Black Kids in White Houses

Black Kids in White Houses
On Race, Silence, and the Changing American Family
by JEN GRAVES

innocence is bliss…..

AAfter all this time, there are still things we don’t talk about. It’s a century and a half after Emancipation and a year before the election of America’s first black president. This is October 2007.

The door is closed. There is a black woman at the front of the room, near the blackboard. She is facing a black man who is sitting down and talking fast. He keeps talking for a long time, as if he has been waiting a while to say this to someone. The police, but not only the police, treated him like he was a criminal. His parents, who are white, didn’t believe him when he told them this, or if they wanted to believe him, they still just didn’t know what to say. Why would they? They were adopting a black child, they thought—not a black teenager, not a black man.
When he finishes, there is quiet in the room, as if everyone is giving him his due. A young Korean woman goes next. She says she has tried to find her birth mother, but the Korean authorities have stopped her. She says she is working to end all adoption from Korea.

There is a young Korean man. He is gay. He is also transgender. He grew up in a white Christian family in a white Christian town. He had to escape. For a long time, he didn’t talk about it. He knows he should be grateful, but here, among like-minded peers, he feels like he can really talk about it for the first time.

This workshop is called “Race and Transracial Adoption Workshop with Lisa Marie Rollins.” Rollins is the black woman at the front of the room. She says that a social worker labeled her Mexican, Filipino, and Caucasian because people didn’t want black kids. But she looked more and more black as she grew older. Her parents still said she wasn’t black. She was. Finally, they admitted it too. Then once, as an adult, visiting home, she found a mammy doll in her mother’s kitchen, in among the other knickknacks. That’s the end of the anecdote. She’s still basically speechless about it.

She says it is time to watch a video called “Struggle for Identity.” In the video, people tell their stories, stories like the ones in the room. A black woman who was adopted by white parents boils it down: “Don’t think you can make black friends after you adopt a black child. If you don’t already have black friends, you shouldn’t be adopting a black child.” Then the lights go up. There are several white people in the room who have said they have already adopted black or Asian or Guatemalan children, or that they are right now waiting to leave for Ethiopia to pick up their adopted children. All of those people—the white people—are crying.

They are crying because they have heard things they did not want to hear. But there is more to it than that. They are also crying because they do not know how else to respond to the great, big cultural silence that has been broken here.

I t would be easier for white people if race did not exist. Or if everyone could agree that race did not matter, that is. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the word “transracial” first appeared publicly in a 1971 Time magazine article. The article introduced transracial adoption, or adoption across racial boundaries—most often white parents adopting children of color—and reported a strange phenomenon. According to a study in Britain, some white parents “tended to ‘deny their child’s color, or to say he was growing lighter, or that other people thought he was suntanned and did not recognize him as colored. Sometimes the reality was fully accepted [by the parents] only after the very light child had grown noticeably darker after being exposed to bright sunlight on holiday.'”

It’s such an outrageous finding that it sounds like a joke. Stephen Colbert’s dimwitted white-guy alter ego has a joke like this, when he says on The Colbert Report, always in the most ridiculous of situations: “As you know, I don’t see color.” The joke is funny because in so many ways it’s true. Plenty of white people don’t see color. We refuse to look at it, prefer not to see too much difference, because difference almost always makes us feel bad by comparison.

Transracial adoption is awkward to discuss at first, because although it is designed to chart a radically integrated future, on the surface its structure repeats the segregated past. Just look at the basic structure of a family and apply race to the equation. The most crude way to put it: Whites are in charge, children of color are subordinate, and adults of color are out of the picture. And that’s not even talking about class.

And yet there are more of these families now than ever. The exact number of transracial adoptees in this country is unknown, but the practice, which began in earnest in the 1970s, has been on the rise for at least 10 years. Twenty-six percent of black children adopted from foster care in 2004—about 4,200 kids—were adopted transracially, almost all by white parents, according to a New York Times analysis of data from the National Data Archive on Child Abuse and Neglect at Cornell University and the Department of Health and Human Services. That figure is up from 14 percent in 1998 and, according to adoption experts, it has continued to climb. The 2000 census, the first to collect information on adoptions, counted just over 16,000 white households with adopted black children. In the last 15 years, Americans have adopted more than 200,000 children from overseas, but that trend is cooling off, partly because international adoptions are so expensive.

In spite of all that, a person has to slog through layers of silence just to meet someone else at the surface for a conversation about the topic. When Mark Riding, a black father in Baltimore, burst out last November on an NPR blog with a long narrative he’d clearly been waiting to tell someone—about adopting a white daughter, getting glares on the street, and trying to censor his own family’s talk about “white people” at home—he found himself in a debate with another commenter, who told him repeatedly to “rise above the race issue” and talked about “membership in the human race.” There’s a silencer in every conversation about race.

But anonymous commenters can be great sources of information, because they’ll write what they’d never say. On The Stranger’s blog, I wrote about the woman at the workshop who said you shouldn’t adopt black children if you don’t already have black friends. An adoptive parent named Teresa took serious offense. Biological parents don’t even get screened, she wrote. “My husband and I are white, and we adopted a 9-year-old Hispanic boy four years ago. The amount of training and inspection that we went through was incredible…. You don’t know the whole story. You can’t possibly. You aren’t part of those families.”

