400 Years a Slave | Our Black Ancestry

Scars of a whipped slave (April 2, 1863, Baton...
Scars of a whipped slave (April 2, 1863, Baton Rouge, Louisiana, USA. Original caption: “Overseer Artayou Carrier whipped me. I was two months in bed sore from the whipping. My master come after I was whipped; he discharged the overseer. The very words of poor Peter, taken as he sat for his picture.” (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

400 Years a Slave   9 November 2013

 

After weeks of anticipation, I finally saw the movie 12 Years a Slave.In trying to unpack my thoughts, the one thing I do not want to do is review the film. Others will do that far more adeptly than I. Suffice it to say, the film was STUNNING — in every sense of the word, at all possible levels.As an African American genealogist, I am more informed than most about the history of African American people and our subjugation to slavery in the Americas. From my personal family tree, I can name 12 ancestors whose humanity was violated. And that is just the “top note” as I know there are others whose names will never be found.For the past 30+ years, I have been on a mission to bring their stories to light — not just for my own edification, but for public exposure. It was thus that I created Our Black Ancestry for the purpose of “empowering our future by honoring our past.”Every name I learn, every document I uncover, every story I reveal … all of it constitutes a mere fragment in the worldwide complicity of economic aspiration that resulted in a heinous crime against  humanity. It is a crime that has never been fully addressed, punished or resolved. White Americans relegate this past to the fond digression of films like Gone with the Wind. African Americans often refuse to look back, perhaps in an attempt to control the antipathy that surely must reside in our wounded souls.The powerful essence of the movie was that it encapsulated a visual depiction of the words I read in books and documents.As I witnessed the unfolding story of Solomon Northup, I was mentally transported into a cotton field where my great grandparents toiled without relief in  Lowndes County, Alabama.I lay in the bed of my great grandmother in Noxubee County, Mississippi as she succumbed to sexual objectification by the man who fathered her 17 children — thus being elevated over a 10 year span from “farmhand” to “housekeeper.”I experienced the anguish of an inconsolable mother whose cries for her stolen children were so overwhelmingly rife with anguish, her fellow slave retorted that she “stop wailing.” She then endured further punishment by being sold away by an owner who refused to entertain the unconscionable pain he had caused.As Northup was hung by the neck and left dangling in desperation, I envisioned my uncle who was lynched.I shared the pathos of generations of people — my people — kidnapped, chained, whipped, crippled, violated and traumatized in every possible way. Slave masters reduced themselves and their prey to a level of barbarity that defies imagination, unleashing a vicious cycle of violence that informs our society unto this very day.  I cannot fathom the cognitive dissonance of these men and their consort wives who did what they did and justified it with the word of a God I do not know.In the end, as Northup climbed into the wagon of his rescuers, all he could do was gaze with sadness and longing at the ones he left behind. In the final analysis, it was they who were the most tragic of victims because their subjugation was never to be relieved. Sixty years removed from the only relative I knew in person who was enslaved — my father’s grandmother — I am limited to a vicarious awareness of what she and my other family members endured. There is no doubt in my mind… I would NOT have survived. Yet, I am grateful they did because, if not for them, I would not BE.

 

via 400 Years a Slave | Our Black Ancestry.

 

 

 

You’re Not Alone: Emotional Health and the Black Graduate Student

Black Swan Lake
Black Swan Lake (Photo credit: epSos.de)

 

You’re Not Alone: Emotional Health and the Black Graduate Student

 

Posted by For Harriet | Labels: graduate school, higher education, racism

 

by Nana Brantuo

 

Sitting in class after a long day of teaching and data entry, my mind drifted away for the discussion at hand. Events from the day played over and over in my head. Earlier in the day, the class I TA reviewed Donald Murray’s case against the University of Maryland (Pearson v. Murray, 1936). Out of nowhere, he raised his hand, Mr. White Privilege/Future Leader of America. Without a care in the world, he attempted justifying segregation – referring to it as “unfortunate” but necessary to maintain financial sponsors of the institution (some of his white peers nodding their heads in agreement). By the time my evening course began, I was still upset. Was this the life I planned on, teaching privileged white kids who had no interest in the lives of experiences of people of color? I wasn’t interested in hearing my classmates reflect on years of teaching Black and Brown children (stories that I label as The White Savior Chronicles). I was fed up with their eyes staring at me when discussions shifted to diversity and equity, sorry attempts at soliciting the Black woman to speak. Familiar feelings of doubt and depression consumed me and quickly shifted to feelings of sadness.

 

What was I doing here? Why does it feel as though I have to build a case, a defense for the education of Black and Brown children in a country that prides itself on democracy, liberty, and justice? Instead of bottling in these feelings, I turned to social media to disclose my feelings. My status read, “Are periods of sadness common among graduate students along with feelings of doubt?” After a few minutes I began seeing responses.

 

“I thought I was the only one.”

 

“Girl yes!”

 

“Yes, but keep moving…”

 

“Yes, You have to find balance otherwise this mess will consume you…”

 

I was not alone. I was not the only one. This outpour of understanding and support helped me realize how unhealthy the graduate school process can be without proper self-care, self-love, and foresight for the future ahead. I had been avoiding address the stress and anxiety that had consumed me, sometimes to the point of physical illness. I would have anxiety attacks in private, during lunch breaks, even once during a class. At one point, my hair was thinning out. I used happy hour as a way of drinking my problems away. Why? Because I didn’t think of them as real problems with real consequences if not handled properly.

 

“All of the sacrifices my family and ancestors have made are much greater than these anxiety attacks.”

 

“Snap out of this, Black people don’t have anxiety attacks. Black people don’t get depressed.”

 

“You can’t let them see you sweat. You can’t let these white people see you sweat.”

