In Our Corner: Betrayal Trauma and the Psychological Self in Black Panther

“Wise men build bridges, foolish men build barriers.”

-T’Challa, Black Panther

“We should be building bridges to the rest of the world.”

-Rep. John Lewis, US House of Representatives/Civil Rights Activist

 “Bridges or barriers: which ones are you building?”

-Dr. Micheal Kane, Clinical Traumatologist

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My Dear Readers,

In this installment of “In Our Corner, ” let’s talk about the largest grossing Marvel comic movie ever, Black Panther. I can’t say enough things about it.  Excellent. Well done. Captivating.  It left me wanting more and more.

It featured a black superhero as the lead and an almost entirely black cast with powerful roles for both black men and women.  It focused on a contingent of bad ass black women led by a seriously bad ass black woman who together kicked lots of ass throughout the film.

Featured in the fictional African nation of Wakanda, the country’s technological advancement and economic progress provides a safe and equitable society where black people, especially children and women, can thrive—all conscious messages of the film that satiate the hunger of black audiences for a positive identification with a leading black superhero, but can drown out the voices  of those who may want to discuss the unconscious messages hidden in plain sight.

Betrayal & Loyalty: The Unconscious Message

Most of the major black male characters (except T’Challa himself and M’Baku, who never promised loyalty) betray the throne of Wakanda or someone who is close to the king.

Specifically:

  • Erik Killmonger (Michael B Jordan) betrays his girlfriend Linda by killing her when she is held hostage by Klaue
  • W’Kabi (Daniel Kaluuya) betrays T’Challa/Black Panther when he sides with Killmonger and his plan to send Wakandan weapons into the world
  • Zuri (Forrest Whitaker) betrays his friend Prince N’Jobu when he tells King T’Chaka about the stolen vibranium
  • Prince N’Jobu (Sterling K. Brown) betrays his brother King T’Chaka father of T’Challa/Black Panther by conspiring with Klaue to smuggle vibranium out of Wakanda
  • King T’Chaka (John Kani) betrays his nephew Erik Killmonger when he leaves him alone in America after killing Erik’s father

 There are four unconscious themes being portrayed regarding black men and women:

  • Regardless of age, status and occupation; the black women in the film are loyal and committed to either a specific person (T’Challa/Black Panther), its people/country (Wakanda) or an idea/entity (the throne of the king).
  • Black women are unquestionably trustworthy
  • Black men are not loyal and cannot be trusted
  • Black men will betray and sacrifice the women they love (Erik Kilmonger and Linda, W’Kabi and Okoye)

 

The Psychological Wounding of Unconscious Messages

Already there are those within the African-American community who feel forced into silence out of fear that they will be shamed or ridiculed if they dare to criticize the largest grossing black film of all time.  As a result, they smile, nod in agreement and continue to suffer in silence.

One of my black male patients Alex, (not real name, age 29) spoke of having mixed feelings after seeing the film. He felt joy in finally seeing a black superhero, but also experienced depression and anxiety, recalling the betrayal of the black men in his life:

“I remember my mother saying black men ain’t shit and the fact that my father and uncles chased multiple women.  To this day, I have trust issues with other men and I am unable to remain loyal in relationships with women.”

When he shared his response to the movie and the feelings it brought up for him, Alex was ignored, laughed at and told that he was taking the movie too seriously.  As a result, Alex shuts down, internalizing his feelings and starting to isolate himself from others.  He began reacting to nightmares, flashbacks of memories of his own shameful actions towards women. He recalled having cold sweats and crying uncontrollably.

We could ask “why,” but “why” questions provide responses that are circular and therefore not helpful in getting to the foundation of the issues.  To get to that foundation, let’s focus on “what” questions:

  • What was Alex experiencing?
  • What was the basis of Alex’s depression? Nightmares? Flashbacks?
  • What drove Alex’s feelings of guilt and shame?

The answer: Alex was responding to betrayal trauma that, although long buried within the psychological self, had been “uncovered” when he watched the film.  There were scenes in the film that activated his memories and now create an active and ongoing recall of his past actions.

 

Betrayal Trauma

What is betrayal trauma?  Betrayal trauma is the violation of implicit and explicit trust.  To clarify these terms

  • Implicit trust – implied through not plainly expressed.
  • Explicit trust – stated clearly and in detail, leaving no room for confusion or doubt.

The violation of implicit and explicit trust can occur in many different ways, including but not limited to:

  • Being unfaithful in a relationship
  • Negligence in guarding or maintaining information shared in confidence
  • Intentionally revealing or disclosing information shared in confidence.

