Getting smacked over the head: Lessons from police brutality and the past

The mother who beat his son over the head during the Baltimore on the receiving end of many different opinions about what’s right and what’s wrong. Really? So now everyone has an opinion about what it cost to keep a Black man safe in America.

I have a different take on it and it is coming from experiencing first hand what my own mother had to go through to keep me safe in America. Let’s not get all worked up about criticizing anyone, or the nation. Let’s focus our attention on the history behind the topic.

12 Years a Slave

I want to begin with a scene from the movie 12 Years A Slave. There is one scene where the slave owner rapes a slave who is also a mother. When the slave’s husband questioned him, he was shot on the spot in front of all the slaves. This is meant to set an example that no one should question the slave owner’s behavior. I want everyone reading this line to meditate on this image. I mean, sit down, do nothing, and meditate.

Think about the psycho-emotional impact on the mother who has just been raped and without a man to protect her. Think about it and put yourself in her shoes. Now think about how these same behaviors continue today in subtle ways. Think about the sons who have died before Freddie, Michael, Trayvon, and others to date.

A Comparative Analysis

This comparative analysis is my opinion and is not meant to advocate for one way or the other.  It is simply to get us to think about how we as a society continue to hypocritically set rules, inadvertently participate until it hits home and seek to blame, belittle others who do the same.  Then we go on a rant of nothingness that doesn’t solve anything instead of changing the system.

In 12 Years A Slave, the lesson is this, slaves are told not to question their master. This is made clear once, not twice but once. Once told, the master doesn’t want to repeat himself. Failure to heed results in some violent response and even death as we saw in the film.

The police are known to give commands similar to those from slave days. Most of us are familiar with these commands. Some examples are: “put your hands on your head, turn around, get on your knees, and lay down with your face down.” You can be sure that the police do not like to repeat. Repeating means one is uncooperative and the result, you guessed it, usually is some form of brutality or simply death.

Let’s take that further back. When the settlers arrived in what we call the United States of America, they met the Native Americans. I am sure the settlers tried to reason with them in a nice gentle way to get them to move out of the way. I am sure there were meetings where conversations were amicable and civil until it did not go the settlers’ way. Because these meetings and conversations did not go the way the settlers wanted, they took the land by force.

Now take this mom, who has probably told her son a million times over not to do something bad that could end his life. Why is it okay for the police and the settlers to respond the way they do when citizens they have sworn to protect are a little stubborn, but we are quick to judge this mom? Why do we oxymoronically advocate peace but resort to violence?

This is Pure Hypocrisy!

We, the human race, preach that violence, of any kind, is not okay. I get it and I understand it. So when is it okay for one but not the other? Let’s see if we can connect the dots here.

The slave master doesn’t like to tell the slaves more than once to NOT do something. Cooperation is expected at all times. Failure to comply results in brutality or death.

The police expect full cooperation from the people they have sworn to protect and serve. Failure to comply results in some form of brutality or death.

The settlers tried to reason with the natives to move out of their homes so that settlers could have the land. Failure to comply leads to the Native Americans being forcefully removed from their land, and if their deaths happen, it is rationalized that they failed to comply.

Now the mom violently smacks her own son over the head to keep him safe and bam … most of us have an opinion of what it means.

The usual psycho-emotional response from some is that this mom did more harm than good. I am curious if anyone has had the time to really think about this carefully from the Black woman with a son perspective. I mean actually live the life of a Black woman raising a son in America.

The Psychoemotional Perspective: Questions

Have you even had to raise a Black son knowing that he is prophesized to be nothing more than a piece of meat meant for target practice?

Have you ever had live with a Black son who is so stubborn because, in his mind, he is normal, doesn’t even think of his skin color, and wants to be like the privileged?

Have you ever had to raise a Black son who has dreams to be something bigger than life but all of the rules are stacked against him to ensure he fails?

Have you ever had to raise a Black son who is expected to spend time jail at some point in his life no matter how good he is, what good he does, and yet still expected to go to jail?

Have you ever raise a son, who at a certain age, wants to be a man and you tell him to take it slow because being a man means becoming a target for police brutality?

Have you even raised a Black son who, at the beginning of his life, ends up in some special education program in school because he doesn’t speak the King’s English?

Have you ever raised a Black son who has to spend the rest of his life looking over his shoulders because he is a stigmatized criminal based on his gender and color?

Have you ever had to raise a Black son who believes in doing good because once upon a time Dr. Martin Luther King dreamt that the content of his character is what will be used to judge him, and yet his skin color and being male is what is used to judge him daily and a lifetime?

How do you keep the Black son safe?

What do you do to make sure that he comes home every night before you, the mom, go to bed?

What would you do if you were a Black woman and your only son is prophesized and destined to not live to adulthood?

Do you really know the psychoemotional cost of raising a Black son in America?

These are questions along with others that I think many who question Ms. Toya Graham’s behavior should answer before leaping to judgment about the right and wrong way to raise a Black son after watching her behavior in the media.

Sure we don’t advocate violence. Of course not! We don’t want to hurt our kids, let alone abuse them, violently hurt them, and most importantly, embarrass them. But the system to ensure this doesn’t happen could be doing the opposite of that.

