Posts Tagged ‘African American identity’

Week 3 of Victim Impact.

Wow today was a very intense day, to say the least. The topic started out on education and the importance of education. One of the questions was how much is enough. During that discussion the topic of race and history came up. To me this is an important topic. Some of the other facilitators did not think that this issue was relevant.

One of the thing we suffer from, not only in this country but the world over, is fear of the truth. The truth is that many African- Americans lack the information that other races have that make them feel proud of how they are. The history, as it is taught in this country, of Blacks began on a boat; on a boat in chains in shackles. What does that say about the trans-generational trauma that many Blacks suffer from today.

It is a known fact that certain behavioral habits/traits and diseases can be breed into a race of people. Look at the disposition that the Native Americans have to certain diseases, alcohol in particular, that stems from the introduction of those diseases in their communities as they were fighting for the land that was taken from them. It is a fact that alcohol was used as a means to buy off and control the natives by the white settlers.

In the case of African-Americans we suffer from some of the same trans-generational trauma, if not more. Some of the myths of Africans still are used today. From the comparisons of our penises, shoe sizes. lips hair types etc. Black women right now have a mountain of identity issues when it comes to being accepted in this country. As to what is beautiful and what it looks like. It says a lot when you see a Black woman dye her hair blonde and wear blue colored contacts. Everyone has the option to dress as they want it is just sad that the image of beautiful has to come from outside oneself. What makes a person beautiful is not what is on the outside but what is on the inside.

So what does this have to do with victim impact? A lot! History plays a major role in the acts that many of us commit. It is not the focus on the program but it is a starting point for many. An example of this is that almost everyone incarcerated dropped out of school. I believe that there are two systems in this country that allows it to thrive and fail at the same time.
The education and criminal justice system. Almost everyone who drops out of the educational system find themselves within the criminal justice system. Almost everyone who takes education serious almost never find themselves in the criminal justice system. Not to say that they have perfect crime free live but due the having a certain amount of education they have other options and more opportunities.

I believe that the more education one has the less likely they are going to, either come to prison or come back to prison upon release. Often crime is committed due to lack of education. One of the most monumental cases of our time is Brown v the Board of Education. It is a historical case in a time and era that had many challenges in terms of equality. This land mark case changed the education system in this country forever. I asked the question how many guys ever heard of this case and only 3 hands went up! If many of the young men in the class understood the implications of this case would they take education more serious? See this is one example where knowing history plays a critical role in the choices that one makes as it concerns committing crimes etc. Not to say that it is the end to all but it is a start. As we talk about victim impact it is important that we talk about education and history at the same time.

Another fiery topic that came up is role models and aspirations. I made a statement that the role of role models has been misplaced. That the true role models for our children are the fathers and mothers that bear them. Some of the guys mentioned what did I think about Obama and him being a role model. I told them that I did not believe that he will not be a role model for the children that I have one day. That, regardless of my past and the bad choices that I have made in life, I will be that role model for my kids. I also mentioned that what they were using, mentioning him to be a role model because he is the first “black” president is misplaced responsibility. That it is easier to point your children in the direction of someone else to aspire to be like than it is to change the behavior that is needed to be the role model and example that our children and communities really need.

This did not sit well with some of the men as it seems as if I was to giving credit to the achievement of Obama. It is not that I am not recognizing the accomplishment. It is I am not going to put my job off on him. This has become a pattern that is found in the urban communities. Whenever something goes wrong people place the blame on external sources. Not to say that there are no outside influences in the decisions that are made; but to say that there has to be some accountability as well. This attitude is very common in those that refuse to admit that crime and anti social behavior is a result of their actions. That at the end of if all it boils down to the choices that are made, individually.

It is unfortunate that the institutionalization of these communities are as such. The harsh reality is that a lot of the conditions we have created ourselves. If one does not want to admit to that at least admit and own up to the conditions that, individually, have been made. Choices that have lead to the destruction of communities and lives. That is the part that as individuals we have control.

