Psychosis is a dirty word so I don’t expect much appreciation for writing this. But we Blacks need to start owning our circumstances. Racism and discrimination persist but that isn’t the point here. The Black community has cultivated a belief system and mental state that have become entrenched into our DNA. I call this the “Black Psychosis” and in contemporary America it is just as responsible for holding our people back as institutional racism.
In its basic form, psychosis means a distorted view of reality, usually including false beliefs about what is actually taking place, which then impact how one goes about their daily life. Black psychosis is a form of group psychosis where deep seated emotions, distorted beliefs and behavioral characteristics may not be apparent in any one individual. However, when the Black community is looked at as a group, a shared pathological state emerges.
Any attempts to improve circumstances for Blacks are restricted from the start unless key aspects of black psychosis are recognized, understood and addressed. Key aspects of black psychosis include:
* Fear and Anger
* Victim Mentality
* Jealousy and Envy
* Exaggerated Success
Aspects of Black Psychosis
There comes a point in a child’s life when he realizes that being Black is more than having darker skin and curlier hair. It starts to mean that he cannot feel what others feel. He cannot experience the pride of knowing his rich heritage. People begin treating him differently because he looks different. The child learns that Blackness comes with a stigma and it’s unsettling. Everything seems harder and he wishes he were someone else.
As Black children, we grow to realize that Blackness is undesirable. It is undesirable to mainstream America and to ourselves. American society sends a clear message. Images of beauty, power and intelligence are reserved for white. If not white, then maybe Asian or Latino but certainly not Black. The media and pop culture present role models for how to look, talk, and act. Well, Blacks can’t change how we look. And African-American cultural expressions are typically rejected by mainstream America as crude and unrefined, that is until they become co-opted through the back door. Even to children barely old enough to hop on a school bus, the message is plain.. No matter what they do, they cannot look as good, talk as good or act as white as the model. We soon realize that we are not only different, but our differences are stigmatized as undesirable. Suddenly, we don’t want to be Black anymore. We are first rejected by society and then we reject ourselves. Shame consumes us.
As we get on in years, we spend our time proving to the outside world that we are a proud people and we have something to contribute to society but deep down, we don’t believe it. We remain a shameful people. Who can blame us? Slavery is not something to be proud of. It is difficult to come to terms with the fact that our ancestors were captured in Africa, shackled, chained and shipped half way around the world, sold like cattle, and worked to the bone for over 200 years under the constant threat of physical, psychological and sexual abuse.
Slavery is an embarrassment and while it should be more embarrassing to the white perpetrators, it is far more damaging to us Blacks who continue living with it. Whites find it convenient to disassociate from slavery saying the atrocities were at the hands of their ancestors. They did not have a direct hand and, therefore, should be absolved. Or, they proclaim to be recent immigrants, arriving on American soil long after slavery was abolished. How can they possibly be held accountable? Blacks have no such fortune. We cannot turn a blind eye. We look in the mirror and the truth reveals itself. We are African and we were brought here against our will. We are the descendants of slaves.
This painful realization slaps us in the face at an early age. White 3rd graders proudly display their family trees during “show and tell”, tracing their lineages to the old country and inserting a coat of arms for effect. Black children shyly unveil sparse trees with broken limbs, proceeding from the shallow roots of slavery. Where are the bragging rights in this? As children, we are forced to confront our shame and put it on display for all to see. We crave the pride of our peers. It is a time when we want to fit in and be accepted. Instead, we cower in shame.
2. Fear and Anger
Blacks live in fear. Our history is filled with tales of violence and repression. The statement was emphatic, “Stay in your place and you may live. Get uppity and face the consequences.” Blacks tend to stay within a comfort zone. Comfort may mean sticking to our own kind, within our own communities and circle of peers. Those who move into the mainstream play it safe, careful not to ruffle feathers or rock the boat. When becoming outspoken, we typically pick our battles well, finding white advocates who are more sympathetic to our cause. But fear isn’t reserved for times of imminent conflict or confrontation. Fear travels with us every day. It strikes when the Black family drives through a white neighborhood and everyone stops and stares. It surfaces when the Black couple sits down at a high class restaurant and the vibrant conversation ceases. A young Black stock broker goes to the pub with some friends after work and catches the attention and frowns of belligerent white patrons across the bar. The college student is unsure whether to accompany his friends in Europe next summer because he has heard that eastern Europeans are blatant racists.
Blacks are afraid of the unknown and distrustful of the actions of others. We believe in our intuitive talents to size up a room, predict conflict and label others as racist. It doesn’t matter whether our fears are justified or paranoid. We believe in them. But the fear does not serve us well. It stirs up deep conflicts within us. We sacrifice the things we want. We move away from what is in our hearts. We choose a path that’s safe. We shun challenges. We become incapacitated by fear and complacency. And we get angry. We get fed up with the pain and fears and frustrations. We turn the rage onto ourselves and we hate ourselves more. The anger consumes us from within. Eventually, we act out, unleashing our fury on unsuspecting innocents.
