“The Message”: The Bleak Picture When Living in a Concrete Jungle

The Message
It’s like a jungle sometimes
It makes me wonder how I keep from goin’ under
Broken glass everywhere
People pissin’ on the stairs, you know they just don’t care
I can’t take the smell, can’t take the noise
Got no money to move out, I guess I got no choice
Rats in the front room, roaches in the back
Junkies in the alley with a baseball bat
I tried to get away but I couldn’t get far
Cause a man with a tow truck repossessed my car
Don’t push me cause I’m close to the edge
I’m trying not to lose my head
It’s like a jungle sometimes
It makes me wonder how I keep from goin’ under
Standin’ on the front stoop hangin’ out the window
Watchin’ all the cars go by, roarin’ as the breezes blow
Crazy lady, livin’ in a bag
Eatin’ outta garbage pails, used to be a fag hag
Said she’ll dance the tango, skip the light fandango
A Zircon princess seemed to lost her senses
Down at the peep show watchin’ all the creeps
So she can tell her stories to the girls back home
She went to the city and got so so seditty
She had to get a pimp, she couldn’t make it on her own
It’s like a jungle sometimes
It makes me wonder how I keep from goin’ under
My brother’s doin’ bad, stole my mother’s TV
Says she watches too much, it’s just not healthy
All My Children in the daytime, Dallas at night
Can’t even see the game or the Sugar Ray fight
The bill collectors, they ring my phone
And scare my wife when I’m not home
Got a bum education, double-digit inflation
Can’t take the train to the job, there’s a strike at the station
Neon King Kong standin’ on my back
Can’t stop to turn around, broke my sacroiliac
A mid-range migraine, cancered membrane
Sometimes I think I’m goin’ insane
I swear I might hijack a plane!
It’s like a jungle sometimes
It makes me wonder how I keep from goin’ under
My son said, Daddy, I don’t wanna go to school
Cause the teacher’s a jerk, he must think I’m a fool
And all the kids smoke reefer, I think it’d be cheaper
If I just got a job, learned to be a street sweeper
Or dance to the beat, shuffle my feet
Wear a shirt and tie and run with the creeps
Cause it’s all about money, ain’t a damn thing funny
You got to have a con in this land of milk and honey
They pushed that girl in front of the train
Took her to the doctor, sewed her arm on again
Stabbed that man right in his heart
Gave him a transplant for a brand new start
I can’t walk through the park cause it’s crazy after dark
Keep my hand on my gun cause they got me on the run
I feel like a outlaw, broke my last glass jaw
Hear them say “You want some more?”
Livin’ on a see-saw
It’s like a jungle sometimes
It makes me wonder how I keep from goin’ under
A child is born with no state of mind
Blind to the ways of mankind
God is smilin’ on you but he’s frownin’ too
Because only God knows what you’ll go through
You’ll grow in the ghetto livin’ second-rate
And your eyes will sing a song called deep hate
The places you play and where you stay
Looks like one great big alleyway
You’ll admire all the number-book takers
Thugs, pimps and pushers and the big money-makers
Drivin’ big cars, spendin’ twenties and tens
And you’ll wanna grow up to be just like them, huh
Smugglers, scramblers, burglars, gamblers
Pickpocket peddlers, even panhandlers
You say I’m cool, huh, I’m no fool
But then you wind up droppin’ outta high school
Now you’re unemployed, all non-void
Walkin’ round like you’re Pretty Boy Floyd
Turned stick-up kid, but look what you done did
Got sent up for a eight-year bid
Now your manhood is took and you’re a Maytag
Spend the next two years as a undercover fag
Bein’ used and abused to serve like hell
Til one day, you was found hung dead in the cell
It was plain to see that your life was lost
You was cold and your body swung back and forth
But now your eyes sing the sad, sad song
Of how you lived so fast and died so young so
It’s like a jungle sometimes
It makes me wonder how I keep from goin’ under
   
