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/

Look to Aspire

September 24, 2012

I hadn’t heard a doggone thing about it.  I’m talking about Magic Johnson’s new ASPIRE network.  However, I am so glad I found it.  I was scrolling through the television guide and noticed “Flip Wilson” was on.  Okay.  Had to see that.

Three hours later my television was still tuned to this channel, and I don’t even watch that much television.

I have always been a fan of TV One because it seemed that it mattered to them what kind of material they were feeding to us.  It seemed that they were careful about it.  I thought this was so critical in a world where images of us in the media have historically been a massive onslaught of stereotypes.

I think ASPIRE is doing the same thing but they have what seems to have a bit more of a focus on the Arts.  I spent three hours watching Black independent films on ASPIRE that day.  Just prior to the discovery of the channel I had been wondering how to get more access to these films.  Then, there they were.

Check it out.  You will not be disappointed.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/06/28/aspire-network-launch-earvin-magic-johnson_n_1635238.html

So it does seem here lately that people want to know what Black women think. I mean there is so much hype today over “The Help”. Look, I appreciated the movie. And Viola Davis was extraordinary as usual. But there were no surprIses there AT ALL. Did you think the Black maids would say they were kicking up their heels to be degraded everyday? I don’t think so.

On the contrary, “The Misadventures of an Awkward Black Girl” offers something very different. Developed by Issa Rae, it gives a voice to a Black woman who tends to be invisible altogether in the media, an awkward Black woman, just trying to make it through her awkward life. Now that is a big surprise.

It is a comedy and I actually found myself laughing out loud. That almost never happens with me watching any sort of sitcom. The writing is crisp and smart and you feel this woman’s pain. We are laughing at her and ourselves for those times that we have all felt at least a little awkward.

It is an internet program that almost halted production because they ran out of money. They were able to raise money through an online donation service to keep it going. They exceeded their goals in terms of the money they raised, because so many folks did not want to lose this great show.

In a way it is powerful because it represents the freedom to be awkward or to be anything other than a stereotype.

Run to your computer. Check it out and tell me what you think:
awkwardblackgirl.com

The attached link says everything that needs to be said on the subject of the “Black women are less attractive..” topic that set the internet ablaze this week.

The premise of this so-called research is absolutely ridiculous. There is really nothing to argue about there.

Based on what I have learned about the psychologist who performed this stupid study, he seems to be seeking his five minutes of fame by executing studies that are as provocative as possible.

I don’t like to spend too much time on such rubbish but it does drive home a point I’ve made in the past; psychologists have issues and biases of their own. And just like with any other product you consume (even research), please shop carefully.

In addition, the absence of jugdment on the staff’s part at Psychology Today is also of concern, and in my estimation pathetic.

All research, even legitimate, thoughtful research, has limitations. All research. The fact that the psychologist fails to mention any limitations also tells you something about his credibility. The attached article outlines only a few of the apparent flaws of this so-called study. See:
http://m.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2011/may/18/satoshi-kanazawa-black-women-psychology-today?cat=commentisfree&type=article

P.S. I was looking for an image of a beautiful African American woman and landed on Tracy Chapman.

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.

 

We have covered reasons why Black people tell me they don’t want to go to therapy in:  Top 3 Reasons Black People Do Not Go to Therapy,

And we covered the historical perspectives related to why we as a group avoid therapy in: More Reasons Black People Do Not Go to Therapy.

Now, I am going to give you an opinion based on 20 years of Clinical Experience about this avoidance:

TRAUMA AND DENIAL OF TRAUMA

We underestimate the effects trauma has had for us as a group.  I think the initial trauma of leaving behind our homes, families, names, cultures in the Middle Passage was too much.  Then you had Black families chronically separated from one another during slavery.  How could anyone cope with these losses?  It would surely have been detrimental for a person (a matter of life and death to be exact) to not get up and work as a slave because you were feeling depressed because your child was torn from you the day before.   

