When the topic of the Moorish influence in Europe is being discussed, one of the first questions that arises is, what race were they?As early as the Middle Ages, “Moors were commonly viewed as being mostly black or very swarthy, and hence the word is often used for negro,” according to the Oxford English Dictionary.Author and historian Chancellor Williams said “the original Moors, like the original Egyptians, were black Africans.”The 16th century English playwright William Shakespeare used the word Moor as a synonym for African. His contemporary Christopher Marlowe also used African and Moor interchangeably.Arab writers further buttress the black identity of the Moors. The powerful Moorish Emperor Yusuf ben-Tachfin is described by an Arab chronicler as “a brown man with wooly hair.”Black soldiers, specifically identified as Moors, were actively recruited by Rome, and served in Britain, France, Switzerland, Austria, Hungary, Poland, and Romania. St. Maurice, patron saint of medieval Europe, was only one of many black soldiers and officers under the employ of the Roman Empire.Although generations of Spanish rulers have tried to expunge this era from the historical record, recent archeology and scholarship now shed fresh light on the Moors who flourished in Al-Andalus for more than 700 years – from 711 AD until 1492.
The Moorish advances in mathematics, astronomy, art, and agriculture helped propel Europe out of the Dark Ages and into the Renaissance.Source: Stewartsynopsis.com/moors_in_europe.htmUniversal EducationThe Moors brought enormous learning to Spain that over centuries would percolate through the rest of Europe.The intellectual achievements of the Moors in Spain had a lasting effect; education was universal in Moorish Spain, while in Christian Europe, 99 percent of the population was illiterate, and even kings could neither read nor write. At a time when Europe had only two universities, the Moors had seventeen, located in Almeria, Cordova, Granada, Juen, Malaga, Seville, and Toledo.In the 10th and 11th centuries, public libraries in Europe were non-existent, while Moorish Spain could boast of more than 70, including one in Cordova that housed hundreds of thousands of manuscripts. Universities in Paris and Oxford were established after visits by scholars to Moorish Spain.It was this system of education, taken to Europe by the Moors, that seeded the European Renaissance and brought the continent out of the 1,000 years of intellectual and physical gloom of the Middle Ages.Source: Blackhistorystudies.com/resources/resources/15-facts-on-the-moors-in-spain/Culturespain.com/2012/03/02/what-did-the-moors-do-for-us/
A talk given on Founders’ Day, April 11, 1987, at Spelman College in Atlanta.
From Living By The Word: Selected Writings 1973-1987 by Alice Walker.
As some of you no doubt know, I myself was a student here once, many moons ago. I used to sit in these very seats (sometimes still in pajamas, underneath my coat) and gaze up at the light streaming through these very windows. I listened to dozens of encouraging speakers and sang, and listened to, wonderful music. I believe I sensed I would one day return, to be on this side of the podium. I think that, all those years ago, when I was a student here and still in my teens, I was thinking about what I would say to you now.
It may surprise you that I do not intend (until the question-and-answer period perhaps) to speak of war and peace, the economy, racism…
Please take time to view the link above for the wonderful healing tribute sent to Tiana……
Oklahoma school changes policy on dreadlocks
Published: September 10, 2013
This Sept. 8, 2013 photo shows Tiana Parker, 7, who was removed from the Deborah Brown Community School due to the school’s policy against her natural hairstyle, poses for a photo outside the Tulsa, Okla. school. On Monday, Sept. 9, 2013 the school board voted to change its policy that had banned dreadlocks, afros and other hairstyles. (AP Photo/Tulsa World, Cory Young) ONLINE OUT; TV OUT; TULSA OUT
CORY YOUNG — AP
TULSA, OKLA. — An Oklahoma charter school has changed its dress code after inciting criticism for telling a 7-year-old girl that her dreadlocks violated the school’s policy.
Tiana Parker and her parents said she was summoned last month to the administrator’s office at the Deborah Brown Community School in Tulsa and told her that her hairstyle was against school policy. Her parents later decided to move Tiana to another school.
But Monday night, the school board voted to change its policy that had banned dreadlocks, afros and other hairstyles. Dreadlocks are formed by matting or braiding hair.
The new policy says only that students and parents are responsible for personal hygiene and that administrators have the right to contact parents or guardians regarding such issues. There are no specifications on hair styles.
School board president Kenneth James said in a statement that it was not the school administration‘s intent to harm Tiana or her family and he apologized if any harm did occur.
James said the ban on dreadlocks, afros and other hairstyles was due to health and safety concerns.
A spokeswoman for the Parker family said family members were not available for an interview Tuesday. In a statement, Tiana’s parents, Terrance and Miranda Parker, said no board decision could “change the fact that our 7-year-old daughter Tiana was made to feel that there was something wrong with her appearance, in turn coming home in tears.”
They said they’ve been contacted by community leaders, civil rights advocates, women empowerment groups and attorneys, and are “exploring all of their options.”
The Parkers did not attend Monday night’s school board vote.
The school says nearly 100 percent of its students are African-American.
