In today’s Psych Central Podcast, originally a live recording on Facebook, Gabe talks with Okpara Rice, MSW. They tackle all of the tough subjects: white privilege, systemic racism, disparities in education and Black Lives Matter. Tune in for an informative discussion that leaves no stone unturned. Click on the player below to listen now!
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Guest information for ‘Okpara Rice- Psychological Toll of Racism’ Podcast Episode
Okpara Rice joined Tanager Place of Cedar Rapids, Iowa in July 2013, and assumed the role of Chief Executive Officer in July 2015. Okpara is the first African American to hold executive office at Tanager Place in its more than 140-year history.
He holds a Bachelor of Science in Social Work from Loyola University, Chicago, Illinois, and a Master of Social Work from Washington University, St. Louis, Missouri.
Okpara lives in Marion, Iowa with his wife Julie and sons Malcolm and Dylan.
Computer Generated Transcript for ‘Okpara Rice- Psychological Toll of Racism’ Episode
Editor’s Note: Please be mindful that this transcript has been computer generated and therefore may contain inaccuracies and grammar errors. Thank you.
Announcer: You’re listening to the Psych Central Podcast, where guest experts in the field of psychology and mental health share thought-provoking information using plain, everyday language. Here’s your host, Gabe Howard.
Gabe Howard: Hello, everyone, and welcome to this week’s episode of The Psych Central Podcast, we are recording live on Facebook. And for this special recording, we have Okpara Rice with us. Okpara Rice joined Tanager Place of Cedar Rapids, Iowa, in July of 2013 and assumed the role of chief executive officer in July of 2015. Now, Okpara is the first African-American to hold executive office at Tanager Place in its more than 140 year history. He also holds a Bachelor of Science in Social Work from Loyola University in Chicago, Illinois, and he has a Master’s of Social Work from Washington University from St. Louis, Missouri. Okpara lives in Marion, Iowa, with his wife, Julie, and sons Malcolm and Dylan. Okpara, welcome to the podcast.
Okpara Rice: It’s good to be with you again, Gabe. It was good to see you, man.
Gabe Howard: I am super excited for you to be here. There’s a lot going on in our country right now that necessitated conversations that, frankly, should have happened centuries ago. And you brought to my attention that there’s a lot of trauma involved in racism. Now, that’s something that I had never really considered. I want to state unequivocally, I think that racism is wrong and that it’s bad. And a month ago at this time, I would have thought that I understood what was going on. And I’m starting to realize that I may understand a skosh, but I don’t understand a lot. And you suggested an open dialog to talk about racism, race relations and the trauma that you’ve been through. And I want to say I appreciate you being willing to do so because it’s a tough conversation.
Okpara Rice: I appreciate you, man, being open to it and just I’ve always appreciated your friendship and being a colleague and knowing that what we have to do for our society is to have conversations with each other, to be vulnerable and not be afraid to ask questions of each other. If we don’t do that, we’re not going to learn. We’re not going to gain enough of a perspective and it’s definitely not going to help us move the community forward. So I just appreciate you having me today and look forward to the dialog.
Gabe Howard: Thank you so much for being here. All right. Well, let’s get started. Okpara, why do you think that racism is still an issue?
Okpara Rice: Man, that’s a way to jump right in there, Gabe, I’ve got to tell you. Because we’ve never really dealt with it as a country. As we’ve evolved as a country, we try to think we continue to make advancements, but there are some fundamental things that we have not really addressed. We know Bryan Stevenson down south, who runs the Equal Justice Initiative, was speaking about this a couple of years ago around how we have never come to reconciliation, even around slavery, around lynching. There are things that are just really uncomfortable for us as a society to talk about. And what we know is that there has been systems built. You go back to the beginning of slavery, you go further than that around making sure people are disenfranchised. And so we have these very concrete systems that are entrenched in the very fabric of our society to make sure that some segments, African-Americans sometimes in particular. And I’m an African-American. But there are other segments from all socio-economic levels that people don’t get ahead. And they’re designed that way. It is very hard to go back and look at how we are built as a country, right from the roots of slavery and someone else’s labor to build wealth and then to go back and think about where we are today.
