A couple of weeks ago, an African-American man told me, “These youngsters today have given up hope. They’ve stopped caring and become ruthless. They’ll shoot you without a second thought.”

“Aren’t you a youngster?” I asked in defense of youngsters. I looked back at myself in my youth. I tried to live responsibly because I had plans for my future. Still, I made a lot of mistakes that I would never do again. As an African-American child, I was taught how to fight off racism. However, the man was speaking of a very small percentage of young people who obviously had not been taught to fight off racism. Their actions reflected their internalized racism.

“I’m 35 years old,” the man told me. “I’m an O. G.” (meaning Original Gangster)

“An O. G.? At 35 years old?” I asked.

“That’s right,” he answered. “These youngsters today don’t expect to make it to 25 years old. So to them, I’m an O. G.”

Later, a 27-year-old African-American man told me that when he was younger, his mother warned him that a Black man could never be president, so don’t put too much hope in Barack Obama. The man’s mother meant to protect him from disappointment. He talked about not accepting her teaching.

I asked what other limitations this man had learned from his mother since childhood—and what else he had to unlearn. What if he had not gotten to 25 years old, and had had the opportunity to unlearned those limitations?

These conversations showed how many African-American youth learn to internalize racism. They were taught that the American dream specifically and intentionally did not include them. It was emotionally safer not to dream when the world was against them and their dreams.

I put myself in their places and asked myself what would I have done if I had also internalized racism. After all, these two men had said nothing I hadn’t heard before. If I had grown up feeling like an American outcast, would I resent seeing other people’s unearned entitlement? Would I be angry at the unfairness–especially since I had been taught there was nothing I could do about it? Would I want to contribute to a society that plainly didn’t want me? Most children hate school. If I saw no opportunities, would I waste time on school or education? With no future, would I save for it or invest in real estate? Would I be more reckless and less afraid of going to prison? If I hated myself for being an African-American, would it be easier to hurt other African-Americans? Would I take out my anger on them or myself?

Many African-Americans are chained by internalized racism–even in Oakland. Oakland’s schools will have to break those chains in order to engage and connect with these students. The schools have to teach these students how to see the obstacles and how to overcome them. Students need to read books like Machiavelli’s The Art of War so they will better understand power. Schools need to connect students with Black fraternities and sororities, as well as historically black colleges and universities, to build their career and social networks. This will prove that better schools is really a better way.

Students also need to study the autobiographies of successful African-Americans—but not just those of athletes and entertainers. They should read such media as Black Enterprise. Studying Obama’s presidential campaign is a study in overcoming racial obstacles–both obvious and hidden. But at the same time, the students should look at African-Americans in the media more critically and ask who their target audiences are. I wrote an essay years ago titled “From Minstrelsy to Gangsta Rap” that argued that gangsta rap performances were minstrel shows for white America. Many Black entertainers today seem to continue the tradition of minstrelsy. They glamorize “bling,” short-sightedness and violence. Their buffoonery entertains white America; meanwhile, they misguide African-American youth seeking role models.

Oakland political candidates say they want to make Oakland better, so they should be addressing internalized racism. They rarely mention the insult of not including more African-Americans in promoting Oakland’s gentrification. In fact, the success of Oakland’s gentrification is often measured by the decline of its African-American community–euphemistically heralding the “changing demographics” or “new diversity.” Instead, the candidates focus on public safety. Since many African-American students have been taught that they are the crime problem, using this public safety code seems to be aimed at them. Yet, such code also has unintended consequences: It sends the message that they only deserve attention when they are criminals. Since all youth need attention, this glamorizes criminality. Thus, internalized racism, not public safety, is really Oakland’s biggest challenge. Public safety is only a symptom.

Editor’s Note: This piece reflects an individual opinion and is not a reported story from Oakland Local. Oakland Local invites community residents to share their views about events and issues in Oakland.
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17 Responses

  1. r2d2ii

    Some good points very well, even elegantly, stated.

    There is an additional psychological and developmental aspect which needs to be pointed out. The burdens of the internal experience of racism are multiplied by the internal experience of what the writer refers to as “public safety.” Most of Oakland’s violent crime is visited upon the same young AAs who have to deal with internalized racism. The internalized experience of violence is too often traumatic and results in post traumatic stress syndrome. Young people with PTSD have a very tough time dealing with the demands of successful school experience–their traumatized brains do not focus easily; their bodies are less easily relaxed; they tend to be hyper-reactive and so on.

    The focus on “public safety” of recent years is primarily the result of some of Oakland’s elites (including the elitists in city hall) finally opening their eyes and trying to make sense of what’s goes on in Oakland every day. The elites now feel threatened by violence so they think the city needs to do something. But Oakland has been one of the most violent cities in the country for a generation, 40 years. In these four decades Oakland’s poorest and most-discriminated-against have been traumatized again and again.