“P.S.,” she wrote at the end, “It isn’t that hard to get a white person to cry.”

Teresa’s comment was long, and it built to a climax before the P.S. Her point: If you don’t silence these disgruntled adopted adults, then adoption policy could become race-conscious, and if adoption policy becomes race-conscious but white people still mostly aren’t, then white people could be denied the right to adopt, and if that happens, then children of color are going to go without good, permanent homes.

Don’t talk is the idea—it can’t lead to anything good. All it leads to is shouting, and suing, and then, finally, resilencing.

B arack Obama may as well have been a transracial adoptee.

He grew up with white grandparents, without black role models. His Kenyan father and his Kansas mother were not constant presences. As an upperclassman in high school, he realized what it meant to be black in a white world and became sick with the particular loneliness of a transracial adoptee. His grades dropped, he smoked pot, he snorted coke, he came close to trying heroin with an acquaintance in a meat locker: In short, he nearly destroyed himself. To his family, he simply fell silent. “I was trying to raise myself to be a black man in America, and beyond the given of my appearance, no one around me seemed to know exactly what that meant.” So they didn’t talk about it.

In the world of transracial adoption, you don’t have to look very hard to figure out why no one talks about this stuff. Federal adoption laws mandate silence. Social workers aren’t allowed to talk to families about whether they already have black friends. They aren’t allowed to tell families they might want to get some. Any of that would be seen, according to federal law written in 1996, as a violation of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. The 1996 law prohibits the placement of an adoptee on the basis of race, color, or national origin. Race does not matter, the law says. The American domestic child-welfare system is officially colorblind—or, more to the point, colormute.

There’s one exception: The law doesn’t apply to Native American children. A separate 1978 law governs them and says the opposite: that in-race adoptions are preferred. Both laws were written by people who said they had the best interests of the children in mind. Yet today, as a report released this past May by the Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute shows, Native American and black kids—despite being governed by philosophically opposite laws—both on average stay in the child-welfare system longer than children of any other race. Why are these kids still stranded? If one way of helping minority foster children doesn’t work, and the opposite way of helping minority foster children doesn’t work either, why are we still pretending one is right and one is wrong?

A doption has never been simple for adoptees, and increasingly, adoptive parents are learning that making life easier for their children may make it more complicated for them. Today, many parents acknowledge absent birth parents—always present to the adoptee—as a presence in their families too. For a transracial adoptee, race is like another missing parent. In fact, transracial adoptees hunger for heritage at a younger age than their white counterparts, searching for their parents on average five years earlier (25.8 versus 31.2), and looking not just for parents but also for a racial identity.

We know this because of a study cited in the 2006 anthology Outsiders Within, which is the first book ever to be written entirely by transracial adoptees and to include academic research, scholarly papers, memoirs, and artworks. It’s a landmark book representing a new voice, or an old voice finally speaking up. Why did it take so long? Gratefulness. Gratefulness is the most powerful silencer in the adoption world. Even if a transracial adoptee breaks the silence to make a criticism about his or her experience, the immediate response always is: Would it have been better if you’d never been adopted? It’s a rhetorical cul-de-sac, a false runaround that continues to stifle conversations about more complicated subjects, like what’s the difference between a family that’s tolerant and one that’s actively antiracist, or why are there so many children of color adopted in the first place?

That old stifling question is starting to die.

These are the voices that are coming out instead:

“I can’t be alone in thinking that being transracially adopted, we have lost something: lost our languages, traditions, cultures, and most importantly the subtleties and nuances of those cultures. We have lost something we never had, which we may not have even valued had we had it, and yet we continue to mourn. Am I alone in this grief?”

That’s M. Anderson, writing in Outsiders Within. Here’s Rita Simon, a researcher at American University who has been studying transracial adoption since 1968 (she’s talking on NPR):

“What we find consistently is that the white families cannot raise a black child as if it was its own birth child. They have to make changes in their lives. In other words, love is not enough.”

And this from the Donaldson report this past May:

“Two principles provide a solid framework for meeting the needs of black children and youth in foster care: that adoption is a service for children, and that acknowledgement of race-related realities—not ‘colorblindness’—must help to shape the development of sound adoption practices.” (Emphasis mine.)

The Donaldson report, commissioned by the U.S. Civil Rights Commission, calls for a change to federal adoption law.

P am Hansen, a Seattle pediatrician—her last name has been changed for privacy reasons—is in her kitchen making black-bean burritos for dinner. “My white friends don’t really get it when I say this, but I basically have these kids because of poverty,” she says.

Her willingness to talk openly is surprising; I find myself wanting to silence her for her own protection.

Pam and her husband, Bill, both white, adopted two black children, Theo and Simone, whose mother, Amanda, lives in Texas. Amanda had to give them up because she’s poor and has been dealing with illness in her immediate family. The semi-open adoptions cost almost $20,000 each. “Some of my white friends think there’s something wrong with the birth mother for giving up her kids. Okay, she could have used contraception, but not everyone I know is perfect in that way either. There’s nothing wrong with her. It’s important that my kids know that. I’ve thought before, what if I’d just given that money to her?”

