Allow me to preface this article by stating that I do not carry a degree nor a certification in the field of psychology. I am merely a curious observer and layman practitioner of it.
Allow me also to preface this article by admitting that I am White. I understand that because of that, I will never fully understand or be able to totally empathize with other races.
I am, however, trying to.
By mid-September, 2017, race has become a hot topic of discussion in America. However, only so much can be achieved by sharing a video or commenting on an article on social media. There are a lot of stereotypes, stigmas and simple connotations when it comes to how people of different races think about and interact with each other.
It is my humble opinion that as a means of bettering our collective social and mental health, we need to understand each other better on an emotional and psychological level.
Let’s begin with the early colonies. Whites found occupied land, and through malice, violence, and wits, seized it from the Native Americans. There were people in support of it, against it, and indifferent about it. Once the Natives were out of sight, it became a blemish on White Heritage that was swept under the rug under the premise that it was for the “betterment” of their (white) lives.
Besides, apologies and compromises were made with the Natives to ease the Whites’ conscience. Once under the rug, it was easy to ignore. It became like Lord Voldemort from Harry Potter, an evil from the past of which we do not speak about, out of fear of what it would bring. Let’s call it “White Guilt” instead.
Then, the slave trade became a prosperous economic “investment.” From it, many (Whites) generated great fortune. During this time, the United States of America were being formed into its own liberated nation. At this time, there were already discussions happening on the ethics and irony of owning slaves while fighting for freedom. There were people in support of it, against it, and indifferent about it.
In order to succeed as a united nation, it was compromised that the slave conversation would have to wait until later. “Let’s sweep it under the rug for now. Yeah, right with the rest of it there.”
If you didn’t know, slavery isn’t an easy thing for the psyche of any living being. In U.S. history, slavery meant families were torn apart; friends and families were beaten, raped, and murdered in front of each other. That alone is enough to cause permanent psychological damages, and instill a long-term sense of Powerlessness. Add in a lifetime of demanding labor, name changes, verbal abuse and poor living conditions in between all of that. An entire race of people are emotionally and psychologically scarred for life, with nothing but Faith and Hope to look forward to.
Fast forward to the Emancipation Proclamation. Legal documentation, making (Blacks) actual citizens… “equals.” Now Blacks will be moving into White neighborhoods, owning property, and utilizing resources. A loud thump came from underneath the rug. Like the Tell-Tale Heart, the atrocities of White Heritage seemed to be resurfacing like a karmic curse. What if Blacks will take over and do to the Whites as the Whites did to the Natives?
To some this may seem a silly thought, but never underestimate the human mind’s ability to create paranoia. So many times, the psychological damage of a human being is derived from a moment or idea so small, that it seems silly or harmless to others. As Shakespeare said in Much Ado About Nothing, “Every one can master a grief but he who has it.”
From here, one can see how many, especially those Whites whose families prospered from the slave trade, might have grown to mistrust Blacks. Through this Mistrust, Jim Crow laws came into fruition. There were people in support of it, against it, and indifferent about it. “Separate but equal” became the statement as so many watched as the lower quality facilities, poorer living conditions and lower education were swept under the rug. Only adding to the White Guilt, creating more Mistrust betwixt the races.
Meanwhile, Blacks lived better than they did during slavery, but were still not fully supported by society. Still being beaten, raped and murdered while the law didn’t necessarily confront it accordingly. Instead of slaves being treated this way, it was a group of people who were, legally, citizens.
Frustration, Mistrust and Hope became strange bedfellows that brought about the Civil Rights Movement. The Civil Rights Act was ultimately passed, legally making Blacks “equal” citizens. However, the transition to legal citizen didn’t necessarily come as advertised, and Mistrust and Hope were still in the air. Hope pushed forward while Mistrust doubted anything that looked too good to be true.
White Guilt and Mistrust may not be at the front of everyone's’ minds, but they certainly were there, and subconsciously, they left their mark on everyone of every color.
Now briefly look at the War on Drugs in the 1970’s. It has been admitted by John Ehrlichman, the assistant to the President on domestic affairs, that the War on Drugs was a means of targeting Hippies and Blacks. Families were torn apart by imprisonment, friends and families were beaten, sometimes murdered in front of each other. Once again, Blacks were enduring “legal” versions of the same abuse their ancestors endured. Mistrust, Frustration and Hope are accompanied by our old friend, Powerlessness.
Return to 2017, where once again, Blacks have overwhelmed penitentiaries thanks to the War on Drugs, which allows anyone born and raised since its inception to subconsciously understand that prisoners are “bad people.” And, that prisoners, generally, are Black. Therefore, according to mathematical properties of equality (ironic, isn’t it?) there's the idea that "Blacks must be 'bad people'.”
This subconscious idea creates even more Mistrust between Blacks and Whites.
Also within these modern times, the nation has seen a plethora of videos whereBlacks are being beaten and murdered by police and rioting crowds. These videos are documented evidence of injustice brought to us by technology that was not available before. They are gruesome, to say the least. Although these videos spread awareness of the problem, these videos are also feeding White Guilt, Mistrust and Frustration.
SO, WHAT NOW?
Understand that although slavery “legally” ended over one hundred fifty years ago, the social, emotional and psychological (not to mention physical) abuse rages on. Although it has diminished in this time, it still exists.
No amount of words will ever repair this damage. Blacks cannot forget it, and Whites will never fully understand it. It has been swept under the rug for too long, and it is time to take on this mess that we’ve made of humanity. It isn’t your fault that it has existed for centuries, but if you are not helping in some way today to do something about the blemished history, then you aren’t earning your keep.
Have conversations with Blacks about their experiences with race relations and share your own. Even simply waving to a Black person as you pass by and saying hello in a friendly tone chips away, albeit in a small way, at the Mistrust that towers over our two races.
Understand that a history of sweeping things under the rug has created masses of Whites who are confused and frustrated with White Guilt, who don’t know how to handle the problem, or, are simply so afraid to confront it that the fear has disguised itself as something else.
This history has also created Whites who try to understand and empathize with Blacks, and may even think that they totally understand what Blacks have been through. This may be ignorant, yes, but not necessarily malicious. Although ignorance sparks Frustration, try to understand that they just don’t understand- much like a child may not understand a difficult topic.
Have conversations with Whites about their experiences with race relations and share your own. If you can help Whites to see the common ground between the races, it also chips away at that Mistrust and will alleviate Frustration.
I hope that the publication of this piece will spark conversations that may bring me closer to that understanding. I also hope that it does the same for all who are reading it, because I believe that no matter what color you are, these conversations need to be had.
Let’s improve the social and psychological health of our entire society, nation, and world and talk about it. Allow yourself to be uncomfortable in the conversation, it’s normal and it’s okay to feel that way. But let’s eliminate Mistrust, Frustration and Powerlessness, and leave only the Hope. That way, we can stop thinking in “Black and White,” and simply see ourselves and each other as People.
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Whatismyhealth © 2017