So, as descendants of terror (slavery) many of us still engage in behaviors that are understandable in terms of having been traumatized.  We continue to reconstruct the terror in many of our communities.  Psychoanalysts would call this reenacting, which is a common, understandable response to being traumatized.  It is a way for the traumatized individual to gain mastery or control of a situation where there was a feeling of powerlessness.  Unfortunately, the methods used to reenact the trauma are usually unhealthy and cyclical, resulting in nothing but further trauma for the individual and the community.  An unfortunate example of this for us is the violence plaguing too many of our communities.  However, the core issues go ignored generation after generation.  Trenton, NJ has hit a new record for deaths by violence.  Are we going to let this continue?

There is a failure I think for most people to acknowledge that the he behavior comes form somewhere.  It’s not just that the perpetuators are just bad people. They are often behaving like victims of trauma.  What’s the answer?  Empower them in other ways. Let them find their strengths  through the family and through the community.  No matter your feelings on the church, it offers a place for just that in many of our communities. There are often programs in and outside of churches that amazing people start that are empowering and strengthening for our children and we need to seek them out.  If we give up on them or blame them or continue to lock them up like animals or “stop and frisk” them like second class citizens, we will have the same problems.  These tactics haven’t worked.  They will not ever work.  They further destroy any real sense of strength or power, that people who are productive in communities need.

I attended a meeting with a group of mental health practitioners last month.  The meeting was spearheaded by a group of Black Psychiatrists.  It wasn’t just a boring presentation as too many of these meetings tend to be.  It was a group of mental health professionals trying to move toward healing in our communities.  I must say that up until that point I was very disappointed in the Black Mental Health practitioners.  I’m sure the desire for community action was there for so many but there was no movement toward organizing.  I will do my part to try to make sure it doesn’t stop with a meeting.

Here is some info on what to do if you are stopped and frisked:  http://www.nyclu.org/issues/racial-justice/stop-and-frisk-practices

ONE example a program supportive of youngsters: http://teemgateway.rutgers.edu/

The Snowy Day

February 20, 2012

African American History, in my opinion, should be celebrated.  No doubt.  There should be a time where this rich history is highlighted.  February?  Fine with me, as long as it is done.  Too many unsung heroes.  Let’s focus on them. Lets clarify the contributions so there are no mistakes about them.

However, the reality is that African American history cannot be divorced from American history.  Just the idea sounds a little insane.  In America there has been a sharing of ideas and experiences among and between groups whether some groups liked it or not.

This brings me to The Snowy Day.   Since my childhood, I assumed Ezra Jack Keats was African American.  After all, he wrote children’s books with Black children as the prinicpal protagonists. Who else  but a Black person would write Whistle for Willie?

Okay, we do suffer in the shadow of the ugly reinterpretations of Little Black Sambo (it wasn’t originally as offensive as it became over time). However, Keats’ books, by contrast were so inoffensive.  In fact, they were beautiful, simple stories about a child’s experience.

I recently took in an exhibit of Keats’ work at The Jewish Museum in New York City.  I went because my son now has an appreciation for Keats’ books, but also for myself because I thought the books were so beautifully drawn and I wanted to see more of this man’s art.

Up until a few days before the visit to the museum I was still thinking that Keats was Black.  However. a visit to the museum’s website to get a little more background history clarified all of this.  Keats was in fact a Jewish man who was born in 1916 and lived in East New York, Brooklyn.

Many of his books were autobiographical in the sense that they were reminiscent of experiences he had as a child, even if the character himself was not Jewish.

I thought this was quite profound;  that Keats was able to focus enough on the universal experiences of children such that race was not an issue.  The Snowy Day was written in 1962, at the height of the civil rights movement in this country.  It was brave and forward thinking.  The book was a hit among all groups, but Keats did get slack through the few decades following for his main character not confronting his Blackness in the story.

Keats was so much smarter than this.  Children are children.  They don’t go around confronting their ethnicity all the time.  They just want to be children. The experience of children in their curiostiy and exploration of their world is universal.  I later discovered that his book was endorsed by people like Langston Hughes.  Wow.

So, The Snowy Day is well-known for being the first full-color children’s book to feature an African American protagonist. So, the book was not written by an African American, and it wasn’t even necessarily written for African Americans. Nonetheless, it’s publishing was an powerful moment in American history.

Now when I read the book to my son, I think of the power behind it, and I have more hope for humankind.

Some people can live outside their societal boxes and celebrate the fact that at the end of the day we are all just people.

Happy

April 16, 2011

Something to smile about!  Recent research from the University of Michigan found that: as an African American, the more strongly you identify with African American culture, the happier you may be. 

http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/03/110304115003.htm

When I get my hands on the actual study, which should be very soon, I will let you know exactly how they measured these “constructs” such as:  How did they define “happy”  and how did they define “identify with” for example?  I’ll let you know what it says.  But for the time being, this is good news.

The point may be obvious to many but I do not think to all as some people spend so much time trying to identify themselves as anything but African American.

An interesting finding was that the relationship between racial identity and happiness was stronger for women that for men.  This finding is consistent with my own research that found that racial identity was associated with less stress for African American adolescent girls, but not for adolescent boys  (Arrington, 2001: Dissertation Abstracts).   Therefore, the relationship between happiness and racial identity, as well as for stress and racial identity is more complicated for males.   The researchers from Michigan speculate that the sense of  “belongingness”, may be the key factor for women.