 

These were the things I would tell myself when the pressure of graduate school began consuming me. I held on so strongly to my upbringing of sucking it up and moving along that I allowed my emotional and physical health to deteriorate. Now, I am taking the time to say, “Enough is enough!” We must take the time to address and nurture our emotional health in order to fight the battles ahead. The experiences of Black graduate students (POC graduate students in general) are filled with anxiety, stress, anger, depression, and sadness. Amid endless pages of readings, deadlines that never end, comprehensive exams, and upcoming thesis/dissertation proposals and defenses, our emotional health can take a turn for the worst. We constantly have to defend our spaces, our causes, and our communities in academic spaces that resist diversity. We push ourselves to the limit for the degrees and certifications but is that the ultimate goal? Our work and our sacrifices are not for these institutions, professors, or classmates but rather for the communities we love and our people. We must take care of ourselves holistically as we make our way through these academic journeys. Forming support groups, going to therapy, and finding outlets (i.e. writing, painting, exercising) are three among numerous steps towards creating balance in lives that are often thrown off of equilibrium by classes, coursework, and academic writing.

 

Our growth and increased understanding of the connection between physical, mental, and emotional health is essential to developing and uplifting our communities. Everyday I pull from the strength of generations that have come before to push on in my journey. I remind myself that I’m working for the youth, ensuring that they will have access to high quality education that is centered on their social and academic growth. I speak with close friends and trusted advisors when I feel myself consumed by feelings of doubt. I remind myself that I am the child of a race that has come so far and will continue moving forward.

 

Related:

 

Black, Poor, and Woman in Higher Education: What I Learned From Graduate School

 

Nana Brantuo, a Ghanaian/Sierra Leonean American, is a second-year doctoral student at the University of Maryland, College Park in the Minority and Urban Education program and an alumna of Howard University. Nana is the creator of The New African, a blog focused on embracing the diversity of African and African descendants. Currently, she is a content developer for an up and coming blog/magazine that focuses on Africans in the Washington D.C. metropolitan area.

 

via You’re Not Alone: Emotional Health and the Black Graduate Student.

 

 

Welcome, New Subscribers!

Fireworks
Fireworks (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

During the past week, we have had a number of new registrations for this blog.  Welcome!  I am so glad to have you here!  If you are new to the blog, would you mind taking a few lines to say hello, a little something about you, and what attracted you to the blog?

It would be helpful in its further development.

The blog is a place I have designed so that we could take the time to chronicle our feelings about the topics listed ……and more.

If you would like to share your experience, you response to the articles, feel free to do so in the comments section.

If you have an item you feel you would like to see posted, please  email me at vmm918@aol.com and I will review and post it.

If you would like to become a regular contributor, email me your contributions at the above address and after  five entries posted  I will invite you to become a contributor.

Hope to hear from you!

 

Dr. Kenneth Hardy on African American Experience and the Healing of Relationships

Black Man Grove Series
Black Man Grove Series (Photo credit: afsart)

 

African American experience and the healing of relationships

 

by Kenneth V. Hardy

 

The following interview appears in the book: ‘Family therapy: Exploring the field’s past, present and possible futures’ edited by David Denborough (Dulwich Centre Publications, 2001). Kenneth V Hardy lives in New York where he works at the Ackerman Institute for the Family.

 

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.

 

Copyright © 2001 by Dulwich Centre Publications Pty Ltd

 

 

 

FORA.tv – Marian Wright Edelman: The Cradle to Prison Pipeline

Marian Wright Edelman (1994). Edelman is the f...
Marian Wright Edelman (1994). Edelman is the founder, and president of the Children’s Defense Fund (CDF), and was the first black woman admitted to the Mississippi Bar. She began her career directing the NAACP Legal Defense Fund office. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

FORA.tv – Marian Wright Edelman: The Cradle to Prison Pipeline.

 

 

 

Perceived racism may impact black Americans’ mental health

Perceived racism may impact black Americans’ mental health

November 16, 2011 in Psychology & Psychiatry

For black American adults, perceived racism may cause mental health symptoms similar to trauma and could lead to some physical health disparities between blacks and other populations in the United States, according to a new study published by the American Psychological Association.

While previous studies have found links between racism and mental health, this is the first meta-analysis on the subject focusing exclusively on black American adults, according to the study published online in APA’s Journal of Counseling Psychology.

“We focused on black American adults because this is a population that has reported, on average, more incidents of racism than other racial minority groups and because of the potential links between racism and not only mental health, but physical health as well,” said lead author Alex Pieterse, PhD, of the University at Albany, State University of New York.

Researchers examined 66 studies comprising 18,140 black adults in the United States. To be included in the analysis, a study must have been published in a peer-reviewed journal or dissertation between 1996 and 2011; include a specific analysis of mental health indicators associated with racism; and focus specifically on black American adults in the United States.

Black Americans’ psychological responses to racism are very similar to common responses to trauma, such as somatization, which is psychological distress expressed as physical pain; interpersonal sensitivity; and anxiety, according to the study. Individuals who said they experienced more and very stressful racism were more likely to report mental distress, the authors said.

While the researchers did not collect data on the impacts on physical health, they cite other studies to point out that perceived racism may also affect black Americans’ physical health.

“The relationship between perceived racism and self-reported depression and anxiety is quite robust, providing a reminder that experiences of racism may play an important role in the health disparities phenomenon,” Pieterse said. “For example, African-Americans have higher rates of hypertension, a serious condition that has been associated with stress and depression.”

The authors recommended that therapists assess racism experiences as part of standard procedure when treating black Americans, and that future studies focus on how discrimination is perceived in specific settings, such as work, online or in school.

More information: Full text of the article is available at http://www.apa.org … pieterse.pdf

Provided by American Psychological Association search and more info website

via Perceived racism may impact black Americans’ mental health.

Do Better, Be Better: Living with Race Trauma – Wellness & Empowerment – EBONY

If you’re Black in America, it’s very likely that you live with one of two plaguing feelings:

At any moment your rights can violated and you’ll be powerless to defend yourself legally or physically.

