There was an entire body of work at the early part of the last century devoted to the fact that people of color, including Blacks, were of low intelligence because they scored lower on Euro-American tests of intelligence.  Lewis Terman, who was an enormous figure in IQ (Intelligence Quotient) testing in an influential book The Measurement of Intelligence, states:  a low level of intelligence was “very, very common among Spanish-Indian and Mexican families in the Southwest and also among Negroes.  Their dullness seems to be racial…” (Terman, 1916).  The tests themselves were developed with European values about how to measure intelligence at their core.  Creativity was100%  absent from the formulation.  The data were often collected on middle class whites which contrasted them with impoverished people of color. 

Another popular book related to this subject, The Study of American Intelligence (1923) by Carl Brigham when reviewing data on IQ tests administered to Army personnel concluded that they proved the superiority of the “Nordic” type over the “Alpine, mediterranean and Negro groups”.  Brigham later recanted these claims in the Psychological Review (1930) journal, but many people remained unaware of his recantation.

The perspective that people of color were of lower intelligence so infiltrated American thinking that we are still contending with ths today, as it has been argued again and again that programs such as Head Start are a waste of tax money because they do not improve performance. The argument is basically many people of color will never learn at the same rate as Caucasians so stop trying to help them. We continue to use tests derived from Terman’s original battery as a measure of intelligence even though it is biased.

So, what is intelligence?  Within the field of psychology there is no consensus about this. (Yet we continue to label these tests as tests of IQ.)  I often describe intelligence as the capacity to A) think and to B) use that capacity to function the best way you are able in your life.  Current IQ measures do address the first part (A) but are very limited even with that.  They do not address the second part (B) at all. 

During an intelligence test, you may be asked to complete puzzle-like tasks and demonstrate that your memory is good and that you can concentrate.  However, IQ tests continue to fall short now in terms of a heavy focus on material that you have already learned.   That is a biased approach to intelligence in and of itself as some children simply do not have the same resources or value the same things as some counterparts.  I will argue that the child with the different resources may still have a very rich experience, just not one in line with mainstrean values.  This does not in any way make them less intelligent than those counterparts.

I have noticed that these tests (there are several kinds)  are evolving into more neuropsychological instruments, which tap into brain function, but they have not evolved enough if  are “fund of information” and “vocabulary” which are no doubt influenced by environment, as part of the quotient, which they continue to be.

What IQ Tests Do and Don’t Do

IQ tests are useful in that they provide some prediction about how a child will perform in a mainstream Euro-American environment, because the values of the test are consistent with mainstream values.

They give some information about memory and concentration, as I mentioned above which may be useful for understanding how a child thinks or what areas are strengths and which are weaknesses in the context of Euro-American functioning. 

They by no means reflect “Intelligence” for all people in all contexts. 

Much of the historical data can be found in:  Thomas, M. D. Sillen, S. (1991).  Racism and Psychiatry.  Carol Publishing Group Edition.

Brigham, C. C. (1923).  A study of American intelligence. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

***Coming Soon:  What to do if the School Tells you your kid needs to be tested for IQ.

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See: “In Treatment”

July 19, 2010

I just finished watching the first season of HBO’s In Treatment, as it was all the rage with a few of my clients.  HBO will be going into its third season of the show this upcoming fall.  It was a goal for my summer to try to catch up. 

I did not anticipate being so drawn in.  I do not have HBO so I was getting the videos from a service that mails the videos to you.  I started out ordering one at time and that quickly increased to two or three depending on what time would allow.  There were 43 episodes in all, about 1/2 hour per episode.

Dr. Paul Weston, played by Gabriel Byrne, is exquisite as the psychotherapist.  We see four of his weekly sessions with four different clients.  In addition,  Paul is struggling with his own issues when we meet him.  His issues force him back into his own treatment which is an interesting element to the show, and provides the fifth session for the week.   It has been a while since I have seen complex fictional characters on television, and it may have been even longer since I have seen complex African American characters.  Blair Underwood as “Alex”  is just amazing as is Glynn Turman who plays his father. 

If you are pressed for time I would say focus on the “Alex” character.  I found the teenage girl character “Sophie” a little slow at first, but it gets better midway through the season.  Really, all the episodes relate to the others so ideally see them all.

