Waging Liberation and Peace
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The companionship with hope and despair to which West refers is likely experienced by liberation-peace wagers around the world. Ambitiously, they seek an end to racialized violence and other structures that exploit, dehumanize, and tear down people. They out-wrestle despair with hope as they build communities that outlive individuals, knowing that they may not see substantive change from their work in their lifetime.
Those who have never despaired have neither lived nor loved. Hope is inseparable from despair. Those of us who truly hope make despair a constant companion whom we out-wrestle every day owing to our commitment to justice, love, and hope.
The companionship with hope and despair to which West refers is likely experienced by liberation-peace wagers around the world. Ambitiously, they seek an end to racialized violence and other structures that exploit, dehumanize, and tear down people. They out-wrestle despair with hope as they build communities that outlive individuals, knowing that they may not see substantive change from their work in their lifetime.
In this chapter, the work of these liberation-peace wagers who focus their attentions on local contexts are featured. These examples are not intended as “how-tos” but more so as evidence of a commitment that is embedded in their personhood and requires a dedication that supersedes popularity and acceptance across the broader society. The criteria used to identify these practitioners are the final status characteristics described in the previous chapter. They display a knowledge about the deep roots of racialized violence that are continually cultivated to wreak havoc in communities. They confront the oppressor—Whites and non-White elites who legislate, influence, and serve the racial-social status quo—and they work mostly with Black people in addressing racialized oppression. Their work with other Black people is not for the purpose of harboring hatred of White people who are woefully cast as evil and unconquerable, but rather as a demonstration of the essentialness of forging bonds with those whose lives are similarly affected and whose development reflects a transition from death-like resignation to the fire of invigoration and hopeful prophecy. They also recognize the similarities of culture among Black people and the need to seed it and nurture it. Like Martin Luther King Jr. in his 1967 essay titled Where Do We Go From Here, published (see West, 2015), they understand that confronting the oppressor would entail inevitable conflicts with fellow freedom-fights and that there is value in working through them, whenever possible, rather than distance and snuff out those whose views are opposed to their own. In the essay, King talked of his disagreement with activist and SNCC leader Stokely Carmichael about the use of the term “Black Power.” King believed that the term conveyed violence, a reaction that came from a beleaguered group of protestors who, at the heels of the shooting of James Meredith who embarked on a solo march through Mississippi, and other violence toward their fellow protestors. The two men disagreed, voiced their views of dissent, and notably, King conceded as he also understood full well the gravity of Carmichael’s position.
This section begins with a micro-level analysis of this work, starting with how the facilitation of racial identity can help promote changes with the people with whom we have close contact and can influence professionally or non-professionally.
Seeing the Self in the Other, the Other in the Self
Li and Julian (2012) noted that developmental relationships in general are characterized by reciprocal human interactions that embody an enduring emotional attachment, progressively more complex patterns of joint activity, and a balance of power that gradually shifts from the developed person in favor of the developing person. In working with children living in poverty in the Pittsburg, Pennsylvania (USA) community, the authors noted that these developmental relationships constitute the “active ingredient of effective interventions” of these children and youth, and that other interventions yield diminished or minimal returns. Using empirical studies as case examples in their meta-analysis, they demonstrated that the presence or absence of developmental relationships distinguishes effective and ineffective interventions for people in need of assistance across developmental settings. Concerned about the use of community-level interventions that downplay the importance of developmental relationships, they concluded that these relationships are the foundational metric with which to judge the quality and forecast the impact of interventions for “vulnerable” populations. The crux of their study is that these relationships, much riskier than the indicators of evaluation of different programs like amount of time spent in school or the number of days in compliance with parole, in that it asks a much harder question: “How does a (practice, program, system, or policy) help to strengthen relationships in the developmental setting?” They propose that attention to developmental relationships would entail practices of progressive complexity and balance of power within the relationships and ultimately, prove most effective in outcomes for improving the lives of these children.
These same assumptions can be made of racial identity development facilitation. The goal of the facilitator is to impart a set of skills, embedded in a developing, trusting relationship, that will help the client, consultee, or group, move progressively in their worldviews about phenomena that can bind them from overcoming the lovelessness that Freire (1970) wrote about, and from engaging as agents of change in their environment. In regards to lovelessness, Freire proposed that the ability to achieve a regard and love for self requires that the person breaks from ideologies in which she as person who is oppressed is viewed as loathsome and unlovable. To develop racial identity is not merely to resolve immediate, personal issues, although this resolution is important, but also, essentially, to stoke hope in and action toward instilling in the person that her humanity is wrapped up in the humanity of others.
In the film Color of Fear, a group of men, two White, two Black American, two Asian (one Japanese American and the other Chinese American) and two Latino-identified men, sit with a facilitator, who is Asian American, to have frank discussions about racism and its impact on their lives. As the men of color discussed the assaults they have experienced as a result of racism, they also engaged in important dialogue about the assaults they also experience by other people of color within this framework of White superiority-Black inferiority. These appraisals of other people of color can create distance among and between them. However, and as emulated in this particular film, the strengths that the men of color showed in working through the heightened emotions proved helpful in reinforcing their bond with one another. With her White Racial Identity Model, Helms (1990, 1995) proposes that Whites can benefit in their racial identity development by forging relationships with other Whites to overcome the “sickness” of racism, and in interactions with People of Color that probe into the personal investments they have in maintaining conformist worldviews. In the Color of Fear, director and facilitator Lee Mun Wah brilliantly illustrates how this process can occur in the context of a psychotherapy process involving a multi-racial group of men.