At any moment the rights of someone you love will be violated and you will be powerless to defend them legally or physically.

Now if you were Caucasian, this phenomenon would be widely accepted as a source of major psychological trauma (an emotional injury resulting form an extremely stressful or life threatening situation). There would likely be a series of specialized programs, resources or mainstreamed evidence based practices devised to help cope with the persistent exposure — just think about the seminars they have at suburban schools when a student commit suicide — and you’d be put on meds.

But for African Americans, it’s just life.

We are used to living in fear. We have grown accustomed to being preyed upon. Worst of all, we have learned to de-value our lives so much that it is now acceptable for us to kill each other. Our boys openly lament about doubting they will live past 25 years old. We brag about serving punitive consequences for antisocial behaviors. Our youth — and adults —openly deface our communities with graffiti, litter and urine. We don’t mandate marriage, a universal social security, before — or after —procreation. This is not what being Black, African or African-American is about.

This is about the lack of hope — due to trauma. This is about the repercussions of generations of people being exposed to persistent fear, anxiety and abuse. This is the result of having dreams of fair integration shattered. The effect of introducing drugs to mothers of a community. The impact of purposefully robbing men of their core source of pride: The ability to provide and lead. Most African-Americans are traumatized. Sadly, not enough have the natural resources to combat it wholly.

I’d love to say there’s an easy answer to eradicating trauma — but I won’t lie to you. The fact is each person has to decide how he/she wants to cope with it in their lives (counseling, support groups, self-education/awareness), and whether they are willing to pass on their knowledge to their circle and beyond. If we truly want to do better, be better, we have a bitter pill to swallow: Black Americans, collectively, are not winning. And yet, there is a bright side: We have the power to change it.

Do better, be better. Talk to me at dobetter@ebony.com.

via [COLUMN] Do Better, Be Better: Living with Race Trauma – Wellness & Empowerment – EBONY.

Compassion

The other day I was out walking my son in his stroller (my now constant occupation) when a homeless woman approached me asking for money. I’d seen her before in the neighborhood many times, including behind our condominium using drugs. I turned down her request and continued walking as if the wind had blown a newspaper against my leg and I’d kicked it away without any thought.

I used to get angry at strangers who asked me for money, projecting onto to them a rage I actually felt toward myself for having such a difficult time turning them down. Then I learned to set boundaries comfortably and my anger gave way to inconsistency: I’d sometimes acquiesce to requests for money and sometimes not, the likelihood of one or the other depending randomly on my mood, how much I believed their story or how much it entertained me, or my belief about what it meant to be compassionate at the time.
Given that at least one study has suggested roughly 95% of homeless men suffer from some type of mental disorder (substance abuse being the most common by far) and that numerous other studies have shown similar, if somewhat less dramatic, results depending on study methodology and the city studied, my standard response now is to refuse all requests for money, believing as I now do that money is not the best long-term, or even short-term, solution to help the homeless. Yet each time I’m asked, I wonder again about what it means to be compassionate, and my recent encounter with our neighborhood homeless woman caused me to reflect again how I continue to fail to live up to my aspiration to consistently manifest the compassion of which I’m capable.

Alex

Greg Says:

May 20, 2009 at 9:20 am
Having a drug addiction does not mean someone isn’t worthy of your compassion or loose change. And living in your alley is precisely why you’re giving her money in the first place. You have been blessed with success and affluence while many people around you suffer and starve. To dismiss them because they take drugs to cope with their situation is not compassion.

Many people are addicted to alcohol and prescription drugs. Yet, our society teaches us that those addicts are better than the addicts which take cheap drugs in allies to escape the reality of life.

Rather than sitting in judgment of the homeless in your neighborhood, try accepting them for who they are. Whether someone spends your 25 cents on McDonald’s, drugs, or real food. Does it really matter? Is it not their right as a human being to make their own choices?

If her drug habit really bothers you so much, there are plenty of ways you could help. A gift card for example. I don’t have money to give, but when I do, I share. Not very much, but a little.

Greg: I think you misunderstood where I was coming from in my post. I was attempting to be honest about the difficulty I have in mustering up compassionate action in certain circumstances. If I came across as being dismissive of the homeless woman who approached me, that wasn’t my intent. I FEEL great compassion for her but am frustrated by my own inability to take what I consider to be compassionate ACTION toward her, which in my view makes my feeling compassion for her worthless to her and to me. But I remind myself that compassion must be developed and nurtured, which is essentially why I practice Buddhism. I truly don’t judge her addiction to drugs, and her habit only bothers me in that I believe she’d be happier without it and that those around her would be, too. And it does matter to me where someone spends my “25 cents” just as it matters to me where the government spends my tax dollars. If I’d contributed money, even inadvertantly, to a terrorist organization, I would feel a sense of responsibility for that organization’s ability to terrorize. By giving a homeless drug addict the means to continue her addiction, which I believe due to my personal and professional experience leads directly away from happiness, I would then be contributing to her misery and not her happiness, and that is definitely not compassion in my book. As I pointed out in the post, compassion applied without wisdom can often create more misery than it resolves.

Best,
Alex

Judy Says:

May 20, 2009 at 10:12 am
Very thought provoking, Alex, as always. I’m so glad I found your blog. I understand your wish to engage with people who need help, but you had your infant with you. Perhaps not getting involved was the best choice for safety’s sake, even if the homeless lady is someone you know, just a bit. I give fast food coupons to people who ask for assistance. At least I know they can’t be used for anything else.

Judy: You raise an important point about safety I thought about but didn’t mention in the post. Fast food coupons are a nice idea. I think that what constitutes the most compassionate action a person could take will depend on what that person feels they have to offer. For me, it isn’t money, but something that would require more time and effort on my part to impart. I continue to struggle to challenge myself to more consistently impart it. This just represents the current boundary of my growth. Thanks for your comment and compliment on the blog.

