Before entering the California African-American Museum, I felt very enthusiastic about seeing and learning about what the new exhibit had to offer. It had been a while since I'd visited the museum. The last time I went, there wasn't much there - at least not anything that really captured my interest. So for this visit, I expected it to be different. I preferred to take a self-guided tour so I could go at my own pace and experience it all to myself. I didn't want a guide over my shoulder regurgitating information and adding his/her opinion. Overall, I wanted my visit to be unique, personal, and private. So I spontaneously decided after waking up one morning that that would be the day I'd go visit the African-American Museum. Before the day of my visit, I had built up a lot of anticipation and excitement, knowing that I was in for an alarming treat. I didn't eat breakfast because it had slipped my mind. I was so excited about the new exhibit I was about to behold, I figured it could wait. I also looked at this as a time to fast so that I would have a heightened experience. I had made it an adventure.
When I first entered the museum, I stopped at the front desk to get some information on the new exhibits. The staff handed me a couple of brochures, one including a description of the new exhibit. I was excited - so excited that I ended up taking a detour and viewed the other exhibits before finally coming around to the most important one, which was the reason why I was there in the first place. In my mind, I was saving the best for last.
When I finally came around to the exhibit highlighting Black oppression, my heart dropped. I entered from the right entrance of the exhibit where I was met with an LAPD police car. Seeing the car and the flashing lights evoked in me a feeling of danger - as if something bad was going to happen. In this case, something bad had already happened. I immediately became immersed in a foray of newspaper clippings, police footage, video playback of news coverage, and somber stories that served as a stark reminder of the social climate that was present in the history of Los Angeles and that still exists til the present day. I felt like I had just stepped foot onto a memorial that commemorated the deaths of innocent African-Americans. It reminded me of what I felt when I visited the 911 Memorial and Museum in New York City. It's an experience you will never forget that leaves you with more questions than answers. That's exactly how I felt. I was torn and overwhelmed with emotion. I didn't know if I should be happy and appreciative of the museum for having an exhibit that teaches us about historical life-altering events or feel disgusted that I was witnessing the cruel slaughter, mistreatment, and injustices towards my people.
Just when we are at a time in life where we're supposed to be getting better with racism by electing a Black president and creating affirmative action and social programs that benefit people of color, we are yet reminded of the never-ending system of racial oppression fueled by White Supremacy that just doesn't seem to go away. So as I walked through the exhibit and explored the gruesome pictures and stories on the wall, my mind began to wonder. I began to make a connection between what happened in Los Angeles in the 1960s during the Watts Riots, the 1990s with the LA Uprising, and what has been happening across this country and across the world to Black people. After standing in the exhibit for so long, it all started to feel like a song, with the tune being racism against Blacks. When a tune is played over and over again in your mind, you begin to get used to it. Even if it's a tune you don't like, if you listen to it long enough, it will become second nature, like the air you breathe. So at times, I perceive these racial events as a rhythmic tune that I listen to sometimes but for the most part, have learned to tune out and ignore. Although the beating of Rodney King and the video of Latasha Harlins getting shot by the Korean in the back in the convenient store is painful and shocking to watch for the first time, the way in which I see it and its impact on me will change over time. After watching and hearing these kinds of atrocities over and over again, one grows numb and becomes immune to it. It's like the process of desensitization. When you expose a particular stimulus to a person over and over again, the negative feelings - fear, anxiety, anger- will eventually subside and will no longer be the typical response.
As I continued to explore the exhibit, learning about Eula Love (whose name they spelled incorrectly as Eulia in the exhibit) and the housing discrimination that led to thousands of African-Americans being cast out of certain neighborhoods, I began to get curious as to what other people's reactions were to what they were seeing. To an extent, it was impossible to avoid because I could hear commentary from others who were in complete awe of what they were witnessing and seeing. I had already spent nearly an hour there already so I was no longer in surprise or disgust. I just felt numb.
Leaving the exhibit, the thought that taunted my mind was why? Why the need for racial oppression in a country that states, “We are all created equal?” One could argue that racial oppression serves a functional purpose – to keep one group of people poor and the other one rich. But to me, it seems to be much deeper than acquisition of money and power. It’s about genetic survival and annihilation. It seems that our survival is a threat to their own. So it is their life agenda and purpose to attack and kill a whole group of people so that they can survive. If it was about money and power, the White race has already claimed that and African-Americans aren’t in a hurry to get money or concerned with gaining economic or political power. We’re just trying to survive. We’ve already submitted to their will and given them 400 years of slavery that we still have yet to be repaid from, yet we are still under attack. So to make the argument that social oppression is created for the sole purpose of gaining or maintaining economic and political power, one escapes the responsibility of having to face the true underlining reality.
