An internal conversation on race

Allow me to first introduce myself. I have been educated in the psycho-analytic school of thought and a central feature of my education was to observe my internal psychological processes while I was working with someone receiving psychoanalytic psychotherapy, both as a method of gaining some information about what was going on with my clients as well as recognizing any personal biases or prejudices that I might have. Secondarily, I was able to greatly refine my self/other observation capabilities through years of meditation practice. Over the last several decades I have utilized my finely honed observation skills to analyze political and socioeconomic processes occurring in this country particularly, and to some extent, across the globe.

Having been born in a prison camp during World War II when 120,000 persons of Japanese descent were unconstitutionally incarcerated obviously had a significant impact on my life, as well as spending my earliest years outside of camp, living in ghetto-like conditions. Through my professional work in both the ghettoes in West Oakland and in Boston I have been able to observe both the impact that cumulative trauma has on children and adolescents living in such conditions and the multi-generational transmission of it.

That being said, I, for one, was impressed with Barack Obama’s speech. I was reminded of the times I have indeed made sure my car door was securely locked when I noticed a “black” man nearby. This happened again recently when I met a friend at a Barnes and Noble bookstore. Before getting out of the car I noticed him speaking with a white woman, only one space removed from where I had parked. I resisted the impulse to make doubly sure my car door was securely locked and then released the matter from my conscious awareness, which is not something I would have done before.

Obama’s speech also reminded me of the time when I was living in Boston and going to grad school. It was a time that coincided with some Vietnamese fishermen were being assaulted and killed in and around the Boston area. One day I had the realization that if I was in certain segregated areas of Boston it could well have been me who was the target of white hatred fueled by the feeling that Vietnamese fishermen were encroaching on their fishing “territory” and how dare they. Of course the fishermen were using some illegal or quasi legal (fishing) methods. Nevertheless, the matter could have been handled in a much different manner than it was. Such was the unsettling nature of the experience that I wanted to immediately flee the area. Of course I waited till I graduated but nevertheless breathed a sigh of relief to be back on the West Coast and far away from the ethnocentric attitude of many Bostonians and my all “white” classmates.

While in Boston I had the opportunity to befriend two black male psychologists who came from upper middle class backgrounds in Detroit and Saint Louis, respectively. To some degree I experienced some cognitive dissonance upon realizing that they were not any different from me. What confirmed for me was that one’s socioeconomic background does indeed play a significant role in one’s upbringing and also the outcomes that we experience in life.

Prior to that, both as a social worker and an apartment owner, I had been around blacks who were predominantly from the “lower” class and inclined to be quite manipulative and to “use” and or take advantage of others. I now attribute their differential attitudes and behavior as outcomes related to blacks having been ghettoized by our government and also the rest of us, who have participated in ghettoizing them, at least in our mind’s eyes. Furthermore, in putting this piece together, I finally recognized the sense of entitlement that had always lurked underneath the idealized image that I had of myself as being fair and just.

Consequently, Obama’s timely remarks have compelled me to take not only a second but also a third look at myself and the different ways I have contributed to and reinforced the problem that blacks are experiencing and how we experience blacks in our everyday (outward) and or our internal lives. I now realize that I have been inclined to segregate and ghettoize them, in my mind’s eye, even though in most instances my internal reactions, are very likely to be, unwarranted and unfounded. Along these lines, George Zimmerman and his reaction to seeing and then pursuing Trayvon Martin can be viewed as a powerful metaphor for how all of us, in varying degrees, view, regard, and also may be inclined to treat blacks, though much of it takes place, not outwardly, but within our own psyches. Further, when my reaction is multiplied a million fold or more, perhaps it should not surprise us that both blacks and whites tend to self segregate when they have the economic freedom to do so. Nor should it surprise us that blacks have end up being ghettoized, not so much because they simply chose to, but in a manner similar to how Native Americans were initially placed on reservations, and many if not most, have continued to live and exist there, and across the cycle of generations, despite their impoverished circumstances.

George Tsukuda, Ph.D., writes from Santa Rosa, Calif. The views expressed in the preceding commentary are not necessarily those of the Nichi Bei Weekly.

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