I loved that group, one of the pioneers of rap/hip-hop music. It was a different time then, but still somehow parallels today. I didn’t live that type of existence and never heard the message that these artists were sending in song. I memorized the words of so many songs, but never really understood what they were saying to me. I couldn’t relate to that type of reality, and comfortable in a middle class world. These were places that I visited and left for the safety of my home and my life. But these were and are people, just like you and me. Knowing that they did not choose their lives; their lives were chosen for them-to their detriment. No one should wake up each day and face such realities, raw and discouraging. Everyone deserves beauty in their lives, and it was obvious that that is a commodity, given and taken away at will. Tsk, tsk! Move forward.
That was a message conveyed in rap over 40 years ago. That’s four decades of the ‘struggle’, and it continues today. Enough is enough, which is why people are protesting. They want, need and expect changes. Can you possibly blame them?
They need outlets, activities, opportunity, hope and purpose. When all one sees is un-pretty pictures that are discouraging, one begins to either fight with all their might, in hopes that they can get through to the other side, or one stop believing, stops trying, ceases to engage and no longer possesses the motivation to succeed in OUR world. Thereby one succumbs to the underworld, sub-cultural, underground life that may or may not be ‘sanctioned’ by the powers that be.
We continue to risk lives lost in the cracks of potential and living within a different code, whereby they are placed at even greater risk for a life of incarceration, needing to look over their shoulders and the absence of trust in those whom they should always trust. Worse than this, lives are lost, literally. When a system designs a life for an individual or a group and at every turn, every other system supports that design, we lose good innocent human beings. We may be losing Einsteins, Gershwins, Nikki Giovannis, Booker T. Washingtons or even George Washingtons simply awaiting recognition beyond race and gender.
It’s time to let people in, and cease punishing and banishing people of color from realizing their genius. We must grow up, open our eyes and ears and share the humanity within us all. Otherwise, don’t push me, cause I’m close to the edge…..Stop hearing the beat and listen to the message!

The Origins of U.S. Police Forces: How Do We Change the Focus Today?

From Day One, some Americans could move more freely than others. They were meant to be part of the solution to Colonial America’s biggest problem, labor. Unlike Great Britain, which had a large peasant class that could be forced to work for subsistence wages, there weren’t enough cheap bodies in America to do the grunt work. If you were looking to make your fortune in rice or tobacco, you had to size up to industrial scale, and you needed bodies, a labor force that could be made to work for terms no less brutal than those inflicted on the peasants of Europe.

Native Americans weren’t the solution, not after disease, war, and murderous forms of forced labor reduced their number by half. Indentured servants were imported, but in numbers too few to fill the void, and they had a habit of running off: the wide frontier beckoned, all that empty space for sass-mouths and malcontents to vanish into. So it became Africans. Jamestown received its first cargo of enslaved humans in 1619, a dozen years after the colony’s founding: “20 and odd Negroes,” according to records, the first installment on the estimated 455,000 who would eventually land in North America.

Control of this new labor force would be key; mutiny was the great fear. By the early 1700s, a comprehensive system of racially directed law enforcement was well on its way to being fully developed. This was, in fact, the first systematic form of policing in the land that would become the United States. The northeast colonies relied on the informal “night-watch” system of volunteer policing and on private security to protect commercial property.

In the southern colonies, policing’s origins were rooted in the slave economy and the radically racialized social order that invented “whiteness” as the ultimate boundary. “Whites,” no matter how poor or low, could not be held in slavery. “Blacks” could be enslaved by anyone—whites, free blacks, and people of mixed race. The distinction—and the economic order that created it—was maintained by a legally sanctioned system of surveillance, intimidation, and brute force whose purpose was the control of blacks. Slave patrols, or paddyrollers, were the chief enforcers of this system; groups of armed, mounted whites who rode at night among the plantations and settlements of their assigned “beats”—the word originated with the patrols—seeking out runaway slaves, unsanctioned gatherings, weapons, contraband, and generally any sign of potential revolt.

Slave patrols usually consisted of three to six white men on horseback equipped with guns, rope, and whips. “A mounted man presents an awesome figure, and the power and majesty of a group of men on horseback, at night, could terrify slaves into submission,” writes Sally Hadden in her book Slave Patrols: Law and Violence in Virginia and the Carolinas. Among other duties, paddyrollers enforced the pass system, which required all slaves absent from their master’s property to have a pass, or “ticket,” signed by the master indicating permission for travel. Any slave encountered without a pass was subject to detention and beating on the spot, although possession of a valid pass was a guarantee against beating.

