unconsciously retained from childhood and adolescence towards a new object. As a child and adolescent, you develop values, goals and objectives that are focused on educational achievement.  Your peer group did not value these objectives and as a result you suffered repeated rejection.

Question: Ask yourself, after all these years of peer rejection, what is going on in your life that even after reaching your educational goals, you return to bringing up and holding on to the wounded memories of your childhood?

 

Projection

Projection is the attribution of one’s own ideas, feelings, or attitudes to other people.  It is the externalization of blame, guilt, or responsibility as a defense against anxiety.

The white man that you are directing your feelings towards is insignificant.  He has no meaning in your life.  Although you “want to beat him down,” he doesn’t know your name.   You have the awareness that he is exerting his white privilege. This insignificant person is exerting what little power he has.

Question: Ask yourself, what do you see in him that is reflective of you?  Does his insignificance mirror your feelings of inadequacy and anxiety as you prepare to graduate from your medical residency and take your rightfully deserved place in the medical profession?

 

What are the alternatives?

  •  Lie in wait for your tormentor. He will return at some point to “assert his privilege”.  Provide him with a good ass whipping. Give him what he really wants, which is the designation as a victim of your uncontrolled violence and the opportunity to ruin your promising career.
  • Stop giving your tormentor power. Cease focusing on the “flea” by granting him power and control in your life.
  • Empower yourself. Make the issues about you and not about your tormentor.
  • Examine the issues that hold you in conflict. Seek to resolve the following questions:
    • What am I really reacting or responding to?
    • What unresolved issues of the past are impacting my present and could be sabotaging my future.
    • What is occurring within me, knowing the hard work I have done to reach this point, that I am now willing to throw it all away?

Disregard the stereotypical views in which the dominant group seeks to entrap you. Don’t become the ABC (Angry Black and Out of Control) person that the tormentor and others seek to drive you to be. Don’t become the mule aimlessly following the carrot and pulling his master’s plow. Instead, focus on the Self Protocol.

 

SELF Protocol (Self-Empowerment & Leaping Forward)

Become the person you want to be. Living the optimistic ABCs of Advocacy, Balance & Calmness requires you to be willing to process the repressed pain and to work towards healing your wounds.

Begin by utilizing the Five Rs of RELIEF:

  1. Respite: Take a breath. Psychologically step away from the incident creating distress.
  1. Reaction: Take a moment to embrace your emotions. Give yourself permission to feel what you feel. Your anger, frustrations, disappointment and so on.
  1. Reflection: Reach into the depth of your emotional and mental processes. Analyze what that reaction means to you and how you felt. Begin to shape and balance your thoughts and feelings.
  1. Response: Identify and separate your response into one that remains within self and one that is shared with those in the external environment.
  1. Reevaluation: Be patient with yourself. Have the willingness to explore, examine and review the steps as needed.

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Concluding Words 

“Thank you for coming to the event tonight Dr. Kane; you represented well.”

– Remark of white guest attending a formal event

My Dear Readers,

Although I have never met this young man, I know him well. His distress can be found in the lives of many African Americans.  The constant micro-aggressions (psychological and emotional) and macro-aggressions (physical violence) that can impact this group daily can become, at times, burdensome and lead to negative outcomes.

It may be that this young man, through the burdens carried from his past and the pressures he faces as he enters the professional world, has simply come to understand his reality:

  • He will never be fully valued or validated by the dominant group,
  • He will constantly be “turning the other cheek” regarding actions or comments made by others,
  • He will constantly be knocking on closed doors; doors that are easily opened to others, but he must be determined to keep knocking and,
  • He will be free to practice his profession yet be treated as a stranger in a strange land.

However, I hope the young man will hold to what is true; that within his ongoing journey of self-discovery, he has gained empowerment and unlike power, his empowerment can never be taken away from him.

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”I am an invisible man…. I am a man of substance, of flesh and bone, fiber and liquids—and I might even be said to possess a mind. I am invisible, understand, simply because people refuse to see me.”

-Ralph Ellison, Author

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Invisibility

When you look at me, can you see my invisibility?

Or is it all just in my mind, and is it me, myself, that keeps me blind?

Or is it that my feelings are so unjust,

or is it really the color of my skin that you don’t trust?

So tell me what it is that I need to do,

to prove to society that I am just like you?

To prove that I can walk the same.

And to prove that I too have a name.

But is it really me that you choose not to see,

Or is it the lack of everything you want to be?

Tell me now who keeps you blind,

Or is it all just in your mind?

Or is it all just in your hate,

the hate that you continue to generate.

 I will tell you now what it is you see,

it’s a reflection of your own invisibility.

-Unknown

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

The Perfect Storm: Power, Privilege, and Fear of Black Skin

“People understand officers have tough jobs and have to make snap decisions… but at the same time, they realize, we realize, that there are some officers who will occasionally use very poor judgment, violate policies and procedures and do things that are egregiously wrong.  We want to be able to stop that.”

-Fernando Costa, Assistant City Manager, Fort Worth Texas

 

“There was absolutely no excuse for this incident and the person responsible will be held accountable.  The officers, they try hard every day to try to make this city better.  I likened it to a bunch of ants building an anthill, and if somebody comes with a hose and washes it away, they just have to start from scratch.”

-Fort Worth Interim Police Chief Kraus making an emotional appeal to the public not to judge all the officers in the department based on one officer’s actions.