Okpara Rice: Until we really address those core issues of who we are and how we evolved as a country and reconcile some of that painful history. I don’t know if we’re gonna get there. I will tell you, though, I am hopeful. I have never, I’m 46 years old, seen as much conversation as I have right now. And you think about all the horrific incidents that have happened. There’s something that really just resonated all of a sudden. And I mean, think about it, I got an email the other day from PetSmart, telling me Black Lives Matter. What is going on? Right. And so, what changed is we watched another black man die, and it just was the tipping point. And I think that these conversations are critical and it’s going to bring about some reform. I hope to bring about some reform. And let’s not forget we’re in the middle of a pandemic. And so people feel as strongly as possible right now and are out there marching and protesting in the middle of a pandemic. So I should tell you that this is a conversation whose time has come and well overdue.
Gabe Howard: Will Smith said that racism hasn’t changed and police misconduct hasn’t changed and treatment of African-Americans hasn’t changed. We’re just starting to record it because of cell phone cameras. And he feels, I’m not trying to take his platform, but he feels very strongly that this has been going on since pretty much the beginning of America. And we’re just now able to get it televised in a way that people can respond to. I grew up learning about Dr. King. He wrote the book Tales from a Birmingham Jail when he was in jail in Alabama, and we’re like, look, look what he did. Look at this amazing thing. He made lemonade out of lemons. But how do you feel about the headline not being a law abiding African-American man put in jail for doing nothing wrong? And we’re still talking about police reform. And this literally happened in the 60s.
Okpara Rice: We have been talking about. I had the pleasure of meeting Adam Foss a few years ago, and Adam is a former prosecutor out of Boston who has been talking about prosecutorial reform for years. And the criminal justice, the new Jim Crow, Michelle Alexander’s book, these things are out there. What happens is that we just have not been paying attention. Nothing has changed. The data has been there. What we know around the disproportionality and criminal justice system, disproportionality and how education is funded and housing and access to. Well. That does not change. That data has been there. The reality is that we have not paid attention to it for some reason, collectively as a society. And so when we look at that and we talk about the news and how black men are portrayed or even people who are protesting, none of it really surprises me. Because it’s not. That’s not a fun story to say, you know, protester who was doing nothing arrested. It doesn’t really matter. When we’re saying we have someone who may have done a minor crime, who was basically murdered in cold blood with a video camera pointed directly at them. And still, that didn’t make the police officer move or feel like he had anything he needed to correct.
Okpara Rice: That says a lot about who we are as a society. And I think that is a real breaking point. And remember, we just had also, Breonna Taylor, that situation happened down in Kentucky and then Ahmaud Arbery that just happened where two men decided to do a citizen’s arrest for a guy that is jogging. So it just says that we have got to open dialogue and look at addressing these things head on and calling a spade a spade. And that is hard for people to do. And if we think that the media, whoever it is going to, you know, their job is to sell papers, to get viewership. And so those things are the most inflammatory, is always what’s going to hit there, right? So you look at just recently even this, all the news coverage around the rioters and the looters. You’d think just absolute chaos. But it didn’t really talk about the thousands and thousands and thousands of people who were out there just marching and protesting peacefully of all creeds and colors. It just says like you go to the lowest common denominator because that’s what seems to grab people’s attention. But that doesn’t make it right. And some of those stories have not been told.
Gabe Howard: It struck me as odd that there is this belief that everybody is always acting in concert. As a mental health advocate, I can’t get all mental health advocates to act in concert with one another. There’s lots of infighting and disagreement in the mental health community. Now, you are a CEO of an organization. And I imagine that you and your employees are not always in lockstep. There’s disagreements, there’s closed door meetings, and you obviously have a human resources department. Everybody understands this. But yet, in the collective consciousness of America, people are like, OK, all the protesters got together. They had a meeting at Denny’s and here’s what they all decided to do. And this sort of becomes the narrative and that the protesters are looting. Well, isn’t it the looters who are looting? It’s a little bit disingenuous, right? And that really leads me to my next question about the media. Do you feel that the media speaks about African-Americans in a fair way, a positive or negative way? As a white male, the only time I ever feel that the media is unfair to me is when they talk about mental illness. The rest of the time, I feel that they’re representing me in a glowing, positive light. How do you feel about the media’s role in all of this?