Certain people, granted power, can be counted on to abuse those under their authority just because they can; one imagines moreover that gratuitous beatings relieved the tedium and fatigue of nightlong patrols and served to reinforce the notion of who was boss. The paddyrollers’ authority extended to patrolling plantation grounds and entering slave quarters, where the presence of books, writing paper, weapons, liquor, luxury items, or more than the usual store of provisions was cause for beating. “Gatherings”—weddings, funerals, church services—were grounds for beating,

Mingling with whites, especially poor whites, or any “loose, disorderly or suspected person”: beating. Back talk: beating. Dressing tidily: beating. Singing certain hymns: beating. Even best behavior could earn a lick.

The system continued largely intact after Emancipation and the defeat of the Confederacy. Legally sanctioned slave patrols were replaced by night-riding vigilantes like the Ku Klux Klan, whose white robes, flaming torches, and queer pseudo-ghost talk were intended for maximum terrorizing effect. Lynching and shooting took place alongside the more traditional punishments of beating and whipping; blacks’ economic value as slaves had evaporated, and with it the constraints on lethal force that had offered some measure of protection under the old system.

White supremacy continued as the dominant reality for the next hundred years, a social and psychological reality maintained by terror, surveillance, and the letter of the law. Its power was such that even the New Deal—the most profound reordering of American society since the Civil War—left white supremacy intact. Twenty-six lynchings were recorded in Southern states in 1933. An anti-lynching bill was defeated in Congress in 1935. Southern blacks’ awareness of antebellum history was acute, naturally enough given that they were living it. “Even seventy years after freedom came,” Hadden writes, “one former bondsman declared he still had his badge and pass to show the patrol, so that no one could molest him.”

We might suppose the pass system is long gone, but there it is in stop-and-frisk, in racial profiling, in the reflexive fear and violence of our own time. Trayvon Martin, 17 years old, walking down the street just minding his own, killed by a self-anointed, night-riding, so-called neighborhood watchman. Sandra Bland, died in a Texas jail after being pulled over for failure to signal a lane change. Walter Scott, stopped by police in North Charleston for an allegedly broken taillight, shot to death with eight bullets in his back. Philando Castile, popular school cafeteria supervisor, shot dead in Falcon Heights, Minnesota, during a traffic stop for, allegedly, a broken taillight; records reveal that he’d been pulled over no fewer than 52 times by local police in the preceding 14 years and owed over $6,000 in outstanding fines. That $6,000 in fines opens the window onto another ugly echo of times past, the use of law enforcement to extract profit from black and brown people. The latest victims of police violence include George Floyd, whose death ignited protests across the U.S. AND internationally, clearly, loudly and peacefully declaring  ‘enough is enough’.

It may be that the American brain is wired for certain cues, or maybe it’s just the nature of systems of control, systems that grant or withhold sanction to move about, to work, to vote, to be secure in your home and body, to be free of suspicion absent evidence to the contrary. Slave patrols and passes, the Klan, Jim Crow—these are historical incarnations of a social order that held people of color to less-than status, the necessary corollary to white supremacy.

The great divide in America has always been the color of skin, the presumptive and usually final criterion. Whiteness is law, legitimacy, citizenship, the benefit of the doubt. Not-white is doubt. Not-white has to prove, not just once but over and over: 52 traffic stops. Can a white person even imagine? For 52 times Philando Castile had to stop and show his papers, keep his cool, say yes sir, no sir. Had to check the fury that surely rose in him with every stop, every new harassment and humiliation. This remarkable sense of self-control should be called superhuman.

White supremacy by default—a failure to see beyond whiteness as the presumptive norm, as the neutral and natural order of things. This is, ultimately, a failure of empathy, which is to say a failure of moral imagination.  There is, in fact, a phenomenon of perpetuation of racial entitlement in America, and it’s been written about by, among others, James Baldwin, Toni Morrison, Frederick Douglass, Zora Neale Hurston, Ta-Nehisi Coates, Mark Twain, Jean Toomer, Alice Walker, Claudia Rankine, Ralph Ellison, Tiphanie Yanique, August Wilson, and many more.

