Stockholm Syndrome & Knowledge of Self

I had a conversation with a close mentor Friday, and he and I were talking about personal accountability after I told him about my post on parental accountability. We talked about what could happen in a person’s mind to lead them to no longer take responsibility for themself. This is similar to sentiments of one of the individuals I met in New Orleans, who said “What kind of man won’t save himself? There’s got to be more to it than being bull-headed.

He talked about the famous Stockholm Syndrome, saying that he felt Black folks in America had the most severe case of it on record. All of these statements/position caused me to think: Is the reason that people refuse to reclaim their sense of accountability that they are willingly dependent on their oppressors?

I struggle with this concept, and I’m sure others do as well, because the goal is harmony and togetherness. The goal (in my mind) is people, ALL people of ALL types, working together towards common interests that translate into individual benefits (e.g. working together to strengthen public education (common interest) resulting in better-educated children (individual benefit) who return their knowledge and talents back to the community (common interest)). However, there is a degree of basic personal responsibility that needs to be acknowledged here. We are personally responsible for the decisions we make in the midst of whatever circumstances we are faced with. My goal is to contribute to the creation of circumstances where choices that positively effect the individual and the community are clearly more attractive than their negative alternatives.

To me, willing dependence on oppressors is a negative decision. There is a difference between dependence and co-existence. Dependence says “I can’t do anything without you.” Co-existence says “Together we can do better for ourselves and for each other if we work together.” Dependence removes personal responsibility; co-existence embraces it.

Why is this distinction important? The psychological effects of institutional slavery and the racism that precluded it and remained afterwards created a false sense of dependency of Black people in America on non-Black people in this country. Whether or not this was the intention of the system is unclear to me, but that is what resulted. How did they do this? By effectively robbing people of their self-definition. Knowledge of self is the most enabling possession that a man or woman can have. With it comes clarity, purpose, direction, and a host of other positive things. A person cannot take responsibility for themselves if they do not know who they truly are. This goes back to what Brandon was talking about when he asked, who are you?

Now here is the crazy part: another reason we are not aware of who we truly are is because…we think we already know?!?!?!?! Meaning, since I already “know” the answer, I don’t bother asking the question. Consider a simple example: if I know that 1 + 1 = 3, why would I ask someone else what 1 + 1 equaled. Already you see the flaw here: what I know is a lie!!!!! Similarly, our people have been defined by this culture as inferior, subordinate, entertaining, uneducated, poor, ignorant second-class members of society that have both spoken and unspoken limits to their growth potential. THAT IS A LIE, just like 1 + 1 doesn’t equal 3.

We must move beyond the lies that have been fed to us by yesterday’s slave masters and today’s corporate media, elevating our consciousness to combine the knowledge of our past with the fullness of our future. It’s back to the basics everybody. The basic questions we need to understand and address are these:

Who are we?
This is explained above, but it is the core of the issue at hand. You cannot [properly] use a word unless you understand its definition. Likewise, I cannot properly use my person unless I have a level of understanding of myself.

What do we need to do and why?
What are the things that have been successful in the past and can be applied today. The second part here is important because not everything that worked yesterday can work today: some things apply, some things don’t. However, you cannot make that distinction unless you understand what happened yesterday. Cats that complain about marches being ineffective today should analyze why they were used and why they worked then. My mentor mentioned above stressed that action is generally born out of necessity. What were the motivations behind using marching as a form of demonstration for change? Undoubtedly, at least some of those motivations likely still are present today. Perhaps there are more efficient and/or effective ways to address those motivations today. Maybe we can take advantage of new media/resources that may not have been available in the 40s. The point here is, once we understand the why, the what may be easier to address.

How can we work together to do what we need to do?
If you have a team where every member understands the reason that they have been put together and acts with solidarity, you can accomplish great things. When individuals understand themselves, they can then understand where they fit into any sort of collective action. When the purpose of a collective action is clear, it is easier for people to align with it or participate in it. A good friend of mine told me that two things were important during any concrete conversation: definition and context. The definition part is the overall subject of this writing. The context part lies here, where we define how all of the pieces (people with knowledge of self) fit in relation to one another and to any sort of collective group or action.

Let’s talk about basics. Let’s talk about fundamentals, the things that effect everything we do. Thinking about the basics is what I’m trying to do at this point in my life. It can definitely help to simplify the complex. I say we embark on such a journey together, share our experiences, and support one another in this mental and emotional revolution.



About Garlin Gilchrist II

I am the City of Detroit's first ever Deputy Technology Director for Civic Community Engagement. My job is to open up the city's public data and information for the consumption and benefit of all Detroiters. I currently live in Detroit, my hometown, with my beautiful wife Ellen and our twins Garlin III and Emily Grace. I'm from Detroit. I created Detroit Diaspora, and was formerly the National Campaign Director at I also co-hosted The #WinReport on "The Good Fight," a an award winning, nationally syndicated radio show that was one of Apple's Best of 2013. After graduating with degrees in Computer Engineering and Computer Science from the University of Michigan, I became a Software Engineer at Microsoft. By day, I helped build SharePoint into the fastest growth product in the company's history. On my personal time, I sought out opportunities to connect my technical skills with community building efforts across the country. This led to my co-founding The SuperSpade: Black Thought at the Highest Level, a leading Black political blog. I served as Social Media Manager for the 2008 Obama campaign in Washington, and then became Director of New Media at the Center for Community Change. I spent two years creating and implementing a strategy for the Center to take it's 40 years of community organizing experience into the digital age. I speak before diverse audiences on effective & responsive government, empowerment in revolutionary new organizing spaces, increasing civic engagement & participation through emerging technologies and protecting civil rights in the age of the Internet. Full bio here.

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