In the Wake of Violence | Mental Health in African American Youth
I remember when I was in the fourth great, and this is an early nineties, and back then they had a lot of studies and training stuff for teachers when they were saying “four out of every five black males are going to be dead or in jail by the time they’re 20” or whatever, right? So my lovely teacher decided to come to school and talk to me and my four friends and tell us, because we were misbehaving in class, just being rowdy boys, and told us – she sat us down in a row I’ll never forget this, and she said “only one of you is gonna make it, the rest of you are gonna be in jail or dead.” I’m not joking she told me that. And I’m in the fourth grade! I think of identity as a psycho-social phenomenon. That’s to say that I don’t, I’m not just who I think I am, but who I think I am intersects with a broader community and they have other thoughts about who I am. There has been a devaluation, there’s been a disruption, in the socialized identity of young black men. On one hand, we have a society that’s fixated on consequential justice we have society that wants to dominate and control and silence black male voices. And on the other hand you have a media-driven society that pumps up maleness as a macho, tough, do-it-all, overcome everything, kind of maleness. You have to look at it in a social context. We can’t just say well black males just want to be entertainers and ball players. We have to understand why are those things pushed. Why are those the archetypes that black males focus on? On one hand, I need to express this super humanity, and on the other hand, the threat of just my presence as a 6’5, 230 pound black man demands that I submit constantly to the needs of other people. That in itself is traumatizing. I’m socialized to be one thing, and when I try to be it, I get the crap beat out of me. Right? Through a system that doesn’t hear my voice. The way that black males behave now benefits somebody. There’s a benefit to what’s happening. Historically, prior to slavery, black people in this country anyway came from cultures and tribes that were rich in history and practices around marriage and relationships. That all changed with slavery. White men played a huge role in black male identity. You have come to an understanding of black maleness based on a purposeful conditioning around what you should think about black men. Let’s not get too caught up, or kind of shrug our shoulders, or walk away disappointed when you hear a reference to slavery, because the conditioning of those events shape how we think today. That has left a lineage of pain. And we have created cultures to cope with that pain. My way of defining trauma is very easy, and I tell my clients this: Trama is a deep emotional wound. A lot of the trauma that we see in our community is normalized. So for a lot of folks that I deal with, the things that they see is traumatic and I see as traumatic are two different things. You’ve got folks walking around who have been greatly traumatized, but don’t think that they have, that don’t think that is any great big deal. So all that ends up in offices but not only that but on street corners and in classrooms too. Our schools are not trauma-informed care, our communities aren’t trauma-informed care, because we’re just, is normalized. I mean we are just socialized into it. So when I look at trauma, I try to figure out what’s the most constructive things that we can do because a lot of times, we’re looking at traumatized situation, and the folks that we’re working with, they’re not seeing it the same way. So how are people actually internalizing the trauma, and what does that mean? And then what role does that play in culture as well? So we have to be able to somehow find a common language with the folks that we’re working with, so that they can start to say “Yeah that, that’s me. That’s what’s happening to me.” I’m working right now with the young man who’s about 19 years old, has been diagnosed with depression. One of the strategies in therapy, is to get him angry. And he refuses to get angry because he has suffered dire consequence at the result of him expressing his need through anger. So now that he’s in a safe place in the therapy room, he refuses to become angry. He denies that he’s angry, pretends that the things that have happened to him don’t bother him. Part of the difficulty and expressing that vulnerability, is you have to allow yourself to do something that you have suffered major consequences for if you do it. Kids need to see us doing it, you know. It’s not just about talking to them and telling them what they should do, you know, part of what we have to do is demonstrate how it’s done. Not only expressing you know anger, but happiness, and sadness, and joy, and success, you know, they need to see those things. The work has been for me, is to find the balance of both having young black men embrace their vulnerability, and their skillfulness, absent of the contradiction and the information that they receive on a day-to-day basis. We need a society that shifts from an unhealthy racist socialization, to a more healthy racial socialization. We need all of society to do that. We have to be careful that we don’t say too many times things that we actually want to change. So if we really want to change the composition of our workforce, then what are we willing to do? How we willing to do things differently so that we can have a different outcome? That’s a little harder to do than just to recite the facts. We will get into these systemic conversations and keep pointing at a system and nothing changes. Until we start looking at ourselves right? And we have to keep doing that. You know, to do some of the things that were talking about, we we’re gonna have to be vulnerable. It’s not enough to say Al Sharpton or Jesse Jackson should have fixed this by now. Right? So we all need to participate in this. This needs to be a theme that white people embrace. It’s not just black males who are gonna teach and raise black males. You all have things to add, things that I can’t add. I think everybody has a has a part to play in making better outcomes for African-American youth, and particularly males.