Reflections on Black History Month
There's no better first post here than an essay written by my dad in the spring of 2021. At 71, my dad, Fred Jones, still works as a therapist in Washington Heights, Milwaukee, because he can't imagine giving up something he still loves.
I've heard feedback from my dad's clients over the years, from 'your dad's helped me so much' to 'your dad saved my life, I hope you know how special he is.'
I do know and am proud to have a dad who has helped so many over the decades. As an advocate for social justice long before Black Lives Matter became a hashtag, he has a single bumper sticker to display a message, 'No Justice, No Peace.'
My dad claims to learn more from his clients than they do from him and he shares life lessons from his interactions throughout the years. Our family jokes that his tombstone will read, 'Here lies Fred Jones, who had a client'.
This essay was the result of a Racial Justice class my dad took through the UCC, just one of many he's participated in over the years.
A huge shout out to my mama who helped my dad complete this paper. As much as my dad likes learning, that does not apply to technology; my mom put in countless hours typing for my dad, editing, and re-editing. My dad would not have been able to do this without her.
Another thank you to my dad for continuing to impart his wisdom on those interested. I'm happy he chose to put his thoughts into words, and hope he continues to do so in the coming years (although perhaps with the help of Google dictation moving forward).
Reflections on Black History Month, February 2021
By: Fred Jones, LPC, CSAC
In January, my Pastor facilitated a six-week discussion on racial justice focusing on Ta-Nehisi Coates book ‘Between the World and Me’. The group got me thinking about how my feelings, attitudes and beliefs developed and evolved over the years. This motivated me to draft a narrative of my experiences. My wife, Paula refers to it as “Fred’s Musings” while I chose to title it ‘Reflections on Black History Month, February 2021’. After completing the project I wanted to put it in CD format as vision problems for some of my loved ones makes reading difficult, while others simply prefer an audio format. A sign of the times!
Before I got around to recording the narrative, I was fortunate enough to discuss it with several people who read it. One area that repeatedly came up and tends to confound people is the distinction between prejudice and racism. In overly simplistic terms, prejudice is an individual belief or attitude while racism is a system; a system that supports and promotes institutional control of one group over another. One may not feel they are prejudiced yet if they continue to support certain practices and policies, they can be viewed as racist. I would definitely add a more searching exploration of the distinction between prejudice and racism to my list of tidbits going forward.
Enough said. Now onto my narrative.
Over the past few years, and more so over the past few months, you cannot turn on the radio or TV, pick up a magazine or newspaper, or talk to a friend without hearing or seeing something about race and racism. It has become a central theme in today's thoughts and discussions.
Since human interaction and social justice have always been topics I am passionate about, I have continually wondered what can and what should I do about it. The adage "if you are not part of the solution, you are part of the problem" keeps sticking in my craw.
Since my hearing has declined and my brain has become less elastic, I find that when I discuss this issue, I tend to become a bit more animated and less patient than I am comfortable with. I find myself moving rather quickly from dialogue (the sharing of ideas) to debate (trying to convince the other that my position is correct). This approach tends to be rather counterproductive.
For these reasons, I have decided to review and record my experiences and involvement with persons identified as being Black. In doing so, I believe that I could better recognize and add clarity and perspective as to how I developed my current belief system.
Furthermore, I hoped that by completing this exercise, I would become more adept and better able to explain these beliefs to others. I am hopeful that I can accomplish this without getting too preachy or too focused on my career, except as to set the stage and add context.
Childhood years (birth-high school)
Most, including myself, would agree I had a blessed, charmed, fortunate or whatever you want to call it, childhood. I was born and raised in Baraboo, Wisconsin. It was a town of about 7,000 people, all white save a few Native Americans. To my knowledge there were no Blacks in town.
My father was a minister and my mother a teacher. I had three older sisters. We loved each other and for the most part, got along well. We lived in the parsonage which was quite large. Throughout the years my parents took in many houseguests, some extended stays, others simply for short visits.