How might practitioners who wage liberation and peace work with Black urban youth in counseling and psychotherapy contexts? Recall in the previous chapter that sociologist Jones (2010) found that the Black adolescent girls she studied from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania tended to veer toward being “good”—that is, refraining from fighting whenever possible or, toward being “ghetto” or looking for fights. Of the “ghetto” girls, they experienced disfavor from adults in schools, colleges or as potential employers. This meant they were excluded from opportunities to survive in the mainstream environment. The “good” girls also experienced isolation. Their isolation was the result of their decision to stay away from peer, female relationships. In their neighborhood, to befriend other girls one’s age would mean having to prove one’s loyalty to maintain the friendship.
These experiences can lead some practitioners to encourage these teenagers to cast out this world of fighters and avoiders and to seek higher heights—finding subgroups composed of those who have escaped the ghetto and who may demonize the people in these neighborhoods without regard for the conditions that shape their lives. Using a racial identity theoretical lens, the psychologist who operates on advanced status schemata would understand the importance of resisting the symbolic annihilation of “ghetto girls” because such a response fuels mainstream views concerning the worth of the people who live in these neighborhoods. It would be important as well that the practitioner works not only at the remediation of problems that arise from those greatly affected by racialized violence, but also is involved in efforts to proactively address the problems. Some of the works described later in this chapter are some of the sources practitioners can use to be involved in and to encourage their clients to get involved.
Helms, Nicolas, and Green (2012) write of the importance of mental health professionals and trauma researchers working toward more comprehensive understandings of the experiences of trauma for People of Color in the United States. They address the violence that arises from crimes specifically targeting racial groups, which they refer to as racial violence and ethnoviolence, the latter of which is defined as violence and intimidation “directed at members of ethnic groups that have been marginalized and stigmatized by the dominant or host culture because their inability or unwillingness to assimilate threatens the dominant group’s entitlement to society or community resources” (p. 67). This violence is qualitatively different from conflict between ethnic groups (see also Brubaker & Laitin, 1998). Further, Helms et al. (2012) state that the focus of this quest for understanding should start with improving the service providers’ and researchers’ knowledge about the cultures of the groups in their surrounding communities including their own. The quest should include extensive examination of the racial dynamics that have characterized contexts in which the ostensible traumatic events have occurred as well as their clients’ personal histories.
Notably, the authors also propose that a failure to acknowledge the mental health relevance of the sociopolitical, racial, and cultural factors that intersect with trauma experiences for the survivors of trauma as well as the service providers will inhibit the practitioners’ ability to provide effective treatment programs. They describe how the Social Interaction Model, progressive relationship type helps provide the supportive assessment environments needed to understand the racial and cultural experiences of trauma by the people seeking relief for the trauma.
Cultural and Sociopolitical Education and Communication
Trouillot (1995) shared an encounter he had with a Black student who was enrolled in his course on a history of Black people at a U.S. university. In the encounter, the student seemed annoyed at what she perceived to be the sole inclusion of White authors who wrote about the Maafa. She expressed that she wanted to learn less from White scholars and more from those who, like herself, had to endure the abuses of White people on ships and in slave quarters. Trouillot wrote of the anger he experienced because he had not relied solely on White authors, nor apparently had she ever been on a slave ship! Still, he reflected on her perspective and wrote how both of them were enrapt in an “imposed oblivion.” He showed empathy for the emotionality that accompanies the sort of learning that touches on matters quite personal to people.
Using racial identity theory, Tatum (1992) studied how students in a counseling course focused on “multiculturalism” changed in their perspectives of themselves as racial beings over the course of a semester. Her study showed how changes occur in students’ responses, and that the use of the theory helped her as an instructor anticipate the reactions and dynamics that can arise in the teaching. Like Tatum, instructors can use assignments, experiential exercises like racial autobiographies and advocacy projects to prepare for resistance and reinforce advanced schemata expressions by students. I also have written about the incorporation of racial identity theory and peace-building to classroom teaching (Thompson, 2004) and to teaching both counselors and psychologists (Thompson, 2003).
Education occurs in many forms. For example, the explosion of Internet sources provides the outlet for rather easy access to knowledge among those who are able to avail themselves of these sources. The popularity of the Internet has become a fixture in many households throughout the world. Sources can reveal information on access, as to dispel myths about poor people and the “sapping” of resources from those who are less wealthy. In parallel to the “get tough” laws that targeted communities of color and resulted in runaway numbers of poor people in urban communities stopped and frisked, and sent to jail for minor offenses, a similar trend has occurred in U.S. schools. This trend relates to expulsions and suspensions, largely of students of color. Moreover, as the rates of incarceration among Black children are increasing, scholars have pointed to a connection between schooling and incarceration, often by way of disciplinary actions which are disproportionately doled to Black students in comparison to others (e.g., Day-Vines & Terriquez, 2008; Skiba et al., 2014). Studies show that children who are expelled or suspended from school, as well as tracked in special education courses, experiencing troubles in achieving well or highly, are more likely to be incarcerated. This phenomenon has been called the “school-to-prison pipeline” and unfortunately, entails a disproportionately high number of Black as well as Brown children.