In international adoptions, the poverty of the parents is usually blamed on corrupt governments or bad political situations, Pam says. “But when it’s domestic, we blame the parents.”

The Transracially Adopted Children’s Bill of Rights, by adoptee Liza Steinberg Triggs, includes this rule: “Every child is entitled to parents who know that if they are white they experience the benefits of racism because the country’s system is organized that way.”

Pam is the sort of person—maybe all self-critical parents (people?) are this way out of necessity—who can’t help but believe in opposing ideas. She and her husband, who studied black history in graduate school, were interested in adopting black children “from a social-justice point of view.” Both because more black children than white children need homes, and because the Hansens believe in the civil-rights dream of an understanding and connection between different races of people.

A year ago, they moved from the lily-white Proctor neighborhood in Tacoma to the racial mix of Columbia City, and Theo, now in kindergarten, goes to a public school in Rainier Valley, where the Hansens are hoping to meet and befriend black families. (They want not only black peers but black role models for their kids.) Their adoption agency gave them a few tips about respecting black culture and sent them on their way. “It’s not enough,” she says. “Honestly, we could have gone and moved to a white gated community in northern Minnesota, and nobody would have done anything about it.”

Some days, Pam does feel like moving to a white neighborhood, not that she would. Several months ago, on a bus in Columbia City, a young black man asked her whether her kids were adopted. She said yes. He chanted, “That’s fucked up, that’s fucked up.” Then he told her that when her son got older, he’d get up in the middle of the night and kill her, so maybe the man would just kill her now, there on the bus. Another time, a black woman in a car yelled at Pam and the kids when they were walking on the street in Columbia City: “How does it feel to steal black babies, you white bitch?”

There are times when black parents or grandparents smile at her knowingly, or randomly hug her, or give her unsolicited help, but usually she feels nervous around black parents. “I feel that I need to do it right,” she says. “I need to prove that I’m capable of parenting these children.”

She gives herself only middling marks. Neither she nor Bill have close black friends yet. And they aren’t Christians, so they can’t join a black church. “It’s complicated,” she says. “It’s only going to get harder as they get older. I think you have to be willing to talk about it constantly, and over and over.”

I ‘m a moderate racist.

My personal data “suggest a moderate automatic preference for European Americans compared to African Americans.” This data came from something called the Implicit Association Test, which is hosted on the website of Harvard University. The test, developed in 1998, is intended to gauge unconscious bias. It measures how long you take to answer questions (by keyboard) that ask you to associate faces of different races with good (e.g., “joy”) versus bad (e.g., “failure”) words.

This is the test that King County employees of the state’s Children’s Administration department are going to be taking, because Washington has a problem. It’s the same problem pretty much everywhere around the country, and not a new problem either: Too many kids of color are coming into foster care and staying in too long. In King County, the Children’s Administration is writing a plan with five parts, one of which is “staff development, which begins with self-examination,” says director Joel Odimba. “We’re going to train in knowing who we are.” The five-point plan includes—in addition to soul searching—a review of policies, the formation of an advisory committee, and a possible Cultural Competency Center.

Those are pretty quiet, bureaucracy-as-usual ideas compared to the idea that made Seattle famous on this issue. In 1999, Washington’s Department of Social and Health Services launched a pilot project that four years later became the full-blown Office of African-American Children’s Services (OAACS, pronounced “oasis”). It was staffed with people trained to handle the particular issues of black foster kids, and most of the county’s black kids were routed through it—blatantly defying the colorblind mandates of federal adoption law. Quickly, it was the talk of the nation, a test of dealing with race head-on in public policy, as if it matters. And it was invented out of a sense of desperation not uncommon around the country: In 2004, while black children made up 7 percent of the population of King County’s kids, they accounted for 30 percent of the kids in King County foster care.

It was a stab, an effort, a start. But it got complaints. Its management turned over often, and it was criticized by the rest of the department. Last spring, just as OACCS’s approach was about to be validated by new research—two months later, the Donaldson report would call for an emphasis on race in the child-welfare system—OACCS was killed. The federal Office of Civil Rights declared it in violation, and the state decided to let it go. The state’s foster-care administration would no longer deal with race in a direct way. Meanwhile, the OAACS building would be renamed the Martin Luther King Jr. office—an apt linguistic elision. Now it operates like all the others, taking cases on the basis of where the kids live. You’d never know that a major experiment on the role of race in families went on there, and whatever it might have been on its way to learning appears to have been lost.

T here are not that many movies about domestic transracial adoption. In one, the 1995 movie Losing Isaiah, Halle Berry stars as a crackhead named Khaila who leaves her baby, Isaiah, in a trash can while she goes to find some crack. He’s discovered, taken to a hospital, and adopted by Jessica Lange’s character, Margaret. When Khaila cleans up and discovers her son is still alive, she wants him back, and a judge orders his return. But it is too late—the toddler is attached to Margaret, and he doesn’t respond to Khaila. Khaila is forced to admit that Margaret has become her son’s mother. The last scene shows Margaret and Isaiah reunited over some toys, and Khaila playing alongside them. A title card flashes: “And a little child shall lead them, Isaiah 11:6.”

A little child shall lead them.

