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.
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.
- An expectation is formed
- Based on the expectations, we act [or treat each other] in a differential manner
- The treatment sends [communicates] a message about what is expected
- If the treatment persist without resistance it will tend to shape our behavior
- 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.
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.
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.