Anger is the salvo for fear. While fear makes us feel vulnerable and weak, anger empowers us. We become stronger. We have the gall to defy our conscience. We put on airs of defiance. We see the wilting faces of our enemies and we are emboldened. We mistake their fear and pity for respect. We summon the anger to douse the fear and self hate. But the power we feel is fleeting. Eventually, we are left alone with only our thoughts and feelings. The pain and fear percolate deep inside and we are powerless to repress it.
Blacks believe that race is the predominant factor in every negative experience. Racism or racialization is always the cause of our misfortunes. We are continually victimized by white America who singles us out and prematurely judges us based on the color of our skins. A speeding ticket? “Of course it’s racial profiling because I was going the same speed as everyone else on the freeway.” A death sentence? “Murder is murder so why are Blacks overwhelmingly sentenced to death in higher proportions than whites for similar crimes? And it’s no coincidence that those crimes are prosecuted in the deep South where Jim Crow festers just below the surface.” Didn’t get the job? “It was because I was Black and that whole office was white. They didn’t want me anyway.” Hurricane Katrina is a great example of group paranoia and racial accusation. “There is no way that the government would be so slow to respond if most of the victims in New Orleans were white.” Blacks went on to level charges of blatant racism on President Bush, his administration (never mind that a couple key members of the cabinet were Black), the media and the American public. “The severity of the Katrina tragedy was due to racism”, Blacks claim. Take any situation, inject Blacks and the situation becomes significantly worse. This is what Blacks believe.
We even inject race into events that have positive outcomes for ourselves and our communities. We believe that when a white person witnesses something good happen to a Black person, they secretly whisper, “the only reason that happened is because he is Black.” In other words, despite achieving success, Blacks are paranoid that mainstream America thinks the success was undeserved. It is viewed as a gift and whites are more resentful and racist towards Blacks as a result. Black person gets a job? Whites think he is a token, a beneficiary of affirmative action or an unofficial quota system. Black person gets into Harvard? The school wanted to present a false image of diversity and political correctness.
Put quite simply, Blacks are paranoid. By injecting race into failures and successes, we are incapable of taking ownership of our shortcomings or taking pride in our accomplishments. Not only are we labeling all Americans racists, we are confining ourselves to perpetual victim-hood.
4. Victim Mentality
“Our failures are because everyone is against us and they don’t want us to succeed. We would get ahead but the system is stacked against us.” Such beliefs are closely coupled with Black paranoia. However, victim-hood is the internalization of paranoia. Since Blacks believe the cards are stacked against us and the whole world is keeping us down, we become justified in our paranoia. Our failures of a people are not our responsibility. They are the responsibility of those in power who seek to keep us down.
A victim who adopts a victim’s mentality must never take responsibility else they run the risk of being called to action. He will be expected to take charge of his life. Victim-hood is the perfect excuse for inaction. And inaction is always easier because there are no expectations and no failures. “Of course Black kids are joining gangs and killing each other. There’s nothing for them to do. There’s no jobs for them to work at and the city keeps tearing down playgrounds. Of course they are going to find trouble just like any other teenagers.” We wear the excuses like badges of honor. Never mind that Koreans and Ukrainians have quickly gotten their footing and succeeded despite being recent immigrants. “The white government gave them loans to move into our neighborhoods and set up shops. Why didn’t they give those loans to Blacks? We could set up our own shops. No people have had it so bad,” we tell ourselves. “Blacks are the lowest of the low and white America will do anything to keep us at the bottom rung of the ladder.” This is what we believe and we sleep easy as a result.
Deep down, Blacks have intense envy. We want what everyone else has. We want success. We want riches. We want the spoils. We want the fame. We want recognition for our contributions to society. Other groups that move ahead of Blacks become the targets of our envy, jealousy and rage. And the comparisons drive us mad. It’s rubbed in our faces that the Jews have survived thousands of years of persecution and were almost eliminated by the Nazis, yet they prosper throughout the world. The Jews become targets for our intense jealousy. We see the Mexicans flooding the country, moving into our neighborhoods, taking our jobs and compelling institutions to cater to them. Despite American push back on the tidal wave of immigration, Mexicans are given credit for working hard and their sacrifice to work for very little pay. Mexicans become the targets of Black envy.
Black jealousy is so rampant that we are even jealous of each other. One might say the intense competition and gang warfare occurring across our nation’s cities is the result of jealousy in others’ success. In the 1980s, basketball shoes were a major status symbol. They were so coveted that kids were killing each other over sixty dollar pairs of sneakers. Nothing has changed. When Blacks are on the path to success, it is common for members of the community to find ways to hold us back. And if the upwardly mobile manage some success, the community is quick to consider them outcasts for not giving back to the community.