The therapist here is using a predominately psychodynamic style of therapy which focuses on the childhood years of the client’s history as well as howthese  early relationships get played out in the client’s current life.  Information about the client is often revealed in not just what the client talks about but how they relate to the therapist.  Paul makes some decisions that would make strict analysts cringe (what some may call boundary violations), but overall he is a good therapist. 

From the standpoint of learning about this kind of therapy, this program is remarkable.  However, it just makes for interesting and thought-provoking television, and how often does that happen?

If you believe you are ready to find a mental health practioner see: https://makeitplainonline.wordpress.com/2010/04/21/how-to-find-a-therapist-part-i/

Ok, now on to Season TWO!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

BP and My Anxiety

July 5, 2010

I have so many topics I want to cover on this site, but lately I am keep coming back to thoughts such as:  “How important is this topic?” and “Does this really matter in light of the condition of the world?” 

In the mind of an anxious person, these are the thoughts that may consume the person.  The worst oil spill in history?  Those pictures of the gushing oil bother me, and I wonder when and how we are gonna get out of this.  Should I be worried?  Should I let go of it and just hope it will work out for the best?

Anxiety runs in my family.  We are worriers, sometimes prone to catastrophizing (worrying so much that your mind goes to the worst case scenario).  The anxiety tends not to be so overwhelming that it interferes with functioning but it is present.  I have had  a few crazy dreams and nightmares lately about disastrous situations.  I am sure this is due to the anxiety I am feeling about the BP oil spill.

Same thing happened to me with 9/11.  I was in NYC on that day. I was not close enough to have witnessed the attacks or see the towers collapse,but close enough to see enormous plumes of smoke at a distance, and see carless New York streets where droves of people were walking covered with dust.  I think I am more susceptible to anxiety over man-made disasters, maybe because the anxiety distracts me from some of my anger.

There are different kinds of anxiety and differing degrees of severity.  In my opinion, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is one of the worst types because it is difficult to treat.  This involves combined anxiety and depression symptoms one could experience after a trauma.  A related problem, though less severe is Adjustment Disorder with Anxiety (Depression and conduct Problems may also be present), that a person may experience after an event such as divorce, or losing a job.  Generalized Anxiety Disorder is probably the mildest type, but the symptoms tend to pervade the person’s life.  Other Anxiety disorders include:  Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, Panic Disorder and Social Phobia/Social Anxiety.  Go to this link for more information:  http://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/anxiety-disorders/index.shtml.

What kind do I have?  Well, it would probably be Anxiety Disorder, Not Otherwise Specified, which means I don’t fall easily into any of the categories, but have prominent symptoms.  My symptoms include:  excessive worry, nightmares, and restlessness.  Most of the time I do not have symptoms but the sense of not having control may trigger them.  Yes, therapists have issues too.  We are human after all.  See:  https://makeitplainonline.wordpress.com/2010/04/21/how-to-find-a-therapist-part-i/ 

Under these extraordinary circumstances many people may have anxiety related symptoms.  There is more focus lately in the media about Americans in the Gulf region who are suffering in terms of mental health (probably a great deal of Adjustment Disorder and PTSD).  I do empathize deeply with what it may be like for them now.  However, we are really all in this together in many ways.  The health and well-being of the people in the Gulf region along with the environmental fallout created by the spill, affects us all. 

I am able to control symptoms with deep breathing and yoga practice.  What helps me more than anything else though is getting on with my life; trying to care for the people I love, and trying to do the best work I can do.  So, all of this blogging is important to me.  Part of my work as I see it is to share information.

More severe cases that interfere with functioning may need therapy.  Some people prefer medication or some combination of therapy and medication.  If you believe you may be suffering with severe anxiety, talk it over with your physician, shaman, pastor or other helper in your life, and make a plan to address it.

A few weeks ago CNN promoted a pilot study that was very similar to the Doll studies from back in the 1940s, by Kenneth and Mamie Clark, two African American psychologists.  If you are not familiar with the Clarks’ work, they used dolls and illustrated that children hold racial biases about themselves.  In their studies, children would select dolls representing “preferential” attributes.  Most Black and white children at that time chose white dolls as having the most preferential characteristics.  Also, Black children who identified themselves as most like the Black dolls, said that the Black dolls were least preferential.  Here is a copy of the study:  http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2010/images/05/13/doll.study.1947.pdf.  These studies were used as evidence in the Brown v. Board of Education hearings that eventually led to desegregation of schools because Black children’s self-esteem’s were, as they concluded, suffering due to segregation.