The system of cooperation is set from the beginning and unless we are willing to address it from a systematic perspective, I think it’s hypocrisy to pass any form of judgment on, Ms. Graham. I think the lesson is that we’d rather see the police who have sworn to protect us beat our children or shoot them to death instead of mothers like Ms. Graham.

Possible Dialog and Solutions: Leadership Intervention

I think there are endless possibilities to turn things around. I am naive that way in my belief in the human race because I have lived long enough to see the good we can do when we are tested. Why we tend to wait until we are tested is another blog because it behooves me.

That said, I believe Ms. Graham should be commended for taking a leadership role, a mother that she is, to address this issue publicly. I commend her because her intent is justified and several examples abound to support that keeping her Black son safe is a priority over anything else. Additionally, she took accountability regardless of what anyone else says or feel.

Some of us leaders will wait until after the fact to react while Ms. Graham took a proactive stance. Her proactive stance begun a dialog. Most have read her story and having conversations about it. The dialog framework offers the opportunity to assess our biases, preconceived notions, stereotypes, and stigmas. By unpacking these, we can begin to see the psychoemotional impact on those we might be quick to judge.

Let’s try on different shoes. First, trying on different shoes can be fun. It can also allow us to see where our opinions might not fit.

Let’s look at the history of mistreatment of Black women. Their sons have ALWAYS been taken from them since slavery. Their sons have been made to bear criminal, up to no good, dangerous, angry, violent, loser, illiterate, deadbeat, and other stigmas. The burden to remove these stigmas rest on the mother, sad, but true, and no offense intended for Black fathers.

It might also be help to talk with Black mothers, and I mean various mothers, to get their perspective on the psychoemotional impact of raising a Black son and please hold all judgments. Because until one has walked in the shoes of another, this type, a Black woman, one might be completely off base to judge Ms. Graham’s behavior.

My opinion is that she saved her son, another Black boy, soon to be a man, on that fateful day. She should be respected and applauded if that is what it takes to keep us safe. She defied the odds, kept him out of jail, and out of harm’s way so he can live his dreams, dreams that Freddie can never fulfill.

Well done, Ms. Graham, well done, and thank you for raising awareness.

The Baltimore riot: Is the root cause a self-fulfilling prophecy?

The media

The media is abuzz with the Baltimore riots.

What are the facts? I have no idea. I have an opinion as a Black Deaf man.

My facts came from WJLA News, who reported that a 25-year old Black man was taken into custody by Baltimore police and transported in a police van and died while in custody. The reason for his arrest was not clear to me. I did some research.

I have many interests and dreams.  It breaks my heart when another Black man is killed. I wonder about their interests and dreams. I wonder how his family will live his dreams and cherish his life and spirit. These killings of black males at the hands of law enforcement, lately seem to lead to another unrest.

Disclaimer

I wanted to add something here to “protect” myself. Then I realized something. I am thinking as if someone has some power over me that “prevents” me from writing what I think. That thought is a form of fear, a self-fulfilling prophecy with its a root cause being these brutal and senseless killings of Black men of late.

A root cause

I think its worth to look at root causes to the riot. I continue to research to learn more, try to understand different perspectives like this one among many, and while, on that journey, I wanted to share a thought on root causes.

Ignorance of root causes is probably why we have what we have today, a riot. Root causes are important because they are historical. History and prophesies are interchangeable and to ignore that is to pretend the riot happened in osmosis.

Therefore, we need to ask, what are the root causes of the Baltimore riots, Ferguson riots, South Carolina, and others before? Are these root causes that led to these killings types of the self-fulfilling prophecy (SFP)? What historical context and contents were prophesized that lends credence to this riot?

The self-fulfilling prophecy (SFP)

What is the self-fulfilling prophecy?  It is “a false definition of the situation evoking a new behavior which makes the originally false conception come true.” This definition has several parts: a root cause, time, and a result. In this case, the riot is a result of some long- or short-term root cause. Dr. Martin Luther King, Junior, said it best, “a riot is the language of the unheard.”

To be fair, the self-fulfilling prophecy or expectation can be positive. A positive root cause in time produces a positive outcome. Human achievements, one example being space travel is an example of positive root cause with results that benefit all humankind. We, humankind are capable of good root causes. Therefore, this is not a one-sided perspective on the issue.

But right now, in the name of humankind, we riot for justice because yet another one of our kind, a Black human male is dead. When I saw it on the news, I began to have this thought … a fearful thought of what might happen to me.

The thought, a root cause of my disclaimer thought, is one kind of a fear manifested from the media images of Black men publicly being executed. That root cause came from past images of the Civil Rights Movement often shown on television. It also came from historical images of Blacks lynched during the formative years of America, and the acclaimed films: Roots, 12 Years A Slave, Mississippi Burning and my personal favorite, 42.

The Baltimore riots, Ferguson riots, South Carolina, and others prior seem to communicate some sort of SFP that Blacks, especially Black men, must be “reminded of our place.” Ergo, the definition of the SFP “a false definition of the situation evoking a new behavior which makes the originally false conception come true.”

According to Tauber (1997) here is how the SFP expectation works.