The impact of betrayal can be defined as traumatic since it impacts the individual’s frame of reference as it relates to their worldview, identity, and spirituality.  Betrayal trauma is distinct because for the trauma to be successfully inflicted, the individual must have allowed the betrayer access to their psychological self’s three internal resources: belief, faith, and trust.

 

The Pain of Remaining Silent

One of the issues that Alex was struggling with was his desire to remain loyal to his community in community by joining in the community acknowledgement of the film while responding to his own feelings.  He felt caught in a “no man’s land” between wanting validation and acceptance from his social group, while at the same time, dealing with the impact of the movie on his psychological self.

To attribute the activation of his trauma to the movie would be tantamount to Alex blaming the movie for his own issues—something that would not have sat well with his friends and family, and on a broader level, the black Americans who were so excited about the movie.

The implied consequence of sharing his feelings and not being part of the love for the movie would have shown him to be an enemy, so he chose to hold his opinion, and in doing so, he denied the impact of the movie on his own self-concept, and reinforced the silence he continues to suffer in.

 

Prognosis

Despite all of this, Alex’s prognosis is good.  In therapy he is learning that instead of choosing between loyalty to his community or facing his unresolved issues and behavior he is able to balance both by being supportive of his community in acknowledging the film while simultaneously exploring his own behavior.

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Concluding Remarks-Dr. Kane 

My Dear Brethren,

Although I write to the readership, I want to direct my concluding remarks specifically to black men as we walk the journey of self discovery.

I believe the film Black Panther to be of excellent quality and content.  Just like other noteworthy black films such as The Color Purple, Amistad, and many others, this film has the potential to be  psychologically impactful and worthy of open discussion regarding psychological trauma in the African-American community.

“In times of crisis the wise build bridges, while the foolish build barriers.”

-T’Challa/ Black Panther

It is understandable that black women and men are suspicious of each other,  given the manner that black people as a whole have been treated over the last 400 years in this country, and the issues of betrayal and loyalty within our own community/intimate relationships.

Understanding these feelings, we must decide whether to build bridges with open communications or maintain those barriers.

I recommend this: Be kind to your psychological self….Find a safe and secure space to speak and release your stuff, such as with a therapist or counselor.

“Wakanda will no longer watch from the shadows.  We cannot.  We must not.  We will work to be an example of how we, as brothers and sisters on this earth, should treat each other.  Now more than ever, the illusions of division threaten our very existence. We all know the truth; more connects us than separates us.  …. We must find a way to look after one another, as if we were one single tribe.”

-T’Challa/ Black Panther

Until the next time….Remaining In Our Corner.

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In Our Corner: Showing Up As Real MEN and Leaving As Little BOYS

“I am what time, circumstance, history, has made of me, certainly, but I am also much more than that.  So are we all.”

-James Baldwin, Writer

“I have discovered in life that there are ways of going almost anywhere you want to go, if you really want to go.”

-Langston Hughes, Poet, Writer

“The battles that count aren’t the ones for gold medals.  The struggle within yourself—the invisible, inevitable battles inside all of us—that’s where it is.”

-Jesse Owens, 4-time Olympic Gold Medalist

“Strong men who are truly role models don’t need to put down women to make themselves look more powerful”

-Michelle Obama

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My Dear Readers,

In my clinical work as a clinical traumatologist and psychotherapist, I focus on what lies within the psychological self.  In this work, I have found that there are large numbers of African-Americans who carry invisible scars from exposure to hostile work, school, or social environments.

Within these invisible scars lie extreme levels of internal emotional tension as people seek to establish intimate relationships, often in their own demographic groups.  For instance,   African-American women have historically built formal and informal social networks for themselves where they can be emotionally supported, share experiences, and more.

This has not generally been the same with African-American males. African-American males have been socialized to maintain silence when it comes to their inner emotions and feelings, which reinforces a message that their feelings are not valid, and forces isolation and distance from others.

To address this, we are starting a new series called “In Our Corner,” which will focus on maintaining emotional and mental health in African-American males.

There is a stereotypical belief that due to cultural values, mores and differences in communication, African-American males are more resistant to talking openly about their feelings than other racial and gender groups.  This silence often extends to participation in child rearing and parenting, participation in household chores and role placement within couples and marital relationships.

A young male patient of mine recently said, in response to comments about the lack of respect that young males have for their male elders:

“What do you expect?  Look who is raising us!   We are only following what we see.”

Ouch.  That comment cut me deeply because it was true. Regardless of the intention, my generation’s actions as well as our silence serves as unconscious model for other generations to follow.   I am often asked:

  • Why do black males act the way they do in intimate relationships?
  • Why do black men feel disrespected?
  • Why are black males unwilling to let small slights go, such as poor customer service?