“We are our history,” James Baldwin wrote. “If we pretend otherwise, to put it very brutally, we literally are criminals.”

Baldwin:

“What white people have to do is try and find out in their own hearts why it was necessary to have a “nigger” in the first place, because I’m not a nigger, I’m a man. But if you think I’m a nigger, it means you need him. The question that you’ve got to ask yourself, the white population of this country has got to ask itself… If I’m not the nigger here and you invented him, you the white people invented him, then you’ve got to find out why. And the future of the country depends on that, whether or not it is able to ask that question.”

 How do we change the focus of policing policies and practices today for better tomorrows? You tell me-we are all in this together. My first thought is-education and conversation. And a whole lot of soul-searching. Tough questions lie ahead with even tougher decisions to be made. Enough IS enough!

Long Ignored Public Health Emergencies of Addiction

What I am about to say, perhaps no one wants to hear or read, as it were. But, I would be perpetuating a fraud, to myself and to those communities, groups and individuals who not only want to say, but need to hear someone else say these words. So, this goes out to the strong-minded, self-assured and empathetic souls who  aren’t threatened by hearing someone speak their truths-share their realities and speak their mind.

To further preface this conversation, the words expressed here do not in any way represent the words of a divisive, angry, prejudiced or a hypocrite’s cry. This is merely an example of what it means to ‘broaden’ one’s cultural lens, and not reject an experience, view or belief of others who may not relate to life as it is lived by another.

When the black and Latinx communities were under siege by the heroin and crack cocaine epidemic, the  nation sat back and either let it happen or criminalized the addictive behaviors due to people’s need, far beyond desire, for a ‘fix’ or a ‘hit’ of these drugs. When otherwise good and honest people were ‘jones-ing’ for psychological and physiological relief,  we blamed the victim.bench-man-person-night.jpg

Oddly enough, they weren’t responsible for the influx of these drugs into their communities. They were strategically and purposefully trafficked into these areas to silence and disarm any and all activism of the people. But they bore the brunt of blame and we let it happen. We maligned and imprisoned folk.

We crippled whole communities, disrupted and destroyed families and we traumatized their children.  They were taken away from parents, who were considered unfit or criminals and as a result, innocent kids entered the child welfare system-and into another type of imprisonment themselves.

Where was the help, support, the ‘disease’ model or social policy change? Compassion, empathy, humanity? Was this considered a national health emergency? Not in the least. The attitude of the nation was….NIMBY!!![not in my backyard] We trapped people in their own neighborhoods. We continued to divest, and then it became easier to mis-educate the children.

After all, it is the children who suffer most. Once again, that didn’t appear to concern us. By a purposeful, and largely successful, mission to cripple and silence a people, we also were crippling children, who hadn’t yet identified their purpose or the potential power of their voices.

Meanwhile, as these communities were more and more disenfranchised, under-resourced, under-served, youth were incredibly under-educated. No one cared about that which was obvious. We had a hand in shaping their reality, and what we witnessed on our nightly news was as a result of our actions or failure to act. We thus began to see very few outspoken persons who advocated collectively. We put them to sleep and that worked just fine.

grayscale photo of woman covering her mouth using her hands
Over the past 15 years, white communities across our nation have been devastated by increasing prescription and illicit opioid abuse, addiction, and overdose. In 2016, over 11 million Americans misused prescription opioids, nearly 1 million used heroin, and 2.1 million had an opioid use disorder due to prescription opioids or heroin. Since 2013, the introduction of illegally produced fentanyl has made the problem worse.

For prescription drugs, the availability was ever plentiful. All one needed to do was be white and visit a favorite medical doctor. Occasionally, hospitalizations precipitated this addiction. It began as physiological in nature. Genuine pain-bodily. But does that mean that people in the poorer communities were not in pain too? A different type of pain that didn’t require an injury or surgery, but that which one could only wish would cease to bother their minds. Their heads were hurting, from the inside. Souls were in turmoil.

person s gray hoodie

opiod numbers

Dreams were deferred and destroyed. Hope was all but gone, withering away due to life as a minority in a system that had no respect, regard and without any remorse for them or their children. The system worked for them, and that was all that really mattered. Everyone knew it; everyone felt it; everyone saw it; pains of a systemic sort.