    The bottom line is that “public safety” has risen to consciousness among Oakland’s elite but it has been a burden for Oakland’s non-elite for a very very long time.

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  2. Oakie

    ” Yet, such code also has unintended consequences: It sends the message that they only deserve attention when they are criminals. Since all youth need attention, this glamorizes criminality.”

    This, quite succinctly, states what is inherently wrong with the Quan/Siegel infatuation with Operation Ceasefire. (Besides the fact that it doesn’t work, but no one seems to object on that basis: It’s all about posturing in Oakland governance, metrics and results are not of their concern.)

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  3. r2d2ii

    Oakie’s observation about Ceasefire in Oakland is very useful.

    Ceasefire has worked very effectively elsewhere. Ceasefire has been repeatedly suggested by community groups like OCO to city hall for very many years, long before Quan came to the throne. City hall long ignored what the groups were saying and then, eventually, made several half-hearted attempts at Ceasefire-like thingies, Oakland-style. Oakland-style means without adequate management, sufficient resources and so forth, mostly having to do with Council members and Mayor not giving enough of a damn.

    David Kennedy, an initiator of Ceasefire and the author of the Ceasefire book “Don’t Shoot” has made it very clear in personal communication to concerned people here in Oakland, including myself, that Ceasefire is not a rigid program, but needs to be designed and run in a way appropriate to the local community. Which Oakland officials have refused to do.

    However any specific Ceasefire program is designed, it needs the best quality oversight, management and coordination of resources. Again, Oakland-style just doesn’t make the grade for Ceasefire or much else.

    Just another thing to keep in mind before you decide to vote for any Oakland establishment candidate for mayor.

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  4. Len Raphael

    Seems like Mayor Quan has already lost interest in Ceasefire and moved on to pushing for the full Data Acquisition Center. Can’t wait for her next half baked plan to reduce crime.

    i”ve never been a fan of CeaseFire, but it always seemed that how well the strategy was implemented, with suffiicent resources, intelligence, respect for all the residents, “data driven, consistency and patience over years was far more important than which particular strategy was followed.

    But as in so many Oakland public policy matters, from budgeting to transit planning, our city officials and union leaders only look ahead a couple of years.

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  5. Oakie

    R2D2ii:

    I’ve tried finding good results for Ceasefire, but without success. I looked at Boston and Chicago and was nonplussed by what I saw. Can you please let us know which cities demonstrate successful use of Ceasefire?

    My standard for this is the New York City Miracle. I read Zimring’s book (available at the library) and now Fixing Broken Windows by Kelling and Coles.

    Here is my blog entry comparing Oakland and NYC murder rates when the Miracle occurred.

    http://fixoakland.tumblr.com/post/81792338734/oakland-has-not-seen-a-statistically-significant-drop

    Based on the first few chapters about the subway problems and solutions, I hacked together a little slide show:

    http://youtu.be/D9676Kw60yE

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  6. r2d2ii

    Oakie–

    One of the experts on Ceasefire whom I’ve spoken with is Stewart Wakeling. Last time I talked to him he was involved in several Ceasefire projects in California, most of which were working well. His office was in Oakland for several years but Oakland never was able to use him or his expertise appropriately. Go to his webpage for contact info–he is quite approachable and will talk to you on the phone. One nearby successful Ceasefire project has been in Stockton which is mentioned on the webpage below.

    http://partnershipforsafecommunities.org/who-we-are/the-partners

    Many Ceasefire principles are also being used successfully in reducing violence in Richmond, just up the road, under the direction of DeVone Boggan who heads up the Office of Neighborhood Safety. DeVone is also very approachable–I spent several hours with him some time ago. He got his street smarts working in Oakland, by the way, but Richmond was where they hired him.

    Oakland’s longterm inability to provide safety for its residents is completely the responsibility of our very sick and disconnected political establishment.

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  7. r2d2ii

    Oakie–It is critical to look at the information I provided you closely. The successful Ceasefire program in Stockton had to do with reduction of youth violence, not violence overall and was in effect over a limited time period.

    One of the challenges of Ceasefire programs is that the are very demanding of resources and financially-strapped cities like Stockton (and Oakland) may not have the commitment to continue programs much less expand them. This is exactly what happened in Boston where Ceasefire was almost spectacularly successful in its initial phase only to be unfunded and essentially abandoned a couple of years later.

    Politics always intervenes. And statistical validation of complex programs is always a challenge. None of this stuff is simple or black-and-white. You need to delve into the literature and talk to people who walk the walk before you dismiss the utility of Ceasefire principles. Lots of it is just plain commonsense.