I have learned that questions beginning with the word “why” lead to circular answers that don’t contribute to resolution or understanding.  Instead, I choose to focus on asking “what” questions to get at the root cause of the issue, such as

  • What are the factors impacting black men regarding intimate relationships?
  • What is occurring in the experiences of black men that reinforce their feelings of being disrespected?
  • What is the definition of a “small slight?” What could be the meaning of such behavior or actions towards black men?

Today’s letter comes from an African-American female who may sound harsh, but is simply speaking her truth. Let’s see how this silence impacts her world.

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Dear Dr. Kane,

I am a 50-year old, no nonsense African-American woman.  I am sick and tired of old ass men acting like little boys.  I am a grown woman and I am sick and tired of this nonsense.  I want to be around real men.

Recently I’ve been getting to know a man of similar age that I’m romantically interested in.  He went out of town not long ago, and he committed to calling me when he came back.  Well, instead of calling, he sent me a text to “check in.”  It has been more than a week and I haven’t heard his voice.

What the hell! I am so sick of black men who cannot effectively communicate their feelings.  Now, I am left to look at his actions and try to figure out what the hell is going on.

One of my friends suggested that I write to you, so here I am. Please tell your brothers to wake up and man the hell up. Grow a real pair! Women are looking for real men out here!

Angry & Standing Up, Seattle WA

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My Dear Brothers,

As a black man reading this, you have a number of options:

  • Delete and dismiss this letter
  • Deny and ignore this letter, or:
  • Avoid listening to someone who is has been impacted by another’s behavior.

Or simply…listen.  Follow along with me as we explore her words.

This is not the first time that black men have received messages debasing their actions and focusing on their inadequacies, and it will not be the last.  In general, there actually are black men who have difficulty in effectively communicating their feelings and emotions.  The question is this: What is occurring within the individual that impedes his ability to effectively communicate? Is there an issue with communication at all?

Attachment in adult relationships includes friendships, emotional affairs and adult romantic relationships.  There are four main styles of attachment in adults:

Secure, Anxious-Preoccupied, Dismissive-Avoidant and Fearful Avoidant.

  • Secure people tend to have positive views of themselves and of their relationships. Securely attached people feel comfortable with both intimacy and independence.  This style of attachment usually results from a history of parents modeling warm and responsive interactions within their relationships in front of their children.
  • Anxious-Preoccupied people seek high levels of intimacy, approval, and responsiveness within their relationships. They sometimes value intimacy to such an extent that they become overly dependent upon the relationship and their partner.  Compared to secure people, people who are anxious or preoccupied tend to have less positive views about themselves, and they may exhibit high levels of emotional expressiveness, worry and impulsiveness in their relationships.
  • Dismissive-Avoidant people view themselves as self-sufficient and invulnerable to feelings associated with being closely attached to others. People in this group tend to suppress and hide their feelings, and they tend to deal with rejection by distancing themselves from the relationship and their partners, whether it is warranted or not.
  • Fearful Avoidant people have mixed feelings about close relationships. They may desire to have emotionally close relationships, but tend to feel uncomfortable with emotional closeness. They commonly view themselves as unworthy of responsiveness within their relationships, so they don’t fully trust the intentions of those who they seek to be attached.  Members of this group frequently suppress and deny their feelings.  Because of this, they are much less comfortable expressing affection.

Black men are no different from anyone else in that they mirror the experiences of the environment they grow up in.  Whatever we observe or fail to observe as children is held with the core of the psychological self and because it becomes a part of the individual’s structure,  it can be consciously or unconsciously expressed.

So, understanding how you grew up and what you saw (or did not see) regarding intimate relationships, what group do you belong to?

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Closing Words-Dr. Kane

“Yesterday’s survivor and a survivor today will be a survivor tomorrow.”

– Dr. Micheal Kane

The term survivor can be defined in the following different context

  • Someone who has had an unpleasant experience and who is still affected by it.
  • Someone who hasn’t died; a person who has been through a horrible experience.
  • Someone who remains alive or in existence.

It is without question that historically, black males of all types, classes, incomes, educational levels, and positions have been victimized and scapegoated.  There are many who, due to no fault of their own, are disenfranchised, unwanted or not needed within today’s highly technological society.

However, every individual black male holds the key to his own empowerment.  Walking the journey of self-discovery through self-actualization and joining in discussion and contemplation with identification of other males who seek to do the same can help to achieve it.