That phrase hits me hard. One of the reasons I was at that October 2007 workshop (at Seattle University), and that I’d been looking into transracial adoption, was to teach racist family members of mine a lesson. I had other reasons too—I’ve been debating whether to become a parent for a while—but this one was the most embarrassing. In my fantasy, I hadn’t considered how exactly I would protect my child. The child was a means to an end, a healing agent: Want to rid your parents of their overt racism? Give them black grandchildren and defy them not to love them! Need to atone for your own covert racism? Adopt a black child and let him teach you!

Part of the genuine appeal of transracial adoption, it’s true, is its potential to transform our culture. “I often think about transracial adoption as a grand social experiment,” writes John Raible, one of the first mixed-race children adopted to a white family in the 1960s and something of a spokesperson on the topic.

Even so, children shouldn’t be the day laborers on the job, says Chad Goller-Sojourner. Would you want your children to be the test cases in a grand social experiment?

“What I’d ask parents is, are you willing to be the uncomfortable one?” Goller-Sojourner says. This is how he’d question a prospective parent if he were a social worker. “Because somebody’s gonna be uncomfortable, and it seems the burden is on you. You have to be the uncomfortable one.”

He means that if white parents of black children, for instance, don’t live in black neighborhoods, join black churches, have black friends, and send their children to significantly mixed-race schools, then at least they should cross the thresholds into black barbershops even though it’s awkward, or drive out of their way to shop at grocery stores in black neighborhoods. Parents should be careful to raise their children to live in this world, not the one they wish existed.

“If you’re buying a house and you have a dog, don’t you spend more time looking for a big old yard for your dog?” he says. “Love is but one of many components of parenting. You’re raising children to live in a world that may not be your world. If you go to the pound, they won’t just give you a dog. There are rules. They’ll say, ‘That dog’s not good for your house, we’ll get you another dog.’ But when you ask that question about kids, people freak out.”

Goller-Sojourner is a performer. This summer, he put on a one-man show at the Rainier Valley Cultural Center called Sitting in Circles with Rich White Girls: Memoirs of a Bulimic Black Boy. As a big, gay, dark-skinned black adoptee of white parents living in white University Place outside Tacoma, he has had to explain himself many times, from many different perspectives, to many different kinds of people. He’s developed multiple metaphors: the dog-adoption analogy, one involving a seven-foot child with five-foot parents (“It’s not that one’s better, it’s just an acknowledgement of likeness or nonlikeness”), and one about lions and a gazelle.

“Let’s say I was a gazelle adopted by lions,” he says. “I pranced around happy until I got to first grade and all these lions tried to attack me; it’s like they didn’t get the memo. The other gazelles, they smelled the lion on me and didn’t trust me, so I stood open.”

He can also tell it literally: “The difference between when I got called nigger and when other black kids got called nigger is that they went home and got love, and I went home and got love from people who looked just like the people who called me nigger. As a child, you don’t have the ability to bifurcate.”

P hebe Jewell is gay. She and her partner, Dawn, adopted a boy named Isaac. He has the same mother as Bill and Pam Hansen’s two children, the poor woman from Texas, Amanda, who for the most part finds it too painful to be in contact with the children she’s let go. Isaac, Theo, and Simone all live in the same neighborhood, and Theo and Isaac go to the same school (Simone is too young). When friends from school come over, they are often confused about why Isaac, Theo, and Simone don’t live together. But then somebody explains it, and that’s that.

Isaac is 6 1/2, the oldest of the three, and he is not a quiet kid. You can hear him across the aisles at a store. Phebe worries that some people will see him as “dangerous, a thug,” but she knows that if he were quiet, he’d probably get teased as an Oreo. At his school, many of the kids are black. He comes home talking black, calling her “girl.” It makes her proud, that he’s getting black culture, black cadence. Even though she’s white, she knows it herself, having grown up partly in the South. She jokingly calls him “boy” in return, but she knows she’ll eventually have to stop herself, because of that word’s old association with power and slavery, something Isaac couldn’t know about now.

Isaac does know about slavery. He learned about it a year ago. Eventually, he used it against his mother when she tried to tell him what to do. “White people don’t own black people anymore, so you can’t own me,” he told her.

Ingenious, she thought. That’s my son.

O ver at Theo and Simone’s house, they have just finished eating their black-bean burritos, and it’s time to put on swimsuits and get in the car to go for lessons. Lessons are at Medgar Evers Pool, a place named for a man who was intimidated from voting just 62 years ago, who was on his college debate team, who married a woman named Myrlie, who had a Molotov cocktail thrown into the carport at their home, who was nearly run down by a car, who was shot dead in his own driveway—in the back—by a Ku Klux Klan fertilizer salesman who was not convicted of murder until 30 years later. Everything good that happened to Medgar Evers was because of Medgar Evers. Everything bad that happened to him was because he was black and refused to apologize for it.

Theo and Simone are sitting in the backseat of the car. Pam is explaining how she dresses the children carefully. If they were white children, she might dress them as “little Goodwill hippies,” but she doesn’t want black or white people thinking of them as poor maltreated urchins, so she dresses them up. Theo is wearing a white button-up polo shirt and glasses. We are driving past Garfield High School, where on Halloween night, a black teenager was killed in what police think was a gang shooting. Since then, black teenagers have been walking around the Central District and riding city buses along Martin Luther King Jr. Way in sweatshirts that say “RIP Lil Q” for the kid who died.