Growing up, I had no interaction with Blacks and saw them only through the eyes of the media. Race was not talked about during my early years. I viewed my parents as being quite conservative, with the extended family always supporting the Republican candidates. Looking back many years later, I came to realize how shockingly progressive my parents were, at least in the area of social justice and social conscience. I also figured out that they were much more into ‘example over spoken word’.
Although race was never really talked about, a few things jumped out at me as I started this project. As a family, we rarely attended movies. Of the few I did see; two I remember well were Island in the Sun with Harry Belafonte and Lilies of the Field with Sidney Poitier. I also remember the few record albums we had included ones by Louis Armstrong and Nat King Cole. I also recall my father talking about what a thrill it was for him to see Marian Anderson in concert when he was a young man.
On Sundays after church, we would watch the Packers. My favorite player was Willie Wood. Once or twice each summer we would visit my aunt and grandmother in Milwaukee, always planning around the Braves schedule so we could take in a game. My first real sports hero was of course, Henry Aaron.
These were my early memories though none registered on a conscious level as having anything to do with race.
In 1961 or 1962, I had my first in-person experience with a Black person. My parents took in a young man named George. He was a Nigerian graduate student at the University of Wisconsin who was doing a field placement in Baraboo. He was a smart and friendly person who for the most part was fun to be around. At the time, I did not see color or any issue with race. He was just another person my folks took in. I truly had no idea how radical or perhaps dangerous this was at the time.
During my high school years from 1963 to 1967, I started to become more aware of the country's problems with race. We typically watched the Nightly News and witnessed the increasing tension and violence, particularly in the South and large cities. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X became familiar names; and I knew one of my cousins was marching in Selma, as the civil rights movement gained momentum. Two of my sisters were now living in Milwaukee and they had a front-row seat to the racial struggles going on there.
During my senior year, my history teacher (and football coach) brought Dave Robinson, a black Packer, into our school for a day. He addressed our class and this was really the first time I remember talking about race. Although I was starting to become more aware of the issues, it was still very foreign and detached from my reality. Thus far, any Black I had encountered was a celebrity or a person of good standing. I had only positive experiences and encounters to this point in my life.
College Years (1967-1971)
I was off to Carroll College in Waukesha, Wisconsin in September of 1967. What a time it was! Father Groppi was marching in Milwaukee. We were at the height of the anti-war movement and the Black Panthers were becoming a force. In the spring of my freshman year, LBJ announced he would not seek re-election; MLK was assassinated; and soon thereafter, RFK was assassinated. That summer, the infamous Democratic National Convention was held in Chicago and in November, Richard Nixon was elected president. The following year, the draft lottery was initiated. On December 1, 1969, every male in my dorm gathered around the TV while numbers (selected by birthdates) were announced. I was one of the lucky ones with a high draft number of 245. My roommate was not so lucky with the draw of number 11. What a night!!
On campus at the time, there were very few black student, maybe only 20 or 25. I became good friends with one black student who was Ethiopian and was friendly with several others. Generally, I perceived the Blacks on campus to be either friendly and approachable; or, rather standoffish and somewhat intimidating. I would later develop greater insight into this.
In the classroom, I majored in sociology and political science. Therefore, I was routinely immersed in discussions and assignments that addressed racial issues, but mostly from an academic and historical perspective. I became acutely aware of the issues on an intellectual level but not truly on a feeling level.
Two events which occurred away from campus would have a profound impact on me. They were as follows.
In June of 1968, my cousin Steve and I set off on a week's vacation to New Orleans and the Gulf Coast. On our second day of the trip, we learned that RFK had been assassinated the night before. In several places where we stopped for gas or food, we noted separate restrooms and water fountains. One was specifically designated for whites and the other specifically for coloreds. On two separate occasions we were refused service because we had Wisconsin license plates. This we were told must mean that we were there to 'stir up the niggers'. What an eye opener!
The second event needs some background. When I left for college, my parents took in Wes, a black youth from Charlotte, North Carolina. He was a sophomore in high school and was from a large family. His father had died suddenly and his mother entered him into a transfer program for academic, as well as financial reasons. At the time (1968), I did not realize what a big deal this was. My folks were just helping someone in need and color was of little consequence. How naive I was. He was I believe, the first black person to establish residence in Baraboo and he remained there throughout his high school years. Later, he also would attend and graduate from Carroll College.