I believe those issues went unprocessed for generations.  This pain continues to affect people in subsequent generations if you believe in the collective unconscious (Asante, 2003).  American Indians call it historical trauma and intergenerational grief (See:  http://www.whitebison.org/magazine/2005/volume6/wellbriety!vol6no6.pdf).  I see too many cases of people emotionally detached from their children and I wonder if this is related to our history in this country. 

We have recurrent traumas.  In some of our neighborhoods there is too much violence.  And there are a host of too many other everyday pressures of work and negotiating life.

The style of coping:  “Keep it moving and deny there is a problem,” was probably passed down through the generations as well.

Sucking it up may have gotten us through some very rough times,  but we are surely not living at our best in too many cases today.  Sucking it up and ignoring the issues just means that we have to put energy into that denial.   Sometimes we find unhealthy ways to  due to what I see as unprocessed grief.  I have talked about them before: violence toward our own people (which too often looks like hopelessness and or misplaced anger), along with alcohol and substance abuse to name a few.  At lot of us seem to walk around on edge because we are not handling our stress adequately.  This can sometimes lead to physical illnesses and early death.

And the reality is we do not have to rely on sucking it up as a way of coping anymore if we do not choose to. 

What was the thing about Tyler Perry?

People, I find, love his movies because they tend to scratch at the surface of our trauma enough to produce cathartic responses.  I have witnessed grown men breaking down at some Tyler Perry movies, those movies with heftier emotional content.  The Madea character often takes the edge off some of the painful parts when she is present.  Tyler was pretty brilliant for including her most of the time because nobody just wants to cry for two hours, right?

In a way it becomes safe to cry at his movies because you know you may be laughing again in a few minutes.  Honestly, I think this is why “For Colored Girls…”  may have not been the commercial success that was anticipated, no Madea (not that she would have at all been appropriate for this film).

But the cathartic responses are not really grieving.  They provide an opportunity to let go of some tension, but there is little to no acknowledgment of what the tension is about.  Without that acknowledgement, you are not healing anything.

My point is we apparently need to grieve more.  I know that doesn’t sound like very much fun.  But not doing so may in fact be preventing you from having fun.  If you are carrying a burden, how can you possibly have fun? 

Sucking it up is not grieving and it is not moving on.  Grieving is about letting go.  Grieving for us may be on different levels.  It may be very personal as in the losses of people we know.   However,  it may also be broader, and include deeper feelings about a lack of freedom, and feeling unseen or unimportant, and inadequacies.   These deeper feelings probably come from generations of ancestors not being seen as full human beings.  That is a painful frustrating existence.  The healing comes with the greatest acceptance of oneself in all his or her fullness now.

How can we accomplish this?  Well, I think the healthier ways to do it are by trying to talk about any painful or overwhelming feelings when they come up with somebody you feel safe with, or if you do not have a person you feel safe with try to write the feelings down. I think about Celie in the Color Purple and how her letters to God were ultimately healing and strengthening, but she had to a tremendous amount of grieving. 

Your feelings deserve to have validation.  They will be less overwhelming and less likely to produce unhealthy responses if you acknowledge them.  Of course, if they are too much and you are having difficulty with day-to-day functioning, it may also be helpful to find a mental health practitioner. I think part of a good therapist’s role is to help the client grieve the past.   See: How to find a Therapist:  https://makeitplainonline.wordpress.com/2010/04/21/how-to-find-a-therapist-part-i/

Grieving provides the opportunity to transcend the trauma.

____________________________________________________________________

Asante, M. K. (2003).  The Afrocentric Idea. Temple University Press.

Nothing in all the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity.  MLK, Jr.

 

Who is MLK Jr. ?  I never thought I would get blank stares when I asked this question to anyone.  However, many young people I talk with are really not sure.  I would say that about 8 out of 10 African American 18 to 24 year-olds I interviewed in a large urban area, either are not sure or they believe he was the president at some point. 

While I am happy that some the younger members of our communities have the self-esteem to believe that a Black man could have been president in the past, I am frightened that they do not really know their history, even the basics.  Some of them have high school diplomas.  I thought to myself, “What the heck did you do at school all day?”.  