Alex

mar Says:

May 20, 2009 at 10:07 pm
Thank you for your thoughtful post. Interactions with homeless or requests for money happen to all of us and pose the question, how will we respond? When this happens to me, I assess the need, as you said the Buddha would do. Sometimes, it is offhand, someone just collecting change without conviction. Sometimes, I feel panhandled. And sometimes, I hear or see the need there. I tell them I don’t carry cash, but I can go buy them food, or what it is they need at a nearby convenience store. It is what I would do for myself. One woman I remember took me up on my offer and we talked as we walked to CVS—an unlikely pair. She asked for a drink, chips, cough syrup, and then asked if she could get batteries: her cassette Walkman which she held, had died.

To me, happenstance is the only difference between us—our means, and that is transient. And batteries—for music—and cough syrup to stop coughing were her needs. $12 well spent. Her needs met were both our happiness. So, often, I am thankful for what someone asks of me, because I could not have felt the way I did without her.

Peace—

Nina Says:

May 21, 2009 at 4:32 am
I am pleased to find your thoughts on being compassionate. Acting in a selfless manner, yet being able to decipher what is truly helpful to that other person. I work with autistic kids and find that the stronger the disciplinary action/consequence to bad behavior the better. I let them know that I care for them and want them to learn to do better. So punishing is not such a bad thing but is actually compassionate. I’m trying to think of a way to allow the kids to be in their autistic world though and drift into their own imaginations without so many terrible consequences. When they need to function like other kids, I need to remind them. This helps me continue feeling compassionate for them.

Lots of interesting and thoughtful ideas on the subject. Thanks for posting.

Camilla Onell Says:

May 21, 2009 at 5:15 pm
Alex,

Thank you so much for this post and for your comment on my blog.

As it turns out, your thoughts on what compassion isn’t was exactly what I needed to read right now. Very confronting. I guess I know this already but I’m not living this truth at all. I am far too often giving people what they want. Still pleasing too much. And I needed to be reminded of that. Time for a change!

I will definitely follow your blog from now on.

Camilla

Mary Elaine Kiener Says:

May 22, 2009 at 7:38 pm
Thanks for a lovely essay. Reminded me of a time during my late husband’s illness when I had the opportunity to explore the concept of compassion in a more direct way. A wonderful lesson at the time, and a timely reminder now.
me

The Good Guy Contract « Happiness in this World Says:

May 24, 2009 at 7:05 pm
[…] Be compassionate. Freed of the need to be liked, I can now contemplate compassionate action motivated only by the desire to add to the happiness of another person and not by the imperative to sustain my self-esteem, which makes it far more likely my actions will be wisely compassionate as I discussed in a previous post, What Compassion Is. […]

Nicki Says:

May 25, 2009 at 3:30 pm
Excellent blog. I always enjoy your posts.

Just my two cents: I used to work in an area with a very poor population and a lot of homelessness. I had frequent requests for money to buy food. It made me feel bad to refuse if there was a real need. So I came up with a compromise. I always offered to go to the within-walking-distance grocery store with the person so they could pick out what they needed or to the nearby McDonalds. No one ever took me up on the offer.

Nicki: Such a difficult and complex problem, homelessness. I admire you for your efforts. Must have been difficult not to become jaded, having your offer to buy food rejected so consistently. Thanks for your comment.

Alex

rdp Says:

May 26, 2009 at 11:20 am
I am coming very late to this conversation, and perhaps my questions aren’t pertinent to the particular issue you try to grapple with here, Alex. Still, I’m offering the following:

I may be too much of a literalist, but, to me, compassion means suffering with. I don’t think it has much—if anything—to do with caring for the happiness of another. Rather, it’s about that moment of recognition in which you see yourself in the other person (or vice versa). It is almost impossible for me to avoid this reaction with people who are less fortunate than I am because, like “mar,” I feel in my gut that “happenstance is the only difference between us—our means, and that is transient.” It has taken me many years to be brave enough to do what mar does, but it does feel like exactly the right thing. I do not give cash, but ask what is needed. It is a very, very small thing, but I have never felt as if I showed my daughter something as important as when I engaged with a panhandler this way. Of course, one must assess the situation and risk, but to try to respond with humanity seems, to me, the real challenge. If you met a former neighbor homeless on the street, wouldn’t you ask what s/he needed? Even if s/he were a drug addict? And all of these people were once someone’s neighbor, someone’s child.

What troubles me more—and more frequently, usually daily :^—is how to cultivate compassion for privileged people who remain oblivious to the consequences their self-centeredness visits upon others. While I can, in theory, view them as spiritually impoverished, they do so much more damage to the common good than do panhandlers, I end up feeling that “compassion” for them is misplaced. How on earth can you offer compassion to someone who regards him/herself as superior and who feels no discomfort on account of being oblivious? Is the answer simply to ignore them until they become aware of their own suffering?

rdp: Reasonable people can of course disagree. As I wrote in the post, what you define as compassion I would define as empathy, which absolutely often accompanies compassion (and perhaps is a necessary pre-condition), but perhaps my response to your last question about the privileged will delineate the distinction best: I can have compassion (that is, care about the happiness of the privileged) because their self-centeredness is, in my view, merely the result of a different set of delusions that brings a homeless person to homelessness. People of privilege aren’t necessarily happier than anyone else—and often are quite a bit less so. In my view, EVERYONE regardless of station in life is deserving of compassion, deserves to be happy, and deserves our empathy. Certainly harder to muster for people who seem to be only concerned with themselves, but if you accept my notion that anyone can suffer regardless of life station, why should we have empathy and compassion (as I define them) only for people who meet certain requirements (eg-exclude those who are selfish)? Even selfish people “were once (perhaps your) neighbor and were once someone’s child.” Thanks as always for such a thought-provoking comment.

Best,
Alex

rdp Says:

May 26, 2009 at 12:49 pm
And so frequently do!