The time has come for black men to examine and explore their psychological selves within the context of their socio-economic group.  I invite those seeking to either to understand, question or facilitation discussion of issues relative to African-American males to join the readership of this new set of themed writings.

“Change will not come if we wait for some other person or some other time.  We are the ones we have been waiting for.  We are the change that we seek.”

-Barack Obama

 

Until the next time, Remaining In Our Corner…

Bobbi’s Saga: #MeToo and the Magnificent Woman

 “I was not taught to love myself.  I was taught to love others.  It was strange to love myself.  To even think about loving myself was strange.”

-Bobbi

“It took me quite a long time to develop a voice and now that I have it,  I am not going to be silent.”

-Madeline Albright, US Secretary of State 1997-2001

“It took me a long time not to judge myself through someone’s else’s eyes.”

-Sally Fields, accepting the award for Best Female Actor, 1984 Academy Awards Ceremony

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My Dear Readers,

The silence of mainstream society on the topic of sexual assault, harassment, tormenting, bullying, groping and other forms of sexual violence has finally been broken.

Today, thousands of voices, of all genders are saying “no more,” standing up for the human right of bodily autonomy, and specifically, for the respect of the physical and psychological well-being of women.

I want to tip my hat and express my appreciation to those who have raised their voices in the #MeToo Movement, many of which are Millennials or members of Generation Z.  These young people refused to keep silent, and rejected the societal pressure to excuse and accept that behavior the way preceding generations have, a recent example being the testimony of over 150 female victims of USA Gymnastics physician Larry Nasser, who received a sentence of up to 175 years for his abuse of female athletes.

What makes these victims particularly courageous is the fact that they faced significant obstacles by the leadership of that organization, which chose to enable Mr. Nasser and covered up this abuse, creating a decades-long reign of terror, resulting in the resignation of a university president and the resignation of the majority of the USA Gymnastics Board of Directors.

I want to hold steadfast to Oprah Winfrey’s words in her Golden Globes speech,

“I want all the girls watching to know a new day is on the horizon.”

However, I remain frustrated by the story of Recy Taylor, the young African-American wife and mother that Oprah referenced,  who was abducted by six armed white men, raped and left blindfolded by the side of the road in 1944 while walking home from church services in Abbeville, Alabama. Mrs. Taylor died 10 days prior to the Golden Globes speech.  She was 99 years old.  She was unable to receive justice during the Jim Crow era.  She never received justice prior to her death.

African-American women and girls have endured the era of Suffering in Silence of for more than 400 years.  The horrors they have endured have been ignored, and the lack of recognition of their plight continues to this very day.

Despite the national media attention the #MeToo Movement has gained, its founder, Tarana Burke, an African-American woman, has been largely ignored and discounted by the press, and her contributions to the struggle of women enduring sexual harassment and sexual assault have been silenced in the same way.

Racism has played a major role in furthering the sexual harassment and traumatization of African-American women.  However, the actions of African-American males, community leadership and silence within the African-American community have also played a key role in the silencing of these tortured voices within the community.

An example of this is the negative reception and public attacks toward the film The Color Purple (1986), which told the story of life within a rural African-American community during Jim Crow, including depictions of male chauvinism, incest, and domestic violence within the African-American community of that time, in addition to racism and segregation.

It was deemed stereotypical of African-American males by a Hollywood chapter of the NAACP that led a national boycott of the film.  It is a reality that the boycott influenced the denial of any recognition during the Academy Awards ceremony of that year.

It is my professional opinion that The Color Purple, despite its critics, is an excellent depiction of the impact of complex trauma within the African-American community.  Sadly, to protect an image of the African-American community, its civil and human rights leadership denied itself the opportunity provided by the movie to start a dialogue on psychological trauma impacting its population.

That was a missed opportunity in 1986, but, it’s a new opportunity for Bobbi’s Saga in 2018.  It is with that in mind that Loving Me More will publish Bobbi’s Saga on a twice-monthly basis.

Bobbi’s saga continues…

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Lately, I have been writing about things that really affect me: fear, trust and parents.   I started reading a book about Gabrielle Union.  She is a very famous movie star.  I’ve always thought of her as beautiful and never thought of her having any trauma.

 I started reading her book before I realized that she was raped.  I wasn’t sure how I would react to it.  Would I just skip those pages?  Would it make me feel terrible and remind me of my own rapes?  Would I be able to handle it?

Gabrielle Union was working in a Payless store.  The store was robbed.   The robber beat and raped her by gunpoint.  She told the story of having an out of body experience and having the gun to her head, and how she fought, but lost.