Much ado about hair… (gretchenkelly73.wordpress.com)
Students called n word, chased through woods on field tripPosted: Sep 19, 2013 12:42 PM CESTUpdated: Sep 19, 2013 11:06 PM CESTBy Steven Yablonski, Managing Editor – emailBy Karen Lee – email HARTFORD, CT WFSB -Imagine sending your child on a class trip, then finding out she and her classmates were called the “n” word and chased through the woods. It was part of a slavery re-enactment that some parents said crossed the line.Additional LinksParents explain controversial field tripOne couple said their 12-year-old daughter came home from the field trip with horror stories, and now theyve filed a complaint against the school district.”I ask that you imagine these phrases being yelled at our 12-year-old child and their friends,” parent Sandra Baker said at a Hartford School Board meeting. “Bring those n-word to the house over there. N-word if you can read, theres a problem. Dumb, dark-skinned n-word. How dare you look at me?”Baker said screaming that at children on a field trip is abuse.”They intentionally terrorized them and abused them on this field trip,” she said.Sandra Baker and her husband James Baker have been on a 10-month fight with the Hartford School District that theyve now taken to the school board.It started during the past school year when their daughter was a seventh-grader at the Hartford Magnet Trinity College Academy. She and her classmates went on a four-day trip to the Natures Classroom in Charlton, MA.On the third night, there was a slavery re-enactment that Sandra Baker said none of the parents knew about.James Baker shared his daughters experiences with the Hartford School Board.”The instructor told me if I were to run, they would whip me until I bled on the floor and then either cut my Achilles so I couldnt run again, or hang me,” he told the school board.They pretended to be on a slave ship.They pretended to pick cotton.They pretended their instructors were their masters.The Bakers said the program told kids they didnt have to participate in the Underground Railroad skit, but were only told about the re-enactment 30 minutes before it began.”The fact that they used the n word. I mean, how dare you say that to my child and call it an educational experience. How dare you say that to any child.” Sandra Baker said.She said she cant believe the school has been taking part in the trip for years and never saw a problem with it. Shes filed complaints with the state Department of Education, Human Rights Commission and offices of civil rights.”Its a town of people of color,” she said. “Really. I mean, Hartford. You could not see something was wrong with this?”The Bakers said they pulled their daughter out of the Hartford School District.Channel 3 Eyewitness News reached out to the Natures Classroom and hasnt heard back.Copyright 2013 WFSB Meredith Corporation. All rights reserved. by Taboola
Colorism – Skin Color and Intra-Racial Issues Among African-Americans
Color consciousness has been a subject that has lingered just beneath the surface of intra-racial issues among African-Americans for years. Color consciousness, or “colorism” as it is often referred to, is a phenomenon in which persons of the same race discriminate against one another based on the lightness or darkness of one’s skin. Issues with race identity have divided African-Americans in several areas including education, social status and perceived beauty. The list below serves as a sampling of several voices that have contributed their opinions on this troubling topic through literature and film.
Who’s Afraid of a Large Black Man. Charles Barkley. 2006. E184 .A1 B2444 2005
Don’t Play in the Sun: One Woman’s Journey through the Color Complex. Marita Golden. 2004. E185.86 .G625 2003
The Future of the Race. Henry Louis Gates Jr. and Cornel West. 1996. E185.86.G3771996
Our Kind of People: Inside America’s Black Upper Class. Lawrence Graham. 1999. E185.86 .G644 1999
Skin Color Recognition, Preference, and Identification in Interracial Children: A Comparative Study. Wayne West Gunthrope. 1998.
An Empirical Analysis of the Impact of Skin Color on African-American Education, Income, and Occupation. Ronald E. Hall. 2005.
Colored Pictures: Race and Visual Representation. Michael D. Harris 2003. N8232 .H37 2003Q
Race, Gender, and the Politics of Skin Tone Margaret L. Hunter. 2005.
Soul by Soul: Life Inside the Antebellum Slave Market. Walter Johnson. 1999. F379 .N59 N4 1999
The Paper Bag Principle: Class, Colorism and Rumor and the case of Black Washington DC. Audrey Elisa Kerr. 2007. E185.93.D6K47 2007
Blue Veins and Kinky Hair: Naming and Color Consciousness in African America, Obiagele Lake. 2003.
The Color Complex: The Politics of Skin Color among African Americans Kathy Russell, Midge Wilson and Ronald Hall. 1992. E185.625 .A78 1992
Skin Deep. Kathleen Cross. 1999
The Bluest Eye. Toni Morrison. 1970
Other People’s Skin. Tracy Price-Thompson. 2007
Passin’. Karen E. Quinones-Miller. 2008
The Human Stain. Philip Roth. 2000
The Blacker the Berry: A Novel of Negro Life. Wallace Thurman. 1996
A Girl Like Me. Directed by Kiri Davis. 2005. Available for viewing online at Media That Matters
A Question of color. Directed by Kathe Sandler.1992. VIDEOTAPE; Sights and Sounds Department
Imitation of Life. Directed by John M. Stahl/Doulas Sirk. 2004. DVD; Sights and Sounds Department
One Drop Rule. Directed by James Banks. 2001.
School Daze. directed by Spike Lee. 1988. DVD; Sights and Sounds Department
The African American cinema II: The scar of shame. 1923, Sissle and Blake. 1926. VIDEOTAPE; Sights and Sounds Department
The Human Stain. Directed by Robert Benton. 2004. DVD; Sights and Sounds Department
Color Struck: A Play in Four Scenes. Zora Neale Hurston.1925. Reprinted 1994. PS153.N5.P671994
Additional Resources (Journal Articles)
Link to Word Document: African Americans and Racial Identity
To access, visit the Pratt Library Website at Databases. A Pratt Library card number may be required to access databases outside of the library.
African American Experience
The African American Experience, part of the American Mosaic Online Reference Family, provides user friendly electronic access to over 400 reference works covering African American scholarship from earliest times to present day. This database includes slave narratives and primary documents as well as audio clips, music and interviews with notable African Americans.
African American History and Culture
This electronic encyclopedia includes thousands of entries covering the entire breadth of African-American history—from African beginnings through the slave trade and the Civil Rights Movement to the present.