I think our disagreement arises out of the definition of compassion. The standard (OED) meaning is “1. Participation in another’s suffering; fellow-feeling; sympathy. 2. Pity inclining one to show mercy or give aid. 3. Sorrowful emotion, grief.”

Caring about the happiness of another, I don’t believe, relates to this. Perhaps we could agree on the term “loving,” which at least in one of its senses “manifests itself in concern for the person’s welfare….?” It’s easier for me, at least, to think of it this way. I think we must be compassionate to all who suffer and try to cultivate a loving attitude to everyone else—even those who don’t. But I really struggle to do this in specific instances, where you see the obliviousness taking a toll on people who are already suffering. Or so it seems to me…..

Grateful, as always, for your caring presence here.

rdp: I guess with respect to compassion I’m moving away from the dictionary definition and more towards a philosophical definition. However, I agree with you about the relevance of the term “loving,” which in fact is what I think compassion is all about (and maybe therefore why it’s so hard to define). “Concern for the other person’s welfare”—yes, exactly. I’m just not so sure one needs to suffer themselves in order to feel that for another. Glad there are people like you out there thinking seriously about these issues and trying to embody good and right action when they can.

Best,
Alex

jrs Says:

May 26, 2009 at 3:21 pm
What a coincidence. Just this morning I gave $2 to an old woman huddled between her overflowing grocery cart of possessions and the wall of building. She didn’t ask me for it—my heart just went out to her and I felt I had to so something, so I did. After all, what does two bucks mean to me? Even if I will be unemployed come July 1.

jrs: I sure don’t have the solution to homelessness but that people like you who are about to become unemployed still find the impulse to try to help others even less fortunate than themselves gives me hope.

Best,
Alex

carey Says:

June 5, 2009 at 7:19 pm
I know that your post is about compassion, but I would like to reframe one part of it in the context of generosity.

Generosity is related to compassion, in that compassion is one major motivation that results in the (often concrete, tangible) manifestation of generosity. Other motivations for generosity, such as fear of what the neighbors think, result in what we might call “false generosity,” whereas compassion results in genuine generosity.

Compassion is always abstract and invisible; generosity can be visible or invisible, abstract or concrete. Generosity can help other people. Compassion simply reflects one’s internal perspective, and can’t help anyone until it manifests in the action of generosity.

Compassion is like a general who stands outside the fray and watches the violence, feeling bad for the poor suckers who are involved.

Generosity is like the doctor who risks his/her life running onto the battlefield to try to save the lives of the wounded.

Without wanting to offend you, but in an attempt to shed another light on the topic here, your compassion serves nobody but you.

It seems that by labeling the homeless person as a “drug user” your heart permits you to exile her. What if she wanted to use your money for her morning coffee? As a doctor, surely you must know that caffeine is a drug. It makes people feel better.

You label drug addiction a mental disorder, but there are many experts who would not agree with that label. Once again, I have to ask if caffeine addiction is a mental disorder as well, and if so, if caffeine users are not worthy of our financial generosity because they would just buy more coffee.

Your generosity has many strings attached. That is not true generosity. You are judging which ways of seeking happiness are acceptable to you, and placing your standards on other people. If you can’t allow her to spend the money on whatever she believes will relieve her pain or contribute to her happiness, your generosity is very limited. You have insufficient trust of other living beings. You do not permit freedom of choice or philosophy.

If someone wants to deal with the suffering of this life by using drugs, that is unacceptable to you, since your philosophy doesn’t agree with drug use. (Though, of course, it does—however, the types of drugs are limited. Tea, chocolate, and even alcohol and nicotine are presumably acceptable drugs to ease the pain of existence, whereas cocaine and heroin are unacceptable…because they are stronger? Does your heart have such limits?)

I think that you just wrote this to assuage the pain of your own conscience due to your inability to be generous with a fellow human being in need. You were overly judgmental, and decided that she wasn’t worthy of your generosity. Now, you (appropriately) are suffering due to the walls your have built surrounding your inner heart—the walls you construct each time you meet a person in dire need and turn them away, based on your judgments.

Drugs are one way that people try to deal with the suffering of life. Certain patterns of attitudes, some very negative, are another. Would you refuse to help a starving person because they often created negative thoughts, and by supporting their food habit, you would be permitting them to continue their negativity?

If you want to see true generosity, look to the sun. It gives its energy in every direction, regardless of whether someone or something is there to receive it. The pure love of the sun is what I aspire to.

By the way, you are not the only one who is scared of homeless people. Many people are deeply afraid that homelessness and poverty (and other types of suffering) will spread like a disease, and “contaminate” their own lives. Hence, they avoid homeless people “like the plague” (an apt metaphor here).

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Dark Days: Life in Crack City

Dark Days: Life in Crack City.Crack killed everything.”
– Nas, 2012

It was a chilly spring night in 1984 and I was returning uptown from my cashier job at Miss Brooks, a fast food coffee shop located near Rockefeller Center. Working from four to midnight, after closing a few of the staff usually went out for drinks. By two a.m., I’d downed one more pint before walking over to Columbus Circle with the short order cook Xavier.

Although we both lived on 151 Street off Broadway, Xavier was a recent transplant from the Bronx and I had dwelled in that neighborhood since I was four. Today that nether world between Harlem and Washington Heights is now “Hamilton Heights,” but in those days, we didn’t really call it anything but home.

When I moved there in 1967, the working class neighborhood was a literal melting pot of races, religions and cultures that included southern Blacks, like my grandmother, holdover Jewish families who hadn’t migrated to Long Island, more than a few Puerto Ricans and two Asian families.

Like some kind of urban coming-of-age novel, I have fond childhood memories of 151st Street and apartment 1-E, many that include the array of friends who lived in our building at 628. Boys and girls together, we played stickball in the street, had Saturday afternoon trips to the Tapia movie theater, where we watched Blaxploitation and kung-fu flicks, and crowded into each other’s apartments where we spun the latest soul records, watched cartoons and had sleepovers.