Theo doesn’t know any of this. He doesn’t know that he’s going to a pool named for Medgar Evers. He doesn’t know that there was a shooting here at this same place, another shooting of a black man. He doesn’t know that this is my neighborhood, where I live, where I’m learning about the meaning of race, the moderate racist in the front seat.

He does know about Obama, though. What does he know about Obama? I ask him. He puts his fingers to his chest and says, “Black.” Then he says, “White House.” That’s all he says. recommended

Purple Boots, Silver Stars … and White Parents – NYTimes.com

Purple Boots, Silver Stars … and White ParentsBy FRANK LIGTVOETPublished: October 13, 2013

“WHEN I wear my cap backwards, don’t copy me,” our 8-year-old son says to his 7-year-old sister. “O.K.,” she answers, “I will put it on sideways.”Enlarge This Image Joohee YoonConnect With Us on TwitterFor Op-Ed, follow @nytopinion and to hear from the editorial page editor, Andrew Rosenthal, follow @andyrNYT.Readers’ CommentsReaders shared their thoughts on this article.

Recently our African-American daughter, Rosa, had gone with an older black friend to Fulton Mall, a crowded commercial area in our Brooklyn neighborhood, where the shoppers are mostly black. Fulton Mall is not only about shopping, it’s also a place to flirt, talk, laugh and argue, and to listen in passing to gospel, soul, hip-hop and R & B.Rosa had seen some purple canvas boots with silver stars and lost herself in an all-consuming desire to have them. Immediately. I bought them, a bit later. A day later. And to be “fair,” I bought our son, Joshua, who is also African-American, a pair of black and yellow basketball shorts. Pretty cool as well.The next day they want to show off their new stuff and, somewhat to my surprise, they decide to do so at Fulton Mall. I am their white adoptive dad, and by now, at their age, they see the racial difference between us clearly and are not always comfortable with it in public. But they know they are too young to go alone to the mall. Before we leave, Rosa, who had always seemed indifferent to fashion, changes into tight jeans and a black short-sleeve T-shirt. Joshua twists his head to see how he looks from behind. He pushes his new shorts a bit lower over his hips, but doesn’t dare to go all the way saggy. And then — after they have their cap conversation — we go.They walk ahead. I am kept at a distance, a distance that grows as we get closer to the mall. I respect that; I grin and play stranger.  (click link below to read rest of article)

Looking east across Boerum Street at Fulton St...
Looking east across Boerum Street at Fulton Street Mall by David Shankbone, Brooklyn. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

via Purple Boots, Silver Stars … and White Parents – NYTimes.com.

 

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.

 

 

When Black Men Ruled the World: 8 Things The Moors Brought to Europe – Atlanta Black Star

The reflecting pool in the Patio de los Arraya...
The reflecting pool in the Patio de los Arrayanes , at the Moorish Alhambra of Granada, Spain (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

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/

 

via When Black Men Ruled the World: 8 Things The Moors Brought to Europe – Atlanta Black Star.

 

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!

 

Students called n word, chased through woods on field trip – WFSB 3 Connecticut

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

via Students called n word, chased through woods on field trip – WFSB 3 Connecticut.