It is not alone the success of the struggle which afterwards gives validity and vigour to culture; culture is not put into cold storage during the conflict. The struggle itself in its development and in its internal progression sends culture along different paths and traces out entirely new ones for it. The struggle for freedom does not give back to the national culture its former value and shapes; this struggle which aims at a fundamentally different set of relations between men cannot leave intact either the form or the content of the people’s culture. After the conflict there is not only the disappearance of colonialism but also the disappearance of the colonized [hu]man.
Recalling the discussion earlier in Chapter 3 that racial identity development entails facing the oppressor or colonizer as well as addressing the oppression with an awakening or prompting of Black culture. This shoring up of history has meant life-changing ventures to people for many years. African-centered schools, in the excursions by groups who explore the remnants of underwater slave ships, and by the famous guided tours led by the late Asa Hilliard and Ben Jochannan in the past, and that are carried out today by Ashra and Merira Kwesi (https://www.kemetnu.com/) and Anthony Browder (https://ikgculturalresourcecenter.com/study-tour-in-egypt/).
The writings by psychologist, scholar, and co-founder of the Association of Black Psychologists Nobles (2008, 2013, 2014, 2015) are suggestive of a development process that encourages progressive movement in that he addresses the significance of African episteme and its restoration to African-descended people throughout the world in bringing whole those violent processes that have created a “fractured consciousness.” Nobles encourages African-descended people, and the psychologists who work with Black people across the globe, to engage in “deep, penetrating discussions” to understand the self, others, and world. He also emphasizes a person’s spiritness, an expression of their manifestation of a high being. This rings similar to the work of Linda James Myers on people’s manifestation as God or Goddess. From a racial identity perspective, these efforts toward deep, penetrating study, and toward the allegiance with spirit constitute efforts for Black people to restore a way of being based on Ubuntu, and does so with the insistence, wisely, that this way of being is derived from Africans (see also Asante, 2007). Nobles co-founded the Institute for the Advanced Study of Black Family and Culture, Inc., and previously served as its executive director. Dr. Nobles’ institute is a free-standing, independent community-based, nonprofit Black think-tank and scientific, educational training, and research corporation.
Cultural education, also known simply as the transmission of culture through socialization, is what is captured in Haitian-born historian Michel-Rolph Trouillot’s (1977) Ti Dife Boule sou Istwa Ayiti, or “Burning Issues in Haitian History.” The words of this publication begin with “I’ll hold a gathering to know what happened to my brothers and sisters of yes!” Pierre (2014) wrote of how Trouillot’s narrative, written in the original in Haitian Kreyol, is based on a tradition of oral storytelling and magical realism to tell of the “artfully demonstration that the solution to Haiti’s challenges remains with its peasant classes” (p. 209). Pierre presents this work as important to civics education and politicization among Haitians who only understand Kreyol. The use of indigenous language re-affirms the culture of people who have been colonized or enslaved (see also wa Thiong’o, 1986).
The transmission of culture is typically accompanied by the transmission of the sociopolitical knowledge. Moreover, spreading the word about the crisis in police killings is important to a struggle for liberation and peace in that it carries forward the mission of sense-making and on having children at young ages equip themselves practically and creatively with strategies for how to be safe and become agents of change to fight against the violence.
Organizations have been founded in response to the Martin killings and the rash of other acts of violence, as with Black Lives Matter and the Movement for Black Lives described in the last chapter. Knowledge also comes from knowing the breadth of the problem. Speaking on the topic of the organization’s tracking of extrajudicial killings of Black people, organizer Kali Akuno of the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement (MXGM, n.d.) and began tracking police extrajudicial killings because to have a clear sense of the breadth of these murders and to compile and examine the annual figures (see also Democracy Now, 2017 for Akuno’s discussion of Black Self-Determination through Cooperation Jackson [Mississippi], an organization he heads). The MXGM’s Operation Ghetto Storm followed the trail of extrajudicial killings as well as the rise of militarized police forces and their occupation of Black communities. Cooperation Jackson actively tackles the racialized violence from elected officials that continually affects the Black people of Jackson, Mississippi (RT America, 2018).
Bryan Stevenson of the Equal Justice Initiative embodies the movement to reform prisons, public defending practices, and the rise in the incarceration of children. One of their main goals is in keeping children from being tried as adults and other extensive abuses that occur involving people who enter the system (see Stevenson, n.d.). Through fund-raising, Stevenson was able to erect a monument in 2018 to commemorate the lives of Black people who have been lynched in the United States.