Late Dr. Frances Cress Welsing, a psychiatrist and scholar wrote a very thought-provoking book, The Isis Papers that provides a unique and thoughtful explanation of why Whites feel the need to kill off an entire race of Black people. She states:
“The facts of our true identity are that we, as Black people, are
persons whose dominant genetic and historic roots extend to
Africa, ‘the land of the Blacks.’ Africa was the birthplace of
Human kind and that for many hundreds of centuries thereafter
Africans, meaning Black people, were in the forefront of all
human progress. BLACK WOMEN AND BLACK MEN ARE
THE PARENTS OF THE ENTIRE FAMILY OF PEOPLE –
black, brown, red, yellow and white varieties.”
The reality of this statement is what sends non-people of color over the edge. To admit that Blacks are the first race and that all life originated from this race is a conversation that many people don’t want to have. It’s perhaps because every race wants to be different and unique. It’s very difficult for a White person to admit that before there was a Europe, Asia, or America, there was Africa and this is where all human life originated from. This has been a proven fact for many years that has been taught in many US history textbooks across America but somehow, people have chosen to forget. Therefore, new theories were birthed, like the Big Bang Theory, which suggest that people came from one big burst of an atom in the universe. Supposedly, from that atom, human life, with many different colors, languages, and cultures came to be all at once. With so many theories on human life and existence, people will believe what is beneficial to them.
The theory of evolution is beneficial for Whites because in theory, if they’re going to accept that all life came from one source – Africa, then it must have originated from a monkey. They would rather admit they came from monkeys than Black people! So looking back, when I reflect on my visit to the museum and racial oppression in America and abroad, it takes me to a deeper state of thinking. It always forces me to investigate the root cause of the problem and understand why. The root cause of the plight of the Black community doesn’t begin with slavery. It begins in the minds of those who are thirsty for control, power, and survival. To make the claim that Whites originated from Blacks is to give back power to the Black community.
Exhibits like the LA Uprising and the Watts Riots are great reminders of where we’ve come and the work that we still need to undo. Restoring the Black community is a matter of undoing the psychological effects of systematic racial oppression and White Supremacy. It’s confronting the process by which these systems work and survive. That would mean having to address it on all levels – within the church, the educational system, the healthcare system, and in government. When it comes to confronting systematic racial oppression, it’s like a customer trying to change the rules to a 500 year old institution or organization that has been in place for so many years. The people within the organization have become so accustomed to the rules and the way the organization has been ran to the point where confronting or violating the status quo would pose a threat to change or destroy it. When you have rules in place that benefit a group of people and have been doing for so long, the beneficiaries sole means of survival becomes centered on trying to protect those rules and standards that have been put into place. It doesn’t matter if it comes at a cost to someone else’s life, especially in a world that values and promotes individualism and the ideology of “every man for himself.”
As a psychologist in training, getting reminded of the system of racial oppression that was designed to keep myself and people who look like me held back motivates me to work even harder. Although one could argue that I’ve been “given” opportunities to further my education by going to school and getting higher education degrees, I cannot turn a blind eye to the racism and discrimination I’ve experienced from colleagues, professors, and administrators during my journey. Being treated differently than my classmates because I am Black is not an experience I expected going into graduate school, but it’s something I’ve had to endure. It brings me back to the analogy I mentioned earlier. The more you hear the tune, the more you learn to tune it out. So eventually, I learned to just ignore the difference in treatment and accept it for what it is. I’ve taken the assertive approach on several occasions by confronting the perpetrator but to only be given an unfair justification – much like what we saw in the outcome of Natasha Rollins case. There always seems to be a justification for the mistreatment and killing of African-Americans but never a solid explanation as to why.
As a professional psychologist, my clinical work is going to be centered on working with African-Americans in helping them to shape positive identities surrounding their race and culture. For so long, we’ve been ostracized, called “niggers,” made fun of, and cast out of society. Even if it’s not done to us directly and we witness it happen to others of our race in the media, it still serves as a warning sign that danger is impending. It also serves to break down our psyche and make us feel inferior. These feelings of inferiority can have a major impact on our daily functioning and interpersonal relationships. As a therapist, I hope to be a positive change agent and work to curve that effect.
Being an African-American woman means that I have to work twice as hard in all aspects of life. Not so much to prove anything to myself – but to prove to others around me that I am a good enough citizen in this society. Going to school and graduating with a bachelor’s degree in psychology wasn’t enough, and neither was earning a master’s degree in counseling. If I want to be respected in society and in corporate America, I would need to get a PhD and become a doctor. Then I got accepted into a PhD program and realized that this monster I tried to escape from is still there to haunt me. I’ve come to accept that no matter how much education or success I have, or no matter where I go in this world, I will not be able to escape the uncompromising permanent effects of the system of White Supremacy.
Welsing, F. C. (1991) The Isis Papers. Chicago: Third World Press