Hip Hop and Internalized Racism

English: Hip hop icon
English: Hip hop icon (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The White Supremacist Infiltration of Rap Music by Solomon Comissiong August 15th, 2013 @ 9:03am KKK_homepage No Comments 1 Vote Share with Shortlink: ________________ The views and opinions expressed herein are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of AllHipHop.com _________________ Hip Hop music has been hijacked by corporate Klansmen who suppress the righteous lyrics of artists “like Dead Prez, Capital X, Immortal Technique, Rebel Diaz, Jasiri X, and Bahamadia.” Rap artists that have enslaved themselves to the production of stereotypes and gratuitous violence should be rehabilitated, if possible, but “we must boycott any music that denigrates people of color and women.” The White Supremacist Infiltration of Rap Music “The white corporate media that popularize racially stereotypical images hate black people just as the KKK does.” The late great African freedom fighter, Harriet Tubman, once said, “I freed a thousand slaves. I could have freed a thousand more if only they knew they were slaves.” This statement clearly alludes to the fact that, after a long period of brutal enslavement, many (not all) Africans had been force-programmed to accept their inhumane bondage as “normal.” Generations of Africans were born into one of the world’s most brutal forms of bondage: chattel slavery. Thus, they were literally forced to endure a most unnatural state of being. Africans were brutally beaten, raped, lynched and worked to death, for hundreds of years. Their European enslavers were nothing less than devils roaming planet earth. Despite these horrendous conditions there were some Africans who were oblivious that they were, in fact, enslaved. This aspect of slavery presented arduous challenges to freedom fighters such as Harriet Tubman, Nat Turner, Denmark Vesey and Gabriel Prosser – trying to free those who were unaware of their bondage, physical or mental. Fast-forward to the year 2013, this remains an arduous task. Chattel slavery may be a thing of the past, however, the US prison industrial complex legalizes mass incarceration/enslavement of African/black men and women. The 13th Amendment to the US constitution attempts to justify it, stating, “Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.” Mass incarceration is involuntary servitude, where prisoners are forced to make products (lingerie, computer components, clothing, etc.), all to be sold within the so-called “free market.” Capitalism, institutional racism and white supremacy are all key ingredients within this brew from hell. “Mass incarceration is involuntary servitude.” Today, mental slavery is perhaps even more prevalent than the physical form, and it takes place within many different platforms. One of these platforms resides within the duplicitous realm of mainstream, corporate-backed Hip Hop. Hip Hop is a culture created and cultivated by African/black and Latino youth who had been systematically marginalized by the United States’ white supremacist and instituitionally racist society. These youth created Hip Hop as a means to express themselves – socially, politically and culturally. Hip Hop’s creation and inception was free of Euro-American influence – at least within the earliest stages. These youth of color did not need their medium manipulated or diluted by white people who never gave a damn about them or their communities. In essence, youth of color did not need to have Hip Hop altered and co-opted by white America in the same manner that Blues, Jazz and even Rhythm & Blues (Rock n Roll) was. However, Europeans are always on the lookout for cultural “products” to exploit. People of color should be extremely wary when white people start to take an interest in our community or cultural creations. In the case of Hip Hop, exploitation of the cultural medium is the most significant contribution white people and their media corporations have had on rap music (one of the elements of Hip Hop Culture). These corporations have created virtual plantations with slave masters disguised as CEOs and overseers masquerading around as record executives and A & R (artists and repertoire) folks. Their goal has always been to make as much money as they can, exploiting Hip Hop and its artists of color, all the while reshaping it into something that comports with their racist sensibilities. White corporations that have stretched their slimy tentacles over commercial rap music are the Ku Klux Klan (KKK) of the media. The KKK is a white supremacist hate group whose origins date back to the 1800s. The white corporate media that popularize racially stereotypical images hate black people just as the KKK does. They are hell bent on destroying the images and minds of millions of black youth, actively suppressing any culturally empowering or politically revolutionary oriented aspects within rap music. They could not give a damn about the systematic oppression levied upon communities of color. They are no different from the virulently racist Euro-Americans who created racist and dehumanizing imagery during the early 20th century, and prior. And like today’s corporate Ku Klux Klan media, they used those racist images to sell their products. “Corporations have created virtual plantations with slave masters disguised as CEOs and overseers masquerading around as record executives and A & R (artists and repertoire) folks.” It has become convenient to solely lay the blame on black and brown rappers (they are not emcees) for the psychologically destructive lyrics and images they display within their “music.” These young men and women are nothing more than tools used by white record executives to accumulate boatloads of money. This is always done at the black community’s expense. It is tragically disconcerting that many of these young men and women are mostly oblivious to the fact that they are being exploited like prostitutes. The shiny trinkets and money these corporate slave masters throw at misguided rappers are rewards used to keep them mentally obsequious to capitalism and the plantations they dwell in. They are not unlike the enslaved Africans whom sister Harriet Tubman was trying to convince that they were, in fact, slaves. Of course, there are some so-called rappers who are willing participants in the own exploitation. They have become more than comfortable with the lavish lifestyle their corporate media slave masters have rewarded them with. It matters little to them that the stereotypes they are helping their white puppeteers promote, are causing tremendous psychological damage to youth of color. These willing participants are more like Sambo from Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin. They truly enjoy being the overseer of the white media’s premeditated destruction of the African/black psyche and image. They are consorting with what should be seen as a direct enemy to the black community. “There was two kind of slaves. There was the house negro and the field negro. The house negro, they lived in the house, with master. They dressed pretty good. They ate good, cause they ate his food, what he left. They lived in the attic or the basement, but still they lived near their master, and they loved their master, more than their master loved himself. They would give their life to save their masters house quicker than their master would.” – Malcolm X Corporate backed African/black Hip Hop artists should abscond from the plantations they have been programmed to mentally dwell within. They should rebel against their media slave masters (i.e., Warner Music Group, Sony Music Group, Universal Music Group, etc.) and create music collectives and art that directly empowers, edifies and politically inspires the communities from which many of these artists come. In essence they should invoke the spirit of many of our ancestors who rebelled against the oppressive and unnatural conditions they were held in. Just as the Africans rebelled during the Haitian Revolution, these African/black Hip Hop artists should do the same – inspiring Hip Hop artists all over the corporate media airwaves (plantations) to emancipate themselves. “Some so-called rappers are willing participants in the own exploitation.” These artists need to say, “To hell with the corporate music/media Ku Klux Klan,” and begin to pool their money, resources and time, in efforts to develop truly independent African/black record labels. However, before they can do any of that they will have to be made aware of their present status as subjects within the thriving plantations created for their ilk. Fans, concerned Africans and supporters of Hip Hop will need to be the ones to bring this fact to their attention. They need to be reminded that if you can’t write or rap about the institutionally racist and systemic issues that plague their communities, how can you even consider yourself a free man or woman? If the corporate media plantation (and those who control it) prevents you from