 

“Black people are being targeted. With every death by cop, there is the “usual dance” of public outcry, an official investigation, an individual officer tossed under the bus by their police department, a lawsuit, and eventually a financial settlement. But nothing ever really changes. In a few months we’ll be right back where we started with another life lost.”

-Dr. Micheal Kane Psy.D. Clinical Traumatologist & Forensic Evaluator

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My Dear Beloved Readers,

I have missed you so much!

During my hiatus, I returned to Paris, France to do research on the psychological traumas inflicted on African-American soldiers during World War I by the American government, including fighting in segregated units, not being allowed to wear American uniforms and being forced to fight under the French flag.

I also had the pleasure of teaching two workshops at the Year of the Return Conference in Accra, Ghana, West Africa.  While there, I visited the infamous “Door of No Return” at Elmina Castle, one of the many holding pits for African men, women and children captured by Europeans for the Trans- Atlantic Slave trade.

Nearly 12.5 million people were kidnapped and held in these castle dungeons along the western coast of Africa. When the time came, they were made to exit through these “Doors of No Return” and taken aboard ships bound for unknown places in the New World. I was psychologically impacted by what I saw and felt as I stood frozen, clutching the “Door of No Return” with shaking hands.

However, I will give Elmina Castle the attention it deserves in a future blog. Today, I want to focus on the sleight of Hand trick that is being played upon us, right in front of our “lying” eyes. Below is a story of being duped without realizing you have been duped.

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Dear Dr. Kane,

As I write this letter to you, I am so angry.  I am a professional black man.  I am well educated.  I own my home.  I am sick and tired of the daily abuse I must take from white people.

Recently while riding the local transit to work, a young white male intentionally bumped me and begin calling me the N word several times while the bus was in transit. The passengers and bus driver, who were all white, sat silently.  I felt humiliated, angry and traumatized from the incident.

It is not uncommon for me to be followed by store staff while shopping or looked upon suspiciously even when walking in the office building that I have worked for the last ten years.  When I moved into the neighborhood, the only welcome I received was the police knocking on my door wanting proof that I lived there.

I have been questioned by neighborhood crime watchers and followed by the police. I am frightened about being shot and killed just for the error of being born black.  I now have a protocol when a police car pulls me over:  I immediately place my hands on the dashboard, ask for permission to move when needed, and I do not move until I ask permission to do so.

One cop asked me in a hostile tone why I don’t like cops.  When I told him it was not about not liking cops, rather about having fear of cops, he smiled, removed his hand from his holster, told me that I had “nothing to be afraid of,” and to “have a nice day”.  He never stated the reason he pulled me over.  I was simply in the “wrong” neighborhood, the one I live in.

Really? How am I supposed to have a nice day? Am I supposed to pretend that nothing happened?  When I tell my white coworkers about these incidents, they become quiet, seek to change the subject, or tell me that I am either overreacting or that I am too sensitive.  Some avoid me, seeing me as an “angry black man.”  One person had the nerve to tell me that she misses the “old” me.  I don’t smile anymore.

Now, there is that shooting of the black woman by a cop while she was peeking out the window blinds in her own home.  This is the second time cop has killed a black person in their home.  And this time, an eight-year-old child was present!

I am angry with white people for their ignorance, angry with black people for doing nothing about it, and I am scared of the police because they have the power to kill me and get away with it.  I don’t feel safe in my home, in my car, on the bus and out in the community.  I don’t know what to do.

I feel like lighting up the next white person that insults me.  I am considering obtaining a concealed arms permit.   My parents believe that what I am feeling is really related to today’s political climate and that this too will pass.  They disagree with me having a weapon either on me or in the house.  I have never spoken to a therapist before.  What are your thoughts?

Not a Sitting Duck,  Seattle WA

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My Dear Readers:

As I listen to this young man’s words, I see the makings of a perfect storm: he lacks power, he is frustrated by those who hold privileges that he does not, and he is reacting to those who fear black skin.  The question is whether he is about to erupt, or whether he is willing to seek the ability to have “calmness in a burning house.” I want to thank him for sharing the ongoing psychologically traumatic experiences he has been enduring.   Let’s take a moment and examine what this person is feeling as well as his response.

The writing is indicative of a person who feels powerless, frustrated and angry due to interactions with the police and being stereotyped and made “invisible” by the dominant society.  His responses are to “light up the next white person that insults him” and obtain a concealed weapons permit.

My dear readers, just imagine this scenario as a television game show.  If so, the dominant society would be shouting and applauding the host’s announcement:

“Congratulations!  You have, by your actions, have just won the grand prize known as the “Angry Black, Out of Control” Trophy. This “ABC” prize is often awarded to black people who demonstrate the inability to control their emotions.”

So, what have you won?

  1. For carrying a concealed weapon (with a license) while interacting with the police. you have won a casket and the privilege of being escorted to your final resting place by six of your closest friends, your pallbearers.
  2. For “lighting up” someone, you have won a beautiful set of jewelry (handcuffs), accommodations and meals (incarceration), opportunities to meet with local celebrities (attorney, prosecutor, judge), celebrity status (media coverage) and expensive exotic items (bail bonding, attorney/legal fees, court costs and costs for anger management courses).

Should “Not a Sitting Duck” take the actions stated?

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This is the trapdoor that many African Americans allow themselves to fall through. They allow their reactions to be the response and derail all of their own hard-fought victories and accomplishments.