  1. An expectation is formed
  2. Based on the expectations, we act [or treat each other] in a differential manner
  3. The treatment sends [communicates] a message about what is expected
  4. If the treatment persist without resistance it will tend to shape our behavior
  5. With time, our behavior confirms or resist the initial expectation

Expectations are formed:  Negative expectations

The history of expectations for and of Blacks in the form of bias, stereotypes, and isms in America is overwhelming. Take the word thug used to describe the select few that looted and damaged properties. Let’s look at where the word thug came from.

As you probably deduced after reading the origin of the word, defined as murderers and thieves. Blacks have been expected to behave this way since the beginning of slavery. We should consider this question.

How did Blacks slaves, who were helpless, oppressed, denied access to education and economic equality, taken from their homeland, and controlled end up with this label – thugs?

The expectation of Blacks is that we should accept helplessness, oppression, limited access to education and economic inequality no matter what as shown in the movie 42. I think this thought, the idea that Blacks should show restraint, not speak our minds, not mention injustice, and not ever to show signs of survival is the root cause for many of today’s unrest. That thought probably has Darwin turning in his grave! Based on the expectations, we act [or treat each other] in a differential manner

Based on the expectations, we act [or treat each other] in a differential manner

Here are some examples of differential treatments from a historical perspective.  Based on the expectation that Black slaves should always be reminded of where they came from – slaves. Slaves had no access to education and economic power. Slaves were not allowed to learn to read and write.  Slaves were not given spending power.

Inability to care for one’s family: slaves were properties of their owners, were sold as such. Children of slaves were taken and sold.

The lists of differential treatments of Blacks are infinite. There is infinite research available that speaks to the disproportionate differential treatments to reinforce expectations. What are the root causes of these treatments?

The treatment sends [communicates] a message about what is expected

These differential treatments speak to the famous B. F. Skinner experiment – a root cause analysis.  This type of conditioning that has been happening since slavery continues today.  In her book, The New Jim Crow author Michelle Alexander discussed the evolution of differential treatments – root causes that continue to evolve to ensure that negative expectations persist.

Analysis of the Skinner experiment revealed the root cause to alter the mice behavior was either negative or positive reinforcement through stimulus like shock.  The mice developed the SFP, behavioral change as expected and reinforced, communicated with the shock.  Similarly, the root cause of the Baltimore riot needs analysis.

Like Skinner’s experiment, which took time for the mice to alter its behavior, we may want to look at Baltimore closely.  The riot didn’t happen overnight out of the blue.  It was something that had been brewing over time like a volcano ready to erupt.  Even a volcano has a root cause to its eruption that lies persistently quiet until at last, boom!

If the treatment persist without resistance it will tend to shape our behavior

I want to personally state that treatment to reinforce the SFP on Black men is so powerful and persistent. The media is the tool similar to the shock in the Skinner experiment. That may be shocking to some and may not be for some.

Here are some examples of persistent media stimuli that often shape the SFP within some Black men such as the reporting of Michael Brown’s death by the media. But the media kept showing him lying in the street like some animal.

This action of leaving his body lying on the street is similar to images of Black men left lynched and hanging in public for all other Blacks to see. This type of imagery, powerful as it is, sends a persistent message about certain expected behavior. Failure to fit the behavioral mold may lead to death and public display to reinforce expectations.

The other example persistent treatment is the prison industry complex. A system designed to imprison majority of Black males. To add a little emphasis, here is what Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton had to say about the prison industry complex:

“There is something wrong when 1/3rd of black men face the prospect of prison during their lifetimes and an estimated 1.5 million black men are “missing” from their families from incarceration and premature death. There is something wrong when one in three black men in Baltimore cannot find a job…We have allowed our justice system to get out of balance.”

Does what Mrs. Clinton have to say reminds you of something from the past? Words like the prospect, missing their families, and premature death are root causes. They set the tone for differential treatment and communicate the SFP beginnings – prophesized to “explode” at the right time.

With time, our behavior confirms or resist the initial expectation

Like the Skinner experiment, the SFP is contingent on time, reinforcements, and persistence. The behaviors of the Baltimore riot may be unjustified by most. I tend to agree that violence, destruction of property, and looting is not an answer. While I am thinking about that, I am also wondering what the root causes might be.

Building on the Skinner experiment, could we imagine if the mice were not caged? Just imagine if the mice were allowed to roam freely during the experiment, would the mice respond in the same manner? I suspect so because historically, the oppressed have been known to use violence as a last resort.

Maybe some readers might say, “but the Baltimore riots did not even try to resolve this matter in other ways.” Then we missed the point again, that the root cause is like an unerupted volcano. The lava “brews” beneath the earth until finally it erupts.

Similarly, one has to reflect on the psychological impact on Black males over time. One has to consider Black men’s feelings of helplessness when denied equitable access to finance, home ownership, and decent education.  One has to consider the psychological impact on Black men when constantly harassed over time. Eventually, it becomes, enough is enough, and an eruption of some sort, prophesized, affects behaviors.

In the movie 42, there was an episode where Jackie Robinson loses it, takes his baseball bat and begins smashing the wall. This was the first time he showed his anger and frustration. All throughout the movie, he was expected to take insults, swallow name callings, and pretend he is Deaf!

Finally, at that moment, he loses it and goes into hiding to express his anger by smashing the baseball bat – consider how long, the time, it took to reach that level of anger and you understand the root cause of the SFP.