That is not to say that in suburbia, there was nobody experiencing psychological pain. The pains felt were not economical to the extent that basic life needs were continuously negotiated and prioritized on a level incomprehensible to most. Their pains were certainly  not brought on because of skin color or name. These were pains amidst what some would consider ‘excess’, privilege and extreme comforts.

Abuse, neglect, food insecurity, unemployment, ageism, misogyny, and others exist across the board. Coping skills are only as sophisticated as that which we are either taught directly, vicariously or by happenstance. The coping skills which manifest as central to our ability to engage resilience and continue along a defined journey into being.

As we seek solutions in the national fight against opioids and other illegal substances, SAMHSA’s[Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration] latest press release stated that the agency looks forward to continuing its role in helping American communities through evidence-based programs in prevention, treatment, and recovery services on behalf of all who have suffered the effects of opioid addiction.

pills
HHS[Health and Human Services] is implementing five specific strategies that are guiding SAMHSA’s response. The comprehensive, evidenced-based Opioid Strategy aims to:

  • Improve access to treatment and recovery services to prevent the health, social, and economic consequences associated with opioid addiction and to enable individuals to achieve long-term recovery;
  • Target the availability and distribution of these drugs, and ensure the broad provision of overdose-reversing drugs to save lives;
  • Strengthen public health data reporting and collection to improve the timeliness and specificity of data and to inform a real-time public health response as the epidemic evolves;
  • Support cutting-edge research that advances our understanding of pain and addiction, leads to the development of new treatments, and identifies effective public health interventions to reduce opioid-related health harms; and
  • Advance the practice of pain management to enable access to high-quality, evidence-based pain care that reduces the burden of pain for individuals, families, and society while also reducing the inappropriate use of opioids and opioid-related harms.

We shall see how the nation, as a whole, recovers from the persistent menace  called ‘drug addiction’, a recognized crippling, life-destroying, family disruptive, community compromising temporary ‘cure’ for unmet needs, unspoken and unacknowledged anger felt by millions. People, we need a national intervention! Doctors, clinicians and behavioral health practitioners, step up to the plate! Use your voices, training and your skills to engage us in a collective catharsis.

We need a breakthrough! The pain is killing people all around us! 911 emergencies are for psychological pain, too! If you, too, are in pain, please seek help!

How Promoting Resilience is Harmful to African-American Families

Resilience theory suggests that we are to encourage  successful adaptations to negative life events, trauma, stress, and other forms of risk. In other words, in the face of adversity, we promote people to perform at optimal or ‘normal’ adaptive levels and work through these situations, events and circumstances.

Many African-American families in the United States deal with chronic adversity marked by systematic oppression. Families are often encouraged to demonstrate perseverance, regardless of the conditions in which they live—essentially, to model resilience. However, temporal positive adaptations displayed by African American families could be fostering greater, more damaging future vulnerabilities.

The concept of re-thinking resilience implores family scientists and practitioners to think critically about how processes of resilience may be imposing risk on families when they are expected continuously to adapt internally but, externally, their adverse environments remain unchanged.

man carrying child

Family scientists and practitioners bear the responsibility of not only encouraging positive adaptations in families but also intentionally working to ameliorate conditions that necessitate resilience through acts of social justice.

For black or African-American people, continuing to ask that they remain or develop resilience, is not productive, nor healthy-physical or psychological. By far, African-Americans have been subjected to the some of the most severe forms of human atrocities in this country.

When we ask their families, their children, to be resilient, we are placing responsibility for outcomes on them. What must accompany this encouraged skill, is that systems, too, must change. The door is still left open whereby they will continue to suffer social, legal, academic, economic…..injustices and challenges disproportionate to other groups.

Certainly, we wish to focus and promote the strengths of others, and build their capacity to utilize them when bad things happen to good people. Yet, when bad things happen, by mere configuration and design of policy, practices, programs and perspectives, asking others to be resilient is not a reasonable request.  It is unfair.