Those around us are our best teachers. What we learned we learned from others. So when we talk about role models we have to be the example that we want others to live by. It is not the job of another black athlete, politician, doctor etc. It is the role that we must fulfill. This is where it becomes important to know history, as a starting point; To use as an example.
This is not an easy journey as it means changing belief systems, values and mind-sets. It is a challenge to get someone who has been a victim to realize that through this he/she has become the victimizer. It is a challenge but hopefully some one gets it.

I asked a question in the last class and yesterday one of the younger guys approached me and mentioned to me what happened to him. I challenged all of the men there that had children that if they told their child that if they had one wish what would they wish for. I told them that most of them would wish that they were there with them. This guy did this and his daughter told him, ” I wish that you were here with me.” He said that it bought tears to his eyes.

There is another guy that meet is father in prison for the first time. They were in a state prison together doing time together. His father went to prison shortly after he was born for Life. He never meet his son until his son came to prison 20 years later. They spent 4 years together and when the son left he knew that he was leaving his father behind forever; that he would never see him again.

This guy came up to me later and vowed to do and be better for his son when he went home. I thought that it was all talk. He began getting serious about his GED studies, he even got a tutor to spend time with outside the class. He has opened up more in class. He has even severed some of the negative ties that he has.

So although it is a challenge it is worth it. If one persons life is change it makes a difference. Until next week.
Peace

Advertisements

Week 2 October 10, 2013.

Today the class discussion was about the what it means to be truthful. This topic hit a lot of nerves. We also talked about history. Does one really know his/her history and what role did, knowing or not knowing, play in the acts that many of the guys committed.

The discussion took a turn to religion and got out of hand. I had to bring things back into perspective at that point. Unfortunately, many guys come to prison to find God and leave Him here when they leave. I knew that this could become a discussion that would get guys away from the real issue, victimhood. That is what we are here for and that needs to be the theme, not the color of Jesus skin or what climate he was born in.

I had the chance to talk today and I spoke about the realties of the system. As much as one may hate the way that the system works one cannot deny that it has served a purpose. It has done a good job in making people dependant on it. I spoke about how guys are more concerned with the new food menu than their kids. Recently, they changed the food menu and guys have been expressing their gripes or likes about the new food. These are the topics that have made guys forget why they are here. These are the topics that make guys feel comfortable in being here.

I also spoke about how the design of the system has made guys strangers to their own families. I based that off of what I see when I go on visits. I often see guys fearful of showing love and affection to their love ones. How I hear guys always talk about their “homeboys” yet their homeboys are not coming up here to visit them. That the people the people that are coming here are the ones who are the constant victims of our incarceration. They fall into the category of victims as well as those other people that were directly effected by our offenses.

Along with this topic we discussed the roles that we play in this cycle. That in order to stop the cycle you have to know where it began. For many it began with someone who looked like us, someone that was close to us. For many of us we showed someone whom we loved the “game” and how it is played. So we have to take ownership for the lives that we have exposed to this lifestyle. When one can get to the point of acknowledging this they can take the steps needed to change behavior.

Overall, we had a very productive and inter-active class. It is still early so there is more to come.

As always I invite comments and questions.

Peace

holly-bass-jaamil-olawale-kosoko-double-consciousness

I was reading something today and it read “solutions to double consciousness.” When I read the statement it made me think about what it meant to have a double conscious in the first place. I wrote about this a while ago and I guess that is why i feel compelled to write about it again.

After thinking about this statement I had to ask who does this really apply to. I mean in order to have a double consciousness you have to have one to begin with. So how do you answer this question in a world where there are people who don’t have a consciousness to begin with.

There has to be some sort of education involved to get to the core of ones beings. It will allow for one to come into the essence of self. To know thy self is one of the greatest tools that can be used in finding the solution to having a double consciousness. But, how does one achieve that if they are part of a group of people that lack heritage and culture to identify with in the first place?

During one of my classes I posed the question to 2 white men and 2 black men. I gave a slip of paper to one white guy that read, “what does it mean to act black?” and i gave a slip to another white guy that read, “what does it mean to act white?”
I also did the same to the two black guys that i had selected to answer these questions. I asked one, “what does it mean to act black?” and the other “what does it mean to act white?”