The Color of Change PAC is one organization that has been at the forefront in communicating about and urging people to act against racism manifestations in all spheres—education, policing, in legal matters, and so forth. For example, the organization tracked the grisly events of the campaign of a Black woman lawyer Pamela Price who entered the race for Alameda County District Attorney in the Oakland, California region. Price’s campaign included not merely the acknowledgment of mass incarceration and the state’s building of 22 prisons in the last 30 years, but also on racially biased policing and the sway of District Attorneys to feed into a system of mass incarceration through outdated policies and practices. Price, a Black women, also spoke of taking a stand on police misconduct by creating a police accountability unit that would vigorously and transparently investigate and prosecute all unlawful police misconduct. It would also involve an investigation of cases from the past 10 years. In Price’s district, Black people are less than 13% of the County, but make up 64% of the jail population, are 20 times more likely to be incarcerated than their White counterparts and make up 50% of the adults on probation (see colorofchange.org). She also seeks alternatives to incarceration through homeless courts, veterans, courts, and mental health services to address the over-criminalization of poverty which has a hugely disparate impact on Black and Latinx residents.
A few days before the election, the Oakland Police Officers Association (OPOA) distributed an anti-Price email specifically to a list of non-Black Oakland residents; the coding of “No AF AM” on the list serve to denote that the email would not be sent to African American residents. The claim made by the police organization, backed by large contributions, was to accuse Price of releasing sexual predators and not prosecuting people who commit crimes (BondGraham, 2018). One of Price’s campaign volunteers expressed how the move had a negative impact on the vote. Price lost the election with 40% of the vote in comparison to her opponent’s 60%.
The Color of Change, as well as the Black Agenda Report, the Californians for a Responsible Budget, the Movement for Black Lives, and the Black Alliance for Peace are just a handful of organizations whose members urge action through spreading awareness, letter-writing, political participation, and protest. The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, the oldest civil rights organization in the United States with chapters throughout the country, continually sends alerts to members of its multi-racial organization to encourage letter-writing, petition-signing, and protests. The organization also provides legal counsel to Black people.
Policing, Mass Incarceration, and Prison Reform
Pettit and Sykes (2017) ask, “Has the new wave of reform discussion precipitated a sea change in incarceration practices?” Their answer: “No.” (p. 25).
A new civil rights movement cannot be organized around the relics of the earlier system of control if it is to address meaningfully the racial realities of our time. Any racial justice movement, to be successful, must vigorously challenge the public consensus that underlies the prevailing system of control. Nooses, racial slurs, and overt bigotry are widely condemned by people across the political spectrum; they are understood to be remnants of the past, no longer reflective of the prevailing public consensus about race. Challenging these forms of racism is certainly necessary, as we must always remain vigilant, but it will do little to shake the foundations of the current system of control. The new caste system, unlike its predecessors, is officially colorblind. We must deal with it on its own terms. (p. 223)
Our growth is generally dependent upon our ability to obtain new contracts to develop and manage new correctional and detention facilities. This possible growth depends on a number of factors we cannot control, including crime rates and sentencing patterns in various jurisdictions and acceptance of privatization. The demand for our facilities and conviction and sentencing practices or through the decriminalization of certain activities that are currently proscribed by our criminal laws. For instance, any changes with respect to drugs and controlled substances or illegal immigration could affect the number of persons arrested, convicted and sentenced, thereby potentially reducing demand for correctional facilities to house them. (U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, Corrections Corporation of America, Form 10K for the fiscal year ended December 31, 2005, in Alexander, 2010, p. 231)
With the skyrocketed numbers of persons in today’s prisons, Alexander estimates that we would need to release approximately four out of five people currently behind bars today just to return to the rate of incarceration of the 1970s, a time when many civil rights activists believed rates of imprisonment were high.
[the] prison… functions ideologically as an abstract site into which undesirables are deposited, relieving us of the responsibility of thinking about the real issues afflicting those communities from which prisoners are drawn in such disproportionate numbers. It relieves us of the responsibility of seriously engaging with the problems of our society, especially those produced by racism and, increasingly, global capitalism. (p. 16)
Davis speaks to the function of prisons as settings in which problems, not merely people are “deposited.” As Davis stated, the depositing serves to remove the problem too often from “sight” and the lack of information we receive about the judicial process and the structural violence inherent in it is evocative of the hidden nature that characterizes societal problems. Prisons have become, to many, a “given,” that which occurs legitimately because there are people who do bad things and who need to be removed from society in order for those not considered undesirable to function in the absence of the menace the former groups possess.
If we were to assume, even for a moment, that prisons indeed served a purpose that U.S. society needs, and that any lack of engagement in prisons is beyond our interest, will, or ability, then it could also be stated that the problems we see within our immediate environments have no or little connection with them. Moreover, Davis’ goal is for decarceration with similar, concurrent goals of envisioning a continuum of alternatives to imprisonment. These alternatives include “demilitarization of schools, revitalization of education at all levels, a health system that provided free physical and mental care to all, and a justice system based on reparation and reconciliation rather than retribution and vengeance (p. 107). In other words, Davis (2003) is invested in an overhaul of the system that many people, including Black members of the U.S. Congress and Senate, have not advocated.