Okpara Rice: As an African-American male, first of all, people see us as this threat no matter what. That’s just sort of a given. We have seen that it was actually not that long ago, I forgot who did the study was when you look at two of the same infractions that if there was a white person doing the same infraction, they put up a picture of them in their prep school or a high school picture, looking all young and fresh, and it was an African-American person who got arrested for something. What they portray them is like the worst possible picture you can find to make them look the part. And I think they actually did this with Michael Brown down in Ferguson, after he got killed. It plays into the narrative that we are scary. We’re big. We’re loud. And people should be afraid of us. This sort of gets perpetuated, has got perpetuated in movies, gets perpetuated on film. And things have gotten better because people are standing up and saying there’s a lot of black excellence in this country. Not everybody is a criminal. Millions of hard working and wonderful African-American professionals out there who are just taking care of their families, being great fathers, being great moms. Those are the stories that need to be out there. Those stories are not as sexy, though. That’s not as sexy as saying, oh, my God, we’re looking at some guy running down the street after he grabbed a TV from Target. Whether than saying, oh, my God, there were whole communities that came out together, put masks on and are marching for civil justice. A march for social justice. That’s a different type of story. So I do feel like some journalists are on the ground trying to do a better job of telling that story, because we have to demand that story is told. But we also know that the media is under target. Right. Newspapers are dying across the country. We know that the larger scale media is owned by large corporations. And so,
Gabe Howard: Right.
Okpara Rice: Again, it goes back to the different metrics that are being used. You know, I hope the local media continues to be able to tell those stories in those communities, because that is really important, that people do see others who are being positive to break that sort of stereotype that we’re all waiting to break into somebody’s house, it’s Birth of a Nation type stuff, man.
Gabe Howard: To give a little context, I maintain excellent relationships with police through the C.I.T. program. Now, C.I.T. is the mental health program for crisis intervention. And I’ve asked a lot of police officers how they feel about this. And one person said, look, people hate us now, but I’m not surprised because we were raised on this idea that if you see something wrong, it’s representative of the entire group. We’ve stoked that fire and we’ve raised it. And we’ve been okay with it. We’ve been okay with, oh, we see something in the black community that we don’t like. It’s representative of the entire community. And then we just moved on with our day. Well, now, all the sudden, people are starting to see something that they don’t like in policing or law enforcement. And we’ve decided, oh, that must be everybody. And, well, that’s what we are trained to believe. I can’t imagine, and I’m not trying to put words in your mouth, Okpara. I can’t imagine that you believe that every single police officer is bad. I’ve worked with you on C.I.T. before. So I know that you don’t feel that way. But how do you handle that?
Okpara Rice: I want to reframe it for you just a little bit.
Gabe Howard: Please.
Okpara Rice: And people say, well, why are African-Americans so frustrated about the police? Because we’ve been telling you these things that have been happening for decades. All right? When you have been saying the same thing over and over again and then people realize, oh, wait a minute, this actually is a thing. It’s kind of infuriating, right? Of course, not every police officer is horrible. I have a good relationship with the police chief here. Of course not. But we cannot deny that there is a fundamental systems problem that has to be addressed in policing and criminal justice. It just cannot be denied. The data is there. Again, that’s how people like to divide us. It gets us on this whole, you must hate them, they’re not good. It’s not about that. It’s about the system, the system that has been holding people down. And you have disproportionality in the criminal justice system for the same felonies, misdemeanors, whatever, that a white counterpart will have, African-Americans drastically, statistically, are way out of proportion with the population. So, I mean, those are things that cannot be denied. And this has been going on for decade after decade after decade.