Policies remain unchanged, mindsets remain the same, but we ask those whom are negatively impacted by these things to be resilient; just adapt. Resilience need not be OVER-promoted, as it is practically inherent among African-American people. It is resilience that enabled their ancestors to survive the mass injustices of hundreds of years of enslavement.

close up photo of a woman listening to music

It is their resilience that enabled them to survive Jim Crow, the era when lynchings were regularly placed on public display and discriminatory practices were a way of life. Resilience enabled them, as a whole, to survive in the face of all social injustices which negatively impacted their lives all throughout this nation’s history. Sadly enough, so many have grown blind to systemic injustice still present today.

Resilience, in fact, is not the result of some extraordinary characteristic or ability. Teachers don’t need to convince young black kids to be resilient. They already are! Educators have little need to ask parents and entire communities to be resilient, too. The fact that families, regardless of structure or household composition, and adults continue to raise children, demonstrates resilience and hope for the future.

It is most likely that you nor I could not survive so flawlessly under the chronic stress, trauma, and incredible risks faced on a daily basis as have African-American families. Why ‘flawlessly’?

When families can spend lifetimes and generations within a framework of ‘justice’ where poverty and unmet needs are intentional in system design, and still contribute to and influence society at large–Music, language/slang, fashion, dance, body type, hair styles[cornbraids], athleticism, and so much more amidst it all…..that is flawless!

freedom bus

The flaws do not exist among little black children or their families as one would be made to believe. The flaws exist within a system that lies to them, maligns them, and places barriers before them on a daily basis. Yet, the system’s agents expect them to be resilient without doing its part to remove the barriers created by that system. Despite reforms and amendments, this same system continues to pave the way for a select group to acquire and maintain wealth and power absent accountability. Don’t ask; don’t tell.

The flaws also remain due to the fragility of those whose ancestral and historical power originated through immoral practices. Quick to preach about morality and hard work and opportunity, there are few with the strength of character, legitimate sense of self-worth and self-confidence required to practice what’s preached.

Shoveling words, hoping to sound genuine, are seen as they are, just noise and empty soundbites.  It takes bravery and courage to recognize the gross inequities which dictate the reality of many families.  It requires bravery, honesty and sincerity to examine history, identify historical references, synthesize this information, and critically dissect policies, laws and practices.

It takes bravery, sincerity and self-confidence to remove all constraints of structural racism. It really takes a self-assured individual to step outside of the established social ‘norm’. Aware are we, that the historic aim was to pass privileges along to the direct ancestors of the racist American ideologues. They took their privilege and crafted social norms to their advantage, and with purposeful system design, integrated oppressive practices into this democratic framework.

Leaders and would-be leaders need be motivated to establish a pure democratic society. This begins with social justice. With social justice, resilience normalizes. No longer shall we continue to ask and demand that people must ‘adapt’ to chronic adversity, when this adversity was not their own design.

person holding smartphone

We now live in an information-driven society, where knowledge is globally available and shared. Young people, as young as the early grades, will absolutely positively be our change makers and leaders in society. The vast information highway will inform youngsters so significantly, that it will take only one curious mind to ensure that change is inevitable. Throughout the world, we are witnessing uprisings and protests against injustice and the absence of choice in society. Demands are being made for equity and social justice, not resilience.

Youngsters are accessing information from countless sources, and unless you destroy the facts in history, up to today, it will be in their hands. We are inter-marrying, and not just in America, but the entire globe is becoming more ‘brown’ and ‘other’. Will we continue to marginalize and oppress and ignore the root causes of chronic adversity?holding hands civil

 Social justice is everyone’s responsibility and demanding resilience will continue to harm more than strengthen those who have been historically oppressed and marginalized.  We run the risk of perpetuating further marginalization if we continue to constantly promote adaptive behaviors from historically oppressed African-American families without also engaging in social justice work that opposes the systemic challenges that affect most African-American families daily.

The onus cannot be merely on families to adapt to threatening conditions; the conditions themselves must be altered.

We must strike the critical balance of promoting agency and empowerment with the marginalized while also engaging in advocacy and activism alongside families and communities. We can simultaneously promote the use of resources and cultural strengths while taking action to dismantle structural constraints through practical social justice actions.

Let’s re-think resilience!