Wagers of liberation work collectively with others to do the unthinkable: they demand the land that is theirs, as with protestors in South Africa, and they demand fair wages and humane conditions in the workplace, like the recent comrades of the Oilfields Workers Trade Union in Trinidad (also see McLeod, 1990). They make such demands while facing certain risks in their livelihood and survival. They develop coalitions across oppressed people, as in the heroic efforts of Fred Hampton in Chicago whose aim was to coalesce Black people in Chicago ghettoes with other racial groups who shared an urgency to end police violence in the city.
There is growing evidence that a very substantial reduction in disparities could be secured by simply equalizing “starting conditions” across racial and ethnic groups. [Much] of the inequality that shows up later in the life course is due to the one-two punch of (a) profound [racial] disparities in family background (e.g., racial-ethnic differences in parental wealth, education, and income), and (b) profound disparities in neighborhood conditions (e.g., racial-ethnic differences in such neighborhood amenities as high-quality schooling, low crime rates, or the absence of environment hazards). These very unequal starting conditions are of course then reinforced by subsequent exposure to educational, labor market, and criminal justice institutions that are riddled with discriminatory practices. Will it be sufficient, then, to eliminate disparities in starting conditions? Of course not. (p. 2)
The authors also note the evidence that suggests that major institutional reform, like that which grew out of the Civil Rights Movement, has done more of the necessary, disruptive work than the “gradualist processes” that some bank on. “If gradualism of this sort ever worked, it seems that it has nearly reached its limits” (Grusky et al., 2017, p. 2).
Two Illustrations of Urban-Focused Liberation and Peace Work
Yasser Payne and Street Participatory Action Research
Yasser Payne (2014; The People’s Report, n.d.) has a version of psychological accompaniment (see Sacipa-Rodríguez, Tovar-Guerra, Galindo Villarea, & Bohórquez, 2009), Street PAR, or Participatory Action Research. “Walk with me” is an expression he uses to refer to how he participates fully in and collaboratively with the people who live in the Wilmington, Delaware community (see Payne, 2014). His Street PAR is a transformative research approach that engages the people of the “streets,” in Payne’s case, in Wilmington, and with many whose lives are regularly exposed to drug and gang activity and general exposure to violence. These neighborhoods consist of Black and Brown people, similar to U.S. neighborhoods throughout the nation. The transformative, revolutionary approach to Payne’s work is that his engagement involves the people from the Wilmington streets in all phases of the research—from the development of research questions and decisions over design to the collection of data, analysis of findings, and dissemination of findings. Dissemination of findings can include journals and presentations to mainstream organizations, as well as through art forms like art exhibitions. Fine, Torre, and Fox’s Public Science Project, a funded organization that supports other PAR studies these authors call critical PAR, has helped generate a number of separate projects in the city of New York. Most of the Fine et al. projects consist of Black and Brown people from poor communities in New York (http://publicscienceproject.org/). Both Payne’s project, and the Public Science Project, received funding from partners to help compensate researchers engaged in the research.
The transformative elements of Payne’s Street PAR include the tangible economic factors that accompany the work. Payne rejects outright approaches that espouse a cognitive-behavioral approach to helping people in communities, or any other approach that conveys personal responsibility in the absence of examining the structural violence that underline the lives of people in these Brown and Black communities. In the People’s Report, the study that emerged from the project and in polling hundreds of people in these communities, findings showed that people tended to have high exposure to violence, and that the unemployment rate for men was at 74% as compared to an unemployment rate for women at 62%. They also found a relationship between economics and exposure to crime: the lower their income levels, the more likely participants were exposed to crime. Another notable finding is that the participants polled showed high levels of self-esteem and coping, and high levels of people’s sense of responsibility to the community. Payne explains the importance of this latter finding because he considers it important that people in and outside of the criminal justice system recognize the resiliency that people exhibit in these communities. Another transformative element of Payne’s work is that the 15 street people he selected to take part in the research, and who underwent training in research methods, were not only paid for their work, much like graduate assistant students are paid, but many went on to find work and continue their education. Two have successfully pursued doctoral degree education.
Ginwright and Leadership Excellence
Shawn Ginwright’s Leadership Excellence (LE) in Oakland, California (USA), described in his book Black youth rising: Activism and healing in urban America (2009), combines elements of racial identity development theory in important ways. First, Ginwright provides the physical space for the students to meet, engage in activities and fraternize with one another with a caring staff, what Thompson (1997) establishes a crucial ingredient to the facilitation of racial identity development by influential people: cultivating strong relationships. The relationship is important because it is the basis for trust, and when the facilitator is invested in the welfare of the whole person—in Ginwright’s case, young Black Americans who live in Oakland, California, this entails a recognition and embrace of the strengths they possess, as well as the strengths of a community to which they can avail themselves. Ginwright and his staff know the reality of structural violence that these young people face daily and the levels of poverty in their communities. LE as an organization is a home away from home that provides the youth with opportunities to talk with the staff about their lives, to afford to make sense of the world around them. The wholistic view of the youth and of the lives they lead helps the staff facilitate racial identity development by attuning to the racism that influences them and their communities, and in attuning to violence by encouraging open discussions about the peril that affects them not only within the confines of their neighborhood, but also in terms of the overarching systems that continually reproduce the confines. The staff helps them make sense of a world in which their lives, as Black people are under assault. The staff handles the complexity of these assaults by attending, through various means, to the intersecting nature of the assaults. Their lives are targeted by dint of class exploitation, White bias in hiring and in promotion, and by hyper-masculinity that combines with violence to assert manhood against womanhood and against gay and lesbian lifestyles.