It was probably true in part that Black children’s self-esteem was suffering due to segregation, but closer proximity to whites meant other problems for Black children.  Often teachers were biased.  bell hooks (she writes her name that way) said in Rock My Soul: Black People and Self-Esteem, that many children whom she knew that were high achievers in segregated systems were not supported or nurtured in the same ways and became far less interested in learning in the desegregated classrooms. 

This is not to say we should go back to segregation, it just means that we have never really dealt with the problems that came from desegregation.  So, what do you get?  A bunch of children who eventually become adults who may continue to struggle to feel confident about themselves. 

The CNN study (developed by an African American psychologist whom they hired to design the study)  found similar trends: 77% of white 5 year olds pointed to the darkest child as the dumbest child, and black children still lean toward a white bias but at a lower rate than in the studies from the 40s http://ac360.blogs.cnn.com/2010/05/14/study-white-and-black-children-biased-toward-lighter-skin/? and  http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2010/images/05/13/expanded_results_methods_cnn.pdf.  ABC News did almost the same study just a few years ago:  http://abcnews.go.com/GMA/story?id=7213714&page=2

We are somewhat obsessed with this type of work. There are many more of these studies that I do not have space to include here.   From the perspective of a psychologist, most of these studies(including the Clark studies)  from a research standpoint, have major flaws and may not with any degree of certainty claim to represent the attitudes of all African American children.  Most have very limited samples (or participants) and it would be hard to make an argument that any of these studies is representative of the attitudes of the entire African American child population.  Also know that self-esteem is a multidimensional construct and just because you may have negative attitudes about one area, you can make up for it in other areas.

Nonetheless, I think every few years we need reminding that the ill-effects of centuries of slavery and to know it is still relevant now, even if nobody is really saying that.  So, we repeat the studies, again and again.  A young women made a film replicating the studies in 2006: 

http://www.mediathatmattersfest.org/films/a_girl_like_me/

So, are we obsessed with these studies? 

I think we are probably more obsessed with race overall in this country, and because of this we are obsessed with the results of that obsession on our psyche. 

WHAT CAN BE DONE?

Instead of repeating these studies which highlight the negative self-perceptions, let’s talk about what we can do to improve self-perceptions on average.  We need to challenge these beliefs if we are ever able to feel whole and beautiful and know that we are smart. 

Work hard to make sure to expose very young children to a variety of characters in books, film, literature, and art.  This is not always so easy.  You may have to go out of your way.  Recognize that what children get exposed to in popular media tells them they are unattractive and stupid.  You must do all you can to counter this massive onslaught.  This includes…gulp…turning off the tv.  Limit the viewing to just a couple of hours per week.  Same goes for videos.  Maybe read more books, but be sensitive to how children of color are represented if at all. 

Become more conscious of the media intake level of your child.  Have discussions about what they are viewing and their opinions about it

Take an active role at your child’s school.  Advocate for variety in teaching styles in the school.  There is a body of research suggesting that children of color learn better in “cooperative learning”or “peer education” classrooms where the responsibility for learning is on the group instead of the individual child.  See:  http://www.learnnc.org/lp/pages/4653  for an overview and links to research.

Recognize your child’s strengths and make sure they are aware of these strengths.

Other related sites:  http://www.loc.gov/exhibits/brown/brown-brown.html

PS:  Has CNN gone a little crazy?  From what I understand they get a great number of African American viewers, but they seem to focus on the problems in the Black community without offering any solutions.  CNN, in my opinion, has a tendency to seriously underestimate our resilience.

I am frequently complaining about how some of the movies available for us are horrendous in terms of healthy images and healthy messages… and they are usually horrendous in terms of these things. 

However, I must share with you a documentary airing on Public Television about Black people in the military throughout American history called:  For Love of Liberty:  The Story of America’s Black Patriots.   It was outstanding.  It weaves our contributions to the US Military to our overall history in this country, brilliantly.  What stood out to me about it were two things: 

1) that they use a great deal of the real words of military men from letters they had written to family, and

2)  how much was missing from my education.  And I am somebody who seeks out African and African American education. There is so much rich information here.

 This is potent stuff.  Well done and clear.  Apparently, this was a ten-year undertaking for Louis Gossett Jr and his collaborators.  It was well worth the wait.