Group Therapy Model for Refugee and Torture Survivors

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Group therapy model for refugee

and torture survivors

Ibrahim A. Kira PhD*, Asha Ahmed PhD*, Vanessa Mahmoud, Msw* & Fatima Wassim, MA*

Abstract

The paper discusses the Center for Torture and Trauma Survivors’ therapy group model for tor­ture survivors and describes two of its variants: The Bashal group for African and Somali women and the Bhutanese multi-family therapy group. Group therapies in this model extend to com­munity healing. Groups develop their cohesion to graduate to a social community club or initi­ate a community organization. New graduates from the group join the club and become part of the social advocacy process and of group and individual support and community healing. The BASHAL Somali women’s group that developed spontaneously into a socio-political club for Af­rican women, and the Bhutanese family group that consciously developed into a Bhutanese com­munity organization are discussed as two variants of this new model of group therapy with torture survivors.

Key words: group therapy, refugees, wraparound approach for torture treatment, community healing

Introduction

There is an increased concern about the relevance and effectiveness of current mental health programs and existing interventions

*) Center for Torture and Trauma Survivors CTTS, Georgia, USA. iakira@dhr.state.ga.us

that are derived from individualistic western cultures and based mostly on addressing single personal identity trauma, for example sexual abuse, with clients from different cultures and with refugees and minority populations who are cumulatively trauma­tized with personal and collective identity traumas.1-3

In general, treatment of refugees who have survived violence and torture is com­plicated and not manuals-bound. Most evidence-based traditional group therapies have been developed to address specific single personal identity trauma, e.g., sexual abuse, or post such single trauma symptoms using different cognitive behavioural, psycho-dynamic or other theoretical and technical approaches. However, refugees and torture survivors went through, and are possibly still going through, a host of different trauma types that include personal and collective identity traumas and which have cumulative effects. Cumulative trauma dynamics are dif­ferent from the dynamics of single trauma.4 Additionally, refugees and torture survivors usually belong to different cultures which are more collective than individualistic and may belong to different religious heritages other than those form which such group therapies were developed.5 It is important to adapt current evidence-based group therapies, regardless of their theoretical and

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technical approaches, to address cumulative trauma and collective identity traumas that clients endured, or are enduring, in order to be acceptable and effective with refugees and torture survivors. Most refugee populations and torture survivors come from collective cultures and the core (or index) traumas for most of them are collective identity traumas. In the case of ethnic persecution, which is a collective identity trauma, the group char­acter is even more evident. The traumatized refugees have become victims of persecution and or torture because of their belonging to a certain group. In collectivistic culture, heal­ing usually take place within the group context. When people get persecuted because of their group characteristics, a group therapy seems logical and has more therapeutic potential. In collectivistic cultures, it is common for families and community elders or religious or political leaders to be the first source of support for personal problems or health con­cerns. Family group therapy and community work can be especially effective. Using modi­fied or newly designed group interventions can be a potentially effective component in a wraparound multi-component, multi-model process for treating victims of political vio­lence.6-8

Torture consists of different traumas that target an individual or group. Col­lective identity is an important factor in this complex trauma. The multi-systemic, multi-component, wraparound psychosocial rehabilitation approach for torture treat­ment addresses the three systems affected by torture: The individual, family members and the group.6-8 Group therapy for torture survivors is an important component of this model. Group therapies in this model extend to community healing. Groups de­velop their cohesion in order to graduate to a social community club or initiate a com­munity organization. New graduates from

the group join the club and become part of the social advocacy process and of group and community support and healing. Fol­lowing this model, the Centre for Torture and Trauma Survivors (CTTS) currently conducts family and women’s groups for Iraqis, a Burmese men’s group, a Bhutanese family group, and an African women’s group of members who survived both torture and HIV (caused by rape during torture). In the following, we describe two of these groups as two variants of the model where each ends up establishing a sustainable community or­ganization, the Bashaal women’s group and the Bhutanese multi-family group, albeit in different ways.

Bashaal: a comforting shoulder In August 2006, CTTS began a thera peutic group for Somali, Ethiopian and other Sub-Saharan women who had suffered war trauma and torture. The group was led by a Somali case manager/community liaison and a consulting therapist. They were able to combine the case manager knowledge of Somali culture and language with the therapist’s experience with trauma and dis­sociation. They began the group by focusing on the common thread of female genital circumcision.

In the following months the group fo­cused on the women’s support of each other, the importance of their faith and culture in their survival, and their need for help in interfacing with systems. In the process of addressing day-to-day concerns and health problems, the women began to talk about the trauma they had experienced.

Three group changes have marked the growing empowerment of the women. In November 2006, the group members took “ownership” of the group by naming it Bashaal, which refers, in Somalia, to a late afternoon women’s gathering in the pres‑

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ence of wise elders, a time to share their stories of troubles and triumphs. They share ginger tea and dates, while relaxing after the day’s chores. The second significant change was to move the group from the offices of CTTS to a community room in the heart of the Somali and Ethiopian community, near the main Masjid mosque. The organization and use of the center was negotiated by the physician, with the support of the Somali community. The room is furnished in a trad­itional Sub-Saharan manner and is cared for by the women. In the summer of 2008, a new therapist started a second women’s group with the Somali case manager/com­munity liaison, while the first group con­tinued as a self-sufficient group, sometimes mentoring the new group!

The group has interpreters and various interns who assist and visit and who help members reach the goals they have set for the group. The goals of the group are:

a)  To give members a safe place to gather and to talk about their concerns, includ­ing their recovery from torture;

b)  To assist in the acculturation and immi­gration process by discussing cultural and religious differences they encounter;

c)  To increase members’ feelings of personal empowerment and mastery in various aspects of their lives through trad itional women’s handicrafts and basic living skills;

d)  To diminish symptoms of PTSD, anxiety and depression through psychotherapy and support;

e)  To form a social organization that brings women out of isolation and that can eventually be maintained by members with a steady core membership.