The bottom line is we are not teaching our youngsters history.  The cost is outlined above in King”s quote.  We are doomed to repeat the past if we don’t know the history.  We are not understanding our true value in history.  Some of the people I interviewed were living in very dangerous communities where the value of their own life and others’ lives were extremely minimized.  The cycles of violence in many communities have endured for some time.

So, do we need Black History Month?  Yes.  Some people argue that Black History is American History, and I wholeheartedly agree.   Some of the same people further argue that it should be integrated into any American history curriculum. Of course.  But we still need Black History Month.  It’s like Valentines’s Day.  It doesn’t mean we don’t love the people we love the rest of the year.  It’s just a day to do something special.

We need this month to do something special.  Take a youngster aside and make certain they have access to their history.  We are responsible for what happens next. 

See:  http://www.blackhistory.com/

Southern Discomfort

January 15, 2011

The main point of this post is for us to think about why we hit our children. I am saying this first because it takes a minute for me to get to that point in the blog.

There were some unpleasant feelings that came up in terms of my summer vacation South in November 2010. I was concerned about returning to the only place I had ever been where I was called a “nigger” to my face. Surreal for me. ” No thanks, I’ll pass”, I thought when the opportunity arose, but then as you read in my last post I found some really beautiful things in the South (Southern Exposure: https://makeitplainonline.wordpress.com/2010/12/31/southern-exposure/).

Negative feelings did come up though, as my family was entering an old plantation (this was not planned, we just happened upon it during a drive through Edisto Island).  My toddler aged son had some sort of fit and began refusing to enter.

His resistance started a cascade of thoughts for me. Especially, what must it have been like to be a child slave? I will share the cascade with you.

First of all, at what age exactly did they start beating children to shape slave behavior?

At what age was it necessary to conform to slave behavior? When parents say “It’s for your own good?”did this come from a place for black people that really meant, ” learn to be a docile person because that will save your life”?  Certainly, having a strong will or any will would not have been tolerated and was perhaps a matter of life and death.

Were slave children allowed to play?  What was life like for them before they had to work? When were they made to work?  Were they neglected?

I consulted an old book on Black child development about this: Alvin Poussaint and James Comer wrote: Black Child Care in the 70s that referred to the slave child as “abused”. They were often assigned to care for Caucasian sickly people, their elderly or Caucasian children. It didn’t say when they started to work.

I think about my kid and how he always says “no” and that is the process by which we begin to establish a separate identity and find our own voice. It is only normal and natural for children this age to do this. How was this handled with slave children? I can only guess that they were beaten severely, by either caregivers or slave masters.

Like the Seligman dogs from a famous psychological experiment many years ago. The dogs were shocked through the floors of their cages with no way to escape.  After a while, even if they were shocked they no longer tried to escape.

I think of my child, and know I will not hit him. It’s a lot more work to train a child in socially acceptable behavior without hitting, but it makes no sense to me to shape a human whom you want to feel worthy of respect by giving the child pain. He spends a hell of a lot of time in time out but he is getting a consequence that does not involve physical pain.

That’s my choice. You may have a different one. But I think it is important in terms of living consciously to think about why you are doing it. Is it because you were hit? Is it because everybody else is doing it? Is it because people from your community or family may judge you if you don’t hit? Are those good enough reasons for you? Chances are this pattern was passed down through generations and may not make the most sense when you step back from it a little and get perspective.

People will argue: Spare the rod and spoil the child. But I really don’t think this needs to be taken literally. After all, I don’t know many people using rods on their kids. I do think kids need limits and structure to learn and without these things a child may have more difficulty in society.

Southern Exposure

December 31, 2010

 
 

The few trips I have had to the South were mostly pleasant experiences, such as meeting my maternal grandmother’s family in South Carolina at a reunion in 2000.  There were some unpleasant experiences as well that I will address in the following blog:  ” Southern Discomfort”.

This year, for my summer vacation which did not occur until November, I had the pleasure of spending some time in Savannah, Georgia and Sea Islands (Islands off the coast of Georgia and South Carolina) known for their beauty, but less well-known for the exquisite culture of the Gullah people.  