Communication

The insults that Jackie Robinson received communicated a message that as a Black man, his place was not within white sports. The name callings communicated a prophesy that as long as his skin color is Black, the system will ensure that he knows his place because none of the whites calling him names were prosecuted. In fact, only once or twice did one of his teammates stand up for him. Even at that time, his teammates felt uneasy at doing what needed to be done to show acceptance. Those insults, name callings, and stereotypes are all root causes to the SFP

Those insults, name callings, and stereotypes are all root causes to the SFP that started before Jackie Robinson and continue today. I suppose the idea is that we Black men are supposed to accept insults, stereotypes, racism, and police brutality with a smile. Doing so is the only way to be accepted.

I don’t have to mention how the media portrays Black men because I suspect many of you readers are well aware of media profiling of Black men. The media feed is the same as the shock in the Skinner experiment. The media fed the world all sorts of negative feed when Trayvon, Michael, and Walter were shot. All of a sudden, the dead Black man has a history of run-ins with the police. The same happened when another Black man, Eric was choked held to death.  Now we are seeing the pattern with Freddie.  Is this a surprise?

I don’t think so. I think it has been prophesied since the beginning of slavery and the similarities, patterns, and examples are purposely intended to send a message. Black men are not expected to amount to anything except for violence. To ensure that the prophecy is fulfilled, consistent mistreatments in the forms of deprivation of education, disenfranchise of family, limited access to economic power, and consistent morphine of policies to communicate and ensure that prophecy is fulfilled.

Leadership intervention

As I said earlier, I am not here to advocate violence. I am not here to send a message the violence should continue or that it is the answer to these complex problems. I am here to ask our leaders to take a look at themselves, unpack whatever it is they need to unpack and begin addressing this issue from the root.

Maybe I have been naive in my thoughts that we can solve this and if so, then so be it. I believe that we can transform because I believe in the human race. We have so many examples of our capabilities to do good and to do right. Therefore, to simply remain silent is not taking a leadership stance.

To remain silent is to reinforce the root causes to the SFP. To not take a leadership role is to reinforce the root causes the SFP. To wait until it happens to a family member, a close friend, and a dear one is to reinforce the root causes to the SFP.

Honoring Dr. Nelson Mandela: Thank you

Okay!  No offense to anyone or the media moguls, with respect, please end the charade and attention you are giving to the fake interpreter.  There is a leader who has ascended and in my humble opinion, he is more deserving of the audience, attention, and social media trending.  That is my purpose with this blog, to share and honor how Dr. Mandela‘s life, work, and eminence means to me and possibly other Black men on the planet.

This is not to discuss the Black man’s plight, racism, or any isms.  We know what they are – challenging.  There are countless evidence in the media that speaks to this.  Dr. Mandela’s story is one example.  To this he said “I detest racialism, because I regard it as a barbaric thing, whether it comes from a black man, or a white man.”

I considered how to express my thanks to Dr. Mandela after my last prose.  I searched online for information about him.  I read countless of selfless accounts, acts, deeds, and love about him that left my mind whirling like an angry tornado.  I decided to use some of his quotes to guide me.

I mentioned a little about my background, who I am, and where I am from in my last blog.  There is no need for redundancy.  Just know that someone like Dr. Mandela, is aside from my Dad, Mr. Kenneth Amissah (my role model: R.I.P 1937-2009) one of my role models.  I didn’t get a chance to meet the man.  But I admit that I followed his life story, the tough life that everyone knows about.

Following him is what has kept me going since my Dad passed four years ago.  Now Dr. Mandela is gone, I am looking to other Black leadership for role modeling.  I am praying that I get to meet some of them in person before they ascend to be with Dr. Mandela, Dr. Nkrumah, Dr. DuBois, Dr. King and others.  This is another way to send a message to Black leaders that we, younger generation Black men, need you, role models to guide us.

What about Dr. Mandela needs honoring?  Everything and anything that comes you to mind.  For me his lives work and what he did remind me not to give up hope.  His work reminds me to continue to dream of the possibilities.  His work reminds me that as long as there is life left in me, I can make a difference.

He said “we must use time wisely and forever realize that the time is always ripped to do right.”   Dr. Mandela spent nearly a quarter of his life in jail for speaking up against a barbaric act, apartheid.  Yet, even in prison, he continued to impact on his brothers and sister the need to continue believing that there is good in their oppressors.  http://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/dec/11/mandela-jail-warden-terrorist-brother-jack-swart and http://learning.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/12/10/from-rebel-to-statesman-teaching-about-the-life-of-nelson-mandela/?_r=0.

Time for me has been good because I have been able to steadfastly continue with my education, a life time feat.  I have been blessed to see that Dr. Mandela’s emphasis and message to the Black men is consistent with other immortal Black male leaders.  Dr. Mandela’s education message, “education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.”

This message began with my Dad.  He and mom worked so hard to keep my brothers and sister in school.  I remember those days when I wanted to give up because I wanted to have fun!  But Dad would find words of wisdom, use similar Dr. Mandela quotes to make it sound like getting an education is more fun than fun.  Believe me I am scratching my head even today and while I am writing this.