If you would like to know more about this subject, email us through our Ask-A-Librarian service, call the African American Department at 410-361-9287, or mail your questions to:
Genocide is a process that develops in eight stages that are predictable but not inexorable. At each stage, preventive measures can stop it. The process is not linear. Logically, later stages must be preceded by earlier stages. But all stages continue to operate throughout the process.
1. CLASSIFICATION: All cultures have categories to distinguish people into “us and them” by ethnicity, race, religion, or nationality: German and Jew, Hutu and Tutsi. Bipolar societies that lack mixed categories, such as Rwanda and Burundi, are the most likely to have genocide. The main preventive measure at this early stage is to develop universalistic institutions that transcend ethnic or racial divisions, that actively promote tolerance and understanding, and that promote classifications that transcend the divisions. The Catholic church could have played this role in Rwanda, had it not been riven by the same ethnic cleavages as Rwandan society. Promotion of a common language in countries like Tanzania has also promoted transcendent national identity. This search for common ground is vital to early prevention of genocide.
2. SYMBOLIZATION: We give names or other symbols to the classifications. We name people “Jews” or “Gypsies”, or distinguish them by colors or dress; and apply the symbols to members of groups. Classification and symbolization are universally human and do not necessarily result in genocide unless they lead to the next stage, dehumanization. When combined with hatred, symbols may be forced upon unwilling members of pariah groups: the yellow star for Jews under Nazi rule, the blue scarf for people from the Eastern Zone in Khmer Rouge Cambodia. To combat symbolization, hate symbols can be legally forbidden (swastikas) as can hate speech. Group marking like gang clothing or tribal scarring can be outlawed, as well. The problem is that legal limitations will fail if unsupported by popular cultural enforcement. Though Hutu and Tutsi were forbidden words in Burundi until the 1980’s, code-words replaced them. If widely supported, however, denial of symbolization can be powerful, as it was in Bulgaria, where the government refused to supply enough yellow badges and at least eighty percent of Jews did not wear them, depriving the yellow star of its significance as a Nazi symbol for Jews.
3. DEHUMANIZATION: One group denies the humanity of the other group. Members of it are equated with animals, vermin, insects or diseases. Dehumanization overcomes the normal human revulsion against murder. At this stage, hate propaganda in print and on hate radios is used to vilify the victim group. In combating this dehumanization, incitement to genocide should not be confused with protected speech. Genocidal societies lack constitutional protection for countervailing speech, and should be treated differently than democracies. Local and international leaders should condemn the use of hate speech and make it culturally unacceptable. Leaders who incite genocide should be banned from international travel and have their foreign finances frozen. Hate radio stations should be shut down, and hate propaganda banned. Hate crimes and atrocities should be promptly punished.
4. ORGANIZATION: Genocide is always organized, usually by the state, often using militias to provide deniability of state responsibility (the Janjaweed in Darfur.) Sometimes organization is informal (Hindu mobs led by local RSS militants) or decentralized (terrorist groups.) Special army units or militias are often trained and armed. Plans are made for genocidal killings. To combat this stage, membership in these militias should be outlawed. Their leaders should be denied visas for foreign travel. The U.N. should impose arms embargoes on governments and citizens of countries involved in genocidal massacres, and create commissions to investigate violations, as was done in post-genocide Rwanda.
5. POLARIZATION: Extremists drive the groups apart. Hate groups broadcast polarizing propaganda. Laws may forbid intermarriage or social interaction. Extremist terrorism targets moderates, intimidating and silencing the center. Moderates from the perpetrators’ own group are most able to stop genocide, so are the first to be arrested and killed. Prevention may mean security protection for moderate leaders or assistance to human rights groups. Assets of extremists may be seized, and visas for international travel denied to them. Coups d’état by extremists should be opposed by international sanctions.
6. PREPARATION: Victims are identified and separated out because of their ethnic or religious identity. Death lists are drawn up. Members of victim groups are forced to wear identifying symbols. Their property is expropriated. They are often segregated into ghettoes, deported into concentration camps, or confined to a famine-struck region and starved. At this stage, a Genocide Emergency must be declared. If the political will of the great powers, regional alliances, or the U.N. Security Council can be mobilized, armed international intervention should be prepared, or heavy assistance provided to the victim group to prepare for its self-defense. Otherwise, at least humanitarian assistance should be organized by the U.N. and private relief groups for the inevitable tide of refugees to come.
7. EXTERMINATION begins, and quickly becomes the mass killing legally called “genocide.” It is “extermination” to the killers because they do not believe their victims to be fully human. When it is sponsored by the state, the armed forces often work with militias to do the killing. Sometimes the genocide results in revenge killings by groups against each other, creating the downward whirlpool-like cycle of bilateral genocide (as in Burundi). At this stage, only rapid and overwhelming armed intervention can stop genocide. Real safe areas or refugee escape corridors should be established with heavily armed international protection. (An unsafe “safe” area is worse than none at all.) The U.N. Standing High Readiness Brigade, EU Rapid Response Force, or regional forces — should be authorized to act by the U.N. Security Council if the genocide is small. For larger interventions, a multilateral force authorized by the U.N. should intervene. If the U.N. is paralyzed, regional alliances must act. It is time to recognize that the international responsibility to protect transcends the narrow interests of individual nation states. If strong nations will not provide troops to intervene directly, they should provide the airlift, equipment, and financial means necessary for regional states to intervene.
