Over the weekend, President Obama took time out of addressing graduates at the celebrated, historically-black, all-male, private college, Morehouse, to remind about black men who make bad choices, chalking up failures to The Man and myriad other excuses.
“We know that too many young men in our community continue to make bad choices. Growing up, I made a few myself. And I have to confess, sometimes I wrote off my own failings as just another example of the world trying to keep a black man down. But one of the things you’ve learned over the last four years is that there’s no longer any room for excuses. I understand that there’s a common fraternity creed here at Morehouse: ‘excuses are tools of the incompetent, used to build bridges to nowhere and monuments of nothingness.’ We’ve got no time for excuses – not because the bitter legacies of slavery and segregation have vanished entirely; they haven’t. Not because racism and discrimination no longer exist; that’s still out there. It’s just that in today’s hyperconnected, hypercompetitive world, with a billion young people from China and India and Brazil entering the global workforce alongside you, nobody is going to give you anything you haven’t earned. And whatever hardships you may experience because of your race, they pale in comparison to the hardships previous generations endured – and overcame.”
But why do a roomful of young, black male college graduates, in particular, need this admonishment against excuse-making and expecting goodies they have not earned? Surely our Commander-In-chief would argue against conservative charges that real racism is dead and that his America is rife with lazy, irresponsible and demanding (black and brown) “takers” Why, then, do his speeches to black Americans so often warn against creeping pathology? (For instance, the 2008 Father’s Day speech that centered on shiftless and absent black sperm donors, instead of men who take the role of fatherhood seriously and are present and active in their children’s lives, whether or not they are part of a married couple.)
Of course, our President isn’t the only person seemingly subconsciously invested in the idea of inherent black dysfunction. In Michelle Obama’s speech to graduates at historically-black Bowie State University, the First Lady complained about young, black students with dreams of hip hop celebrity and urged parents not to accept failing schools. Ta-Nehisi Coates brilliantly addressed hand-wringing over hip hop aspirations in his piece, “How the Obama Administration Talks to Black America.” But it is also worth noting how offensive it is to suggest that the average black parent needs to be told to seek the best education for their children. And why lecture black college graduates, who have clearly demonstrated a belief in the power of education?
Hyperfocus on alleged black faults and how “we need to do better” is an outgrowth of the way black people have absorbed the race biases and stereotypes of the majority culture over centuries, combined with our desire to prove our own decency.
This isn’t just about the President and First Lady. I’ve sat in many a pew and auditorium seat, wedged between other black folk, wondering why a speech meant to inspire me instead sounds like an unspoken accusation or a caution against some sin I never dreamed of committing. There is something about a chance to speak to a room full of fellow African Americans that seems to make the siren song of respectability politics nigh irresistible. And amidst the “show ‘em you’re one of the good ones” boot-strapping oratory is always a clutch of disturbing implied messages: Mainly that WE are the ultimate problem; not centuries of systemic racism or classism or educational and prison systems rife with inequality. And that, deep down, we are who they say we are. That even the best and brightest of us are one good, finger-wagging speech away from every affront to mainstream Judeo-Christian, middle-class, patriarchal American values. (Of course, the only values that matter.)
This sort of thinking reveals itself in many ways. For example, the entire let’s-teach-black-women-how-to-be-marriageable industrial complex hinges on the idea of inherent black, female dysfunction. But this scolding of black America is even more problematic and damaging when conducted by our country’s leader–the person ultimately in charge of education, healthcare, housing and countless other systems. Black people don’t need Barack Obama to lecture us about why education is important for our children; we need to know what steps his administration is taking to ensure that our children have an equal shot at good, accessible education. And we don’t need a black president tacitly confirming the worst ideas of the African American community by using nearly every engagement with us to urge us to fix ourselves.
The inability to cope with life in a white supremacist society, the shock of witnessing extreme acts of violence, or the loss a loved one to a preventable illness (causes) can all lead to anger, depression, suicide, violence, and substance, physical, and mental abuse.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, a Black man or woman in America commits suicide every 4 hours (suicide is now the third leading cause of death among black men between the ages of 15 and 24.)