Today, I am still looking for ways in which I can learn new things.  For me it’s fun to learn especially when there is that aha moments when we are like, “wow, I didn’t know that, thank you!”  It’s even more fun to learn when people in all walk of like, my life, go the extra mile to include me and to make sure that I understand.

The time my family, friends, and colleagues take to make sure my learning continues through clear communication, that small selfless deed, the one that reminds me of Dr. Mandela is what makes education and learning fun.  To me when someone, takes the time to give attention to another, that time is precious, gone a moment later, and can never be regained.  That is priceless.

Dr. Mandela gave his life!  How much time is that?  How much in seconds, minutes, hours, days, weeks, days, months, and years?  This is how much time I am asking us to honor him.  I am ask you, think about it for a moment, take a few minutes to think about how much time we have honored this man – compared to all the media hype about the fake interpreter.

It is shame.  It is a shame because I suppose that is human nature.  We honor those that make a difference in our lives after they are dead.  We immortalize the dead not the living and that to me is a disservice to Dr. Mandela and his predecessors before him.  It is even worse when instead of honoring him, we have swayed our attention to a fake, fraud, and embarrassment.

Maybe, just maybe, that is a lesson to learn like my Dad would say.  Every experience, positive or negative is a lesson.  What is the lesson this time?  Maybe there are more lessons.

Maybe one lesson is that Deaf people around the world can now be acknowledged as people too.  Another would be that it had to take Dr. Mandela’s death to bring attention to people with disabilities around the world.  Another is that sign language could be infused in all our lives because it is beautiful and can offer educational opportunities to EVERYONE.

Take a look at this beautiful fives years old.  http://www.wptv.com/dpp/news/state/claire-koch-clearwater-girl-signs-christmas-song-for-deaf-parents-at-holiday-concert.  Her parents are deaf.  She is hearing like my seven years old daughter.

She elected to sign for her parents, who happened to be in the audience at the time.  From what I have been reading, her parents didn’t ask her to do this.  She did this on her own to make sure that her parents were included in the celebration – possibly one without and interpreter and thank goodness definitely not a fake one!  That, is the selfless act of Dr. Mandela to the people of South Africa when he stood up against apartheid – contagious isn’t it?

To this selfless act he said “our human compassion binds us the one to the other – not in pity or patronizingly, but as human beings who have learnt how to turn our common suffering into hope for the future.”  I say this kid has a bright future. I say this kid reminded me that there is hope for all – start paying it forward.

I mentioned how to pay it forward with Deaf education and American Sign Lnaguage along with other sign languages.  I want to take this opportunity to ask leadership around the world to adopt a mentee.  I think many would agree that we have some serious leadership gaps across the globe.  I need a mentor so I can continue learning and growing.  Any Black leaders out there willing to take up the task?  Please?

One way to narrow this gap is through mentoring.  With mentoring, we can shape younger generations into leadership roles.  I have blessed to mentor several Black Deaf males.  Most of them have graduated from college and are doing really well (this is just one example).  I believe mentoring is an excellent way for all of us to pass on the baton to the younger generation because our world continues to become complex as we globalize.

Others are doing what they can in their own way to help celebrate Dr. Mandela’s name,  http://za.news.yahoo.com/watch–the-most-touching-mandela-tribute-came-from-the-least-expected-place-070947330.html.  I think this is what we need more of.  I think this is the right thing to do.  This is why we must rid the fake interpret trending and focus on honoring Dr. Mandela.

I am well aware that what is buzzing is what will sell in the media.  I have lived long enough to see similar occasions when we should be honoring individuals who made a difference that were overshadowed with hype.  At the same time I know that there are millions who would want to see that Dr. Mandela is honored with the same hype.

I would like to start.  Dr. Nelson Mandela, rest in peace.  Thank you for everything.  Thank you for being the light house for many of us.

Your ideas, deeds, believes, willingness to make sacrifices “I stand here before you not as a prophet, but as a servant to you, the people”;  the willingness to teach and remind us to do right “to deny people their human rights is to challenge their very humanity”;  the ability to forgive and forget “forget the past”;  the ability to see beyond one’s obstacles “I am not a messiah, but an ordinary man who had become a leader because of extraordinary circumstances”; and to leave us the reminder that the HUMAN RACE is forever poor if we don’t WORK TOGETHER “where globalization means, as it always does, that the rich and powerful now have new means to further enrich and empower themselves at the cost of the poor and weaker, we have a responsibility to protest in the name of universal freedom.”

All hail Dr. Nelson Mandela:  Rest in peace – you shall never be forgotten for only a few achieve immortality and yours is an example to all humankind.

Image credit: http://gds75.blogspot.com/2013/06/forza-madiba.htmlImage

The fake sign language interpreter: A need for leadership intervention just like Mandela called it

I thought a lot about the incident at Dr. Mandela’s funeral related to the fake sign language interpreter,  http://www.cnn.com/2013/12/11/world/africa/mandela-memorial-fake-intepreter/?hpt=hp_zite1_featured.  I struggled to find the words to express my sorrow to the Mandela family because this drew attention and continues to draw attention from honoring him, remembering his great deeds, and spending precious time with his family to celebrate his memory.  At the same time it gave me a chuckle (don’t misunderstand, please read on).