Okpara Rice: You know, I talked to some officers and again, they’re good people at this tough job. I’ve never been a police officer. I have no idea what that experience is like. But it is very hard. When you look on TV, you know, once again, we go back to the media. When you see people, police officers, when you’re protesting for brutality and then you see police officers beating up on people protesting for brutality. Even in the last week, there have been officers across the country arrested for assault and all kinds of other things. Right. So that’s just happened. But these things are real. And so it’s not that people hate police. People hate a system that disenfranchises whole segments of society. That’s the issue. And that’s what has to be addressed. That’s why reforms can’t happen if a community and a city and everybody is a part of it, don’t come to the table and say we collectively believe this is wrong. And that’s how you have change.
Gabe Howard: One of the things that keeps being said is that, you know, it’s just a few bad apples, it’s just a few bad apples, it’s just a few bad apples. But, you know, for example, in the case of the few bad apples that pushed a 75 year old man and cracked his skull open, the 57 people quit. To, I don’t know, show solidarity that they should be allowed to shove elderly people for, I don’t know, back talking, I guess? So we have the bad actors. We have the bad apples. We’ll leave that sit there that they did the pushing. But why did the other officers feel the need to stand up and say, no, we want to protect our right to push? That takes away from this idea that it’s only a few bad apples, that if everybody is propping up those apples and, you know, not for nothing, nobody ever finishes that quote. It’s a few bad apples spoil the barrel. And if you’re not removing those apples? Do you feel that part of the problem is that nobody is holding the bad actors accountable and that the police sort of close ranks to protect the people that are maybe doing things that are, well, dangerous?
Okpara Rice: Gabe, I would say, again, I’m not a police expert. This is my one perspective is growing up in my skin and my experience. Every organization, every industry, every business has a culture to it. So those who are policemen know what the police culture is like. Know what is expected of each other. Know what the blue wall is. We’ve had that conversation. There are books and articles written about that. I don’t know if people want to cover for that if that is saying, hey, we believe it’s okay to shove a 75 year old guy down. I’m sure most of them wouldn’t want that. If you think about would they want that for their mom or their own dad. But the conversation, again, we lose sight of the conversation. It’s about what do they think is okay use of force? The policy in front of us, talking about what is an OK use of force and having some agreement about when you become aggressive. What that is supposed to look like. So that there is a social agreement with everyone saying this is what’s OK. When I saw the video of the guy getting knocked down and everybody sort of looked at him and then sort of kept it moving. I was like, God, that’s just cold. Right. Yeah.
Gabe Howard: Yeah.
Okpara Rice: But I wasn’t there. I don’t know the dynamics. And from the outside, that’s just crazy to me. But those people who decided to step off of that, they have to attune for themselves and their own morality and ethics. But that’s a conversation among law enforcement that they have to have because they have their own culture. I’m not of their culture, so I can’t speak to what it is like to be an officer, but it’d be fascinating to know and be a fly on the wall of a room behind closed doors. I’d be shocked to see anybody say, gosh, that was good. No, because most officers you talked to off the record say that’s nonsense and we can’t do this. We know we need to get better. So then they have that collective voice and that I don’t know.
Gabe Howard: We’ll be right back after these messages.
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Gabe Howard: We’re heading back to our live recording of The Psych Central Podcast with guest Okpara Rice discussing the trauma of racism. Based on what I’ve seen in the past few years and especially what I’ve seen in the last 10 days, it’s difficult not to just have this knee jerk reaction of why is this okay? Why have we tolerated this? And when you started to look at the research and the facts and figures and then when I started talking to my African-American friends, I realized I am not afraid of the police. I could not find one nonwhite person who said that they weren’t afraid of the police. And I don’t know what the solution is. I’m not even sure I understand the problem. But that’s very striking to me that every single nonwhite person that I met was like, look, Gabe. Between me and you, no, I’m terrified of them. And that’s got to suck if you’re law enforcement. But listen, that’s really got to suck if you’re not white. What are your thoughts on that?
Okpara Rice: Absolutely. I mean, you think every time I leave my house and jump in the car, a traffic stop can lead to my death. That’s just every black man in society. Every black woman. I mean, think about the numbers of examples. This was not new. I don’t speak for all black people, again. As you have these conversations with people, I am imploring people who are listening to this, watching this. Go have a conversation with somebody who does not look like you and ask them about their experience. Ask them about have they ever faced what it’s like to be stopped by a police officer? Knowing if you use your hands the wrong way, you may get shot. Gabe, I got my license. I was 14. I’ve had guns in my face at least three or four times at the hands of officers.