These men were not prepped to answer these questions and were selected at random. You would not believe the response that was given. Every answer was based on a stereotype. What was worse was the stereotype that the white guys had for “what does it mean to act black” was the same stereotype that the black guy gave when asked “what does it mean to act black?” Talk about a double consciousness!

The typical response was a negative one. One where the black guy always had to find a way to “act” a fool and ignorant! So I asked the question, “why is it that not one black person in this room said that to act black is to be a father, responsible. law-abiding, educated, loving, caring etc.” The shame that filled the room was heartbreaking. That many young black men have fallen victim to a stereotype that someone else gave them.

I asked a Hispanic guy what it meant to be Hispanic and the first thing that he said was,” ahhhh I don’t know how to answer that, but we have our culture…” I stopped him and told him “you have said enough.” It is sad that many blacks when asked about their history the think that it began on a boat in chains and shackles.

What does that say about the consciousness of someone to think that their existence began in a state of degradation. So much so that till this day they believe that the only thing that they can identify with is the definition that someone else has placed on them. Therefore they act that out.

This is the state of affairs of many of the young men here. They take pride in being called nigga, dog, thug, fool, pimp, gangsta and all of the other adjectives that have been adopted into the culture of mainstream America, as it concerns the black communities.

I asked a question, the same day, where did blacks learn what they know about themselves? No one had a legitimate answer to that question. Most of these guys are young so don’t remember a time where TV was (and still is) by white shows. So they have no idea as to what it means to live in a society where there is no one on TV that looks like you. See this is something important as TV often becomes the medium from which we learn, from where the status quo comes. So it is through TV that we learn most of our behavior.

When did the decline of the black community really begin? Who knows but I do know that when they begin to give us time slots on TV to be fools it seemed that we took those images and ran with them. Do you remember N.W.A.( niggas with an Attitude) they changed the game and we became known for a new genre of rap, gangsta rap. Where we yelled fuck the police and talked about niggas getting shot and I can’t forget “A Bitch is a Bitch” or the other songs that came out that young blacks began to identify with, shit that was causing them to kill themselves a mile a minute.

What about Boyz in the Hood, Juice, Menace to Society, South Central and the many movies that came after that that depicted young black men as menaces and culprits to every type of crime that could be committed. I was so wild in those days I can recall a guy pulling out a gun on me an pulling it and hold it sideways, imitating what he saw Ole Dog on Menace to Society. See i can sit back and recall those days of foolishness.

Why is it that Denzel won an Oscar for portraying a crooked cop? Why did 36 Mafia win an Oscar for it is hard out here for a pimp? Why couldn’t Denzel win for Malcolm, John Q, hell Man on Fire for all it matters. My point is that if the images that are portrayed on TV and in the movies depict blacks in these stereotypical ways what do you expect from some one who adopts these roles? Where is the consciousness to begin with?

With that being said how do you answer the question, what is the solution to having a double consciousness? I say that it starts with those of us who have a good idea of where this double consciousness comes from begin to educate those who don’t. Sometimes those who know take for granted that no one wants to listen when that may not be the case all the time.

For instance one day a young guy was talking to me and he says, “see that cracker over there.” So I ask him what did he mean by that. He says, “I mean that white guy over there, the racist one.” So, I ask him if he knew where that word came from and why it was used. He says,” No. I just know that it refers to the racist ones.” So, I explain to him that every time you call that guy “cracker” you exalt his status as an oppressor. He looks at me in disbelief. I go on to tell him that the word “cracker” was a word that the slaves used for the white man because they didn’t know his name and every time he came to punish someone they used to say here comes the “cracker” as that was the sound that came from the whip. He was blown away by that small information and vow to never use the word again. In that regards he was able to deal with that double consciousness.

The same thing exists in the names that most black people bear. Jackson, Johnson, Williamson, Robinson etc. These are all names that were passed down from slavery to identify the owners of these slaves. So the slaves of John were called Johnsons etc. I just use that example to point out that even the best of use carry some of these traits with us on a daily basis. We sign big checks bearing these names. We buy big houses bearing these names. We pass these names on to our offspring’s. We have family reunions celebrating these names.