Here are my two cents.  First, for those who don’t know who I am. I am a Ghanaian, born and raised and moved to the U.S. when I was a teen.  I can’t believe how time has flown!  I have spent half of my life in the U.S among Hearing people and currently spending time in both Hearing and Deaf communities.

I agree with all the reactions around the globe.  It is wrong for whoever was responsible to have this fake interpreter on stage.  It is also an insult to the Deaf community intellects around the globe; those who have worked so hard and to those that are also working so hard to be part of society.

But before I get into that I want to admit that I laughed when I learned and read about this incident.  The laughter was not because it was funny but rather because in addition to it not being funny, it was not a surprised.  It was not a surprise because a Facebook friend posted in a discussion thread that he, the fake interpreter, could be a pawn in a corrupt system.

The pawn in a corrupt system sentiment is funny to me because I grew up in a similar system and therefore it is not new or unusual.  The pawn in a corrupt system is applicable to nearly all levels in other parts of Africa – sad but true and no offense to the leadership (theirs is a tall order).  It is also so true because the system, infrastructure, and way of life with respect to individuals with disabilities around the world are DIFFERENT.  Therefore, for us in the U.S. and those living in the Western hemisphere to get a small glimpse of what happened and how often it happened, I believe we may need to shift the way we think to evaluate this incident from the pawn in a corrupt system lens.

I tend to ask questions to guide my discussions.  Below are a few questions.  I hope that you can form your own as you read and I am sure there are infinite questions.

Can you imagine living in a system where your very basic needs as an individual with disabilities (per Maslow Hierarchy of Needs) aren’t on the radar of the leadership, even when some of the leadership have family members with disabilities?  This is a form of corruption.  This system is not set up to benefit individuals with disabilities and please know that some leaders in these corrupted countries are trying to fix this, so some credit is due to them.

As a hard of hearing person who grew up in Ghana I am thankful for my family for insisting that I go to school with all Hearing people.  Their insistence was due to the fact that they didn’t know of any other way to give me an education, which in the U.S would normally be through a Deaf institution or one similar to it.  I know how much my mom had to pay to get me to attend the “regular” school – mom and I = puppets in the corrupt system.

My mother had to work with bribery within a corrupt system to get me into the “normal” school system even though Dr. Kwame Nkrumah set up our school system to be free.  I know of other Deaf individuals who don’t and didn’t have the same opportunity that speaks to the pawn in a corrupt system thought.  This is not new and still exist in that there are Ghanaian Deaf individuals who don’t have their basic survival needs met in the same way Deaf people in the U.S have their basic needs met.

Can you imagine living in a system that doesn’t allow you to drive?  I am blessed that my family worked hard to migrate to the U.S where I can do anything, including something as simple as owning a driver’s license.  Well, you made the connection.  If you don’t have education, you can’t read, and therefore can’t drive.

Think about how much a Deaf person in Ghana or other parts of Africa, with the right “connections” (a puppet in a pawn within a corrupt system) would get a driver’s license.  Connect that to the fake interpreter because this deaf person still has to go to the DMV office, try to communicate with the clerk (if an interpreter is given, imagine how the communication would work for both the Deaf applicant and the clerk).  Let your imagination run wild because if you think that the system in the U.S is applicable to the rest of the world, or South Africa, then your analysis falls short of the reality.

Can you imagine living in a system that doesn’t give you full access to education?  Here is an example of a blog discussing education for the deaf, the first deaf school in Ghana, http://www.ghanaweb.com/GhanaHomePage/NewsArchive/artikel.php?ID=294551.  Ask yourselves some questions.

Do you notice in the article that others from other parts of Africa are attending this school and “paying” to go to school?  Where are the funds in the form of tuition from these individuals going?  Where is the leadership in this?  Where is the accountability?

Are individuals with disabilities not people too and only deserving of fake interpreters and possibly fake teachers?  If so, then why is the system not supportive of a simple and basic need for an education, which should give one an ability, not disability, to function as a productive member of society?  Better yet, should we wait to see a fake interpreter in television before we cry foul?

Connect the dots.  If education is offered, are the teachers skilled in communicating with the students?  I know and have friends in the Peace Corps who are working in different parts of the globe teaching.  Most are from the U.S. and use American Sign Language (ASL) to communicate at these schools.  Think about it for a minute, they use ASL not Ghanaian Sign Language (GSL) even though the World Federation of the Deaf (WFD) http://wfdeaf.org passed a provision to prohibit other languages from trumping native languages outside of the U.S.  This should give you some food for thought about why it is so critical to engage in COLLABORATIVE educational efforts.  Also, imagine if my friends and other Peace Corps members aren’t working at these schools.  Ask yourself how the African teachers, many of whom are not trained to work with the Deaf would transfer knowledge.

KNOWLEDGE TRANSFER is the act of transferring information via CLEAR COMMUNICATION.  Failure to communicate clearly is a handicap to knowledge transfer.  This is why Deaf people around the world are outraged by this fake interpreter.  Most of us had no idea what the fake interpreter was saying and therefore we gained no knowledge of what the leadership said the funeral about Dr. Mandela’s legacy.

Again, this is an analysis not an indictment, a cry foul, or insult.  Rather it is an OPPORTUNITY for our leadership to begin assessing these situations proactively instead of waiting for it to blow up in their faces like it did with the fake interpreter.

