Glenville Ashby | The fractured self and black rage …Making sense of a legal defense
The following is part one of a three-part series featuring excerpts from the book ‘Conflict of Identity: From the Slave Trade to Present Day – One Man’s Healing in Benin, Africa’.
The fractured self in the context of racial identity is the denial and rejection of one’s blackness to the point of erasing it from one’s awareness. This often manifests itself as attempts to alter facial contours and complexion by claiming a white ancestry that is non-existent or marginal and denying that racism exists. In some cases, open disdain is expressed for fellow blacks.
In Ntokozo Miya’s article, ‘Black Teen Identifies With KKK, Says ‘White Is Right,’ 16-year-old Treasure Richards explained that although she was born black, she identified as a white person and could not relate to “thug and criminal” African-Americans.
Treasure explained: “I know I’m a Caucasian because when I wake up in the morning, I just have such a great life. My hair is so perfect, my skin is not ugly, and I am not fat, which is also a really African-American thing. So, like, I’m just nowhere near like them.”
Another symptom of the fractured self is the belief that there is an ongoing violent war with a racial enemy and the urgency to retaliate to avoid annihilation, a pathology referred to as black rage.
Black rage is used as a legal defence as in the case of Colin Ferguson. Ferguson was psychologically unhealthy long before he murdered commuters on a New York-bound train in 1993, blaming racism for his difficulty in landing a job. He was known to have said repeatedly that white people stood in his path to success.
As he squeezed the trigger multiple times, he said, “I am going to get you.”
His actions, while beyond the pale, speak of the vitriol and anger that boil silently in many black people. The black rage defence leans on environmental hardships to explain why a person commits a crime. In using such a defence, the African-American defendant tries to absolve or mitigate his conduct based on the years of oppression and racist hostility at the hands of white America. This defence was first used in the mid-1990s.
But there are many holes in this defence strategy, a strategy that has failed to favourably move jurors. While black rage was understood within the context of slavery, Jim Crow, and during the aftermath of pogroms against black townships in the early 20th century, it will never gain traction in modern-day society.
Not that institutional racism does not exist. Racism is still breathing healthily. Arguably, though, so many of us have broken the glass ceiling, attaining pre-eminence in many a field that once denied entry.
The ‘black rage’ defence prods us to look at a venomous society rooted in racism. What it does, to the contrary, is draw our attention to the proponent or perpetrator of this act.
We switch our attention to his or her psychological health, and what we see is disturbing. To function within the social construct, we build a strong ego, fending off shame, emotional pain, guilt, and anger by setting of defences (defence mechanisms). When these defences are breached, meaning that our subconscious pain can no longer be contained, the ego is fractured to the point of irrationality. Delusion, paranoia, and other forms of psychological abnormalities surface.
In the case of Ferguson, every white person he encountered or envisioned was an existential threat.
The ‘Ferguson Moment’ unearthed a host of feelings that I needed to process. A day after the massacre on the Long Island Railroad, I was in an all-white enclave of Brooklyn. On entering a store to purchase some items, customers stood looking at an overhead television monitor, all eyes glued to the latest news on the shooting.
I was the lone black individual.
As Ferguson’s face – the murderous villain – flashed across the screen, my heart sank. Why?
You might wonder, how does the concept of collective guilt relate to the Ferguson Moment? Why should a black person feel collective guilt if a ‘member’ of his in-group perpetrates a wrong against a member of the white collective?
- Dr Glenville Ashby is an award-winning author. His book, ‘Conflict of Identity: From the Slave Trade to Present Day – One’s Man’s Healing in Benin’, was released in October 2019. Email feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com, or tweet @glenvilleashby