The Crossroads: Playing the Game or Running the Race Smarter Not Harder

One of the takeaways I have from standing at the Door of No Return is the full understanding of the endurance and sacrifice of my ancestors.   Despite slavery, segregation, Jim Crow, domestic terrorism, and other horrors, they never gave up on life.  They became skilled in learning to play “Massa’s game,” and in doing so, were able to achieve success while others sought their destruction.

Not much since then has changed.  Despite economic, social and political achievements attained by African Americans over the last 400 years, we continue to be duped and manipulated by the dominant group.

Following the most recent police-involved shooting of Atatiana Jefferson in Fort Worth Texas, Eugene Robinson, columnist with the Washington Post, asked the following question:

“What can a black person do to keep from getting killed by police in this country?”

My response:

“Not a damn thing.”

What is wrong with me?  Has the doctor gone insane?

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Sleight of Hand and Our Lying Eyes

The phrase “sleight of hand” refers to the deceitful craftiness of a cleverly executed trick where the movements of the trickster are barely noticeable.  I believe the term is applicable here in that:

  1. African Americans believe they have the “power” to stop the police from killing African Americans. As the African-American community speaks; it is organized in one voice, condemning the killing of individual African-Americans.
  2. African Americans believe that the hierarchy of police department has the “power” to stop the individual police officer from killing African Americans.
  3. African Americans believe that the dominant group will break their silence and act as a group and stop the killing of African Americans.

Let’s look at these individually.

  

  1. African Americans believe they have the “power” to stop the police from killing African Americans. As the African American community speaks; it is organized in one voice, condemning the killing of individual African-Americans.

The African American community is not monolithic. It does not consider itself to be powerful, intractably indivisible, or uniform.  Its strength has been focusing on political and economic growth generally through education and social and personal accomplishments.  Its weakness has been a psychological survival mentality that is historical in nature and does not allow it to act proactively in either speaking in one voice or to protect its members from police involved shootings.

  1. African Americans believe that the hierarchy of police department has the “power” to stop the individual police officer from killing African Americans.

There are more than 18,000 police departments throughout the United States.  There is an estimated 750,000 to 850,000 sworn or commissioned officers within 18,000 federal, state and law enforcement agencies in the US.  Due to the growing numbers of agencies, overlapping and conflicts in jurisdictions, there are inconsistencies in the following areas:

  • Training & protocol
  • Hiring & retention
  • Mental health
  • Financial resources/ budgetary concerns

In an earlier quote, Fernando Costa, Assistant City Manager, Fort Worth Texas stated:

“People understand officers have tough jobs and have to make snap decisions”…”But at the same time, they realize, we realize, that there are some officers who will occasionally use very poor judgment, violate policies and procedures and do things that are egregiously wrong.  We want to be able to stop that.”

Here is the sleight of hand trick in action:

Is he really stating to the public in general and African-Americans specifically that “occasionally,” an officer will take actions that will result in the injury or death of those the officer is sworn to protect and serve? If so, how does that relate to a person being shot and killed while peeking out one’s window blinds or because the officer mistakenly entered the wrong residence?

“We want to be able to stop that.” Is he saying what he needs to say to calm angry African Americans and nervous white constituents, or is he claiming that he doesn’t have the authority or ability to stop the killing of African Americans?

In restating Fort Worth Interim Police Chief Kraus’s emotional appeal to the public not to judge all the officers in the department based on one officer’s actions:

“There was absolutely no excuse for this incident and the person responsible will be held accountable.  The officers, they try hard every day to try to make this city better.  I likened it to a bunch of ants building an anthill, and if somebody comes with a hose and washes it away, they just have to start from scratch.”

By throwing the individual police officer involved in the shooting under the bus and seeking empathy and understanding, he is distancing himself and the overall department from responsibility!

  1. African Americans believe that the dominant group will break their silence and act as a group and stop the killing of African Americans. 

My observations and feelings about have taught me to watch carefully the trickster’s hand.  The focus on the police officer involved in the shooting is misdirected.  The focus on the policing department and its civilian oversight is also misdirected.

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So…who should we focus on?  In essence, the silence of the dominant group.

The “fear of black skin” that often is a factor in police involved shootings of African Americans is generated and reinforced by the dominant group.  There is a non-verbal and binding understanding between the police and the dominant group which commissions its officers.  That being community protection for us (the dominant group) and enforce the law upon them (African Americans and other people of color.)

As a result, now and then an officer must be sacrificed so that the police department involved can rebuild trust or, as Interim Chief Krauss states, “rebuild the anthill.” Chief Krauss adds:

“Human life is a precious thing and should not have been taken from Ms. Jefferson,” Kraus told reporters. “This incident has eroded the trust that we have built with our community and we must now work even harder to ensure that trust is restored.”

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Concluding Remarks-Dr. Kane

Mr. Hale, a black resident of Fort Worth, when questioned whether during an emergency would he call the police, stated:

“It would have to be extreme to call.  It’s too much 50/50 in the air.  It’s not that I’m scared of the police, but you just don’t know who’re going to catch on the wrong day.”

My Dear Readers,

It is a sad truth that these comments are echoed throughout many African American communities in the United States.  Once again, African Americans are allowing themselves to be deceived by the sleight of hand trickery.  Specifically, by placing the focus on the police themselves, we give the dominant group, who grants the power that is given to the police, a free pass to continue operating in the shadows of the darkness.

So, what can a black person do to avoid being killed by the police?

For black people to stop being killed by the police, black and brown skin must be valued, validated and visualized in the same way by the same people who, like the police, fear black and brown skin.