She talks about feeling damaged and having PTSD afterwards.  It got me thinking of never being the same after the rapes and seeing myself as damaged.

She was terrified being in front of a grand jury.  The robber/rapist got 37 years.  Gabrielle talks about the mistrust and fear she still has, 24 years later.  She writes:

‘Once you’re been the victim of violent crime and you’ve seen evil in action, you know the devil lives and breathes in people all day every day.’

That feeling of surveillance, of being hunted, never goes away.  Fear influences everything I do.  I saw the devil up close, and I see how naive I was. 

Of course, I can never truly have peace again.  That idea is fiction.  You can figure out how to move through the world, but the ideal of peace in your soul? It doesn’t exist.  She talks about moving from a rape victim to a rape survivor.

Reading this didn’t scare or bother me as I thought it would.  I identified with some of what she said.   I don’t think of actresses having such a hard life.  Gabrielle says sometimes people will recognize her and say “me too.”

I could tell how far I have come after reading about Gabrielle’s rape.  Four years ago, I couldn’t have read it without having terrible flashbacks and increased pain.  I wouldn’t have been able to make it through her story at all. 

So much has changed in six years.  I now know and don’t expect the memories, flashbacks, pain or fears to go away.   Instead these will become lighter.  I want it to become light enough that I can enjoy life, learn to do the things I enjoy and want to fulfill my life. 

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Concluding Words-Dr. Kane

Bobbi, in walking the journey of self-discovery and choosing to read the autobiography of Gabrielle Union, unknowingly found herself at a potential roadblock.  She discovered that an actress she had idealized was like her, a victim of sexual assault.

Without warning, Bobbi found herself at a crossroad.  She faced the option of going back to the old behavior of living in fear of sexual assault by seeking to avoid the readings.  Instead, Bobbi choose to utilize a therapeutic technique known as “The Five R’s of RELIEF,” grounding and empowering herself to live with her fears of sexual assault and continue the journey of self-discovery.

When Bobbi realized that Gabrielle had been raped, she momentarily took a breath (RESPITE), held and owned her emotions (REACTION), and considered her options/choices (REFLECTIONS).  This empowered her to make the decision to continue reading (RESPONSE) and to later reconsider the impact of her actions (REEVALUATION).

The outcome of this experience was threefold:

  • The recognition that others, including famous actresses, share similar experiences of sexual assault,
  • The understanding of the distance she has traveled in the six years of therapy and the ability to empower herself,
  • The awareness that although the experience will never go away, the emotional weight can become lighter and the psychological wound with therapeutic work can heal.

Bobbi’s therapeutic journey has a prognosis of success.  In the six years of individual psychotherapy she has transformed from the stages of simply existing and surviving her life to that of driving and empowerment.  Future therapeutic work will focus on other stages of empowerment, including striving (pacing and direction) and thriving (achievement of advocacy , balance and calmness).

Oprah Winfrey left us with these lasting remarks in her Golden Globes speech:

And when that new day finally dawns, it will be because of a lot of magnificent women, many of whom are right here in this room tonight, and some pretty phenomenal men, fighting hard to make sure they are the leaders to the time where nobody has to say “me too” again.”

Bobbi is truly a magnificent woman.

Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”

-Martin Luther King Jr.

Until the next journey…Bobbi’s saga continues…

 

 

 

 

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

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

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

“Life can be running a daily gauntlet

If I can make it through the night

Wake up in the morning

And my son is still alive;

I have won.”

–Dr. Micheal Kane Psy.D

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

–Definition of “Achilles Heel”

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My Dear Readers,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Dear Visible Man,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

On Guard, Spanaway, WA

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My Dear Woman,

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

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

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

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

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

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

Living In Fear …or With Fear

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

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

Sheltering/Protecting or Guiding/Teaching?

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

Empowerment Strategies

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

Reinforce with your sons the following:

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

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

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

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

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

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 Concluding Words

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

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

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

Invisibility & Trauma

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

-Dr. A.J. Franklin, Boston College

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

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

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

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

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

Forrest Gump (1994)

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

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

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

–Martin Luther King Jr., August 28,  1963

 

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

Bobbi’s Saga: Returning But Not Going Back

“I am able to tell my story. That is a huge accomplishment.”

-Bobbi

The Journey: Bobbi’s Saga

The word “saga” describes a narrative, telling the adventures of a hero or heroic achievement. The story of Bobbi’s life and her responses to the harrowing challenges she faced from physical, sexual, and emotional abuse beginning at the age of four years old shows her heroism and belief in her journey.

“I want to be at peace in a burning house.”

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

“Live the life you want, not the life you live.”

