The writer met Micah through the Society for Humanistic Psychology, Division 32. He’s a graduate research assistant in psychology at the University of West Georgia, amongst much else.
He has a powerful knack of catching an experience or a line of thought in a few words, and we have quoted him before:-
Last week, he posted this on Facebook, and we asked for and obtained permission to quote him again. His words feel relevant to the writer’s daily experience, and our own national picture. Listening to David Cameron and others on the media in the past few days, she shares Micah’s wish to ‘paint a picture’, whether the issue is racial context/history, or some other manifestation of social inequality, oppression and deprivation:-
‘I’ve been thinking a lot about Ferguson and Baltimore and all that stuff going on.
I wish I could paint a picture for people of how behavior and beliefs and trauma get passed on, especially whenever someone tells me that slavery has been over for a long time and black people should get over it and get a job or whatever.
I didn’t get to where I am by myself, by will power, by intelligence…at least not any of things isolated from a bigger picture. My parents both have graduate degrees, they’ve both taught school. My granddad was the mayor of a (small) town. You don’t think that plays into how I was raised, what I was told about myself and my abilities, explicitly and implicitly? And that that influences how I think and what I believe and what I do?
When people are humiliated for generations, it reverberates in more than just their legal positioning (as slaves/free people, as second-class citizens/equal citizens). The conditions people live under influence their beliefs about themselves. Their beliefs about themselves influences how they raise their children, which influences their children’s beliefs about themselves.
I see black people trying really hard to overcome a lot of negative beliefs, racism both internal and external (research shows it’s harder to get a job as a black man). I see them going to college and applying themselves and trying to find employment. I’d imagine these people are the lucky ones, who have gotten breaks that a lot of people living in poverty and drug and violence stricken inner cities haven’t.
I don’t want to downplay individual factors. I believe (on good days anyway) in free will and I think people can transcend negative circumstances and conditions, given the right resources. But I think it’s equally important, or maybe more important given the lack of attention, to look at how social and cultural forces influence the trajectories of individual lives.
I don’t know if affirmative action or welfare or anything else is the answer, I don’t understand political theory or economics all that well, that stuff is more complex than I can even imagine, but I do think it’s important to understand what’s going on in a holistic, panoramic, systems-level way, before you start talking about the irrationality or immorality of the actions of certain individuals or groups of individuals.
There’s a distinction I keep coming back to as I study psychology: the distinction between condoning and understanding. I don’t condone a lot of things, like violence. Understanding it is completely different, though, and breeds the grounds for a response that won’t blindly and unconsciously contribute to crappy situations.’
Palace Gate Counselling Service, Exeter