For black people to stop being killed, white people must want to explore issues of racism, privilege and implicit bias. White people must want to begin working on healing (and stop ignoring) their psychological trauma of chronic moral injury syndrome.

White silence must end, and transformation must begin. Black people are being targeted and as in police involved shooting, there will be the usual dance of public outcry, an “official investigation,” an individual police officer tossed under the bus by the police department, a lawsuit, and a financial settlement.

We will see the same photos of grieving family, pallbearers and casket with the media escalating the story. And then there will be SILENCE…. until the next time.

Chronic moral injury syndrome, white supremacy, and fear of black and brown skin only insure that there will be… A next time.”

-Dr. Micheal Kane, Facebook post,  10.15.19

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What Is Winning?

Every Black person going to sleep is not going wake up

Life is walking the landscape

If I can make it through the night

And awake up in the morning

With my loved ones safe

I win.

-Dr. Micheal Kane

 

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“They don’t hear your voice.  They just see the color of your skin”

-The Revenant (2015)

 

“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)

 

Interactions with Law Enforcement-The Five R’s of RELIEF

Take a Respite (Step away emotionally)

Embrace your Reactions (Hug your feelings)

Reflect (balance your feelings and thoughts)

Respond inwards (calm the inner self)

Reevaluate (actions and behaviors)

Until the next crossroads… The journey continues…

In Our Corner: New Pain From Old Wounds

“This too shall pass.”

-Idiom

“Failure is not an option.”

-Gene Kranz, NASA flight director of Gemini, Apollo and Space Shuttle missions.

“Evil people will surely be punished… children of the godly will go free.”

-Proverbs 11:21-25

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My Dear Readers,

Recently, it was reported that a 15-year old boy, living in a state supervised residential facility for troubled youth was sexually assaulted by four of his fellow residents, with a staff member looking on, and beyond belief, laughing and even shaking hands with one of the attackers. It is also alleged that the following the incident, the victim confronted the adult and was in turn physically assaulted by the adult.

The excitement created by the media coverage is over. The perpetrators of the assault will be punished. Racist and stereotypical beliefs will be reinforced. Both the black minority and white majority communities will remain silent and life will continue in its drudgery as both victim and perpetrators slip quietly into oblivion. That is, until the next time.

Evil people will surely be punished… children of the godly will go free.

In all actuality, they will simply be forgotten.

Yes, we can be assured that legal accountability is be initiated and severe consequences will no doubt be assigned to the perpetrators of these criminal acts. Felony convictions, incarceration within adult institutions, and lifetime registration as sexual offenders, are certainly possible in this situation, and Florida’ s Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ) stated:

“DJJ does not tolerate this type of behavior rand the contracted staff person involved in the incident has been terminated. Their actions are inexcusable, and it is our expectation that they be held accountable to the fullest extent of the law.”

Still, it remains too easy to treat this as an isolated incident. Research shows that 20% of men behind bars have been forced into sex. However, the unreported estimate is 50 to 80%. These statistics are not unknown. Instead it has been the norm to ignore the atrocities that happen within juvenile residential and adult correctional facilities until something shocking as what occurred in this Florida residential facility becomes public.

This Too Shall Pass… No, It Won’t

This is complex trauma, and without therapeutic intervention, these children, both the perpetrators and the victim, will continue to experience repercussions from this incident and the conditions that led to it. These young men will soon become adults, seeking employment, creating intimate relationships, and starting families, and they will bring the memories and unresolved suffering with them, potentially adversely impacting their partners and their children.

Failure is not an option.

Yes… it is. Failure is an option. In many cases, it is an expectation, especially when we, without hesitation, continue to travel the same roads and expect to arrive at a different destination. In essence, we fail by asking the wrong questions:

  • Why did this happen?
  • Why did the system fail?
  • Why would four juveniles rape a fellow human being?
  • Why would an adult stand idly by, laughing and observing the sexual assault?

Why” questions invite answers that circle back on themselves and as a result, they do not lead us to a full understanding of the foundation of the issue. A more useful method of inquiry would be focusing on the “what,” instead. Specifically,

  • What experiences are rooted within the adult and juveniles’ actions and behaviors?
  • What specific roles or models have the adult and juveniles observed and integrated within their developmental core?
  • What family resources and community systems do these individuals currently have? What family resources and community systems will be available to them as adults when they return from an institutionalized and repressive penal system?

Anger: The Common Thread in Pain

The four assailants and victim are in the midst of adolescent development. One can only imagine the sadness that each of the five juveniles must have felt being removed from their own families and communities and placed together in a residential facility.

Typically, when male children become sad, they act out in anger, not sadness. As explained by the rapper 50 Cent, this is not abnormal:

“Everyone has feelings, but there are some people who have trained themselves over time not to be out crying and doing all kinds of shit. When someone else would cry, we replace those feelings of anxiety and get angry instead.”

There are five reasons young men allow themselves to get angry rather than feel the pain:

  • Lack of understanding of how to deal with feelings; so when all else fails, anger works.
  • The feeling of sadness reinforces the state of weakness, and anger can restore feelings of strength.
  • Anger is a more comfortable emotion for young men than sadness.
  • Sadness is a form of weakness. Anger is more aggressive and masculine and places the individual in a state of feeling “in control.”
  • Anger is strong and feared by others; sadness is weakness and manipulated by others.

What is Complex Trauma?

Complex trauma is a form of psychological stress. It is more than simple PTSD. It usually means that a person has suffered several traumatic events, often beginning in childhood and continues through adulthood.