This sense-making is important especially in view of a community that has long known about police harassment and brutality, residential zoning and redlining, and high rates of Black unemployment as well as mass incarceration. Ginwright’s staff establishes close-knit relationships with the students and comprise a group of adults who raise money for intensive, “psychological” camps where sexism and homophobia are the kinds of topics they address and work through, and where they can share their personal issues with an assortment of issues like abandonment and violence. Ginwright urges the students to develop critical consciousness, that is, to be aware of how systems of structural oppression are reproduced, and to organize and protest against these systems as they affect their lives. As the staff emphasize knowledge about the systems and encourage the young people to act against them, they also educate the students about Africa and their African heritage. The staff plan trip with LE participants to Ghana to visit the places where Africans where first enslaved, thus offering opportunities not merely to learn, but to experience the emotional awakening that often occurs in these visits among African-descended people.
When Culture and Race Combine at the Cost of Black Children’s Safety
On November 10, 2011, a CNN report titled “Researchers: African-Americans most likely to use physical punishment” covered the research findings of a study which found that out of 20,000 kindergartners and their parents, 89% of Black parents, 79% of White parents, and 80% of Hispanic parents and 73% of Asian parents spanks their children. The reasons for why Black parents topped the list included a legacy to which parents adhered as a result of White racial violence targeting Blacks combined with Black parents’ belief that corporal punishment helps prevent their children from receiving the heavy hand of the law—i.e., getting in trouble with the police. As the logic goes, receiving the heavy hand at home is better than receiving it from law enforcement. Yet another reason for the disciplining, according to the authors of the report, is that African American parents may be more inclined to follow Christian religious scripture in which sparing the rod is to risk spoiling their children. In the news report, Black psychiatrist Alvin Poussaint was interviewed and stated that when Black parents are encouraged not to use corporal punishment, they would express defensiveness and anger. In another interview from the article, a Harlem Children’s Zone spokesperson is reported as stating that when youthful parents who attend the organization’s Baby College are taught alternative discipline measures to spankings, they are told by older relatives that they’re spoiling their children.” The HCZ, founded by Geoffrey Canada, is a comprehensive organization in the primarily Black and Brown city of Harlem, New York that aims to ensure that the children in this poor region receive high-quality education and that the people who take part in the missions are largely from the region (CNN, 2011).
A recent study published in the American Psychologist points rather conclusively to the psychological damage that children experience in association with corporal punishment. Gershoff et al. (2018) showed that with corporal punishment, children can face higher risk of anxiety and depression, higher rates of aggression toward others, and more distant relationships with their parents. In addition, there is the risk of injury when the parents might intend to give a gentle spanking to one that can leave children bruised or bleeding. The pushback can come in the form of audacity and, suggestive from the comments, a feeling of being insulted and demonized as savage or primitive.
I include this scenario to point to the ghastly implications of the supposed “culture” of child spankings and beatings set against the “right” ways often espoused by Whites and White parents. The study, news report, and the anecdotal lore that there are Black parents who, on the use of corporal punishment to discipline their children, all emerge as an invocation of the Manichean perspective: it portrays the yoke comprised of the more savage Black on the one hand and the less violent (and by contrast, more kind and tranquil) White on the other. I suggest that Blacks who use corporal punishment might defend their practices in part as a response to the insinuation of their relative inferiority as parents relative to Whites. Keeping their children within boundaries of control can seem like the epitome of good parenting. These Black parents may even express insulting characterizations of White parents whose children grow up to become war- and power-mongers, and that the two worlds, one White and one Black, carry different implications regarding victimization and safety. To these Black parents, Whites are the predators against whom to protect Black children.
The thought of shedding the practice of spanking also infringes on time-worn and shared memories of childhood long associated with Black wisdom in the face of puerile chicanery, as in the depictions of the mischevious (and often creative and boldly subversive) Black child who is asked by his parent to find his own “switch” and who knows that he cannot bring one too small or thin or else the punishment would be harsher. To some, “Time outs” can appear like milquetoast approaches by comparison and not hefty enough to evince an intergenerational tradition that has come to be associated with Black parenthood.
The consequences of not engaging in this debate and ultimately bring an end to corporal punishment are that Black children are ultimately the victims of an evolved form of racialized violence. The major source of the menace is racialized violence. Directing our attention to the menace, while creating non-physical forms of discipline as Canada and others have addressed, is crucial to the welfare of future generations.