After an initial assessment of the potential group members’ experiences with torture and trauma, using the instruments devel‑

oped for the Center for Torture and Trauma, approximately 20 members were selected by the case manager for membership in the group. Meetings are held once a week, on Fridays, prior to Jumah (Friday) prayers. Participants are transported to meetings or arrive via public transportation. Refresh­ments are often served, particularly tea and sweets. Members greet each other tradition­ally and get to know the rules of the group. Confidentiality, privacy and safety are em­phasized in the group.

The therapist facilitates a therapeutic group process, incorporating relaxation breathing and guided imagery for stress relief, pain management, and relief from intrusion phenomena. The group is organ­ized around a theme or activity each week, pre-selected by the members and the thera­pist the week before. Themes include: im­migration experiences, parenting, marriage, communicating with doctors, tribal conflict, difficulties in protecting and raising sons, finding husbands for daughters, maintaining authority with children, memories, night­mares and dreams, financial difficulties, cultural differences, divorce, losses, grief, rage and loneliness. Activities can include crocheting, knitting, quilting, drawing, sew­ing, simple automobile maintenance, driving tests, scrapbooking, jewelry making, etc. These activities are all activities they can continue outside of the group. They are nor­malizing, calming and soothing to the mem­bers. While they are working on a project they hold their discussions, just as one might on a visit to a friend. Within this context, the shame and guilt that they might otherwise feel when thinking or talking about many issues is diminished. Members look forward to these meetings every week. They report using their crafts as ways to calm and soothe themselves at home when times are difficult. They are supportive and respectful of one

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another. They cry and laugh together and celebrate each person’s small triumphs or significant losses. In this way, the group is truly a comforting shoulder for each woman.

Bhutanese Multi-family Therapy Group for Torture Survivors’ Families

The group started in November, 2008, con­sisted of between five and eight families. The group was led by a bilingual mental health counsellor, and a Bhutanese case manager/ community liaison co-facilitator who has a masters degree in Political science from Nepal. The goals of the group are:

a)  To give members a safe place to gather and to talk about their concerns and their stories, including their recovery from tor­ture;

b)  To assist in the socio-cultural adjustment;

c)  To increase members’ feelings of personal empowerment and mastery in various as­pects of their lives;

d)  To diminish symptoms of PTSD, anxiety and depression;

e)  To form a social organization for Bhu­tanese torture survivors who continue to support each other after the group and advocate against torture and oppression, which helps with the continuation of per­sonal and community healing, advocacy and social support.

However, the focus in the first stage switched to survival issues, because of the new added traumatic stress, arising from the dire economic situation in US at the time. The therapy focused, at this stage, in devel­oping assertiveness training, problem solv­ing skills, using humour, laughter and other skills, for example, journaling and making to do lists.

Clients are encouraged to share their story but they are not pushed to. Most of

the members are interested in discussing religious topics. They are also interested in discussing the politics of Nepal and Bhutan. The experience one time of a member who was very quiet in all sessions, but who spoke up for the first time about politics and gave his opinion, shows the relevance of this topic to group participants.

General Principles for torture groups:

1)  Helping clients regain control of their life. Also, providing a safe space to practice control during group time. For example, letting them have cell phones and giving them the choice to answer it (it could be from their job agency, sick relative, etc.)

2)  Giving them choices and teaching them to choose for themselves. Letting them make the rules for the group and then adding more important ones if neces­sary.

3)  Abstaining from re-traumatizing by recalling memories of torture. Encour­age, not force them to share about their torture. Most of them are afraid, guilty, embarrassed, feel responsible for what happened to them.

4)  Most importantly, establishing and gaining their trust. Making them feel very comfortable in any way possible. Talking about their history, where they came from, history behind their coun­try, learning about their culture and its practices. Letting them educate the therapist and case managers about the conditions they came from. Talk about politics and religion, their favorite mov­ies, songs they like.

5)  Using laughter and humour: Laugh­ing is the shortest route to the heart. Strat egies of telling jokes and laughing in the moment helps them forget about their pain for now. Talking about the

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new host culture, inviting them to share any funny events relating to the host culture that they experienced are help­ful interventions.

6)    Using art and other creative activities. Collage was liked by all members. Tell­ing stories by looking at some emo­tion cards, writing letters of gratitude, accultur ation activities, educating about the new culture and its practices, hav­ing them draw their interests, hobbies, strengths, accomplishments, successes, and positive focused therapeutic activi­ties were all utilized.

7)    Balancing power dynamics in the group was important. Getting down to their level and accessing them, reflection of power in dress, seating in the group, not practicing too much control, or making strict rules were important.

8)    Letting them vent and complain be­cause they have no place else to do that. Listen to them closely without any judgements, supporting them, but not letting them obsess about complaining and intervening when they are com­plaining too much.

9)    Help problem-solve. Brain storm with them to solve the current problems in their life (ranging from filling forms to accessing transportation, getting jobs, learning English, etc.).

10) Help create a cohesive bond between them, so they have access to support outside the group setting. They can help each other which will help them feel good about themselves if they can help others.

11) Teach basic coping techniques with stress, adaptation to a new culture, find out how well they cope currently and find strengths in them. Learn their ways of coping and help reinforce those if they haven’t been coping well.

12)      Psycho-education about their symp­toms and how it relates to their overall traumatic experiences, about PTSD, how it is affecting their life and how they can minimize the symptoms, cope with them, take care of themselves.

13)      Teach them the importance of self-care. Most of them are very modest, gener­ous, put others first and leave them­selves out.

14)      Getting them involved with community events. Invite them to attend events related to the celebration of torture survivors, cultural celebrations, and potlucks.

15)      Teach them assertiveness, conflict resolution, parenting skills. Help them practice/role model newly learned tech­niques in the group and get feedback.

16)      Letting them tell their story without forcing them, but a little probing may be necessary. Make sure they feel safety and trust.