So it is safe to say that the vast majority of African-American or blacks, which ever you deem to be more political correct, suffer from this thing called a double consciousness. But, as long as you know that a disease exists you can continue to treat it. You may not cure it all the way, that may be too hard, but it is treatable. You can treat it with education. Education of self and others. In order to get to an end you have to know where you are starting from!

This post was written in response to a comment left under the post Journey Through Bondage.  We encourage and invite dialogue and discussion on the various topics posted on this site.  We do ask, however, that dialogue is maintained respectfully and on topic.  Personal attacks do not benefit anyone and limit our ability to discuss things wisely.

Alicia says:

This review really made no sense to me. None. You criticize the book for encouraging brothas to read in jail, but then later say you agree with the author that someone in prison who is uneducated “has to find a way to become educated”; what better way to start than by reading as a habit??? Isn’t that why our enslaved ancestors were denied the right to read; to keep them IGNORANT???? Man, there are so many ridiculous things about this review that I could point out, but I will not even waste my time. Half baked review that’s really ridiculous.

  • Yes, you are right in your assessment of the right to read and being denied the right. If you read the book Getting Out and Staying Out and have any experience with incarcerated people you will see that there are many flaws in the concepts that he presents as the methods that one should use to change his/her life for the better, that was his idea for writing the book. He wrote this book to be a guideline for men who are incarcerated to use as a stepping stone to get to where he is at today.

    Unfortunately, although that is part of the solution, at some point, that is not the starting point for many of the men that I know that are incarcerated. See it is easy to make the assumptions you make if you are not involved or have never experienced what is inside these prison walls. So let me give you a up-close view of what it is so that you will have a better understanding of what you may think that you know.

    Even though I am incarcerated I teach quite a few classes here. One class that I tutor is GED. I teach the GED in Spanish and tutor the GED in English. In a classroom of 20 men after the role is called that number dwindles down to 8 everyday. This is not something made up. There are some guys that bring walkmans and magazines to read and there are others that go to sleep. So if simply reading a book is going to change a mans life for the best, an incarcerated person, you tell my why do most of the men in the class not only abandon books but leave off something as important as a GED. It has been proven that a person’s chances of coming back to prison reduces with education. If that was enough to keep people out of prison I am sure that everyone here would take full advantage of the educational opportunities that are offered in every prison that has an educational dept. The difference here is that our enslaved ancestors wanted that freedom that many take for granted today, education being one of them. That is the mere fact that I comment on.

    With the exception of the times that the men here are required to be in school, the library is the quietest and most vacant place in the prison. When the numbers increase it is due to in climate weather. When it is sunny and nice outside, the library is empty. There are plenty books here to read, everything from fact, fiction, world history, African history, American history, and so on. Let me tell you that out of all the books that are read, African American books are the least read!! So with that being said you tell me if this is the starting point for change in the lives of men who have been conditioned to not care about anyone nor anything.

    Last week in another class, Victim Impact to be exact, the question was asked how many guys in the room dropped out of high school prior to coming to prison and the vast majority of the men raised their hands, shamelessly! Let me tell you about the book that Mr. Booth wrote. This book was written during a second trip to prison. So guess what. I am sure that the first time he could have gotten it right, but why didn’t he? Was it that simple? Or were there other issues in his life that he had to confront before coming to terms that maybe there is power in education. See he observed all of this stuff while in prison and wrote from a perspective that was complimented by his point of view, what worked and works for him. But oddly that came after more than one trip to prison.

    If you have any experience with the penal system tell me if what I am about to mention to you from his book which oddly enough is titled “Getting out and Staying out,” with regards to the rules of the halfway house makes sense. The halfway house is where inmates are sent for a duration of 6 months or less as a means to gradually reintegrate them back into society. There are rules and regulations that have to be maintained or else one is in violation and sent back to prison. Mr. Booth gives accounts of how he opened his own business while in the halfway house and emphatically says that he knows that he was not supposed to do it and that if one wanted to do it he has to do it on the sly. So take one of your male loved ones who has spent the last 5 years in prison and is in the halfway house. Is this the advice that you want to be given to that person? To take the chance and circumvent the rules, something that he may have been doing most of his life which is why he might have been sent to prison to begin with, and take the chance of going back to prison. To just be crafty and do it your way! Is this the advice that you want to be given to your “brothas” that are incarcerated? See I know and understand the dangers and the end result of this advice. It is called another trip back to the pen. You can not even have a cell phone in the halfway house let alone your own business.