Blacks are not merely envious of what others possess, we are envious of the credit others receive. What is remarkable is that in many cases, there are opportunities to form strong alliances and to learn something from other groups as well as ourselves yet Blacks choose to isolate ourselves in victim-hood and turn potential allies into enemies.
The deep envy and jealousy inevitably lead to a sense of entitlement within the community. For all that Blacks have suffered and for all that Blacks have invested through blood, sweat and tears, we want pay back. The dire circumstances within the community only heighten the calls for restitution. America owes us something. It makes no difference whether it takes the form of government reparations or affirmative action programs in the workplace and schools, just so long as America shows some goodwill for all the trouble it has caused Blacks from Columbus’ arrival through the present day. As some tragic events in history have shown, when Blacks don’t get the payback we deserve, we will steal it. When we loot, we steal. When we live out our lives on welfare, we steal. When we expect quotas and affirmative action ad infinitum without measuring progress and continued need, we steal.
Stealing is a rationalization because we feel justified in taking what should be ours in the first place. The longer we receive handouts, the more reliant we become. The more reliant we are, the more eroded our self confidence and will to pull ourselves out of our situation. Restitution may be justified but the sense of entitlement will persist until the community feels it has received adequate payback and that the playing field is leveled. And that will require an admission by Blacks that we are ready to compete and earn what we feel is ours. Viewed in that sense, the price for paying down the debt of entitlement is steep.
7. Exaggerated Success
You know the story. It’s played out every day on the TV screens and across the newspaper headlines. The Black guy makes a little money, he turns around and drops a working man’s yearly salary on diamond studs that swallow both ear lobes. It’s not the spending of the money that makes this part of the Black psychosis, it’s the spending of the money in a way that lets everyone know he has (or had) money. It’s the exaggerated and very public display of success. Heck, even the kid in the projects is blowing every last cent on chrome rims for his rusted out 1975 Chevy Monte Carlo. “If you can’t afford the car, at least buy some rims”, he boasts. Business men and professionals are not exempt in case you thought this was an affliction of the underclass, the drug dealers and the entertainers. The buttoned up professional shows off in a more subtle way but it reeks all the same. He leases a Mercedes when all he could afford was a used Toyota. We have a need to stand out and be recognized. It is imperative that we announce to the world that we made it. A well chosen accessory is the accessory that garners the most attention and respect. And this isn’t merely a pronouncement of pride. Sadly, this is a cry for attention and affirmation. We are telling the world we made it and we expect the world to love us in return. Unfortunately, the plan backfires. The world ridicules us as children who don’t know how to accept success with humility. Stodgy Americans are disgusted by the gaudy display.
Flamboyant accessorizing is an extension of the way we carry ourselves on the field of play, be it an office, a concert stage or a football field. The public has come to expect a style of play and sportsmanship from Blacks. For instance, NBA players routinely dance down the court after an acrobatic dunk. Football players act out choreographed dances following a touchdown. In concert and mid verse, rappers re-create sexual acts with star struck groupies. Blacks say our cockiness is simply self-expression in the heat of competition. We are an expressive people and yes, we rub our competitors’ noses in it. We say it’s a part of normal gamesmanship. White America sees it very differently. Cockiness is disrespectful because it seeks to make others look bad publicly. In other words, it’s the ultimate of poor sportsmanship.
There is nothing wrong with expression and individual style, especially over major events or achievements. It’s human nature to show outward expression of joyful emotions. What is disturbing is how these expressions are often exaggerated over the most trivial accomplishment. A receiver who makes a first down in a football game pops up off the ground and points to the end zone as if to say, “We’re rolling and you can’t stop us.” Never mind that his team is losing by 30 points with two minutes to play in the game. The psychosis isn’t the expression, it is the exaggeration of success and the unquenchable thirst for public adoration and respect.
Those Blacks that are fortunate enough to be in the public eye often find themselves in unfortunate circumstances. When a Black person is under the spotlight, they are a model for the race and we scrutinize everything they do. Inevitably, they do something even the most ardent supporters among us can’t get behind. The community has to face the facts that this person is guilty. It may be a major crime or it could be a simple embarrassing act worthy of public ridicule. Regardless of the severity, everyone in the community gets that nauseating feeling deep in the pits of their stomachs. If the act is bad enough, the person is vilified and considered a discredit to the race. “Why did this idiot have to do this?” “He is giving us a bad name.” “Here I am trying to make it in this world, trying to win people’s respect, and this fool has set us back a hundred years.” Blacks feel ashamed and we scapegoat controversial Blacks as the cause of continued racism and inequality. Yes, it’s a severe reaction. It’s an unfair position to put someone in. It is undoubtedly assigning too much responsibility to an individual. And it gives whites no credit for seeing the public figure as an individual not a representative of all Blacks. But it doesn’t matter. Blacks believe it and our collective scorn is leveled against the evil doer for ruining it for the rest of us.