The repetitive nature of the traumatic events often means that a person’s mental, physical and emotional states are all affected. It is often very difficult to function at work, school or in the community. It impedes and/or hinders involvement in interpersonal relationships.

Complex Trauma is the exposure to adverse experiences such as violence, abuse, neglect and separation from a caregiver repeatedly over time and during critical period of a child or adolescent’s development.

What is Complex PTSD?

Complex Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (C-PTSD), also known as complex trauma, is a set of symptoms resulting from prolonged stress of a social and/or interpersonal nature.

In additional to psychological damage, it can also lead to high blood pressure, stroke, increases in alcohol abuse, and domestic violence, as well as inflammatory responses and syndromic symptoms, such as chronic fatigue and irritable bowel.

Complex PTSD results from events and experiences that are:

  • Repetitive, prolonged or cumulative
  • Most often interpersonal, involving direct harm, exploration, and mistreatment, including neglect/abandonment/ abuse by primary caregivers or other ostensibly responsible adults;
  • Occur most often at developmental vulnerable times in the victim’s life and in conditions of vulnerability associated with disability, disempowerment, dependency, age and/or infirmity.

Research shows that complex trauma is related to the following factors:

  • Age of onset
  • Type of violence
  • Relationship to the perpetrator
  • Impact on the environment
  • Degree of isolation and
  • Amount of support received following the traumatic experience.

These factors exacerbate the victim’s sense of:

  • Degree of helplessness and powerlessness
  • Stigmatization (not being good enough)
  • Betrayal
  • Sexualization (primarily for childhood sexual abuse cases)

Living With Complex Trauma

Just like any major illness, complex trauma can be intense, painful and scary. It is treatable, but only with the willingness of the impacted individuals to view it as a typical outcome when one is forced to endure traumatic experiences, and not as a character failing or an indicator of weakness.

Individuals who suffer from complex trauma are often vulnerable to emotional and psychological struggles. These individuals are encouraged to seek treatment. The individual must define what a normal life is for themselves, and then pursue that life through processing their trauma in therapy.

Society, however, must be willing to understand what ails those suffering from complex trauma, acknowledge the pain, and work to end the suffering. In doing so, the traumatized will be empowered to balance the weight of their past experiences with their current realities and truly live the lives they seek.

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Concluding Words-Dr. Kane

“Home is where love resides, memories are created, friends always belong, and laughter never ends.” -Author unknown

My Dear Brothers,

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

The residential home in which these juveniles lived was one without love, where traumatic memories are now a permanent etching on the psychological self. It is now a place where those who lived together inflicted violence and terror on one another.

We may never know what male role models these juveniles had prior to coming to the residential facility. However, we do know what male role modeling they had while living within the residential facility. They were under the supervision of an adult who was no different from themselves.

Rather than provide guidance, mentoring, supervision and most important protection, this individual chose to add to their suffering by allowing, encouraging and ultimately reinforcing an environment that created a permanent wound on the psychological self on five youths. These wounds will never be forgotten and will be carried for the duration of their lives.

The actions and behaviors of one black adult male do not speak for the actions and behaviors of black men as group. To hold all black men accountable for the sordid actions of these individuals would play directly into the misguided and misinformed trappings of racism, stereotyping and prejudices.

However, as black men, we must want assume the collective responsibility of questioning the environment that would lead to this adult participating in the psychological wounding of those juveniles who were placed in his care.

Without having any information regarding the background or history of this adult, the indifference in his actions suggests that he too may have suffered from complex trauma in the developmental stages of childhood and adolescence. If so, what we see here are the consequences of what occurs when psychological wounding and pain goes untreated.

What would be a positive outcome in assuming collective responsibility? Well, we can be honest in our self-reflection that many of us have endured complex trauma and could benefit from the process of healing the psychological wound.

Psychological wounding and pain seek, no…demand relief. Relief will be achieved via self-medication with drugs, sex or violence. Or, relief can be achieved through psychotherapy, positive role modeling etc. You must choose. One way, or another, human beings will find relief.

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Complex trauma does not go away by

Simply pushing it to the back of your mind.

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

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

Enough is never enough.

It steals and steals and steals.

It plucks and sucks the life, slowly from me.

-Dr. Micheal Kane

Until the next time, Remaining…In Our Corner.

The Visible Man: Images vs. Reflections

“I also don’t believe in drugs…  I don’t want it near schools- I don’t want it sold to children. That’s an infamia.  In my city, we would keep the traffic in the dark people- the coloreds.  They’re animals anyway, so let them lose their souls.”

-Giuseppe “Joe Z” Zaluchi, The Godfather (1972)

“Captain Hanks, I have spent most of my life in the navy trying only to succeed.  However, my quest has come as a great personal loss to those who love me.  They too have made sacrifices.  They too have endured great pains to support me.  If I walk these twelve steps today, reinstate me to active duty.  Give me my career back, let me finish it and go home in peace.”

-US Navy Master Chief Carl Brashear, Men Of Honor (2000)

My Dear Readers,

As we celebrate Father’s Day, I am struck by the the racist and stereotyped depictions of African-American people in some movies and yet encouraged by the efforts of others to combat those depictions with more accurate and representative images in other movies.

In one film, The Godfather, none of the major characters are black, but during a pivotal scene, they are spoken of as “animals” and “people who have no souls,” and thus, deserved to be sold into the heroin drug trade.