Let’s take it another step further and play a little devil’s advocate here.  For the U.S I could imagine if this man was a terrorist posting as a fake interpreter, what would be the consequence of having this fraud next to President Obama?  That thought scares me beyond this argument and it is for another blog.

My action to address the concern related to the Ghana school for the Deaf?  I sent the link to the article and a message to the President of Ghana.  In my message I asked for his help to not close the school.  I also offered to help in any way I can, considering I am Deaf and Hard of Hearing.  I believe the right thing to do is get involved and so I am waiting for President Mahama’s response.  I also believe this an action that Dr. Mandela would take.

Don’t get me wrong and I am not here to criticize or try to say that we should have this conversation through the lens of the victim.  I am not here to blame leadership or cry foul because I believe the rest of the Deaf world around the world already did that and is still going.

I would like to continue to believe that leadership around the world, reading blogs, watching the different television news about this fake interpreter, are open minded, have thick skin, and can take and accept constructive dialogue about issues as Dr. Mandela would.  Therefore, I am writing to point out how we can come together to address this issue.  I am also writing from experience to share and help the education of Deaf and Hard of Hearing CHILDREN.

I also believe Mandela would want me to say something because he said something about apartheid.  I believe Mandela would want something better for all of us including clear communication for the Deaf and other individuals with disabilities.  I hope when we read blogs, including this one, we read it with open mind in the same way we all came together a few days ago, with an open mind and heart, to celebrate Dr. Mandela’s good deeds and memory.

I also am a product of that pawn in the corrupt system of Africa. I am hoping that by coming out to say something, it might offer a different lens into why we must find ways to help individuals with disabilities assimilate into society to make a difference like Dr. Mandela did. So it is not a surprise to me that there was a fake interpreter.  Equally, it isn’t a surprise to see the Western response to it, which is why it is a chuckle to me.

The chuckle part is that even the Western interpreter system still needs work.  Work is a much-needed COLLABORATIVE effort on both sides – Deaf and Hearing.  As an alumni of National Technical Institute for the Deaf (NTID) http://www.ntid.rit.edu/admissions, and employee of Gallaudet University http://www.gallaudet.edu, (I am not speaking on behalf of any of these institutions), I have seen first hand on how some Deaf individuals will go to lengths to exclude Hearing people, criticize their lack of understanding of our needs, bemoan them for being audists, and the list is endless.

I am calling this out not to criticize those that feel this way about the Hearing world.  I am calling it out because I want to understand how we, the some in the Deaf community, to expect Hearing people to KNOW what to do, to WORK with us without involving them through continued education.   To me when some Deaf people behave in this manner of excluding Hearing folks, then it sends the message that we can do everything on our own. Of course, Deaf people can do anything and everything, but there are certain things, and almost all things, that we must all WORK TOGETHER TO ACHIVE.

One of the challenges is that Hearing people, in general, may not know that they need to get a certified interpreter like in the U.S., and on the same token Hearing people in South Africa used a fake interpreter – they don’t know any better.  Those Hearing people who made those mistakes by hiring a fake interpreter are simply behaving in their comfort zone and sphere unless they have a Deaf brother, cousin, aunt or family member to remind them that it is wrong.

It is not right.  It is wrong.  Therefore, one way to get Hearing people to understand is consistent, persistent, and ongoing education through COLLABORATION.  I believe that was Mandela’s message to us.

So if some Deaf folks are vociferating foul about Hearing people being insensitive, how do we expect Hearing people to understand when we don’t include them in our ways?  While this may come to hurt some Deaf folks and I am sorry if it does, but the result of excluding Hearing people is what we are dealing with – a fake interpreter that is stealing the attention from Dr. Mandela’s funeral.  I don’t feel good about it because it isn’t about the sign language, it is about honoring Dr. Nelson Mandela, his leadership, his message to us, and why it is so important to practice proactive and collaborative leadership – everyone of us around the globe is implored to act. 

Should we wait until the water main breaks before we try to find something to stop the leak?  This is theoretical question that speaks to the REACTIVE mode of how some members of the Deaf and Hearing communities operate.  No offense, and if I am wrong I shall learn, but I am speaking from experience here.  Most members of our Deaf and Hearing communities alike are reactive not proactive.  There are countless examples of this around the globe in the media that speak to this.

One example, I don’t have to go off the point to mention about Deaf institutions that are closing around the country in the U.S.  In my opinion, the message is that we, the Deaf community leadership, have failed to work with Hearing community leadership to help them understand why the Deaf institutions are so critical to us, our development, growth, and well being.  The failure is due to actions of reactivity not proactively.  In return, funds are being cut Statewide and Deaf institutions are closing like water from Niagara Falls.  It is a hard pill to swallow even for me but that is the one example of how we cannot wait until a fake sign language interpreter overshadows an important event to act and work together collaboratively.

I am also writing about this so I can be proactive to address some of these issues in my own way.  It is a leadership stance and a choice I am making with the knowledge and understanding that some of my closest friend, Deaf, will not be happy to hear a certain uncomfortable truth.  I believe in the ideals Dr. Mandela imparted on us.