8. DENIAL is the eighth stage that always follows a genocide. It is among the surest indicators of further genocidal massacres. The perpetrators of genocide dig up the mass graves, burn the bodies, try to cover up the evidence and intimidate the witnesses. They deny that they committed any crimes, and often blame what happened on the victims. They block investigations of the crimes, and continue to govern until driven from power by force, when they flee into exile. There they remain with impunity, like Pol Pot or Idi Amin, unless they are captured and a tribunal is established to try them. The response to denial is punishment by an international tribunal or national courts. There the evidence can be heard, and the perpetrators punished. Tribunals like the Yugoslav or Rwanda Tribunals, or an international tribunal to try the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia, or an International Criminal Court may not deter the worst genocidal killers. But with the political will to arrest and prosecute them, some may be brought to justice.
DCP: Could we start perhaps with how it is that you came to be engaged with the field of family therapy?
I grew up in Pennsylvania in Philadelphia as the oldest of six siblings. Throughout my childhood there was significant emphasis placed on the importance of the family. My maternal great-grandmother lived with us until I was a junior in college. She was the granddaughter of a slave and I can’t think of another person who’s had a more profound influence on me. She taught me what can’t be learnt from books. She told me stories about humanity and human beings, about the potential for kindness and the potential for inhumanity. I heard so much from her about the ugliness of slavery and the impact it had on her parents’ life and my parents’ life.
I knew very early on what I wanted to do with my life. I had an insatiable yearning for some greater understanding of what we had become as a people and why. When I was exposed to the whole area of psychotherapy, I found that there was some attention being paid to issues of poverty, race and ethnicity but only in superficial ways. This was when I got excited about family therapy. I think my own family predisposed me to be interested in this area.
As an African-American working in a field that is dominated by white people and white values, I’ve had to get in there, step in the mud, make mistakes, have people laugh at me, feel ashamed and just continue. There certainly wasn’t a manual as to how to act and I had to endure the humiliation of not really knowing how to act in the white professional world.
One of the reasons why there are so few people of colour, so few African-Americans in the field of family therapy, is because family therapy has been a somewhat marginalised discipline in comparison to mainstream psychology or psychiatry. It’s very difficult for those of us who have membership in devalued and marginalised groups to invest heavily in a profession that’s in some ways marginalised and devalued. There’s something about getting educated and finding the right job as an African American that’s supposed to be freeing. There are meanings involved in employment and education for African-American people that are different than for white Americans.
For African-Americans to engage with family therapy it requires us to practise unrequited love. It requires people of colour to love family therapy more than it seems to love us! The curriculum in universities is not designed to look at marginalised experiences so I had a lot of discouragement along the way. I recall in Graduate School a Professor saying to me, ‘Maybe you should look at some other area because white families probably won’t think about going to see a black therapist, and a lot of black people don’t believe in therapy.’ I had my own ideas about this however, and if I had my life over again I would live it the same way. I’d be a family therapist.
DCP: Much of your work has involved trying to articulate the skills and steps required in healing relationships, especially those affected by differences in power. Can you speak a little about this?
In terms of healing any relationship, I believe there has to be some willingness to look at dynamics of power. Power is an integral part of our relationships and until that’s acknowledged it is often very difficult to move forward. Once there is an acknowledgement of the relevance of addressing issues of power, I am interested in drawing distinctions between those who are privileged and those who are subjugated. I think that while both have responsibilities in relation to healing relationships, the responsibilities are not equal. In situations where a relationship has broken down, I’ve attempted to define what some of the different tasks are for those in privileged positions and those in subjugated positions. Of course, I don’t think these categories of privilege and subjugation are absolute. The same person can occupy positions in different categories on different issues – eg. culture, gender, class, sexuality. And yet I have found it helpful to try to articulate what the different responsibilities might be for those in privileged positions and those in subjugated positions in order for relationships to be healed.
One of the first responsibilities for the privileged is to overcome mistaken notions about equality and inequality. I believe it’s customary for the privileged to just assume that everyone and everything is equal. One of the privileges of the privileged is to be able to be oblivious to the life experiences of the subjugated. I don’t believe healing can take place in a context where the privileged have not come to terms with the existence of inequality. Not only must the privileged acknowledge the existence of marginalisation, they must find some way to appreciate the inequality and the suffering of the subjugated.
There is also a critical distinction that has to be made between intentions and consequences. In my experience, the privileged almost always deal in the realm of intentions, while the subjugated almost always deal in the realm of consequences. Often this means that there can’t be a dialogue between the privileged and the subjugated because their reference points are so different. It’s important to realise that you can have pure intentions that render very damaging consequences. In order for healing to take place, the privileged must stop routinely using their position to clarify their intentions in ways that disregard the very real effects of their actions.
Furthermore, it amazes me when people of privilege say, ‘I tried to reach out to this group of people but they were so hostile and angry that I just can’t do it anymore’. I think that such statements are an expression of privilege. They are a cop-out. I get frustrated because I think that sometimes privileged folks, whether it’s men, or white people or heterosexuals, seem to require a manual before they will take action. They want to know how to approach these issues in ‘the right way’, a way that involves the least amount of risk to them. Perhaps they are used to being guided through life, perhaps they are used to being able to follow guidelines that are set up to enable them to progress through life. This is not true for people in subjugated positions. We are familiar with the feeling of not knowing what to do. We are used to facing hostility and anger when we step into unfamiliar territory. If relationships across difference are to be healed then people of privilege cannot turn away at their first experience of rejection or hostility. If we, as members of marginalised groups, gave up when we experienced hostility we would get nowhere in life.