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

My Dear Readers,

It has been six months since the last blog posting. The year 2017 in the work of clinical traumatology has proven be a very trying and difficult journey. As we begin this new year, I want to reintroduce Bobbi’s Saga, continuing her story as she walks her journey of self-discovery.

For those of you who are not familiar with Bobbi, she is my hero. A 60-year-old African-American woman with Deep South roots who was born and raised in Seattle, she sought psychotherapy six years ago to heal the pain she has endured as a survivor of sexual abuse endured in her childhood and preadolescence.

One may ask the following:

  • What is so important about reliving such a horrific story?
  • Why not just let it go? Or,
  • It’s history, so just move on….

Bobbi’s Saga is important. It is a story of horrors that must be told and therefore never forgotten. It is the story of survival of a four-year-old child and the self-sacrifice of a grown woman. It is a story of innocence lost and betrayal by adults who were trusted with the welfare of the weak and powerless. Finally, it is a story of courage, empowerment, and the search for self-discovery.

Bobbi’s hellish nightmare of sexual abuse ended when her mother put her out of her house and into the streets, where she spent the next six years in the state foster care system, seen as a “bad girl” by members of her community. Today, Bobbi is moving towards her silver years, which has included a 30-year plus marriage, three children and a successful career in the corporate world. Once rejected by her community, she is now the picture of success.

Behind closed doors, however, Bobbi remains not being understood by others, emotionally distant from her spouse and pampered, privileged children who do not understand what Bobbi has sacrificed to give them the life they have and insulate them from the abuses she suffered.

We continue with Bobbi’s Saga in her own words…

——————————

The Lack of Understanding by Others

I had a session with Dr. Kane today. I feel we are talking about more uncovered things about my past. I told him about my family not understanding why I continue to want to attend therapy. My children wonder why I still go after 50 years of no therapy.

I have explained to my husband that I have had a lot of trauma I don’t think he understands. He sees me journaling and yet has never asked anything about it. All of this leaves me feeling alone, isolated, and questioning myself at times.

I question so many things. I feel unsure of myself. I am unsure of past feelings, behaviors, fears, shame, and guilt. My mother made me feel guilty and ashamed of the way I looked and the darkness of my skin.

When I told her what her husband had been doing to me, she kicked me out of the house, calling me a whore and saying that I would was going to be a prostitute. That hurt me terribly then and still does to this very day.

Dr. Kane and I talked about shame, guilt and hope today. I asked Dr. Kane what I should do when the shame, guilt and pain becomes heavy, almost unbearable. He suggested going to a place in the house or inside of my psychological self where I feel safe.

Although I do that, there are times when the weight of it all feels so heavy. It is like a cloak of darkness over my head. A cloak that the sun can’t penetrate; warmth can’t penetrate. Love and joy can’t get through. Guilt, shame and pain get caught under the cloak and can never leave.

———-

Shame: The Reflection in the Mirror

One of my greatest shames is the size of my breasts. I have always wanted my breasts reduced. I think about my abuse every time I look at my breasts. My stepfather used to purposely rub them; saying massaging them will make them grow bigger.

Why can’t I believe that he wasn’t the reason for my breast size? I now know the truth, but my body and heart don’t feel that way. For fifty years, I believed my breasts were growing because I was molested by my stepfather. It was painful when Dr. Kane told me the truth three years ago. I wonder what my life would have been like if I didn’t hold on to this lie every day.

I have been thinking a lot about the rapes. I keep thinking these were my fault. I have been scared since the first rape. I know a child or youth can’t fight off a man weighing 200 pounds. Why can’t I comprehend that?

——-

The Disconnect: Knowing & Feeling

There is this disconnect that is so wide, regarding what I know and what I feel. I am trying to tell myself over and over that it wasn’t my fault. No one ever told me that until Dr. Kane did.

My mother never told me that; instead she blamed me. The staff at the Youth Center never told me that it wasn’t my fault. The nurse I told didn’t tell me it wasn’t my fault. Even the people in my foster homes didn’t say that. Maybe that is why it’s so hard to believe.

——

Self Sacrifice-Going Up In Flames

I have always wanted to please others. This has carried over into adulthood. Then Dr. Kane taught me about putting the self first. I had never heard that before. I didn’t think it was possible. Do others do that?

I didn’t even know how to say no, I said yes to everything, even if I didn’t want to do it. I went out of my way to do things that please others no matter how I felt. Why did I want to please others? Could it be because of the rapes?

I seem to be making progress. I now think of myself first. Now when I don’t want to do something I simply say no. It’s not even difficult to say no. This is after six years of therapy.