Dr. Mandela got involved, he spoke an uncomfortable truths and against apartheid, some of the truths hurt some leadership who perpetrated apartheid.  But in the long run, we are looking at his message and arriving to this, what Dr. Mandela said is so true!  Dr. Mandela got involved even when it landed him in jail for 27 years!  In jail, he continued his work to send the message that we cannot sit idly around and wait until something happens before we take a leadership stance.

That is why we honored him.  That is why the people around the globe mourns him.  That is why the world is outraged by this shamble of placing a fake interpreter on stage during his funeral.

So my writing about this, if it is offensive to anyone in the Deaf and Hearing communities, I am sorry.  But the one truth is that I am not sure how Hearing people, in their natural setting, will KNOW what to do if we, the Deaf community, don’t engage them in our languages, culture, and way of life.  I know it is 2013 and soon will be 2014 and some might say, “come one!”

But the one truth is that even in 2013, there are interpreter related issues, some of which are insulting to interpreters from some Deaf clients, within the Western culture address to individuals with disabilities.  Take a closer look at the ADA, IDEA, NCLB, and the entire infrastructure in place that were intended to help us.  Great ideas, laws, acts, and initiates but in and of itself, nothing happens unless we both Deaf and Hearing get involved.

For the Deaf, lets ask ourselves, how many of these acts and laws have at least 50% Deaf individuals (leadership) leading the efforts to assimilate these ACTS and LAWS into the Hearing system where Hearing folks are AWARE and KNOWLEDGEABLE to hire the right interpreters, etc?  Not to mention that theses ACT and LAWS are non-existent around the globe.

Are we Deaf implying that Hearing leadership came up with these acts and laws and therefore, they should be the ones to make it work for us without active participation?  I think this fake interpreter should serve as a lesson that the “us versus them” mindset needs to change and stop.  That was the message Dr. Mandela sent when he came out of prison.

Please believe me when I tell you that I share the pains that this fake interpreter snafu has caused to the Deaf and Hearing communities around the world.  I am Hard of Hearing.  The rest of my family are Hearing.  None of them use sign language to communicate.  I don’t mandate that they do and I know some Deaf friend who don’t engage their families because of this.  I encourage them, my family memebrs, to learn but I don’t force it on them because personally I think learning sign language makes one smart.  Just saying and that could be applicable to learning other languages.

The point is that I am ALWAYS teaching my family and Hearing friends about my needs as a Hard of Hearing son, brother, father, uncle and friend.  I am ALWAYS telling them about the dos and don’ts that help me function as part of the family and within society.  I have other Deaf friends who are profoundly Deaf and cannot talk like I do who suffer worse communication situations than I do.  So I am aware and know of where I speak of the ills and pains of being Hard of Hearing.

Do members of my family slip on occasions?  You can bet they do!  But I don’t exclude them when they slip and make mistakes.  I don’t scold them as being audits like I have seen some Deaf do to Hearing people who are trying.  I continue to teach them in ways that helps me be part of everything.  After all I want to be part of everything and don’t expect that on the outset, Hearing people will understand Deafness unless it hits home to them.

I am also a product of sitting around the dinner table where everyone in the family is laughing and when I ask what’s so funny – the response: I’ll tell you later, which leaves me feeling left out.  Instead of waiting for this continue, I took a FUTURE proactive stance to make sure that I ask my family to consider one person speak at a time.  I took the proactive stance to ensure that the dinner table seating arrangement benefits me so I can have conversations with my nieces and often start to teach them the ASL alphabets.

Which to my surprised and inspiration, they already knew some and became engaged in learning more.  Believe me, it wasn’t an easy feat but in a long run, changes have taken place – slowly but surely and I love my family.  Therefore I am not perfect and don’t intend to paint my family as perfect.  I share all the frustrations in the Deaf community about the COMMUNICATION CHALLENGES and bottom line is that I engage my family and my Hearing friends.

So I don’t mean to offend anyone in the Deaf community by calling out the exclusion behaviors of some Deaf people toward Hearing people.  I mean to point out that Hearing people are naturally within their comfort zone to make mistakes that often offend us.  The one way to help minimize or eliminate similar fake interpreter situations is to ENGAGE them in everything we do.  The engagement is what Dr. Mandela was all about.

It is so true that this incident was wrong. At the same time, I think this is a wake up call, an OPPORTUNITY for all of us to get involved, just like Mandela called it.

Get involve in Peace Corps.  Get involve in Deaf education abroad by offering to teach at a Deaf school.  Get involved somehow to help the Deaf around the globe.  Get involved by helping the LEADERSHIP around the glode to understand that this incident has IMPACTED ALL OF US.

Get your leadership to allow sign language to be a required language to learn in ELEMENTARY schools across the globe.  Encourage your school districts and systems to include sign language in its curriculums.  When you see a Deaf person, say hello, ask how you can learn sign language and LEARN IT, USE IT because believe me it will make you smart.

Thank you all, world, for raising awareness and your points of views within the different blogs and media and this petty and insulting debacle to the Mandela family and Deaf community.  They were all refreshing to read and I hope I added some food for thoughts as a hard of hearing person to what we can all do to help prevent future occurrences.

Happy holidays to all and may Dr. Mandela rest in peace, his ideals remain immortal, and for all of us to remember that a system is like a seed.  We can only bear its fruits by planting it, watering it, watching it grow into a tree, and pruning its branches.  Happy holidays around the globe!