17)      Find out about their religion and spir­itual strengths and practices. For most of them that is the first resource or coping strategy to turn to their religion.

18)      Involve their family and community.

The Bhutanese group provided another model for achieving the community organ­ization goal. While community organization in the Bashaal group happened spontan­eously, in the Bhutanese group it happened intentionally. The case manager, the co-fa­cilitator of the group, who is a Bhutanese community leader and previous political science professor in Nepal, initiated the call for group organization after the sixth session, and started to help them apply for non-profit status. In this model the case manager, a Bhutanese leader himself, who has a master’s degree in political science, initiated establishing the non-profit organiza‑

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tion for the Bhutanese community of torture and non-torture survivors. The organization celebrated cultural events and organized art and craft expositions and participated in the Georgia coalition of refugee stakeholders.

Summary and conclusions

Torture consists of different traumas that target an individual or group. Collective iden­tity is an important factor in this complex trauma. The multi-systemic, multi-compo­nent, wraparound psychosocial rehabilitation approach for torture treatment addresses the three systems affected by torture: The indi­vidual, family members and the group. Group therapy for torture survivors is an important component of this model. Group therapies extend to community healing. Groups de­velop their cohesion to graduate to a social community club. New graduates from the group join the club and become part of the social advocacy process and of group and community healing. The Bashal Somali women group and the Bhutanese multifamily groups are variants of this model. The wom­en’s therapy group has developed to be a social club for Somali torture survivor women that convenes and arranges social activities and work on arts and crafts. They hold their events to celebrate and sell their products and to lobby against torture in the community at large. The Bhutanese group provided another variant of the model for achieving in com­munity organization goal. While community organization in the Bashaal group happened spontaneously, in the Bhutanese group it hap­pened intentionally. The case manager, the co-facilitator of the group who is a Bhutanese community leader, initiated the call for group organization. While the CTTS group therapy model with its variants have a theoretical face and validity, future studies are needed to provide empirical evidence of its effectiveness in achieving and sustaining its goals.

Michelle Alexander on the Irrational Race Bias of the Criminal Justice and Prison Systems

Michelle Alexander wrote a paradigm-shifting exploration of modern racism, the so-called war on drugs and the prison-industrial complex. You can obtain a copy of this eye-opening paperback, “The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness,” directly from Truthout right now by clicking here.

Mark Karlin: Before we get into the details, is it accurate to characterize your thesis, in a colloquial way, by saying that institutionalized racial casting is alive and even ratcheting up in the United states in 2012?

Michelle Alexander: Yes, I do believe that something akin to a racial caste system is alive and well in America. For reasons that have stunningly little to do with crime or crime rates, we, as a nation, have chosen to lock up more than two million people behind bars. Millions more are on probation or parole, or branded felons for life and thus locked into a permanent second-class status. The mass incarceration of poor people of color, particularly black men, has emerged as a new caste system, one specifically designed to address the social, economic, and political challenges of our time. It is, in my view, the moral equivalent of Jim Crow.

MK: You identify the key societal perpetuation of the stigmatization of the black male as the so-called “criminal justice system.” It appears to have become an accepted bureaucratic injustice.

MA: Mass incarceration has become normalized in the United States. Poor folks of color are shuttled from decrepit, underfunded schools to brand new, high tech prisons and then relegated to a permanent undercaste – stigmatized as undeserving of any moral care or concern. Black men in ghetto communities (and many who live in middle class communities) are targeted by the police at early ages, often before they’re old enough to vote. They’re routinely stopped, frisked, and searched without reasonable suspicion or probable cause. Eventually they’re arrested, whether they’ve committed any serious crime or not, and branded criminals or felons for life. Upon release, they’re ushered into a parallel social universe in which the civil and human rights supposedly won during the Civil Rights Movement no longer apply to them. For the rest of their lives, they can be denied the right to vote, automatically excluded from juries, and legally discriminated against in employment, housing, access to education and public benefits. So many of the old forms of discrimination that we supposedly left behind during the Jim Crow era are suddenly legal again once you’ve been branded a felon. That’s why I say we haven’t ended racial caste in America; we have merely redesigned it. In many large urban areas, the majority of working age African American men now have criminal records and are thus subject to legalized discrimination for the rest of their lives. It is viewed as “normal” in ghetto communities to go to prison or jail. One study conducted in Washington, D.C. indicated that 3 out of 4 black men, and nearly all those living in the poorest neighborhoods could expect to find themselves behind bars at some point in their life. Nationwide, 1 in 3 black men can expect to serve time behind bars, but the rates are far higher in segregated and impoverished black communities. A massive new penal system has emerged in the past few decades – a penal system unprecedented in world history. It is a system driven almost entirely by race and class.

MK: How fast has our prison incarceration rate grown and to what extent does the growth correlate with the arrest of black males for nonviolent offenses? Doesn’t the US have the largest incarceration rate in the world?

MA: The United States does have the highest rate of incarceration in the world dwarfing the rates of even highly repressive regimes like Russia, China or Iran. This reflects a radical shift in criminal justice policy, a stunning development that virtually no one – not even the best criminologists – predicted forty years ago. Our prison population quintupled in a thirty year period of time. Not doubled or tripled – quintupled. We went from a prison and jail population of about 300,000 to now more than 2 million. Most people seem to assume that this dramatic surge in imprisonment was due to a corresponding surge in crime, particularly violent crime. But that simply isn’t true. During the same period of time that incarceration rates skyrocketed, crime rates fluctuated. Crime rates went up, then went down, then went up, then went down again. Today, crime rates are at historical lows. But incarceration rates – throughout all of these fluctuations – have consistently soared. Most criminologists today will acknowledge that crime rates and incarceration rates in the United States have had relatively little to do with each other. Incarceration rates – especially black incarceration rates – have soared regardless of whether crime has been going up or down in any given community or the nation as a whole.

via Michelle Alexander on the Irrational Race Bias of the Criminal Justice and Prison Systems.