With his arrival, I took an increased interest and did additional research and reading on racial issues. Things were starting to get a bit more personal.
With this backdrop, the second event that I mentioned occurred, I believe, in the summer of 1969.
My summer job all through high school and college was working as a soda jerk at a local A&W. One night when I was at work, my cousin Steve and Wes came in for an ice cream cone. While we were chatting, a man having supper at the counter started muttering racial slurs and threats directed at Wes. Rather than create a scene, Steve and Wes left the restaurant. As they left, the man at the counter followed. The owner of the A & W commented “There goes one of Baraboo's finest”. Yes indeed, an off-duty police officer. Not possible, I thought.
But the story does not end there. When I got home from work, I learned that the man at the counter had followed Steve and Wes and had attempted to force them off the road, not once but twice. Fortunately, Steve had the wherewithal to drive immediately to the police station, where they went in and filed a complaint. This was a big deal in Baraboo in 1969. Within a week or two, Steve, Wes, and Fred, all terrified, were sitting in front of the Police and Fire Commission and recounting the events of that evening. The officer in question of course denied it all.
The next day, somewhat to our surprise, we learned that in fact the officer had been dismissed. We were all pleased and relieved. Justice had been served and there was no place for racism in my hometown.
As the years have gone by, and I think of this event, many questions come to mind. Was he fired for this singular event or were they looking for a reason to get rid of him? What if Wes had been by himself? Would he have had the courage to go to the police station or for that matter, even survive? What if my parents had not been such prominent members of the community? What would the owner of the A&W done if he had been asked to testify? Etc., etc., etc.
As I said, things were starting to get really personal. I was starting to become more aware of the tension and prejudices in our country but still, fortunately I remained ‘color-blind’. I tried to treat everyone the same and to be fair; to do the right thing. This was good and it was sufficient.
Dunbar House (1972-1976)
Shortly after college, I took a job as a counselor at a 120-bed residential facility in the heart of Milwaukee. We housed 70 chronic substance abusers and 50 chronic mentally ill individuals. As one of four counselors, you can imagine just how much counseling we actually did. Rather, we were there to keep the peace, provide a safe environment and listen to those who wanted to talk. It was really quite an intimidating environment but one that proved invaluable.
It was here that I had my first truly multicultural experience dealing with people from every culture and walk of life. It is here that I started to understand the streets and street life, as most of the residents had been homeless at one time or another. Here I remember a man expressing pride at having attended Howard University, something that had absolutely no meaning to me at the time. It was here that I learned that substance abuse and mental illness were the great equalizers that knew no color or class. It was here that I learned that if I treat everyone fairly and with respect, and if I remained color-blind, I would be okay and do just fine. This was good.
Mount Carmel-Belleview-DePaul (1976-1992)
With the help of Milwaukee County, in 1976 Dunbar house was closed and the residents were moved to a vacant wing of Mount Carmel Nursing Home on Milwaukee's Southwest side. Here the program became much more sophisticated and substantive. We had on staff: nurses, doctors, occupational therapists, physical therapists, dietitians, etc. It developed into a treatment program, as opposed to a housing program.
We operated at Mount Carmel until 1980. Following a merger with DePaul Hospital, the largest substance abuse treatment facility in the state, we purchased and moved our residents to the Belleview Healthcare Center, a 97-bed facility on Milwaukee's Upper East Side. This is when the culture shift became much more pronounced to me.
While at Dunbar and Mount Carmel, we always had several black residents but virtually all the staff was white. Like Father Groppi before us, we crossed the 16th Street Viaduct and saw a whole new world. At Belleview, a good portion, perhaps as many as half of the staff was in fact black.
Overall, the transition was smooth and without incident. Staff members all got along well and to my knowledge there was no racially fueled issues. These were merely co-workers, nice and capable employees, and being color-blind continued to be positive.
