Friday, November 28, 2014
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Diversity Police Expert plus African American Scholar Equals Psychopathology of Racism

By Brenda Wall, Ph.D

How could it be that a highly regarded Cambridge police sergeant, who effectively trains colleagues in diversity, gets caught up in a national debate challenging his racial sensitivity and tactical judgment? How could the nation's premier scholar on African American racial experience get arrested for disorderly conduct in his own home instead of being recognized for his reputation on racial conflict and post-racial progress? How could we be so ready to share our personal testimonies that reflect our own level of healing on the continuum of the psychopathology of racism? By now the arrest of 58 year old, Harvard Professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr. by Sergeant James Crowley has been visited and re-visited and perhaps, even teachable moments have begun. We may soon be able to return to the comfort of post-racial business as usual with the false security of knowing that our response is just as valid as the ones established by our polarized experts. Diversity training can be resumed, another book can be written and the White House can continue to set precedent for moral intervention that only historical retrospect will honor.

Notice how no one wants to be accused of racism and everyone has a position that is legitimized based on personal experience. No concessions and Sunday morning analysis reflects the paralysis that gets stuck on racial disclaimers and assertions of innocence. The trauma of being accused of racism rivals the actual trauma of racial abuse and victimization. Post-racial delusions are suddenly shattered by a burdensome return to an uncomfortable racial reality, confounded by our own personal reactions. It seems far safer to retreat from accusations of racial injustice and seek harmony in interpersonal reconciliation no matter how contrived or artificial. Teachable moments are sought to transcend the troubling situation at hand, while we wait for the police expert and scholar to move forward in their respective lives and careers. Maybe a lawsuit, maybe a documentary or beer, but we ourselves, are surprisingly connected to this stressful emotional work. Regrettably and obliviously, the power of the racial dynamic eclipses our comfort zone.

In order to really move forward with a meaningful reconciliation, it is necessary to have a different perspective, which identifies the flaws in our understanding of racial tension. By examining the psychopathology of racism, the shortcomings that fuel this microcosm of racial conflict and confusion can be isolated and addressed.

First, while diversity training provides wonderful opportunities to promote cultural insight and techniques for communication and conflict resolution, it does not serve as an instrument that explores the psychopathology of racism. Diversity training offers celebration of differences, but retains the fundamental power base. It does not validate new and different voices, which are anchored in a separate power fundamental. Thus, there is shock when accusations of racism arise from an Africentric foundation, which occurs apart from a Eurocentric lens. When a Eurocentric view is the only perception that is recognized, that means that even where there is mastery of diversity, there will be a great void, where behavior is anchored in a different reality and is expressed with a different voice. As long as voices must embrace the status quo, there will be conflict and limitation.

Second, the celebrity that comes with exceptional scholarship (or other conspicuous success) does not imply enlightened identity. In fact, stellar accomplishment can mask places where interior growth has not been required. Michael Jackson and Skip Gates both represent men who struggle with brilliance and identity. Both have appreciated Eurocentric achievement, while finding career dominance through aspects of their own African American identity and culture. Both have found their affiliation with White America, whether cosmetic or genetic to be a source of counter-productive pride. Professor Gates could get away with declaring himself half White, while at the same time his high celebrity allowed him to celebrate African American heritage without attention to possible racial self-rejection. Thus, his shock surfaced at being treated as he might have been treated pre-Yale. His coping skills did not match the demands of the racial world, when celebrity no longer sheltered his identity.

Third, racism is psychopathological. It operates as a maladaptive emotional defense, which affects perpetrator, victim and society. It follows a pattern. Whether we benefited from Ivy Tower moments or suffered through Diversity Training Workshops, our responses to racial incidents remain predictable. And therein lays the solution.

Diversity training has provided useful tools for the current generation to recognize the impact that racial and cultural differences exert. However, conceptualization of power must be expanded to accommodate other world views. This means that while diversity may celebrate culture or even strategies for group interface, it must begin to demonstrate alternative mechanics of coping and growth that emerge, when other world views are operative. For example, the sergeant who arrested Dr. Gates, knew how to be in charge with his world view, but was not equipped to be in charge with an Africentric perspective. It probably never occurred to him that such a perspective exists.

If we are not careful, diversity training will perpetuate and cloak the very racial reality that we all decry. As long as we are unwilling to conceptualize perspective, coping and trust from positions other than our own, we will be limited in neutralizing racism. Again, the solutions are at hand. If we cannot manage to get our police experts and scholars to lead us to solution, we must be willing to do so at a more basic level. This strategy will be imperative if we are to be successful in the global arena. After all, if we cannot get it right in the Harvard neighborhood, we will have to accept the reality that post-racial existence is either fantasy or far from the conclusions that our experts report.

Category: Op-Ed


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