———

Missing Hope & Replacing Hope with Fear

The preacher’s sermon was about hope today. There was a time in which I was missing hope. When I would have thoughts or flashbacks about the rapes, I would feel sad, defeated, and suicidal. I was totally overwhelmed and not knowing if I could continue to live with the guilt and shame.

The guilt and shame has lessened, but I am still bothered by it. I tell myself that I am safe and no one can hurt me, but I continue to feel the fear of the four year old that has had hope taken away from her.

I feel the fear of my two-year-old brother crying, locked in the bathroom. I feel the fear of the four-year-old whose panties are being roughly taken and little legs forced apart. I recall the fear of the threat of “I will come back and kill your mother and brother if you tell.”

Yes, my hope was replaced with fear, pain and guilt. I am afraid to sleep in the dark, being raped again and not finding out what I need and want in life before I die. Sometimes I am afraid of the flashbacks; they seem like it was yesterday. They cause physical reactions and transform me back to being four years old.

——–

Unrealistic Hopes

My mother died last year. Even though we didn’t have a good relationship, I hoped that would have changed. I had hoped that she would have apologized and accept responsibility for her actions towards me.

I had hoped to feel loved by her. I know that all of this is unrealistic but hoping for unrealistic things for me isn’t unusual. You always hope for what you don’t have.

It’s Christmas. I am hoping for a lighter year next year.

————————————————

Concluding Remarks -Dr. Kane

Bobbi’s writings represent an individual who, despite the horrific experiences of sexual assaults, physical violence, betrayal, abandonment and rejection by her family and community, continues along her journey of self-discovery.

Bobbi was victimized. She is no longer a victim. In traveling the journey of self-discovery, she is seeking to empower the psychological self. She is free now to… “Live the life you want, not the life you live.”

To my colleagues, fellow trauma specialists who sit through the many hours of listening to horrendous stories in order to heal and process the pain and suffering of those befallen, I thank you for your empathy, passion for the work we do and commitment to the healing. You are special people. Best wishes to you in the coming year.

Until the next time…Bobbi’s saga continues…

The Visible Man: Complex Trauma, Invisibility, and Obsolescence

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

-United Nations Human Rights Committee report (2017)

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

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

My Dear Readers,

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

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

There are several reasons for this perception:

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

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

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

Below is one young’s man story…

———————————-

Dear Visible Man,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

-Feeling Shaky, Seattle,WA

————————-

My Dear Young Man,

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

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

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

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

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

——————————

Concluding Words

My Dear Young Man,

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

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

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

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

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

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

Regards,

Dr. Kane, Psy.D

Clinical Traumatologist

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

Complex Trauma does not go away by

Simply pushing it to the back of your

                                    mind.

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

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

Enough is never enough.

It steals and steals and steals.

It plucks and sucks the life, slowly

                           From me. 

-Micheal Kane

 

Until we speak again….The Visible Man

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

The 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

The ABCs of Parenting With (And Not In) Fear

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

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

My son… I’m right here.  You hear me?

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

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

-Hugh Glass, The Revenant  (2015)

My Dear Readers,

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

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

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

Below is her story…

————————————–

Dear Visible Man,

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

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

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

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

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

-Breaking my Heart, Des Moines, WA

————————–

My Dear Woman,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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 Concluding Words

 My Dear Woman,

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

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

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

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New Possibilities

Life is a journey

filled with new possibilities.

And sometimes because of

the person you have

become

You find yourself in the right

place at the right time for….

new possibilities

-Dr. Micheal Kane

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Until we speak again….The Visible Man

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

The Visible Man: The ABCs of Black Male Safety

 

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

-A distraught mother

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

-Mary, a mother of three adolescent boys

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

-Walter Scott’s father, North Charleston, SC

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My Dear Readers,

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

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

Targeting (in terms of human interaction):

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 The ABCs of Safety: Black Males: & The Police

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

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

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

When you encounter the police:

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

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

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

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

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Concluding Words

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

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

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

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

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Life can be running a daily gauntlet

If I can make it through the night,

Wake up in the morning,

And my son is still alive;

I have won.

-Dr. Micheal Kane

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

Until we speak again….The Visible Man.

At The Crossroads: Trauma and Tragedy on Mother’s Day

“The car was driving aggressively towards the officer, prompting the shot.”

– Jonathan Haber, Police Chief, Balch Springs Police Department

“In an hurry to get the statement out, I misspoke.”

-Police Chief Haber (following the review of the police body camera)

“Our teenage sons can’t sleep at night.  They are either sleeping in the bed with us or sleeping with all the lights on.