In contrast, the movie Men of Honor tells the true story of US Navy Master Diver Carl Brashear, a strong black man who, despite overwhelming odds, stood up to racism within the armed forces and retires from military service with honor.  For his performance, Cuba Gooding Jr. received the NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Actor in a Motion Picture.

Images

We have many images of strong black fathers holding their own despite the overwhelming odds, struggling, and standing against racism, discrimination, and oppression.  Such fathers include notables such as Nobel Peace Prize winners Barack Obama (2009), Martin Luther King Jr. (1964) and Ralph Bunche (1950).

We also live with the images of fathers who are unknown to us.  As they are unknown so are their sacrifices and contributions.  Men such as the black soldiers who served in segregated labor battalions in France during World War I, who not only suffered psychological trauma from the work of locating and burying the war dead, but were vilified by White soldiers for that work as well.   The segregated all Black 761st Tank Battalion, which fought during World War II as an independent unit because no white American units wanted to be associated with them, but still fought gallantly, in the process capturing or destroying 331 machine gun nests, 58 cement pillboxes, and 461 armored vehicles.

Despite their courage and their achievements, both Generals Patton and Eisenhower  turned down requests for official recognition. To add insult to injury, General Patton once remarked:

“The 761st gave a very good first impression, but I have no faith in the inherent fighting ability of the [black] race.”

There are countless examples of these known and unknown stories of these black fathers.   My father was one of them.  Theodore T. Kane served his country in military service that included two tours in Vietnam, and after retiring from the military, he served another 20 years as a federal law enforcement officer.  My father was all about his image, appearing professional, “being all you can be,” and proving himself to be equal to his white colleagues.  When he died, none of his previous or current law enforcement supervisory/managerial staff sent a note of condolences to the family or attended his funeral service.

W.E.B. DuBois, a black sociologist and historian who lived from 1868 to 1963 once reflected that for a black man living in America:

“It’s a peculiar sensation.  This double consciousness, this sense of always looking at one’s self through the eyes of others, and measuring one’s soul by the tape of a world that looks on in amused contempt and pity.”

History has shown that for hundreds of years, African-Americans, particularly men, have been doing the “right thing for the wrong reasons.”  It is human nature to be want to be validated by others, but the psychological error and therefore repeated failure to attain that validation comes from “looking at one’s self through the eyes of others.” We continue to measure ourselves by a standard that is both strengthened and perpetuated by our very failure to attain it.

Concluding Words

In the face of all of this, I believe that black fathers should not just simply live their lives, but to BE life for their families. Breathe love and life into your spouses and children.  Stop focusing on what others think about you.  Stop focusing on the imagery and be more concerned about substance.  Be the best father you can be.  Along with professional or work-related goals, seek the life you want and be the father you want to be with and for your children.

Racism and stereotypes are never going to go away.  Both are about fear, and such fear lies so deep within the individual’s soul that it cannot be forced away.  Only the individual holding such feelings can let it go.

Our choices are simple…we can advocate for self, seek balance in our internalized world and calmness in our external environment, and measure our own souls by the love and peace and joy we find in the worlds we build for our families and our communities.

My children are my blessings.  I look forward to walking my daughter down the aisle of matrimony and holding my first grandchild.  Again…don’t simply live life…be life.

Until we speak again… The Visible Man

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

Bobbi’s Saga: Believing In Life

“I have had lots of clouds, but I have had so many rainbows.”

– Maya Angelou, Poet & Writer

“I wonder what and where I would be if I had a normal childhood.”

-Bobbi

My Dear Readers,

This month, we continue with another installment of Bobbi’s Saga, the story of a woman walking her journey of healing from repeated sexual abuse that she endured as a child and pre-adolescent.

Bobbi’s story is one of shame, blame, guilt and a lifetime of suffering in silence.  In this month’s journal entry, she shares her continuing empowerment and journey of self-discovery with the hope that someone else can also take the steps of self-awareness, discovery, and empowerment.

I always start out a new journal with a life update.  I am now seeing Dr. Kane once a week after 6 years of therapy.  I have gone from having sessions three times a week and phone calls on opposite days of sessions to two days per week and phone calls on days without a session.  Then I went to two sessions per week and no phone calls.  Now I am at one session per week and no phone calls.

At today’s session, we discussed why I’ve continued my therapy for the last six years.  It is only now that I can be comfortable in discussing how I perceive myself and how others perceive me.  At that point, I didn’t think there could be a difference between when I started therapy and now.  I realize now that there may be a difference between what I see and feel and the way others see me.

There is so much that I don’t want others to see. The shame and guilt is gone, but that doesn’t mean that I feel comfortable revealing my history and sadness.  It still shocks me that I feel so much less pain.  I am surprised that the suicidal thoughts are gone.

Yet, the nightmares continue to be a major concern for me.  I recently had one where someone was robbing the house.  I was frantic and upset, and I woke up sobbing.  I then remembered to plant my feet on the floor, look around and see for sure where I am, then getting up, going to a different room and acknowledging the fact that I am safe and that no harm will come to me.

Although I hadn’t had any suicidal thoughts in a while, I continue to have intense flashbacks of these small, baby-like white panties in the corner.  They remind me of how young, small and vulnerable I was when I was raped.

The flashback also reminds me that my mother left me alone in the house at four years old while my rapist worked in the yard.  Talking about it now helps.  It used to overwhelm me for days at a time.  I would become intensely depressed, cry, and not be able to concentrate on anything else.  Now I am aware of it and although it bothers me, it does not overwhelm me. I am now having both the nightmares and flashbacks less often.