For the subjugated, there are different responsibilities. The most important of these is to find some way to regain one’s voice. One can not experience domination and subjugation and retain the whole strength of one’s voice, it quickly becomes compromised. I think that there has to be a concerted effort to regain that which has been taken away, that which has been lost. There have to be steps taken to reclaim one’s voice, one’s heritage, one’s history.
I think another major task for the subjugated is to find a way to have some willingness to allow the privileged to come to terms with their participation in injustice. It is very difficult for gay and lesbian people to sit there and watch a heterosexual get agitated or upset in relation to issues of heterosexual dominance, because most gay and lesbian people know that if heterosexual people get angry it can culminate in some form of violence. It is very difficult for African-Americans or people of colour to sit there and watch a white person get agitated and upset, because we know that horrible things often happen when white people get mad. It is very difficult for the poor person to sit there when a very wealthy person gets upset, because they know the person with wealth will have the resources to get them withdrawn from the situation if they decide they have had enough of the uncomfortableness.
I think that part of the socialisation process for subjugated peoples is to be trained into finding ways to take care of the privileged. That is just a part of our experience. You look at those who shine shoes in the airports, those who make the beds up in hotels, and those who drive cabs, they are all people from subjugated groups. One of the dominant stories of our lives involves taking care of the privileged, doing this well and doing it in self-compromising ways. When we are trying to address injustices in our relationships this is something the subjugated have to come to terms with. We have to deal with our tendency to instantly take care of people from privileged positions. We have to enable privileged people to engage with these issues and come up with their own responses. Members of subjugated groups must find ways through this without responding to privileged people’s uncomfortableness in self-compromising ways.
The other experience that the subjugated have to come to terms with is to find some channel for rage. For many people, experiences of subjugation and domination are accompanied by rage. Rage is not anger which an be an immediate response to a particular situation. Rage is historical and it’s tied to experiences of domination and subjugation. There is nothing episodic about rage; it’s long term. I believe that subjugated people’s experience of rage can contribute to the short life expectancy of our people. We need to try to understand our rage and to find ways to use it which are constructive both for individuals and our communities.
We have to find better ways to help those who are subjugated to channel their rage because the alternative scares me. In some ways I can relate to the stereotypic menace to society on the streets of New York who is mean and angry and waiting for his next victim. Sometimes I think that the difference between my life and his may not be as great as it seems. Maybe the difference is that I have found some way to channel my rage. This discussion is a chance to channel rage. I have speech, I have writing, I have my work with people. These are all ways in which I can engage with my rage that are not destructive of myself or others.
DCP: In Australia at the moment there is considerable discussion about the place of apologies in relation to addressing historical injustices. What is your view in relation to this?
There are three key steps the privileged can take in relation to past injustice. Firstly, there has to be a meaningful acknowledgement of the injustice. Secondly, there has to be an apology for the injustice done. And thirdly, there has to be a request for forgiveness. With anything short of this it’s very difficult to heal.
You have a large group of African-Americans in this country who remain very angry, in a way that white people can’t understand, because there’s been no formal acknowledgement and apology in relation to slavery. I think an apology would go a long way towards collective healing. And yet somehow we haven’t got to that point. There are examples of ways of relating to past horrors that we can learn from. You can go to Washington DC, for example, and hear about the horrors of the Holocaust but there are no similar museums dedicated to honouring the massacres and genocide that happened on this soil. To this day we have the most alarming rates of alcoholism and suicide on most First Nations’ reservations and the reaction from the mainstream is, ‘Why won’t those damn Indians stop drinking?’. People don’t say, well that’s because their whole lives, and their children’s lives and their parents’ lives and their grandparents’ lives have been assaulted by this country. You don’t hear those parts of the story. I think an apology to the indigenous people’s of this land, and a formal apology in relation to slavery would go a long way towards healing the psyche of this country. Clearly there would need to be powerful acts of acknowledgement around this apology, and a request for forgiveness. If this occurred I think it could be transformative for this nation.
DCP: How do these sorts of considerations translate into your work as a therapist with families?
Part of my frustration with our field is that we seem so determined to locate human suffering narrowly while ignoring broader ecological perspectives. In family therapy we pride ourselves on having a systemic understanding of problems, that we need to look not just at the individual but at the whole family. But in some ways this is still very narrow, because the family exists in a broader socio-cultural context. Because I am interested in the effect of this socio-cultural context on those with whom I meet, I’ve had colleagues seriously say to me, you’re not a therapist you’re a sociologist, or you’re an anthropologist. This is not an insult to me. I’m pleased to hear such remarks. What they mean to me is that in therapy, I’m always looking for connections between what’s happening in this micro-systemic relationship and how it’s tied to one’s experiences in macro systems of culture.
Just a couple of days ago we had a Russian couple come in, who had recently emigrated to the USA. They have a very volatile relationship and are in the process of destroying each other. Small things trigger huge arguments, such as when she says to him, ‘Can you take your shoes off when you’re walking on the carpet?’ How are we as therapists to approach such a circumstance? We could focus on their communication and their need for anger management, but I’d prefer to explore what it means to be a Russian who lives in the United States. I don’t know what it’s like to be a Russian who lives in this country but I do know what it’s like to have membership in a group which relentlessly receives very powerful messages about being less than. My understanding of this couple dynamic is that some piece of what we’re dealing with is within their relationship, some piece has to do with some critical, domineering parenting pattern, but another part of it has to do with the way they feel very profoundly disrespected in this society as Russians. There is a way in which they have been so profoundly devalued that it has altered their understandings about how to act in order to achieve the respect of each other.