Three things I noticed during the early 80s:
everyone got along well, but no one talked about race.
the longer we were in the facility, the more black residents we admitted. The number went from perhaps 10% black to 40% black of the inpatient population.
many of the Blacks that were admitted seemed to have a fair amount of anger or a chip on their shoulder. They would often appear closed and guarded and unwilling to share.
During this period, DePaul Hospital ran a yearlong counselor training program. The first 3 months was mostly classroom and the last nine months consisted of three, three-month rotations: inpatient, outpatient, and Belleview (long-term care). As the Director of the program, it was my job to supervise and evaluate the trainees. Two of these were black, and they changed my life.
The first was Anderson. He was around 50 and he had retired early from the business world, feeling he wanted to do something more socially relevant. He was a gentleman who could speak the King's English. He was equally comfortable operating in the white world, as he was in the black world. We spent hours talking about race and race relations and his claim that “everything is about race". I vehemently disagreed with him at the time, but it is making much more sense to me now. He was a spiritual man and my MLK. I would work with him for many years and was proud to be his friend until his passing.
The second trainee was a young 30-something, recovering heroin addict. Michael was a bit more on the militant side. He was smart, well-read, and never shied away from speaking his mind. He would continually challenge the way we did things and always seemed to be on the brink of being released from the program for his outspokenness. Because of his controversial nature, he spent all three rotations at Belleview. During this time, I would routinely pull him into the office and say, "Now, Michael." He would speak his mind, I mine, and we would depart with another crisis averted. Invariably, after these meetings I would think to myself "Damn, he was right."
About the time he graduated from the program (around 1985), the cocaine epidemic was exploding in Milwaukee's inner city. We decided that this was an issue we could and should address. Quite logically, I approached Michael to see if he would be willing to head up the project and serve as the counselor for the group. He accepted the position with the agreement that we would conduct facility-wide training on cultural sensitivity. He said if you are going to do it right, you are going to need to understand what you are dealing with. I did not know then what we were getting into, but in retrospect, it was one of the best decisions we ever made.
We started with mandatory staff readings, presentations, and discussions. We involved all staff members and for the first time, we had regular and ongoing discussions about race and the personal experiences each person had with members of a different race.
The black staff totally bought in and when given the chance, they talked openly about their experiences; both good and bad. It was as if the curtain was raised and it was now okay to talk about race. Even those angry and guarded residents started opening up and sharing. One of them tearfully told us how as a child, he was forced to watch the lynching of his uncle for having sex with a white woman.
We learned about black rage and black self-hatred and learned that being color-blind was in fact not okay. We learned that if we approach Blacks in this manner, we are completely ignoring and neglecting the very real history and experiences that were, and are, a crucial and formative part of black lives.
One of the highlights of our training was bringing in a nationally renowned figure to address the staff and community at large. He spent the day with our staff and wrapped up with a lecture at UWM, open to the public. One of the things he talked about has had a lasting impression on me and how I have come to interact with black people. While I know I cannot present this as clearly or thoroughly as he did, I hope that as I do, it is good enough to give you a general idea. I am also aware that much has changed over the past 30 years, yet when I have shared this concept with my black colleagues, they have all agreed that while perhaps less defined, the concept remains valid.
He stated that most American Blacks fit, to a varying degree, into one of four categories. They are as follows:
1. TRADITIONAL: No doubt far more common in 1985 than today, they were the product of the Old South. They were always polite and proper and truly knew their place. They would not talk back, look a white person in the eye or get uppity. They were often short on formal education but long on wisdom. This wisdom was what allowed them to survive in the Jim Crow South. While calm and polite on the outside, they were often full of rage and resentment, the prototype Uncle Tom.
2. ACCULTURATED: These are individuals who have successfully assimilated into the white culture. They are frequently well-educated and successful in the work world. They can speak the King's English and have pretty much given up anything that has to do with Black America. If you could not see them, when you spoke with them or entered their home, you would have no idea they were black. They often live in predominantly white neighborhoods and often marry or date only members of the white race. In more extreme cases, they disassociate themselves from all other non-acculturated Blacks and actually develop a level of resentment toward the black race. They might look down (and at times mock) other Blacks and develop a level of black self-hatred.