In the weeks that followed the verdict of the merit review board, individual members of Mr. Bailey’s community, along with family members and activist groups made attempts to point out the bizarre features of the hearing and the errors in the police officers’ statements. One activist helped organize a community meeting which included members of the police and city-county council members. The meeting was organized by these various members for the purpose of “hearing out” the community (Sanchez, May 23, 2018). Other than being present to monitor audience members for weapons as they entered the facility—the event took place at one of the city’s urban schools, the police were few in number at the event and quiet. One of the city-county council members laid out the plan for the evening: a multi-racial team of volunteers from the nearby public university would facilitate small-group discussions in break-out rooms. In the discussions, the facilitators would encourage group members to share their experiences with police. The facilitators would also summarize the input and report out to the larger group in an hour’s time. During the event, no mention was made of the news about Mr. Bailey’s defense attorney who resigned a few weeks after the hearing ended, or the incorrect information that the police were allowed to disclose during the hearing concerning Aaron’s Bailey’s record. Also, very little attention was paid to the national data regarding the disproportionate stops made by police officers of Black men in urban communities, and more significantly, of the disproportionate number of Black men shot by police. When these issues were raised during protest marches or in direct contact with police, no action followed.
If meaningful attention was directed at these events commensurate with the terror and relative inaction, then at least some of the response, in part, may take on efforts for the immediate safety of the people in these Black neighborhoods. This response could take on the resurgence of the Black Panthers whose charge included providing protection to citizens of urban environments against the police. Indeed, one group of local organizers, comprised of Black men, met to establish a similar practice in Indianapolis prior to and continuing after Bailey’s murder. Their plan was to form teams that responded to Black motorists who were stopped by the police to provide oversight and witness to these practices. This suggestion by far appeared to be the most logical in view of the incompetence of the proceedings and the ire that continues to rankle with every encounter of harassment by police in the city (see Ajabu, 2018).
What else can be done to confront racialized violence? As Alexander (2010) concluded in regards to the devastation surrounding the mass incarceration of Black people, it will take nothing less than a movement. In Indianapolis, this movement can begin with coordinated effort by teams of people with advanced schemata who are willing to account for the long-festering wounds of police shootings and harassments that have laid the foundation of mistrust and to create concrete efforts to build the trust based on these problems. Actions that wave away the past and current problems and focus instead on offers of education programs that center on providing instruction to “the community” on how to respond to police when they are stopped (Sanchez, May 23, 2018)—are outgrowths of racialized societies.
Advanced schemata leaders work to build and support Black businesses while insisting that public and private organizations and agencies hire Black people to raise the high Black unemployment rates in the community. In tracking hiring practices, they neither patronize or support the entities that show poor hiring and promotional practices of Black people and convince others to do the same. The teams do not merely demand improvements in schools in both urban and suburban communities; they work to create schools when it is evident that public school administrators are not taking dramatic strides to change education that promotes successful outcomes by Black children. They resist the advances of corporate-funded school administrators who have little to no evidence to show that the schools they charter will attend to Black children’s educational needs, or who do not show evidence that they will hire advanced schemata Black teachers and leaders to run them. In addition, they work with others who draw from concrete evidence of the schools that are successful in educating and graduating Black children.
They understand that the prison system is an economic boon for White businesses and for the demise of Black communities. Further, they work to demand prison reform so that no more jails are built, and want alternatives to imprisonment. They also want rehabilitation and humane care for incarcerated men and women. The work with others who take part in the team who keep track of the reports of drugs in the communities and the extent to which the police are successful in stopping cartels and major drug dealers as they also advocate for mental health treatment of those who abuse and are addicted to drugs. Black voters cast ballots after pushing candidates who daringly “see” and work to do something about racialized violence, and the host forums in which the past track records of candidates are raised. Black voting is organized in ways to ensnare evidence of voter suppression, and a dedicated group of team members watches out for re-districting efforts.
Advanced schemata leaders encourage violence education becoming a fixture for police, and not merely for the wider public (of all races and income levels), and insist that implicit bias tests be used to select law enforcement officers and administrators. They seek to change the climate of police stations so that benign attention to racism, as well as clandestine or informal racist banter is not merely sanctioned, but results in the firing of any officer. They also demand that strategies for curbing drug trade include suburban and rural community “stings” and that any cooptation in drug-related activities among the police be researched and its members prosecuted and fired. They also insist on creating review boards that consist unequivocally of the people who constitute the communities in which the majority of cases are seen. Police who kill because they fear for their lives conveys that the problem of gun violence in society produces killers among sanctioned gunmen and gunwomen; they see this as a problem of formidable proportions and they work with lobbyists to remove guns which hopefully, with the wisdom of police leaders, can be done in collaboration. As the gun lobbying shows signs of progress, all supporters advocate that on-the-beat police officers no longer be armed.
Education about the association between Blackness and mass incarceration, or Blackness and criminality should be a center-stage concern for communities like Indianapolis, Indiana, and cities around the nation. This education would go beyond brief spots on the television news and be a campaign of public health awareness much like the one against cigarette smoking. But this sort of campaign is not enough, nor will it occur without the talent, time, and energy of Black people who are part of a movement that will require years of commitment.