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  8. Kheven LaGrone

    Programs like Ceasefire are limited because they do not address the real issue–how young people learn to overcome internalized/externalized racism.

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  9. r2d2ii

    Ceasefire came up in a discussion of how to deal with the problem of criminal behavior being encouraged in a violence-dominated community. Criminal behavior is usually considered to be self-destructive and much less than the best career path.

    Ceasefire is a program designed to reduce violence quickly (within say a year) in a community by using carrots and sticks: carrots of real job opportunities and community support and the sticks of certain prosecutions and jail for acts of violence.

    Ceasefire is not designed to deal with problems like internalized racism which are very complex and very likely need many years of effort to deal with. Special social and therapeutic programs would need to be developed for this purpose.

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  10. Len Raphael

    Kheven, again I’m not a fan of Ceasefire or any particular crime reduction quick cure. But my understanding, from listening to the same DeVone Boggan that Richmond incorporated some of the CeaseFire methods that focus carrots and mentoring intently on mostly likely violent people but unlike textbook CeaseFire, Boggan de-emphasizes the police stick. Others have said that works where you have Chevron footing the bill for a very small number of very violent prone residents.So Boggan is trying to reverse the internal personality and behavior caused by lots of external forces.

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  11. Len Raphael

    Boggan also said Richmond approach works well on reducing certain categories of violence but not others, particularly not domestic violence. That makes sense if it’s aimed exclusively at repeat violent guys. Wouldn’t expect it to help violence where one person gets po’d at a relative or acquaintence either.

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  12. r2d2ii

    “So Boggan is trying to reverse the internal personality and behavior caused by lots of external forces.”

    It’s called developmental psychology. Boggan has a very useful, practical understanding of this. He is a person of high intelligence and ethics. He affirms that the violent young people he deals with, whether they are 18 or 28 years of age have developmental ages of perhaps 12 years.

    The Bay Area is full of graduate schools of psychology where the expertise would be very useful in designing effective violence prevention programs for self-destructive communities like Oakland’s.

    Unfortunately, Oakland’s policymakers are themselves developmentally, intellectually and ethically retarded, completely unable to ask for, and put to use, any of the abundant local expertise available to them. In this way Oakland’s electeds are in the very same boat as Oakland’s most violent and antisocial.

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  13. Oakie

    “Oakland’s policymakers are themselves developmentally, intellectually and ethically retarded, completely unable to ask for, and put to use, any of the abundant local expertise available to them.”

    Hey, you almost made me spit out my espresso. Can I quote you on that?

    Richmond is the one case where they have seen a dramatic downturn in the body count, at least until early April, when they had 3 murders in 3 weeks.

    Murders, as a metric, are pretty noisy, which unfortunately give despicable mayors the ability to cite an arbitrary period of time and proclaim a 28% drop in violent crime (as we heard the echo of this from Burris last night), when in fact they have done nothing at all. I suppose in a sense, Ceasefire as a concept is tainted because of it’s association with the Queen (and I won’t bring up Dellums and all the things he tainted).

    When you expand to a more broad measure of violent crime to include robberies (esp. armed ones) and gunfire (which is why ShotSpotter is important even if OPD completely fails to use it for which it is effective), it does not appear that Richmond has accomplished anything, stats-wise, other than reduce the murder rate from 40 to 13 (ok, that’s still a very good thing).

    Given the number of gun fire incidents (over 8,000 in Oakland in 2012-2013), the murder rate being in the 90-130 range may have more to do with the aiming ability of the possessors of those guns. Maybe Richmond’s drop in murders for 2013 through April 2014 has to do with this.

    If the value of Ceasefire has more to do with changing individual’s life trajectory, how is a city (4 times the size of Oakland) supposed to track it with objective, quantifiable metrics that can’t be manipulated by those same politicians?

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  14. r2d2ii

    “Hey, you almost made me spit out my espresso. Can I quote you on that?”

    Quote away. It’s way past time for Oakland’s citizens to start speaking truth to the destructive power of its inbred, dysfunctional political establishment.

    Before we can hope to intervene usefully in our violence-dominated and gang-associated social groups, we need to intervene forcefully into the very insular culture of city hall.

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  15. Kheven LaGrone

    But look at the young African American man who graduated from Oakland Tech with those great grades and SAT scores. I read his story, it seems that his parents did a wonderful job guarding him from internalized racism.

    I know of other African American students doing well. I’m sure Oakland will continue to produce more.

    However, I read the comments from the “haters.” I hope they will be prepared to deal with the externalized racism that they will encounter.

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  16. Kheven LaGrone

    Clarification. By haters, I meant the commenters on the news article I read. Also, I hope the well-performing Oakland African American students are prepared to deal with such “hater-ism.”

    Reply

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