3. CULTURALLY IMMERSED: These are individuals who completely immerse themselves in the black culture. They often come across as somewhat detached, angry, and militant. They generally interact little with non-Blacks. They often associate themselves with their roots and can be quite Afrocentric. If you enter their homes, listen to their music, or check their wardrobe you will know immediately that they are black. Often they are well-educated but they may reject anything white, or the customs and institutions that they view as the remnants of white colonialism.
4. BI-CULTURAL: These are black people who have learned to adapt and fit into both the black and white world. They can speak proper English on the job but comfortably slip into Ebonics once they get home. They often find that they have to play by one set of rules in some settings and a totally different set of rules in other environments. To be successful in both worlds, they find themselves having to constantly adjust and never forget where they are. Many develop what they describe as a kind of schizophrenic existence and in some cases, they often feel as though they truly do not belong in either culture.
While rather simplistic explanations and generalizations, I have always found them helpful as I try to navigate and understand how a black person is approaching the world.
A final comment on our sensitivity training was the resulting celebration each year of Black History Month. Each day we would have a black staff member or a black resident share a speech, poem or biography and discuss it with the in-house community. We learned about people we had never heard of and why they were so often silenced or neglected in our history lessons. At month's end they were assembled into a notebook that was made available to all staff and residents.
The end of the month was always highlighted with a soul food buffet. The kitchen prepared food and most of the black staff members brought in their favorite ethnic dish to pass. Explanations of the food and how and why they became a part of the culture was always included. What memorable and impactful events these were.
In January of 1993, I was hired to start up and manage a 16-bed residential inpatient drug treatment program. It was funded through Milwaukee County at a time when treatment funding was starting to disappear. The program lasted only 15 months but what an experience. My cultural immersion.
Approximately 90% of the residents served were black. The attending physician (who worked 2 hours per week) and I were the only non-black staff members. For the first time in my life, I was the outsider, the minority. It was challenging, intimidating and uncomfortable at times, yet on a day-to-day basis, perhaps the most rewarding and enjoyable professional experience of my career. The doctor I worked with often said that drugs and sex were the sunshine of the inner city. The source of pleasure in an otherwise cruel and dreary world. As time went on, I began to understand this more fully.
Day after day, I spent my time listening and learning. When a new resident came in, we would give them forms to complete. We were always sensitive when doing so, as some had trouble reading or writing, and others had poor vision. They would require additional help. Among the forms given to them was what we called a psychosocial history. Much like the form when you go to a doctor's appointment but more extensive. It included family history, education level, legal history, work history, hobbies, etc.
One day a man being admitted told me he would not fill out the form. When I pressed him a bit, he said to me directly and rather matter-of-factly, ‘because I don't trust you or what you will do with the information’. Another ah ha moment. Why should he trust me and why should he trust the system?
It became much clearer to me. I grew up with parents I could trust and I learned to trust. I trusted that the school and my teachers, perhaps reluctantly at times, were there to help me learn. I trusted that the police were there to protect and serve the community. I trusted that the courts would treat me fairly should the need arise. I trusted that if I got sick, the doctor would do his or her best to heal me. I trusted the government, at all levels, was there to try to make my life better. I trusted that if I wanted to move to Wauwatosa or Oconomowoc or Brookfield, I could do so without issue. I trusted that if I were wronged for no reason, I would have recourse. I trusted that if I were the most qualified candidate, I would get the job, and on and on. I had learned that to trust was a good thing. What many Blacks learn is that trust is for suckers. Trust means you will be used and taken advantage of, one of the basic laws of the streets, as well as a lesson well-learned by many Blacks.
Each day, I would listen and learn. I would hear the stories and views on life, their family, their childhood, the church, the police and criminal justice system, their healthcare and educational experiences, and their struggles with housing and nourishment. Usually, it was very different than mine. I was truly starting to understand and feel their pain. Although I was yet to label it, I was starting to understand the institutional and systemic aspects of racism. This was in fact my ‘shock therapy’.
By the late 90’s, I was ready to return completely to direct client service. I took a job as an outpatient therapist in a small Milwaukee Clinic. Early on, I reconnected with an old friend and colleague who was the sole employee assistance provider (EAP) for City of Milwaukee employees. He started referring clients to me on a regular basis.