All of these efforts and more would be meaningless without attention to the inextricable relationship between racism and economics. It is only with new visions about an economic structure that unravels a system of greed for an overwhelmingly White elite and where political leaders use fear and coded language to entice a White middle- and working-class that they too can become part of the elite that leaves out people of color. In recent years, the U.S. President Donald Trump has used this fear to cultivate further divisions and, as some media analysts have presented, to fan the ire of a White nationalist and nationalist base of supporters. Economics affects the mass incarceration of Black people, who are overwhelmingly in the majority, and the money that serves the system of imprisonment also serves mostly White workers and the tax base of White residents in the areas where these prisons are located. Issues of food sovereignty feed the coffers of multinational corporations and the wars and horrendous numbers of rapes of women in countries like the Democratic Republic of Congo are bolstered because of the wealth accrued from the natural resources like coltan in these countries. The “optics” in the United States in most of its states and communities evidences the legions of Whites who occupy high-ranking positions relative to Blacks and other people of color—from the growing industries of assisted living to technology development, medicine and pharmaceutical development. Yet attention by the leadership of all levels of government on how to resolve racial disparities in unemployment at all levels is maddeningly absent (West & Smiley, 2012).
To achieve liberation and peace is to arm ourselves with the tools to obliterate the growing violence in our immediate contexts and to join forces with others, especially other Black people, to fight the war against Black people. We must place our work with other Black people as a priority because it strengthens us psychologically, interpersonally, and spiritually to resolve the problems of a diminished humanity of a people. We can close the gaps of our understanding by untwisting the twisted knowledge, decoding the coded language, and resisting subtle or overt resignations of our fate as a caste by working through the deep-seated hurts we can attribute to sustained violence. To do the meaningful work of dismantling racialized violence, we must be clear about its presence in and impacts on our everyday lives.
The existence of racialized violence in the United States is rooted in a society in which mass shootings of innocent people occur in a context that is not embroiled in the ravages of war. Directing attention to racialized violence can invite important attention to the spread of violence throughout the United States For example, In America, 1 out of 3 homes with children have guns and nearly 4.6 million children live in a home with loaded and unsecured guns (The Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, 2019). Access to assault weapons offers ready access to mass devastation. Fisher and Keller (2017) showed that American crime is not more pervasive than it is in other countries, “rather… in data that has since been repeatedly confirmed, that American crime is simply more lethal. A New Yorker is just as likely to be robbed as a Londoner, for instance, but the New Yorker is 54 times more likely to be killed in the process.” The U.S. also is one of only three countries along with Mexico and Guatemala, in which there is a hegemony that suggests people have the right to own guns. When mass shooting disasters have occurred in Scotland, Britain, and Australia, strict gun laws were set in place. “In retrospective Sandy Hook marked the end of the U.S. gun control debate,” Dan Hodges (2017), a British journalist, wrote in reference to the 2012 shooting that killed 20 young children at an elementary school in Sandy Hook, Connecticut. “Once America decided killing children was bearable, it was over” (Hodges, 2017, p. A5). Men who are current or former partners of women shoot and kill their mates every 16 hours. If a gun is present in the home, the risk of homicide increases by 500%. Women in the U.S. are 11 times more likely to be murdered by a man with a gun compared to their counterparts in other high-income nations (The Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, 2018). Advocacy against gun violence would be integral to a general commitment against violence of all kinds. Media attention that focuses on the details and horror of the crime could derail “copy-cat” shootings among the largely White male perpetrators, and defuse the glory they receive when their photographs and biographies are presented in media (Lankford & Madfis, 2017).
Exerting forceful action against physical and structural violence requires constant study, collaboration, and struggle against isolation, despair, and the threat of death. It requires an ability to envision an entirely new world. It entails creativity and even humor in the boldness of acting against the ludicrousness of normal society, as in the case of Chef Tunde Wey of New Orleans, who charges a higher rate for the meals he serves to White people than Black people (Wilson, 2018). His objective is to raise awareness of the income disparity within the city and to use the differential rate as a prompt for inviting people to learn more about a range of topics related to structural racism.
Mental health practitioners who facilitate the racial identity development of their clients can urge them to shatter their silence and disrupt the seeming calm of sustaining the status quo. These practitioners will most certainly receive resistance and their work will seem like anything but peace-advancing work. However, the resolution to help relax tense muscles is a practice that moves people in forthright ways to confront the violence that resides within us as fear, aggression, and anxiety. Facing up to intense emotionality is important to the transformation of racial identity. Culture, as well as the re-adoption and restoration of culture, is vital to this development as it helps with sense-making and connections.
Confronting the oppressor by way of activism against racialized violence is crucial to the healing of Black people. Such activism would acquire understanding that the problems that divide us, like divisions based on political party affiliation, sexual orientation, religious or church affiliation, gender, and social class, are part and parcel of the “success” of racialized violence. Encouraging others to see themselves as builders of peace who channel their rage, depression, anxiety, as well as the backlash, is among the hardest work we will have to do. Mental health practitioners do not urge this development alone; they work with other professionals and anyone affected by violence. They do this in collaboration with others who share a common vision of transcending the bounds of race and other inauspicious structures to end cyclical violence for the greater good.
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