The only good thing that I can say about my mother is that because of her, I became a different type of parent.  I am happy the way the kids turned out.  I am not sure I would have been so careful with their lives if my own life had not been so terrible.  I want to make sure they know they are loved, that they are cherished, and that there is nothing they could do to make us (my husband and me) not love them.

I want them to understand that to me, there is no other important job than being a mom.  I feel that I’ve succeeded at that.  If I die tomorrow, I know that I was a good mom.

As we closed out this week’s session, we talked about the progress I’ve made in the last six years.  Whenever I thank him, Dr. Kane asks me: “Who gets credit for the work done in therapy?” I know that the answer is that I do—the patient always does—but I don’t feel that I deserve any credit.

I have always questioned and doubted what Dr. Kane tells me.  I thought I would never get better.  I didn’t know if I would live.  I never believed I would get to a place of harmony.  I hung on to every word Dr. Kane said, listening, processing, and being aware when there was a disconnect.  I started to feel his words, then believe them.  My only hope was to keep listening, processing, hoping and dreaming of getting to a better place.  I didn’t believe it would happen, and yet here I am today.

I want to add the word “believe” to the outside of this journal.  I want to believe more in myself, believe I can enjoy the rest of my life.  I want to believe that there will be time to enjoy life.

Concluding Words

Bobbi has traveled a long distance in empowering the psychological self and the journey of self-discovery.  In my concluding remarks, I would like to provide some context for clarity as this relates to her journal entries.

Bobbi grew up blaming herself for the condition she had been placed within.  She isolated herself from others, feeling that others had the ability to look in her eyes and see into her past.

Recalling Bobbi’s comments about comparing herself to her mother and excelling in the role of mom, Bobbi in the role of protector, intentionally sacrifices herself so that her children could lead lives free of physical, emotional, or sexual abuse.   When she says that she is ready to die, she is not being suicidal—instead, she feels complete, accomplished, and prepared to die with the knowledge that unlike her mother, she was a loving and caring mother, and doted upon her children.

Bobbi has done well in her psychological work over the last six years.  She has accepted that although she bears no guilt, blame or responsibility for her sexual, physical and emotional abuses, she can learn to balance the traumatic experiences that were forced upon her.  To gain balance, she has had to accept that nightmares and flashbacks may always be a part of her life. However, with processing and relaxation techniques, these flashbacks and nightmares can lose the potential to overwhelm her and consequently drive her to suicidal thoughts.

While Bobbi is to be congratulated for her willingness to stay the course and continue to process this trauma, the work remains incomplete. One matter of concern is Bobbi’s desire to give the credit of her outstanding work to the therapist.   As Bobbi states in her own words about belief:

“I want to add the word “believe” to the outside of this journal.  I want to believe more in myself, believe I can enjoy the rest of my life.  Believe there will be time to enjoy life.”

This belief can only come once Bobbi takes ownership of the therapeutic work and its outcome.  It is and will continue to be the therapeutic goal that the patient can finally feel fully empowered within the psychological self.

Until the next time ….Bobbi’s saga continues…

Adult Children: Disrespect or Deference?

Obey without question.  Your life and that of the family may depend upon it.

-Unknown

Do as I say, not as I do.

-Unknown

My Dear Readers,

Occasionally, I receive letters that, in my mind, speak to different concerns than what is being directly addressed by the writer.  Essentially, the unwritten message that is transmitted by the letter sometimes is more telling than the actual topic of the letter.  This week’s letter is one of those.

As a clinical traumatologist, I have long held that African-Americans continue to respond to complex psychological trauma as descendants of people who suffered slavery, segregation, and domestic terrorism. This psychological trauma lurks throughout their daily lives, seeking an opening in which it can strike, creating disruption, discord, and distrust.

In this week’s letter, the surface topic is a conflict in communication between a father and an adult daughter.  Between the lines, however, is FEAR that is reinforced by generations of complex psychological trauma.

Below is such a story….

——————————

Dear Dr. Kane,

I am writing with the hope that you can help me resolve a conflict I’m having with my adult daughter, who lives with me. My pastor, who I asked for advice, maintains that per God’s law, a child must always obey the parent.  My daughter, however, is a strong-willed and independent black woman.  This no doubt contributes to our conflict.

This all started when my spouse passed away several years ago.  My daughter now wants to care for me, getting all up in my business regarding my health.

For instance, I went to the emergency room recently. When my daughter found out, she was extremely upset.  She said that she was upset because I kept here in the dark about my health issues.  I told her that I didn’t want to worry her, but she stopped me in my tracks when she said that by not telling her this vital information, I was lying to her.

I was stung, angered and hurt by her remark.  As a parent, having spent 30 years protecting, raising, providing and ensuring that she would have the education and the will to care for herself, I am disappointed that she would disrespect me in such a manner.

I realize that we are of two different generations, but I am old school Mississippi in the way I was brought up; I would have never disrespected my father.  My father’s word was law, just like his father’s, and his father’s before him, and was never to be questioned.

But, I want the war between us to be over.

I have many issues of my youth that I have never spoken about. I do not want my past life to be a concern. My daughter has read your writing and respects what you have to say.  What can I do to get her to see this issue my way?

Clash of the Titans, Seattle WA

———————-

My Dear Man,

I appreciate that you have taken the time to write.  However, you should take this time to ask yourself the following questions:

  • What do I really want to happen here? Do I have a hidden agenda?
  • Do I really want the war to be over?
  • Am I seeking feedback on my behavior?