One memorable day, I believe in 2002, he referred a man to me for Anger Management. Naturally, I accepted the referral and it turned out to be another game changer for me.
The man arrived for our first session as scheduled. He entered my office without the usual smile or handshake, then commenced with a blistering tirade. He was a 40-something year old black male who was intelligent, well-read, highly educated and a long-term city employee. He assured me that anger was not his problem but rather as a black manager, his white subordinates were pulling the race card whenever he tried to discipline them or hold them accountable. He went on to say (in rather colorful terms) that no degreed white guy could possibly understand him, nor offer him anything of value. He concluded by stating he wanted to keep his job and that required him to attend 12 hours of Anger Management. He would, therefore, sit quietly through the sessions and allow me to prattle on until ‘his sentence’ was completed.
When I was finally able to collect my thoughts, I asked him if there was anything I could possibly do that would allow me to better understand. He thought for a few minutes and then responded with “I will bring in some reading materials and when you've read them, we can discuss them”.
At the next session, he arrived with all sorts of reading materials, later on, even some CDs. He sat in silence while I read. When I came up with a question or comment he would respond. We started entering into a DIALOGUE. This was how our anger management sessions proceeded for the next 3 months, with me doing the homework!
Through this process, and at his direction, I started putting names and labels onto concepts and ideas that I had thought about. He was not shy and I was not about to back down. We talked about colonialism, imperialism, white supremacy, white privilege, institutional and systemic racism, the dismantling of Black history, the Tuskegee project, unconscious bias, eugenics, Afrocentrism, Jim Crow, and anything else he could come up with. He was extremely well-armed as he shared how his father, a veteran, was ineligible for the GI bill; and, how his aunt was denied Social Security benefits because she worked as a domestic.
The more we talked, the more I realized I was losing ‘the debate’. My protest, rebuttals, defenses, and counterpoints were all quickly dismantled as I continued to gain in understanding.
After 12 hours were completed, he smiled, shook my hand, and said, “I hope you learned something”. Indeed, I had.
Throughout the past 20 plus years, I have continued to work as an outpatient therapist in Milwaukee. As with most of our societal institutions, the behavioral health field has a dearth of black professionals. As a result, and hopefully because I am somewhat effective, I have continued to work with a caseload that is perhaps, 60 to 65% black. I have worked with clients from every conceivable background and walk of life, from doctors to prostitutes. Each one of them, when given the opportunity, has a story to tell about the effects that blackness has had on their lives.
For the record, I do indeed ask every person I work with what the effect of their culture has had on their life. Almost never has a white person shared struggles because of their Irish, Italian, German, et al background.
I could literally write volumes about the stories I have heard through the years. Of the elderly professional black man, who as a youth was not allowed to try on clothes in his hometown's only clothing store. Of the firefighter, who has as one of his earliest memories, being told at the age of three he could not drink from the community's water fountain. Of the middle-aged woman, who was raped by a white neighbor at the age of 10 but refused to tell anyone because she knew she would not be believed and if anyone found out, she feared her father would hurt or kill the neighbor, leaving her family fatherless. To as recent as last year, when a young black man turned down a college athletics scholarship because throughout his orientation, the coaching staff spent much of the week talking to the black athletes about how to survive the racism in a mostly white community. IN WISCONSIN!!!
Suffice is to say that with each new person I learn more and more. The process is unending. It is a major reason that when the topic of race and racism is brought up, I struggle to stick with DIALOGUE and often slide into DEBATE mode.
Odds and Ends
As I have continued to work over the years, there are consistently some areas that I find to be much more pronounced when working with a predominantly black population. This is not to imply that they are unique only to Blacks, but simply more prevalent among Blacks. I shall try to explain these topics in a manner that makes them more understandable on an emotional level.
PTSD. A few years back, I was involved in a seminar at the Milwaukee Police Department's training academy. While chatting with several officers on break, I asked them if PTSD is a serious issue among police officers. The response was unanimous and emphatic. Each recalled events and said they all have it, at least to some degree. Then we discussed the citizens of the community and again they agreed; if you live in certain parts of the city, it would be hard not to be affected.