Scapegoating and representation don’t work only in the negative. Black representatives stand atop a high pedestal within the community. Let’s face it, Blacks feel we are the best at everything. The Black musician, the Black singer, the Black actor, they are all the best at their trade. A Black pitcher throwing to a white batter… guess who all of the Blacks are rooting for? A boxing match between a Black and Mexican fighter, 100% of Blacks are rooting for the Black fighter, guaranteed. And we’ll be damned if we ever lose a 100 meter sprint to a Russian or German. If a U.S. Black can’t win, it better be a Jamaican or Nigerian. Black must always win. In the public eye, each Black is a representative of the race and a central component of our tenuous pride.
Scapegoating is an emotional reaction to our own inadequacies. Deep down, we have an incredible sense of empathy and an undying support for our brothers and sisters. We often find ways to excuse and rationalize even the most hideous offenses. It’s good to be compassionate and empathetic. But excessive empathy is testament to an intense identification with the wrongdoer. We understand their pain. We believe that deep emotional stress led the person to do horrible things. They are victims as well. We want them to overcome and come out ahead. We want justice served but will secretly rejoice if leniency is shown by the public or the legal system. We feel sorry for our murderers because we understand the pain and rage they feel. The Black stars who fall from grace have our deepest sympathy because we know that society is out to get them and knock them down. “No one wants to see a Black man rise”, we proclaim. Mainstream America may not see this side of us because we may not feel safe in expressing it to them. But even when we shun someone publicly, we usually pull for them privately.
Scapegoating and empathy are two sides of the same coin. In both cases, Blacks have a very hard time disassociating themselves from other Blacks. Despite internal conflicts within the community, Blacks will identify with Blacks that are under public scrutiny. We see them as models not as individuals. We see them as representatives of the race. And what they do becomes part of our collective identity. We are part of the same being. Individually, we have different characteristics and features but, collectively, we are one organism. The psychosis is that we are affected in major ways by the public treatment of our brothers and sisters. We are affected by the perception and scrutiny of those under the public microscope. They are not only our models and representatives, they are ourselves.
Helplessness is felt by many Blacks in different ways. Many of us are so far behind in education and gainful employment that is nearly impossible to imagine our transformation into an empowered people that can rise out of our current situation. Some are living in the shadows of a Jim Crow south. As if it weren’t enough to overcome severe poverty and a lack of education, we are also striving to overcome an insidious form of racial discrimination that is hidden from or shunned by contemporary mainstream America. These people feel helpless.
Despair is rampant. Helplessness is the urban Black youth who is living under a cloud of gang violence, drug peddling, addictions, abuse, rotting schools and corporate abandonment. He is in survival, look out for myself mode because no one will look out for him. He cannot get the most, if anything, out of schools because of the dysfunction, threat of violence and ill equipped teachers. He is not merely undereducated, he is woefully uneducated. How is he going to rise up from his circumstances? The problems are so big they feel beyond anyone’s control. He feels helpless.
Helpless are the Black professionals, tokens in the sterile corporate offices, medical practices, law firms, classrooms and plumbers’ unions. They live in mainstream America and confront racism every day. They see glass ceilings, they remember the communities they left behind, and they feel pain for their less fortunate brothers and sisters. They stand alone, isolated in mainstream America, realizing too few are following in their footsteps. Try as they may, they fail to change the stigma and perceptions of mainstream America. They hear the whispers that say they are the exception, not the rule and they cannot deny it. Racism, prejudice and bias persist and they are helpless to change it. They are resigned.
Helplessness naturally progresses into hopelessness. If people live in a state of helplessness long enough, they lose hope that their situation can change. The Black community has lost hope. We don’t have hope that our situation or social stature will change. We don’t have hope for our children’s future. We don’t have hope that our children will improve upon the lives of their parents. We don’t have hope that the country will change its views of Blacks. We believe that Blacks will continue being the lowest of the low. We don’t have hope that we will break the glass ceiling and realize equality of pay and opportunity. We don’t have hope that we will be free from fear and racial intimidation. We don’t have hope that discrimination will end and we can live in neighborhoods of our choosing. We don’t have hope that we will be treated fairly by the legal system, that cops will stop racial profiling, that juries will stop pre-judging, and that death sentences will be doled out equitably. We lost hope that equality is inevitable.
We, as a people, are chained by false promises. Hopelessness, helplessness and despair find us, no matter where we hide, no matter how we adorn ourselves. A few may survive their torture, fewer still may thrive, but most fall victim to the death grip that chokes the hope from us. Many give up. Many accept that this is all they will ever have and will ever be. They stop dreaming, if they dreamt to begin with. They tell themselves they don’t deserve better. Deep down, we believe we will never overcome.
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