Most of the ways that people approach therapy don’t even begin to consider matters of ethnicity and culture of origin. Most therapies don’t even begin to wonder about the impact of the minute everyday cultural practices on the experiences of individuals and families. I want to expand the dialogue so that therapy is not seen as being restricted to conversations about a particular problem that someone may be experiencing. In society, race, class, gender, sexual orientation, and other dimensions of diversity are always a part of our interactions. There should be some opportunity to talk about these issues in the therapy room because otherwise the conversations may not be acknowledging significant realms of experience.
I couldn’t trust a therapist I was seeing who didn’t talk about my experiences as an African-American. If I couldn’t do that it wouldn’t be therapy worth believing in. Being African-American is such a core piece of my identity. And yet I wouldn’t expect my therapist to raise the issue for the sake of raising it. Instead, I’d expect him or her to be a good seamstress in the ways they assisted me to see how the issues of my life are stitched together, how my experiences of life are linked to broader histories and the wider ecology.
DCP: Can you expand on the metaphors of ecology and how such a metaphor influences your thinking and your work?
One of the struggles in my life is to resist the temptation and seduction of simplicity. There are lots of opportunities in a technologically advanced society to make our lives simpler. Yet what feels more meaningful for me is to keep struggling to understand my life and the lives of others in all their wonderful complexity. My own life, in hundreds of ways each day, is shaped by relations of gender, race and religion. How I understand a particular situation is influenced by so many histories, it’s just that we are not trained to see this. We are not encouraged to make the links between how we understand our lives and the broader relationships of culture, gender, class and sexuality. In fact, this is often actively discouraged to the point that we cease to look for or to realise what significant factors these broader relations of power have in our daily lives. Segregated thinking is such a cancer in our society.
Let me give you an example from my own life. If I was to measure myself against a psychological scale in relation to paranoia, I think I would rate so highly that I would be off the scale! Yet I think it would be a mistake to interpret such a result as simply an indication of my craziness. When I get stopped by a policeman because of my membership of a group that’s systematically targeted, paranoia is a logical response. What is seen through one lens as psychological paranoia, in another can be seen as a logical result of discrimination and racism.
In this context, ahistorical, non-ecological approaches miss so much. If I was to understand my experience by thinking, if only I could trust more, if only I could take a pill to get rid of this paranoia that is inside of me, then I would miss the opportunity to take meaningful action to challenge the relations of power that are discriminating against me. I think therapy, that is to say therapy built on ecological understandings, therapy that makes the links between people’s experiences of life and the power relations of the society in which they live, goes hand in hand with activism.
There are those therapists who believe family therapy has gone too far in terms of its involvement in human rights issues. They say we can’t be an ‘Amnesty International’ for families, that we should just help couples navigate the stresses of their lives. But from my point of view, we have an obligation to change the world. Our job is to serve families, indeed to serve all families, not just the wealthy and those who speak a common language, but those who aren’t even sure what language they speak. It’s our responsibility to make the links between the issues families are facing and broader relations of power. And it’s our responsibility to take some action in relation to redressing injustices in the culture in which we live.
DCP: One of the realms of injustice that I know you are constantly speaking about involves the effects of the criminal justice system on families and communities of colour. Can you say a little about this?
Even if you go to places in the USA that don’t have a high African-American population, when you look inside the prisons there you find disproportionate numbers of African-Americans because they’re shipped in from other states. The current over-policing and imprisonment of African-American people is a form of ongoing colonisation. In my more melodramatic moments I say it’s the new slavery. We’ve replaced chains and plantations with bars and razor wire. In some ways the phenomena is exactly the same.
The great sadness is that the general population assumes that it’s just, that ‘they wouldn’t be there if they didn’t deserve to be’. But the laws in this country aren’t equally applied. If you look at those who receive the death penalty in this country it’s mostly the poor, mostly people of colour. The injustices involved in policing and imprisonment in this country at present are overwhelming and they are devastating families and communities of colour.
This issue even spreads beyond the issue of incarceration. I think our society in the United States is becoming increasingly punitive in many arenas of life. What’s more we are becoming more comfortable with the fact that those who are receiving punishments are disproportionately children and disproportionately marginalised people. As therapists I believe we have to initiate a dialogue about punishment and about prisons. We have to put these issues on our agenda. I don’t even think they are on the agenda of most therapists at the moment.
DCP: I know that in the past you have said that one way of looking at family therapy is to see it as a response to human suffering, can you say more about this?
Even if I believe my job was limited to helping families deal with their distress, there’s something about poverty and racism that’s very distressing and that infiltrates every aspect of life. I can’t see the world in a fragmented way. I’m not just saying that, I honestly can’t, for the life of me. I keep saying to the students that I’m training that what I’m attempting to do is to help trainees become relationship experts. What I believe we should be concerning ourselves with is trying to address human suffering in whatever manifestation it takes place. So whether it’s dealing with heterosexual married couples who love each other but can’t find a way to be with each other, or whether it’s dealing with the First Nations people and their efforts to convince white European Americans of the ways in which they have been oppressed, I believe we need to be learning how to heal strained relationships. We need to be determined in our efforts to find ways to help people come together. I know this may sound grandiose but that’s what I believe. We cannot afford to turn our eyes away from any form of suffering whether it affects us directly or not. We must find ways to play our part in responding. This, to me, is the role of the therapist.
Enola Aird of the Community Healing Network believes too many Black youth have internalized the myth that their lives are not as valuable as the lives of others — and it’s leading them to act out in destructive ways. She’s out to change that.
The horrific beating death of Chicago teenager Derrion Albert has revived the national discussion about the moral and spiritual collapse of America’s urban communities, and its Black communities in particular. But in our shock, are we asking the right questions?