Historically, we typically associate PTSD with combat and major disasters. It is in part the brain’s way of coping with trauma, major or minor. It is the brain’s way of keeping one safe in stressful, and what are perceived to be, dangerous situations. It involves a heightened awareness of your surroundings and environment and a term referred to as ‘hyper-vigilance’. As various events trigger the memory, the brain produces cortisol and adrenaline; helpful in the short-term but with potential long-term negative effects on one's health.
Persons who suffer from PTSD, or a newer concept, developmental trauma, which results from prolonged exposure to mini traumas or insults, will often present with other issues such as sleep disturbances, various levels of anxiety and depression, relationship issues, work performance issues, etc. These are things we typically see at a higher level in the black community and in order to address the presenting problems, we often start with a trauma-focused care approach.
STRESS. Stress can be related to PTSD, but generally not. All of us struggle with stress at various times and in varying degrees. In fact, I think we all realize that some levels of stress are indeed helpful and productive.
I find it helpful if we try to recall some really stressful times or events in our life: a major exam, a job interview, presenting a speech, a first date, a difficult discussion, getting lost in an unfamiliar part of town, meeting our future in-laws, etc. Now imagine that this is a daily theme: worrying each day about your child’s safety, a trip to the grocery store, taking a bus to work or going for a walk and hearing gunshots, etc.
A final note on stress. It is an empirical fact that nature is one of the most effective ways to relax and de-stress. It pains me, particularly in the days of covid-19, to not be able to recommend some of my favorite hiking trails and getaway spots knowing, as I have been reminded, that to go there for a black person would produce more stress than comfort. Many have shared with me their love for fishing with the caveat that they must choose where to go carefully or go with a white friend.
ANGER: They say that the average person gets angry about 20 times each day. Much of it is small potatoes and frequently self-directed, i.e., I forgot my wallet, I forgot to mute the phone during the Packer game, etc. Some anger responses are positive and lead to change, other responses are not and lead to a host of societal problems.
Most who deal with anger issues concur that the most intense levels of anger occur when 1) one is severely wronged, and 2) there is absolutely nothing they can do about it - total powerlessness. One can see how this combination became so prevalent in the black community. There is also a cumulative effect and as one man explained to me, it is as though every day, day after day, year after year, you are being poked in the chest and you cannot do anything about it. Then one day you poke back and suddenly the other person becomes the victim of ‘black rage’.
You also come to understand that since you cannot trust the system and its institutions, you more and more have to be the problem solver, the one that protects your family and children from the police and the criminal justice system. You are the one who has to ensure that the schools are in fact doing the best they can for your child. You have to ensure that the doctor and the healthcare professionals are truly doing all they can to heal your mother or your child. You have to make sure you stand up to the landlord or mortgage company to make sure they are treating you fairly, and on, and on, and on.
The result of this is frequently a whole lot of internalized anger that comes out in a whole lot of ways. We look at the fallout and start putting labels on things. We talk about why there is such a problem with abuse and corporal punishment in the homes, why there is so much Black on Black violence, the destructive nature of toxic masculinity. And so on and so forth. FINALLY, we are starting to talk about it. This at least gives us a fighting chance to do something about it. HALLELUJAH!!
I started this project, as I said, because the phrase “If you are not part of the solution, you are part of the problem” continues to haunt me. Now that I am finished, for now, I had hoped to come up with some startling solutions. I have not. I have come to believe that these are issues Blacks cannot solve, they can only put a spotlight on them. These are problems created by white people and therefore must be primarily addressed and solved by white people. I have settled on a few tidbits that I have found helpful to me.
Try this exercise for yourself. It was eye-opening.
Consider the fact that color-blindness does not cut it. It lacks empathy. Try to see things through the eyes of a black person.
Talk about race, racism, and related issues.
Do not be passive. Point out racism when you see it.
Read and explore with an open mind.
Get involved. Support projects.
I swear I didn't ask him to wear this shirt for his author pic, it's just his favorite <3