By Dr. Michele Perry-Springer
What do the fictional African Utopia portrayed in Marvel’s most recent blockbuster, the birth of the Black Panther Movement and the eighth young person to be stabbed to death in the UK have in common? That is the question I asked myself at 4am this morning.
As a black educational psychologist I am often asked by people in my community why I joined the profession. My answer is that ‘I want to make a difference…I want to have an impact on and prevent children from my community ending up in prison or dead’. These words are as true today as they were when I first became an educator. I repeated these same words last Saturday March 17th 2018 while attending the inaugural workshop and meeting of the UK Chapter of the Association of Black Psychologists (UKAbpsi).
For the first time in my 24 years as an educator I felt that I may have something to offer my community. I was ‘woke’. At the workshop I was rejuvenated and my spirit was elevated as I recognised for the first time the power of African Centred, black psychology for approaching the black psyche. I recognised for the first time that trying to approach the issues rampant in black communities from a Eurocentric perspective is inadequate. It often only serves to perpetuate oppression and alienate the people that we are trying to “help”.
Being in a space where black academics and practitioners were espousing the argument for African psychology I was like a child in a sweetie shop. Hearing about the African-centric theories underpinned by the works of Wade, Na’im, and others…black psychologists I had never heard of has left me in the process of recalculating, unlearning and decolonising so that I can see with new eyes. Being a black psychologist does not give you the understanding needed to be a psychologist for black children; that is what I learned on Saturday 17th March 2018.
On Friday 16th March 2018, 2 friends and I went to a sold out free event hosted by the Birmingham City University, home of the first ever Undergraduate Degree in Black Studies. It was a talk given by Kathleen Cleaver a founder of the Black Panthers and the ex-wife of Elridge Cleaver. At this talk I was enlightened about the struggle from the inside. How do you love, hold your family together, and survive while fighting and fleeing? Aunty Kathleen helped paint a picture of solidarity, sacrifice, solace and survival. What I also learned was that Oakland California was where the Black Panther Party had started, Oakland.
Why is this significant? Well Oakland will be the host city for the 50th annual International Convention of the Association of Black Psychologists (ABPsi). Fifty years ago a group of black psychologists tired of the lack of accommodation and recognition offered by the American Psychological Association (APA), left and in Oakland gave birth to an association aimed at liberating the mind and illuminating the black spirit. A group of psychologists who recognised that true liberation is not about removing iron chains around wrists but is instead challenging the invisible psychological chains that hold many of us ensnared in self-loathing and self-degradation. The impact of which lingers well after the iron has been removed.
On the 16th of March I did not know about ABPsi and the convention in Oakland….on the 17th I did.
In the midst of all of this self-discovery and dot joining, the news of young people being killed in unprecedented numbers (at the time of writing the 8th killing in 7 days). When headlines start to read ‘London murder rate overtakes New York as knife crime rises’ (Reuters Apr 3rd 2018) everyone sits up and listens. What lies behind these headlines is the disproportionate impact that these deaths have within the black community.
The ongoing epidemic killing of primarily black youths in areas of deprivation is unfortunately not a phenomenon new to the black community, but this feels different. Has the world changed? Is there is a lack of compassion, a lack of empathy and understanding? With the backdrop of heightened nationalism, patience is thin when it comes to the ‘other’ creating strife. The black community have to solve this issue because it feels like no one else cares or can. Black death seems to make good headlines to scare but not necessarily to care. A narrative that needs to be challenged!
In the face of these challenges I wonder…
Where’s our Wakanda, our black utopia? I know many on the outside looking in may find it hard to understand the black community’s reaction to a fictionalised land in a movie. To put simply it celebrated us, connected us and reminded us that there is still work to be done. For me that work is educational, it is psychological, it is spiritual. Wakanda has injected us with adrenaline, there is an energy rippling through the community and it feels like we are awakening from a self-induced coma. Wakanda has helped us to remember what it is we are fighting to return to. We are a community consumed by trauma, trauma that disconnected us not only from the roots that should anchor us but also from each other. A community without the rituals and rights that bind us, we are tribe-less (lost) and Wakanda helps us to feel like we belong again.
Oakland will provide me with the tools needed to help build a psychological Wakanda, I may not be able to prevent the 9th, 10th or even 22nd killing but I will be part of the change that is coming even if I have to bring it myself!!
Michele is a Senior Educational Psychologist working in Dudley Educational Psychology Service.
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