utilizing your music to empower your people, you are far from being free. Hip Hop was crafted by people of color within neglected and oppressed communities. Hip Hop was created by African/black youth with Latino youth significantly contributing to its cultivation and development. It is a means of expression. It has long been a medium used to exert resistance to various forms of oppression. It is reprehensible that it is now being used as a tool to further oppress and keep youth of color from seeing US society for what it truly is – a wasteland of white supremacy and structural racism. This is exactly why these Ku Klux Klan music groups, and media corporations (Viacom, Clear Channel, etc.) do all they can to suppress the music of artists like Dead Prez, Capital X, Immortal Technique, Rebel Diaz, Jasiri X, and Bahamadia, among many others. These artists, their imagery, and music are routinely suppressed from the mainstream airwaves. While the Klan media suppresses songs like: “Malcolm, Garvey, Huey” by Deaz Prez, they promote songs like “Birthday Song” by 2 Chainz featuring Kanye West. One song (“Malcolm, Garvey, Huey”) has lyrics like this: “I live, I die, I organize, Everything I do – revolutionize, I build what’s good for the whole damn hood, Study G’s like these, really think you should, I study Malcolm Garvey Huey, Malcolm Garvey Huey.” The other song (“Birthday Song”) has lyrics like this: “When I die, bury me inside the jewelry store When I die, bury me inside the Truey store True to my religion, two of everything I’m too different So when I die, bury me next to 2 bitches.” It should be blatantly obvious why the Klan corporate media would suppress the liberating lyrics of artists like Dead Prez: they are empowering and edifying, especially to youth of color. However, the lyrics from artists like 2 Chainz, are mentally destructive, misogynistic (especially to women of color) and racially stereotypical. Many of the other songs the Klan media promote depict black men directing senseless violence toward one another. Klan media give the thumbs up to this type of rap music because, like the real Ku Klux Klan, it is capable of destroying black lives, one young mind at a time. “It is time we helped free them by demanding they end their ‘coonery’ and start making music that uplifts and inspires the oppressed masses to resist.” Hip Hop is not the problem, the white media corporations that have hijacked it are. Yes, there are rappers (not emcees) who are willing to do whatever it takes to earn a quick buck and get famous. They are prisoners of war in the battle against capitalism and white supremacy. It is time we helped free them by demanding they end their “coonery” and start making music that uplifts and inspires the oppressed masses to resist. Many of these rappers are misguided. This tends to happen within extremely white supremacist societies, as is the case with the US. It pressures the racially oppressed to assimilate as a means toward “getting ahead,” in life. The notion of “getting ahead” is merely relative, as well as a wretched illusion. While they believe they are “getting ahead,” they are really falling behind culturally, losing their identity, and perpetually being used as pawns. Their existence within the corporate music industry has been made possible by an inherently racist and exploitative system. This system prevents them from mentally venturing away from the “plantation.” Their minds must be freed. If they are eventually freed they will one day undoubtedly regret the decisions they once made simply to “cash in” and gain “fame” by lacing their lyrics with sexist, misogynistic and racially stereotypical content. “The house Negro, if the master said ‘we got a good house here’ the house negro say ‘yeah, we got a good house here.’ Whenever the master would said ‘we,’ he’d say ‘we.’ That’s how you can tell a house Negro. If the master’s house caught on fire, the house Negro would fight harder to put the blaze out than the master would. If the master got sick, the house Negro would say ‘What’s the matter, boss, we sick?’ We sick! He identified himself with his master, more than the master identified with himself.” – Malcolm X We must free those who are oblivious to their slave-like status within corporate backed Hip Hop. We must let them know of the powerful role they can play within a much-needed social revolution. We cannot support the plantations they dwell on by buying their music. After all, would you go to a “slave auction” and purchase human chattel or anything sold by a “slave master”? No, our objective would not be to support the reprehensible institution of slavery, our objective would be to free those standing on the auction blocks. And we must let it be known why we are boycotting the purchase of music from corporate Hip Hop plantations. “And if you came to the house Negro and said ‘Let’s run away, Let’s escape, Let’s separate’ the house negro would look at you and say ‘Man, you crazy. What you mean separate? Where is there a better house than this? Where can I wear better clothes than this? Where can I eat better food than this?’ There was that house Negro. In those days, he was called a house nigger. And that’s what we call him today, because we still got some house niggers runnin’ around here.” – Malcolm X Of course there will continue to be those rappers and record executives of color that will continue to side with their “Massas,” just as there were during the times of chattel slavery. Those are the individuals who know the nature of the so-called “game,” and to some degree profit from the system. It matters little to them how many women/girls are targeted as sexual objects because of the music they help promote. They could give a damn about the young boys who are transformed into sexual predators because of that same music they promote. And they clearly don’t give a damn about the image of people of color or the endorsement of the senseless structural violence they champion, each time they follow their master’s orders. They have clearly made their deals with the devils of capitalism and white supremacy. Money is the name and selling out their communities is the “game.” These “Sambos” understand full well the damage they are helping to create. “They have clearly made their deals with the devils of capitalism and white supremacy.” Music has the ability to inspire and motivate those who seek freedom and justice. The beat of drums serves as a pulse for the movement, along with the voices of those chanting, singing, or even rapping. Take for instance the Stono Rebellion of 1739, where dozens of enslaved Africans in South Carolina decided to no longer accept the unnatural state of slavery. They refused to live any longer within those inhumane and brutal conditions. These courageous Africans banded together, led by an African named “Jemmy,” and proceeded to recruit/free as many of their brothers and sisters as they could. The beat of their native African drums set the audio tone for resistance. The history of the Americas is punctuated with such rebellions. However, far too many of us have allowed an oppressive system to teach us our history, and because of this we are unaware that resistance is within our cultural DNA. “But that field negro, remember, they were in the majority, and they hated their master. When the house caught on fire, he didn’t try to put it out, that field negro prayed for a wind. For a breeze. When the master got sick, the field negro prayed that he died. If someone come to the field negro and said ‘Let’s separate, let’s run,’ he didn’t say ‘Where we going?’ He said ‘Any place is better than here.” – Malcolm X It is long overdue that we regain our cultural resistance, identity, and mediums, in order to serve our struggle for human rights, liberty, and social justice. It is time we gathered all of our “drums” (and voices), to begin the necessary process of mentally liberating as many of our brothers and sisters from the corporate media plantations on which they subsist. Hip Hop is not for oppressors. We should never allow it to be utilized against our own collective interests. However, we cannot free those who are willing to be liberated if we refuse to speak out. We must boycott any music that denigrates people of color, women or supports senseless structural violence. We must be willing to organize and educate as many misguided rappers as we can – converting them into Emcees aptly educated to deliver lyrical daggers at systems of oppression. Hip Hop must be ripped out of the hands of the Ku Klux Klan music groups, and placed back in the hands of the people. Let the spirit of our ancestors guide us. Forward Ever, Backward Never. Solomon Comissiong is an educator, community activist, author, and the host of the Your World News media collective (www.yourworldnews.org). Mr. Comissiong is also a founding member of the Pan-African collective for Advocacy & Action. Solomon is the author of A Hip Hop Activist Speaks Out on Social Issues. He can be reached at: solo@yourworldnews.org.