Run,  Don’t Walk to your computer and find the schedule at:  forloveofliberty.org

I think they are selling the video at that website for $20.00.  If you missed the viewing in your area, I would recommend you buy it if you are able.  Watch it with your children.  I would say it is appropriate for ages as young as 12.

If you’ve already seen it, I’d love to hear what you think.

1) “I’m Not Crazy” 

There is a belief that is quite common I find, and not just with Black folks, that therapy is only for those people who are severely disturbed.  In fact, therapy is useful for many issues, including:  job or family stress, difficulty getting along with others, personal crises, like grief, or identity issues, or just feeling misunderstood or not heard and supported.  Of course therapy can be helpful with more serious conditions as well. 

What is the meaning of “crazy” anyway?  In some cases, I think not getting help is the crazy thing when it becomes clear to the person and their friends or family that help is needed.  

 2) “I Have Enough Support from Other Sources” 

This is actually a good reason.  One African American “survivalism” (or pattern of behavior we have passed down through generations)  we use that still works when it is available is interdependence. In African philosophy this is stated:  “I am because we are”.  We’ll call it a healthy network.  When we have a firmly established network of supportive friends and family who get us, and we can talk to, often there is no need for therapy.  It is important to note that if the issue is serious (like hearing voices or severe mood shifts) and not getting better through the usual support system it may be better to seek professional help as an adjunct to the system.

3) “That Would Mean I am Weak and Cannot Handle My Problems”

There is still stigma attached to mental health issues and mental health treatment.  Many people think:  “Just suck it up!”  But there are many issues such as serious mood disorders that you can’t just “suck up” or ignore or often they get worse.  I have seen that entering therapy can be both a sign of strength and empowering.  I am often awed by the amount of strength and courage present in people who are doing therapy. 

I think we as people of African descent have had to ignore a great deal of our issues historically because there just wasn’t the time, energy or money.  We had to survive.  Addressing mental health issues probably seemed like a luxury for many people in the past.  However, now with so many opportunities to get help, we need to change this pattern.  Each person who is mentally healthy is able to make a better, stronger contribution to his community.  After all: “I am because we are”.

It can be a project to find someone you feel comfortable talking with, but it is well worth the effort.

***This anecdotal information, based on years of talking to people who refuse to get therapy even when they really need it.

In Six Pillars of Self-Esteem, Nathaniel Branden identifies “consciousness” as a basic tool of survival; the ability to be aware of the environment in some form and to guide one’s actions accordingly.

In her book about self-esteem Rock My Soul: Black People and Self-Esteem, bell hooks (yes, her name is written that way) said, “No black person in the United States can have any measure of self-esteem if he or she has not cultivated the capacity to be a critical thinker, to live consciously”.

So what does this have to do with The Princess and the Frog?

This was a monumental movie for young African American girls. Our first Disney African American princess. I went to see it with my god-daughter and her mom when it first came out. I so wanted to love this movie. There were so many really great things about it. I love the fact that Disney was back to hand drawing its characters. I didn’t even mind that most of the time the princess was a frog.

However, I walked out of the movie with a sick feeling in my stomach. Something was wrong about this movie. I needed to employ some critical consciousness. My first problem was that Disney could not create a African American or African prince for the princess. The message is not healthy for African American boys, and therefore not really very good for African American girls either. The movie suggests: 1) Black men are not princes, 2) Black men work themselves to an early grave 3) Black women need to go outside of the group to find happiness.

The prince in the movie for all I know could have been an African man, but that was not at all clear and from what I’ve read many are assuming he is white. The only clearly African American male that sustains himself throughout the movie is a power hungry, evil hustler who will manipulate and kill anyone who gets in his way.

I do believe people can love whomever they choose, but with the great lack of healthy African American relationships portrayed in American media this is a very sensitive issue. So, why would the folks at Disney decide to do it this way? For one thing, I do not think that they could have had an obviously African American or African man as the butt of every joke as the prince was in this movie. People like me would surely have complained about that too. Perhaps they did not believe they could pull off a believable Black prince. This is what happens when we let others tell our stories or any version of our stories.

If you really need a Disney fix for yourself or your children, I think they did an excellent job on the stage production of The Lion King. Most of the characters are typically played by African American or African actors. I realize that Broadway shows are somewhat less accessible than movies, but it is worth saving up for. I also say, even though it was quite silly, Coming To America does the job in terms of that fantasy element, with thoughtful characters. Please let me know if there are any other movies or books you know about that would be good alternatives.