Psychiatrist Alvin Poussaint, M.D. of the Harvard Medical School and author of the book, Lay My Burden Down, writes ”You can’t prevent illness or suicide if you don’t talk about it and gain some knowledge about it.”
◾Changes in appetite
◾Changes in sleep habits
◾Headaches, stomach aches, pain all over
◾Chronic fatigue – not wanting to get up in the morning
◾Sadness that continues for up to a month – spontaneous crying
◾Social withdrawal – a loss of interest in activities and things once considered enjoyable
Another example of physical self-destruction: According to a study conducted by the Bureau of Justice Statistics, between 1976 and 2011 there were 279,384 black murder victims, which means that 262,621 were murdered by other blacks, resulting in the 94 percent figure. Even though blacks make-up only 13 percent of the nation’s population, they account for more than 50 percent of homicide victims.
Cancer, lung disease, AIDS, diabetes, stroke, and heart disease are all very preventable illnesses. And yet, Black men and women continue to destroy themselves with poisoned foods and lack of exercise. While access to nutrition indeed plays a factor, ones eating habits are particularly influenced by ones mental condition. Indeed, many Black men and women eat because they are unhappy, and they are unhappy because they eat.
We smoke, we get high, we get drunk, we fight, and we kill ourselves and each other. This behavior is just a symptom of the root illness: being Black and vulnerable in a society that devalues Black life, denies Blacks justice, and pollutes Black communities with cancer causing foods, poisonous air and water – all while feeding them mental images of the good life that lies just across the racial divide.
Post Traumatic Slavery Disorder is both complicated, pervasive, and prominent in the African American community. Books have been written on the subject that I suggest you read. Understanding the subconscious psychological effects of this disorder is the key to the mental (and ultimately the physical, cultural, and political) liberation of Black people the world over.
Experiencing the shame and frustration of being locked in poverty (cause) can lead to an unhealthy material obsession (money, clothes, shoes, cars) . Typically, these victims are not equipped with the knowledge to successfully manage what little money they have, and so they quickly find themselves trapped in a perpetual cycle of spend-broke-hustle-spend. Due to the psychological effects of poverty on the victim, the result is financial self-destruction.
Source: The percentage of people in deep poverty was 13.5 percent of all Blacks and 10.9 percent of all Hispanics, compared to 5.8 percent of Asians and 4.3 percent of Whites. While non-Hispanic Whites still constitute the largest single group of Americans living in poverty, ethnic minority groups are overrepresented (27.4 percent African American; 28.4 percent American Indian and Alaskan Native; 26.6 percent Hispanic, and 12.1 percent Asian and Pacific Islander compared with 9.9 percent non-Hispanic White).
These disparities are associated with the historical marginalization of ethnic minority groups and entrenched barriers to good education and jobs. – American Psychological Association and the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics 2012 Study
Post Traumatic Slavery Disorder is the sum total of the emotional and psychological impact of our abduction and separation from Africa, slavery, Jim Crow, the crushing of the Black American Revolution (starting with the deportation of Marcus Garvey and ending with the destruction of the Black Panther Party), the Black indoctrination in a system of white values, beliefs and supremacy, and the establishment of an economic caste system.
These experiences have all created deep, intense feelings of fear, anger, and self-hatred amongst African-Americans, resulting in self destructive psychosis.
The suicidal, self-destructive nature that many Africans and African-Americans suffer from can be impossible to diagnose. Resistance and denial create within us powerful psychological barriers that block our ability to honestly assess our thinking errors. As you read this, ask yourself if you indeed are resisting truths that lay at your core. It is perfectly normal to resist looking within the dark shadows of your subconscious, but this must be done if we are to heal our collective self esteem and break the psychological chains that have been forged for us, and that keel us in bondage today.
Until we do so, all the gun programs, AIDS walks, Black conscious lectures, mass movements, and Stop The Violence concerts in the world will have a minimal effect.
Until we truly examine the causes and effects of PTSD, we as a community – and you as an individual – may be subconsciously programmed for racial, financial, physical, cultural, and psycho-sexual forms of self destruction.