From her home in Connecticut, Enola Aird watched the Derrion Albert coverage with the rest of the nation. But she was not surprised by Albert’s killing, just sadly reminded of how broken our communities are. Like many activist leaders working on family and community issues in America’s cities, Aird is familiar with the kind of societal breakdown and dysfunction that leads to violent crimes among young people. As the founder and director of Mothers for a Human Future, she fights against society’s “commodification of children” and works to empower mothers to raise responsible, emotionally healthy kids.
In 2006, Aird led the launch of the Community Healing Network (CHN) at her church, St. Luke’s Episcopal in New Haven, Connecticut, one of the oldest predominantly African American parishes in the United States. Though still young, the CHN is already sparking a movement of community renewal in the New Haven area and beyond.
Aird, who’s also the wife of author and fellow Yale Law School graduate Stephen L. Carter, recently spoke to UrbanFaith about the CHN initiatives that she hopes will catch on nationally, including this weekend’s second-annual Community Healing Days.
URBAN FAITH: How did you develop the vision for the Community Healing Network?
ENOLA AIRD: I was privileged to serve on my church’s New Beginnings leadership team and had long been interested in finding ways to help Blackpeople work to overcome the myth of Black inferiority — the myth created centuries ago to justify the enslavement and subjugation of Black people. It says that Black people are not as smart, not as beautiful, not as lovable, and not as valuable, as other people. It is still undermining us.
I approached our then-Senior Warden, Jill Snyder, with the idea of expanding the church’s ministries to create a “community healing” initiative to build a movement for emotional healing and renewal for Black people in the Greater New Haven area. Ms. Snyder and I presented the idea to our rector, Rev. Dr. Victor Rogers, who took up the challenge. In October 2006, the Community Healing Network sponsored its first Community Conversation and Healing Service in association with Christian Community Action, a local inter-faith service agency. We followed that first gathering with additional community conversations and healing services in 2006 and 2007.
How did this local initiative evolve into something that’s now getting national attention?
I was inspired by the wisdom of Dr. Maya Angelou, who has said we need to “take a day to heal from the lies you’ve told yourself and the ones that have been told to you.” Taking that to heart, we issued a “Call to Healing and Renewal” that includes an annual celebration of Community Healing Days to build a movement for emotional healing and renewal for Black people everywhere.
In 2008, I was blessed to renew an acquaintance with Dr. Betty Neal Crutcher and to meet Janice M. Jones, and share our plans with them. Betty is a graduate of Tuskegee University, a senior mentoring consultant, and the presidential spouse at Wheaton College in Norton, Massachusetts, and Janice is a human resources consultant in Montclair, New Jersey. Through their good offices, the idea began to spread — and people in Tuskegee, Alabama, and Montclair joined in the first annual celebration of Community Healing Days.
What are the primary goals of the network?
First, we want to raise the Black community’s awareness of the destructive, present-day effects of the myth of Black inferiority. Second, we want to share the resources of faith to help people in our community free themselves from the burden of this myth, once and for all. Third, we’ve got to create safe spaces for popular education, community dialogues, and story sharing workshops and trainings to help people work together toward healing and wholeness. And finally, we want to foster the development of a nationwide Community Healing Network, a diverse group of individuals, faith communities, and civic organizations working together to promote healing, forgiveness, and reconciliation, so that our community can be renewed.
What kind of Community Healing Network events will be taking place this year?
Well, this weekend people in more than 15 cities will join in the celebration of the second annual Community Healing Days. We have chosen the third weekend of every October for the annual observance.
Also, we have a huge event planned for November. After hearing about our Community Healing Days last year, through our board member Janice Jones, Dr. Maya Angelou agreed to serve as chair of CHN’s Board of Advisors. Together with hip-hop artist Common and national radio personality Tom Joyner, Dr. Angelou will lead what we believe will be a groundbreaking intergenerational gathering on Saturday evening, Nov. 7, at the Riverside Church in New York City. The event will introduce CHN nationally, launch a global movement for intra-racial healing, and call the world to interracial reconciliation.
UrbanFaith is based in Chicago, where Derrion Albert, a 16-year-old honor student, was literally beaten to death by other Black students. And, of course, Chicago isn’t the only place where youth violence is happening. What does this kind of incident say about the state of our communities?
It says that our communities, our people, are urgently in need of healing. Joseph Walker, Derrion Albert’s grandfather, told reporters, “I don’t know where all this anger comes from [in] these people today. That’s just too much anger for someone to have in their heart.”
Where does that kind of rage come from? At CHN, we believe that a lot of it comes from living in a world that devalues the lives of Black people. Too many of our children have internalized the myth that their lives are not as valuable and worthy as the lives of other people — and it is causing them to treat themselves and each other carelessly and violently.
How do you speak hope into disheartening situations like the Derrion Albert tragedy?
We can speak hope into seemingly hopeless situations by declaring that it is time to get to the root of what is ailing too many of us and our children. It is time for us to deepen our understanding of the impact of our history on our emotions. We need to come to terms with the fact that our past as a people has a powerful effect on our present. As psychologists Brenda Lane Richardson and Brenda Wade have put it, “our history didn’t just happen to a group of anonymous people. These people were our ancestors and, in many respects, they are part of us.”
So, you believe our African and African American ancestors’ legacy is having a direct effect on our situations today?