When they fall asleep, they are having night terrors of seeing their brother murdered right there in front of them.

When they dream, they see Jordan, with smoke coming out of his head from the shot.  That’s what they were forced to see.

Our four-year-old daughter, who has accidentally overheard what happened, is drawing pictures of her big brother with a hole in his head.  What are we supposed to say to her?”

-Odell Edwards, Jordan Edwards’ father

————————

My Dear Readers,

My heart is heavy.  In my previous blog At The Crossroads: Empowerment When Playing The Game Is Not Enough, I was chided for perceived criticism of black parents seeking safety and protection raising their children in suburban communities.

Last week the Edwards family, a two parent African-American family with three teenage sons and a four year old daughter who reside in a suburb of Dallas, Texas, were the living the American dream.  Today, as the nation prepares for the upcoming annual Mother’s Day celebration, they have become just another black family preparing to bury their son, living a uniquely American nightmare.

Following the shooting death of Jordan Edwards, the police chief, without having reviewed the evidence, moved quickly to assert that the officer shot in self-defense.

There is, of course, the societal belief that these young black males were either gang members or malcontents involved in criminal activity, and therefore, got what they justly deserved.  As it turns out, they were simply kids at a neighborhood party who had left out of a sense of responsibility as it had got too crowded and rowdy.

As reported by Shaun King from the New York Daily News:

“Police swarmed the car, which was their dad’s personal vehicle, and forced all of the boys out at gunpoint.  The police, cursing and yelling, expressed no concern for Jordan.

As police demanded that the boys face away from them and walk backwards with their hands held above their heads, one of the cops, according to the sons, loudly mocked them for not knowing their left from their right.  They had just seen their brother shot in the forehead with a rifle.

At that point, Vidal, Kevon and their friend, who was in the car with them, were not only traumatized beyond comprehension, they were seriously wondering if they’d be shot and killed next.

What they were arrested for was being black kids in their own car, obeying the law, while witnessing their brother shot in the face by police, but no one could quite tell the the truth about that.  My guess is that the police hope they will find something-drugs, alcohol, expired registration, or a weapon of some sort but they found nothing.  The boys, in the most traumatic moment of their lives, had been profiled and detained for no reason on top of it all.”

There are countless variations on quotes exhorting us to never give up.  One variation is “Bad things happen; what matters most is that you get up and keep going.”

The Edwards family represents the embodiment of the American middle class family.  When closing one’s eyes, what does one see? A two-parent family residing in a suburban community, well respected, churchgoers with three teenage sons attending the local high school with no history of disciplinary concerns and unknown to the local police or judicial authorities.

Jordan Edwards was a straight A student, athlete.  He was everything his parents wanted him to be: smart, kind, hardworking, giving and a lover of sports

Now they have buried him one week before Mother’s Day.

The Edwards family also represents the embodiment of the nightmare for black families although breathing the same air, living in two alternative universes.  I am reminded of a recent Subaru auto sales commercial directed at two racial groups one white, the other black.

In the “white commercial,” it focuses on a little white boy growing up and driving his father’s car off to college with graying dad, mom standing with the family dog, with a prideful look waving farewell as he goes off to explore his new world.  In the “black commercial,” the teenager tells his mother that he’s taking the car to see his friends.

One commercial celebrates the bright and hopeful future of a confident and secure young man and the pride of his parents as he leaves home The other leaves out the truth of the stress and anxiety of the parent in quiet contemplation, fearing for the safety of her son and not being able to rest until his feet are heard back in the home again.

——————–

Concluding Words

In his article, Shaun King writes that:

“The police have actually asked if they could attend the funeral, but they haven’t apologized for what they have done.”

It may be incredulous to some that the police would even ask to be in same space of those who have suffered severe psychological trauma by one of their own.  Or, it may be seen as an act of human connection on the part of the police reaching out to the family and the community.

The truth of this incident is the fact that psychological trauma is a permanent etching on the psychological self.   Fifteen-year-old Jordan Edwards’ future is over.  His family will forever be impacted by this event as well as the understanding that other black families continue to be  at risk for a similar experience.

The tragic death of Jordan Edwards reaffirm that our children represent our Achilles Heel, the soft area that we cannot protect from race related aggression.

Rather than focus on protecting our young people from racial strife, we should engage in empowering strategies that will also focus on healing the psychological wounds they are bound to continue to encounter in their lives.

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“’To err is human’ is a common expression, but we should not believe there is always room for error.  In some cases there is no room for errorNone.

-Dr. Micheal Kane, Ten Flashes of Light

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Until the next crossroads.  The journey continues…