    If you have read the book by Michelle Alexander “The New Jim Crow” you will have read where she speaks about the stigma of being an ex felon. She says, “For those released on probation or parole, the risks are especially high…Probationers and parolees are at increased risk of arrest because their lives are governed by additional rules that do not apply to everyone else.” You can find the whole quote on page 93. What is the point in mentioning this? That this book that you say that I criticized is filled with misguided and misrepresented information that can do more harm and damage to these communities and homes of these men, that is remove them from the family structure that is needed to break the chains of ignorance and change the cycle of what is happening in these communities. Now these are the issues that I have with the book.

    Furthermore what I wrote was not meant to be a book review of the book “Getting Out and Staying Out,” rather it was a college paper that I had to write concerning this issue. It was a required reading for a Criminal Justice course through the University of Pittsburgh called the “Offender and Reentry.”

    I don’t criticized the book for encouraging men to read I comment on the lack of attention given to the other aspects that are not mentioned. I meet with a guy that is 38 years old once a week that cannot read. I tutor guys and teach in classes every day full of men that cannot read and refuse to learn how. What I comment on is the sad reality of the state of our “brothas” behind bars. I appreciate and respect your views on what I wrote but I ask you to think of the realities of what I see everyday and to consider that as you think of the issue that is being discussed here. Thank you for your comment and if there is anything else that you disagree with let me know. Maybe I am missing something here.

how do we deal with the current black leaders in the African American communities? and do they share in the culpability of the design of the criminal justice?

that is a question that comes up often in the groups that i sit in at times. i am of the mind that there are a lot of leaders that have exploited the black communities and have gotten rich of this exploitation. they have done nothing but incite more anger,hatred,animosity and separation in the black neighborhoods than they care to admit. so if this is the case than blacks don’t stand a chance when it comes to change and progression in this society. Michelle Alexander touched on this a little in her book.

it is know that we suffer from issues that extend from drug abuse to identity issues. we have yet to identity ourselves as a people. i remember fondly, in my younger years, hearing the term “african booty scratcher” or having the idea being planted that african people were savage. this lead to the feeling that i didn’t belong to that part of the world, as black as i am huh! well the connotation was that we, of all people didn’t want to be from there nor associated with that land. we wanted to be native american. we were thought to love all but hate each other. nappy headed, big lip black ass nigga!! we tore each other down and that still exist today. i met a black girl who told me that she don’t call herself african american because she doesn’t even know if that is where she comes from. how is that? the same thing that i heard 30 years ago is still being debated today, who are you and where are you from. so if you don’t know where you are from, and accept that, where the hell are you going. does acknowledging this and loving this means that you have to hate others? no not at all. it means that you can love others and appreciate them more as you know what it means to love the human race. but you can’t do that if you love everyone else yet hate your own. as you make up a part of the human race, the only race!

back to what i was saying. some of these leaders have profited off of teaching us to hate other. where is the talk of self love? how is it i understand more about the so called ‘enemy’ and his plot than i do about my myself. where is this education at? this is where i hold those leaders responsible. all of the stuff that they preach in the churches and some of these mosques are geared to further oppress blacks and not uplift and liberate them. it is no secret that most black families are tied into some sort of religion so the most fitting place to begin this conversation is in these places. the same way that these mass revivals are staged and conventions etc are set up there should be conventions that address the plight of blacks in these urban communities. when are we going back into them to clean up the mess that many of us left behind. when are we going to go in there and uplift the people and show others how to better there quality of life? see those that have the major power an money to do so refuse to do so. that is that double consciousness that w.e.b Dubois speaks about. it is cool to talk about the issue and all the blacks that are locked up but no not cool to act out. why is that? could it be that we are so far gone that we don’t even trust ourselves? hum! now that is something to think about. we have been told for so long that we are not to be trusted that now this is the way that we think about each other.