The lion’s story will never be told as long as the hunter is telling the story ‘African proverb, Stevenson, 1997’
In June 2017 we will see new guidelines when sentencing ‘children’ between the ages of 10 and 17 years old. Judges are told to consider whether the young ‘criminal’ has suffered discrimination as an ethnic minority before sentencing, as the sentencing Council for England and Wales says offending may be ‘partly’ a product of discrimination and negative experiences of authority.
From the Latin ‘discrimen’ that which separates is what we call discrimination. However, to discriminate against people based on their ‘skin colour’ is called racism.
While national statistics show that ethnic minorities account for approximately 14% of the UK's population, the Youth Justice Board says a quarter of all young people arrested in the year to March 2016 were from these backgrounds - some 21,900 people. (BBC News March 17th 2017)
We may ask, what has this got to do with us, a very good question which would require more time and space than this short blog. Depending on ones practice setting ‘you’ may well be in the position to ask the actual child who is now an adult sat in front of you, what is your story?
I was once asked if my frustration was ‘my black rage’. It might be justified when positioned as the other, someone who has felt the ‘cold wind’ of racism, been in situations where I was unsure whether a racist act was a hit, a miss or false alarm in other words, was I being over sensitive and projecting, transferring my bias onto another and getting it wrong? Nevertheless, emotions (e.g. anger or rage) can tell us a lot about our position in the world and our values. To suggest that rage has a ‘skin’ colour I find difficult to comprehend.
I suppose it would depend on our theoretical predisposition. Still, a question would need to be asked, are we projecting something that we ourselves are unable accept within ourselves or contain? And when the individual begins to tell you their story how will this be heard. Would my model limit how I hear their narrative, will my present sense of self facilitate openness to my other and could I really begin to allow myself to be affected, changed or challenged by the interaction?
Ralph Waldo Emerson once said “What you are shouts so loudly in my ears I cannot hear what you say”,
This quote could (taken out of its original meaning) encapsulate what takes place when an individuals’ colour whether black or white or the whole spectrum of differences precedes their essence. My interest here is not to confuse or lose the person we refer to as ‘black’ in acronyms such as BME or BAME, black other, black Caribbean and all the other types of blacks there is or even ‘colour-blindness’. The focus is ‘black’ and it’s meaning to me or us and you. If I learn something as a result of writing this and the following blogs then I will be satisfied. If a challenge is posed about what I have written or if you have taken time to share your thoughts about the subject I will be more than satisfied. If on the other hand my blog has been read and nothing said I hope you will appreciate that they are not to hurt, infuriate or offend, but to talk about what I have found to be the untellable stories.
Terminus a quo and Terminus ad quem – A person’s colour is neither the start of nor the end of their humanity
Would we have ears to hear the other’s story that may conflict, challenge, disrupt or even stir-up anger or some other visceral reaction? How do we re-story their story, how will their story impact on our story. Story telling is the heart beat of our work as therapist and our theoretical approach is only part of how we construct or make sense of the other’s narrative. In one way or another it is said we use ourselves as therapist or even supervisors in the encounter. How would the following story from child who is now and adult be heard from a Person Centred, Psychodynamic CBT or Existential – Phenomenological perspective?
I hate being black! But could not tell anyone, how could I, how could I hate me? It doesn’t make sense…
Ever since I was able to understand there was difference in the world and that being black was bad, I think this has continued to affect how I see the world and my place in it. My mother is a beautiful ‘fair-skinned’ woman she met my father ‘a dark skinned man’ on the ship coming over from Barbados to study and become a nurse. Mum said she would never have gone with my father because he was too black. Whilst living Gloucester she was raped twice by one of the white men who lived at the property she was staying at, she was 16 years old at the time. Her chaperone noticed this man was giving mum too much attention so ended up taking mum to London and just leaving her in Waterloo train station because she was jealous.
She (mum) managed somehow to contact him (dad) and ended up living in a house with his family and two other families. Mum told me he (dad) kept on trying to get close and intimate and she continued to refused until one day ‘she said to me’ that she gave in as she felt guilty as she was not paying any rent. She fell pregnant with me and on the day of my birth when the nurse had cleaned me up and brought me back…my mother screamed…that’s not my baby, bring me my baby that baby, he is too black and ugly!
He recounts events where his colour became his sense of self and being taken by a social worker to stay with a white family on a train ride that seemed to last an eternity, as his mother was ill in hospital; the following morning going out into the close with married couples daughter of similar age (6 years old) and being surrounded other children of similar age, who prodded, pitched, touched saying things like, ‘he’ looks like the golly wog on the jam jar, two of the kids parents saw this happening and came out and pulled their children away telling their child not to play with him. He talked of this being reinforced in school primary and secondary and later in prison too.
Part 2 to follow