There are several deep issues here regarding parent and adult children interaction that I can and will respond to.   However, to clear the air, I want to respond to the questions that have been stated.

What do I really want to happen here?  Do I have a hidden agenda?

Of course you have a hidden agenda.  You’re assuming that since your daughter has respect for my writing, that she is going to change the course of her actions if I agree with you that she should do as you ask.   However, what exactly are you asking for?  Secrecy?  For her to ignore your healthcare matters?

Do I really want the war to be over?

Nope.  You want the problem to go away.  You want what you cannot have, a spirited independent daughter who will always obey you.   And, you seek to hold onto the old ways, the ways of your fathers.

The assumption that you make in your letter is that the ways of your fathers worked and therefore, not only is it good enough to work now, but it is in the normal evolution of things—and that something is wrong with your daughter because she dares to break from that tradition.  But, if that is your logic, then why did you spend, 30 years protecting her, raising her, providing for her, and ensuring that she has the education and will to care for herself?

Could it have been that you wanted your daughter to

  • Have more choices than you or your spouse?
  • Be empowered and never have to depend on a man for her livelihood or direction?
  • Stand on your shoulders and upon your death, be able to strive, thrive and do more than simply survive?

Am I seeking feedback on my behavior? 

No. It is clear from your writing that you are looking for opinions that support your point of view. You quote your pastor, who provides the power of “God’s Law” as a justification.   You have identified four generations, including you, of your daughter’s male relatives that dictate that parents rule without question.

Your forefathers lived during a time of domestic terrorism in which they had no governmental protection.  Therefore, it’s logical that in order to protect themselves and their families, parents would require strict obedience to their direction.  However, in this day and age, many African-Americans do not live under the similar life threating restrictions.

You are seeking to hold onto the patterns established for you during your own childhood.  You and your daughter are responding to a legacy of unprocessed psychological complex trauma passed down from your grandfather and his ancestors, and now you are passing it down to your daughter. As a result, your desire for blind obedience from your adult daughter may be a signal that you are living in fear.

Your daughter is showing you:

  • Love, trust, commitment
  • Sacrifice, duty, validation

You have responded by:

  • Being deceptive, keeping her in the dark
  • Lying by omission (not sharing the truth is the same as telling a lie)

Rather than hold tightly to your fears, consider the POST model of partnership, open communication, strategies for success, and teamwork approach.  Specifically:

  • Partnership-Re-evaluate your restrictive attitudes. Take actions that show that you and your daughter have the same objective of your continued good health and welfare, and therefore, are working together to achieve this objective.
  • Open Communication– Encourage the free flow of communication in both directions. Your adult daughter is your partner—embrace her as such. Be willing to share your feelings with her.  Encourage and support her in her role as your advocate in achieving the defined objectives agreed upon by both of you.
  • Strategies for Success-Let go of your current strategies—they will only lead to failure. Instead, identify strategies that will lead to specific actions that will address your issues. One such strategy is mutual respect.  Do things that show your daughter that she is respected and validated by you as an adult capable of making sound decisions, both with you and on your behalf.
  • Teamwork Approach-Implement these strategies as a unit. Come together as one voice, and commit to the strategy and actions as a team effort.

Please accept my condolences regarding the recent loss of your beloved spouse.  It is evident due to the manner in which you and your spouse partnered in raising your daughter, that the both of you must be congratulated for your hard work and success.

In honor of your spousal relationship, however, make the commitment to process your own unresolved feelings regarding your past history and begin living in this new era with your daughter.  Stop keeping secrets from her and begin to enjoy the trusting relationship that you have worked so hard to obtain.

It is time to stop surviving.  Allow your daughter to stand with you so you can thrive.

Concluding Words

Albert Einstein once said that the definition of insanity was “doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.” This concept has value, but when it comes to the impact of complex psychological trauma, many individuals repeat fruitless behaviors not out of insanity, but out of the desire to maintain the comfort zones they have normalized in their lives. Essentially, individuals maintain the same behaviors and hope for a different outcome out of fear.

We fear the unknown, and we fear change.   In this case, people of older generations fear the new world that we feel may minimize our sacrifices and shouts for a new beginning.  It looks like the writer fears that his roles of provider and protector are going to disappear. Instead, his role is changing and in order for him and his daughter to thrive, he must stop living in fear and move towards living with fear.

“Trauma is a permanent fixture on the psychological self, so the objective is not rid yourself of the experience, but to learn how to heal, balance the injury, while carrying the wounding experience and continue the journey we know as LIFE.”

(Dr. Micheal Kane)

Until the next crossroads…the journey continues…

REPOST: 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….

——————————————————————————————-

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.

———————————————————

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

Complex Trauma And Black Femininity: The Double Whammy

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

-Terrie M. Williams, Author

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

-Bessie Smith, Any Woman’s Blues

My Dear Readers,

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

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

Below are their stories…

Dear Dr. Kane,

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

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

Making It Work, Tacoma, WA

Dear Dr. Kane,

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

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

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

Little Boys Need Not Apply, Renton, WA

Dear Dr. Kane,

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

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

Holding Up Families, Seattle, WA

Dear Dr. Kane,

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

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

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

Scared & Tired, Kent, WA

My Dear Women,

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

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

Point 1

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

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

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

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

Point 2

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

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

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

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

Point 3

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

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

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

Point 4

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

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

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

Concluding Words

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

-Dr. Brenda Wade Clinical Psychologist, Author

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

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

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

 The Visible Man…Dr. Kane