My grandmother would try her best to distance herself from this massive group, but I suspect that our heritage is closer to theirs than she really wanted to admit.  Some of the language she used was just too similar and some of the recipes were EXACTLY the same when I looked in Gullah cookbooks.  I think the close linkage to Africa that is clearly accepted in Gullah culture and maybe some of the religious differences and beliefs may have been the point of concerns for my grandmother and her family who were trying very hard to just be “American”.

Africans in this region during slavery, were often left without a Caucasian presence, to tend  land in the “lowcountry” where their Caucasian owners found the weather difficult to bear.  This made it possible for them to retain many aspects of their African language and culture.  To this day, many are able to trace their history directly to Africa, many from Sierra Leone. 

The language is what many linguists would call a” pigeon” which is a mixture of languages, like Creole, or West Indian dialects.  The culture is also mixed and this is evidenced in the religious practices which tend to be Christian, but outside of the church sustain a African based belief structure on healing and how to learn life’s lessons.  These beliefs coexist in the same way they do for those who practice Santeria (which is fundamentally African) in Latin cultures.

There was representation of this culture in 90s cinema and on television with the movie Daughter’s of the Dust by independent filmmaker, Julie Dash which was a story about a Gullah Island family at the turn of the last century.  I think the movie has some of the most beautiful cinematography I have ever seen.  Take a look: 

Ronald Daise and his wife Natalie have shared about Gullah culture through their very popular 90s children’s television show: “Gullah Gullah Island” which continues to air on Nick Jr. in the middle of the night.  The videos are available through their website http://gullahgullah.com/, and on Amazon.  Their delightful show focuses less on the language and more on the way of life and spirit of community in Gullah culture.  Ronald Daise also has some children’s books that I find beautiful in their presentation of this little talked about and little understood area of the world.  These books have positive Black imagery and relationships for African American youth.  They would make great Kwanzaa gifts.

The power in all of this is the recognition that we come from somewhere, and there is a link to whence we came, as much as we try to deny that at times.

For more information on the subject see: http://www.penncenter.com/

I also like this blog about the subject:

http://www.rosalindcummingsyeates.com/blog/labels/Gullah%20Culture.html

The Santa Claus Bag

December 12, 2010

 

When I was very small my mother transformed all our Caucasian Christmas figurines to African Americans.  The Santa right down to the elves.  I did not witness her doing it but I could tell she’d painted them.  And the thing was my mom was no Black Panther.  She was not the rebellious kind by any stretch of the imagination.  But something about her very young child looking at all these representations of joy and none of them appearing to look like her daughter bothered my mother.

Now that I have a child, I know what she felt.  Is it alright to have children of color looking to the Caucasian Santa as the source of all the goodness and excitement.  I say no. Especially since the real Santa Claus bag essentially belongs to me, and I don’t look anything like a fat, jolly white guy.  I am saying the source of the joy is really in my hands.

I think children need to experience the possibility that Santa can be from any group.  On a subconscious level it is dangerous to believe that only white stuff can be good stuff  and yet I still see so many people, young and old falling into that trap.  I plan to teach my child that Santa Claus looks like him when he enters our home, and he looks like others when he enters theirs. 

Why participate in the Santa thing at all if it has to be this complicated?  Why don’t we just do Kwanzaa instead?  Well I remember believing in Santa was great fun, and it is a chance to believe in magic which I think is good for the imaginations of little children.  But I want to  handle this consciously, in a way that is sensitive to self-esteem development.

And by the way, these days you don’t have to put your figurines into blackface (although I used some brown powdered foundation on one of my decorations and I think it turned our pretty good).  You can buy them already Black. There are several websites I found on line including: 

http://www.itsablackthang.com/AfricanAmericanChristmasDecorations-Black-Santa.html

I also love this post from a couple of years ago where a journalist interviewed several Black Santas:  http://weekendamerica.publicradio.org/display/web/2008/12/13/inside_blackness_black_santa/

Happy Holidays Everyone!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!