Doing better requires that we confront our self-defeating behaviors
Black people are always near the top, if not number one, in every statistic for something bad. We really do not need statistics to point these things out. Just go on Broadway, Lake Street, Payne, Arcade, Penn, Rice Street, etc. and observe for yourself.
We are very much aware of the droves of research studies that identify African Americans in the top three of all the categories that are negative. A few of these categories are life expectancy, sexually transmitted disease rates, low academic achievement, unemployment, homelessness, etc.
We’re also no strangers to the fact that historical trauma plays a huge role in all of these variables. However, a painful truth in the community is that we have played a role ourselves in these negative outcomes.
We must ask ourselves the following: Why do we respond to life’s difficulties the way that we do? Why do we choose attitudes and behaviors like smoking, overeating, violence, drinking to excess, drug use, and putting ourselves and/or others down that we know are not in our best interest? We do many of these things even though common sense warns us not to.
Collectively these responses are known as “self-defeating behavior.” It’s something that started off positive but over time has a negative result. Everyone has behaviors that are either constructive or not constructive. We are all subject to this.
However, some people have more self-defeating than constructive behaviors. This is where things get dangerous.
A “dysfunctional baseline” is when self-defeating behaviors become normalized. This can be the result of internalized oppression, extensive exposure to poverty, and/or prolonged abuse. This is also where we see negative behaviors become a part of culture. Many people are often unaware that their behaviors are dysfunctional because they have been a part of the culture for generations.
However, the dysfunctional baseline serves as a starting point that does not mobilize the individual, the family, or the community. We often see this in relationships where people repeat the same negative behaviors that they were exposed to. So, when the self-defeating behaviors become normalized we have a dysfunctional baseline, which results in delayed development.
So where does all this come from? There’s been a lot of research that points to the historical trauma that African Americans have experienced in this country for several decades. The beginning of this was chattel slavery, followed by the Black Code Laws and Jim Crow, followed by the rise of ghettos and the drug era, and followed by what we see today as an institutionalized generation.
We can conclude there has been a domino effect on the experience of African Americans that has led to their self-defeating behaviors. On an individual level, the intergenerational trauma is significant.
These are the thoughts, speech, actions, perception, and emotional responses that have been passed down from generation to generation. Many of these behaviors are trauma responses.
In short, our history around the world is vast and unique. However, we must understand the current state of affairs we are operating in. It is a tough pill to swallow to admit we play a role in our overall condition.
It’s a common staying that “We must do better.” However, that is where actions usually end. What exactly must we do better?
I believe the two most important things are to build solid family foundations and to understand the system of capitalism (so we can build an economic network that benefits us collectively). Both of these actions are predicated on addressing our trauma in a healthy way.
It’s my belief that once these two things become top priorities for Black people, collectively we will see drastic change. However, first we must get out of our own way.
Brandon Jones M.A. is a mental health practitioner. He welcomes reader responses to email@example.com or follow him on twitter @UniversalJones.