Many of the feelings, beliefs, and attitudes of our enslaved ancestors have been handed down to us — like family heirlooms. Much of what they passed on to us is good. Their legacy has enabled the Black community to make extraordinary strides in the 40-plus years since the official end of segregation. But many of the beliefs and attitudes we have inherited continue to hold us back. Even in the year 2009 it is not unusual for a Black person to let slip some statement about “good hair,” or a remark describing light skin far more favorably than dark skin, or some self-deprecating comment about what Black people cannot do intellectually. These and other negative beliefs will not disappear by themselves. We must be intentional about working to free ourselves — and our children –from them.
At this late hour, it’s probably too late for an all-out celebration, but how can people reading this interview participate in this year’s Community Healing Days?
Individuals and churches can visit our website at www.communityhealingnet.org, and click “How?” for ideas on celebrating Community Healing Days. Your celebration does not have to be elaborate.
For individuals, the key is to take the time to take care of themselves — by nourishing their bodies, minds, spirits — and relationships. Faith communities can celebrate by praying for emotional healing and renewal in the Black community, sponsoring special Scriptural studies on healing, and holding special healing services or musical programs. They can launch a community healing book club or movie club with a focus on one of the books or movies listed on our website. We also would be happy to consult with pastors, youth workers, and Christian leaders seeking further information. They can contact us firstname.lastname@example.org.
Echoing the above titles in theme, this title uses photographs to show that skin is a covering that comes in all different shades, even within a family. Yet we have more in common when we move past these…
Most people of African descent do not come to psychotherapists seeking help solely with emotional or psychological problems that arise when they have encountered problems with racial “oppression” . They generally come to therapy because of pain and discomfort in other areas of their lives that they are unable to heal on their own. Yet, encounters with racial oppression are embedded in their life stories, memories and everyday experiences. Therapy is not truly complete and often not as effective without also acknowledging and addressing the ways in which racial oppression has and is affecting relationships, emotional problems, addictions and other life challenges. People who internalize racial oppression do so unconsciously. Messages, images, values and experiences arising from interaction with the dominant culture, penetrate and impact the individual’s internally held sense of self . In African-American fiction, this process has been minutely examined by authors like James Baldwin, Toni Morrison, Ralph Ellison and others. Ellison’s main character, at the end of ‘Invisible Man ‘ said:
The fact is, that you carry part of your sickness within you, at least I do as an invisible man. I carried my sickness, and thought for a long time I tried to place it in the outside world, the attempt to write it down shows me that at least half of it lay within me. It came upon me slowly, like that strange disease that affects those black men whom you see turning slowly from black to albino, their pigment disappearing as under the radiation of some cruel, invisible ray…. though implicated and partially responsible, I have been hurt to the point of abysmal pain, hurt to the point of invisibility… But deep down you come to suspect that you’ve yourself to blame, and you stand naked and shivering before the millions of eyes who look through you unseeingly. That is the real soul-sickness, the spear in the side, the drag by the neck through the mob-angry town, the Grand Inquisition, the embrace of the Maiden, the rip in the belly with the guts spilling out, the trip to the chamber wit the deadly gas that ends in the oven so hygienically clean—only it’s worse because you continue stupidly to life, But live you must, and you can either make passive love to your sickness or burn it out and go on to the next conflict. Yes, but what is the next phase?.
Ellison, in this passage illustrates the dillemma of realizing that one has been wounded by externally imposed processes, and part of the ironic nature of that pain is that it is a buried, invisible wounding. Another component of that pain is that he has no idea what to do with it, certainly not how to heal it. Racist messages, images, values and experiences may also impact the ethnic culture of the family. Racist information, acts, institutions affect and impact and are filtered by each idiosyncratic mini-culture of the family of origin in which individuals are raised. Individual family members sort, censor, deny, ignore, rage against or otherwise react to these assaults, in attempts to interpret, defend, assimilate or deflect. Young people are sometimes guided by their elders in how to handle these assaults. Sometimes they are left alone to handle these situations themselves with no guidance. .Finally, that information is filtered, analyzed and taken in to the personality and influence the character of the individual, and the choices he or she makes when encountering racism in the future. The acknowledgement of the existence of racism, or the internalization of defenses against racist oppression are not usually experienced as a handicap. It is experienced more often as normal rather than abnormal. When it is seen as normal, it causes no particular problems or discomfort, and if this world view and defenses are consistent with how an individual sees himself, the internalization is considered “ego-syntonic” or consistent with the healthy survival of self.
If an individual’s acknowledgement of racism or his learned internalization of defenses against racial oppression conflicts with self image; his relationships with loved ones; or members of his own ethnic group; the result can be problematic. These conflicts are often indicative of potential ethnic identity issues.Such ethnic identity issues can complicate relationships that are already challenging or difficult. The sense of self, (which is simply the way an individual experiences his own character or personality) may be affected in key areas:
KEY AREAS OF PSYCHOLOGICAL WOUNDING UNDER RACIAL OPPRESSION A new Cornell study shows how and to what extent racial discrimination affects the mental health of African-Americans. There are two mechanisms that result in measurable effects on the mental health of many black people. 1) The chronic exposure to racial discrimination leads to more perceived experiences of racial discrimination 2) An accumulation of daily negative events affects daily life in all spheres including family life, friendships, financial matters and of course, health.
This combination leads to an increased risk for symptoms of depression, anxiety and “negative moods” In my practice the key areas of psychological wounding in a person who has experienced racism seem to appear in the following areas: • The way in which the person thinks, feels , or acts toward himself • The way in which the person thinks, feels or acts toward people who look like him or belong to his ethnic group (internalized oppression)
• The way in which the person thinks, feels or acts about people whom he experiences as racially oppressive. • The way in which the person thinks, feels or acts towards others who are not in his group or the group of the oppressor. • Exacerbation of stress related illnesses