 

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

 

 

 

BLACK MAN HURTING: Do Doctors Fail to Diagnose Depression in Our Men? – EBONY

Black Man Face
Black Man Face (Photo credit: Dr Case)

 

BLACK MAN HURTING:

 

Do Doctors Fail to Diagnose Depression in Our Men?

 

A recent study shows Black men are unlikely to be prescribed antidepressants. Michael Arceneaux says he knows all too well how doctors miss the boat with Black men’s mental health

 

By Michael Arceneaux Writer

 

BLACK MAN HURTING:
Do Doctors Fail to Diagnose Depression in Our Men?

 

I’m not surprised by the University of Michigan’s School of Public Health survey’s findings that doctors are far less likely to prescribe antidepressants to Black and Latino patients afflicted with major depressive disorder than their white counterparts.

 

In their findings, race, payment source, physician ownership status and geographical region were all listed as factors that play into whether physicians decide to prescribe antidepressants to patients. Moreover, age and payment source influence which types of antidepressants patients receive. As a result, Caucasians are 1.52 times more likely to be prescribed antidepressants than Black and Latino patients being treated for major depressive disorders.

 

The disparity in antidepressant usage between Whites and minorities often centers on stigmas within minority communities. It’s about time the focus shifted towards how the role the attitudes of others factor into the gap.

 

Though I was never treated for a specific major depressive disorder, I have had painful bouts with depression and anxiety through the years – and encounters with careless doctors who bypassed obvious symptoms due to their own silly biases. Less than a year ago there was a period where I feared standing up would invite the kind of pain sure to knock me down. During one week in particular, each new day brought on an even more excruciating headache than the one before. When I did finally manage to stand up, I noticed that I had broken out in several different rashes across various parts of my body. As freaked out as I was about the exterior, I was more worried that I could barely function without needing to lay down every other hour. I couldn’t figure out what was wrong with me.

 

via BLACK MAN HURTING: Do Doctors Fail to Diagnose Depression in Our Men? – Wellness & Empowerment – EBONY.

 

Therapy and Racial Trauma | My Life Uncensored

Black Blanc Beur
Black Blanc Beur (Photo credit: looking4poetry)

Therapy and Racial Trauma   A friend forwarded me a link yesterday from Psychology Today yesterday regarding minorities and mental health treatment. The article discusses the mistreatment of minority patients in the treatment of race based traumas. I know all too well about this kind of thing as the most difficult step in getting help for mental illness can be findinga therapist who understands the kind of trauma that you are dealing with . In the last seven years I have been through at least four of them and I am still on the hunt here in DC to find someone that can understand the issues that I am dealing with and how to help. I am constantly working in therapy to help with my self esteem issues and I remember going to a therapist in 2008 and when we began to discuss my childhood, I remember the therapist asking me, why would I feel discriminated against by other African Americans when they were indeed African Americans. She clearly had not heard of colorism, so that was my second and last visit to her because I need a therapist that at least has an inkling of what I am talking about. As a community, we are not known for getting help for mental illness, and I am afraid that therapist that do not take race based traumas seriously, will further deter people from getting the help that they need.   via Therapy and Racial Trauma | My Life Uncensored.