Gabe Howard: Wow.
Okpara Rice: And I wasn’t doing anything wrong in those times. I grew up in Chicago. I’m like, that’s just, that’s just the way it is. We’ve always had a kind of oppositional relationship with the police in some ways. When I leave the house, I know if I don’t prepare my sons for how to interact with police, they could wind up dead. And there’s not a mom who has raised an African-American child in this country who does not have the same fear. That’s what we live with. That is the weight that is on our shoulders. Think about what that does to you emotionally over time, over and over and over again. I was talking to my mom the other day and I said, what was it like seeing me being 17 and running the streets? And her saying, you know, I always wondered if you would come home alive or not. You know, that has not changed. Again, I am forty six years old and there are moms today who are sending their kids out in the community who are having those same exact thoughts. I’m not pro put down law enforcement. That’s not who I am. I think everybody needs to be at the table. But this is a time for everybody to do a little bit of soul searching about why they are the way they are. What is the culture that they have? What is the culture around policing and use of force and come to some agreements and saying, you know, maybe that needs to evolve with society because we can’t keep going this way.
Gabe Howard: You know, we’re doing a live episode, and when you’ve got the video, you could see Okpara, you know, pounding the desk. When we listen to this back on the podcast, without it, that banging is Okpara feeling. Like I’m looking into your eyes. And there’s this part of me that just wants to hug you and say that this can’t be it. Because I have heard, just like every other white person has heard, that America’s fair. We’re all treated equally. And however we end up, we end up based on our own hard work and dedication and stuff. And listen, some of the things that help reinforce that are when I meet people like you, Okpara, you have a masters. Like I’m jealous of you. You’re the CEO of a nonprofit organization. You wield a lot of influence and power. You are very well educated. You have a beautiful wife and children. Your house is bigger than mine. So when somebody says, hey, people in the African-American community aren’t treated fair, I think about my African-American friends and I think, well, but, he’s doing better than me. And suddenly that like turns off a switch in my mind that I don’t need to pay attention anymore. And I imagine that’s like very traumatic for you because your success has helped make me unintentionally turn a blind eye to the plight of minorities in this country. Because I figure, well, if Okpara can do it, anybody can.
Okpara Rice: That, I got to tell you, I’m so glad you said that. First of all, I think we need to establish a couple of things right now from the get go. Nothing is fair and equal. We have got to stop pretending that things are fair and equal. People, pick up a book, read an article, and learn about red lining, learn about how wealth has been cut out of African-American community, learn about how opportunities have been kept out of African-American communities. Learn about how education has systematically been stripped in African-American communities for excellence. We’ve got to understand that the playing field is not equal by any means, any stretch of the imagination. So if you are poor, or you are a person of color, you are already starting from behind. So people look at us right now and say, oh, God, you’re really making it, right? Yeah, I’m doing pretty good. But I had to work twice as hard to get here, right? My mom told me when I was a kid, I’ve got to be two times smarter than the average white person to be able to succeed in life. She wasn’t wrong. She wasn’t wrong. And people don’t like to admit that or have those conversations because the myth of, hey, you just pull yourself up by your bootstraps and it’s all going to be good. It’s just not true. It’s a lot of work.
Okpara Rice: And you know what? It’s also very easy to lose because there’s always people who believe you don’t belong there in the first place. And we don’t like to talk about it and we don’t like to admit it. But when I talk to my black colleagues around the country and even around the world, we all have the same experience. You know it the moment you walk into a place or walk into a room, walk into a boardroom. There are people in there who don’t believe you belong, that you are not smart enough, that you do not have the business acumen to make good decisions. And that’s just one microcosm of the world that I live in. So, yeah, I am very proud of what I’ve been able to accomplish, but I also worked really hard to get here. And what I want to see people understand is that it shouldn’t be like you gotta jump above and through every type of hoop imaginable. Our kids, our future is making sure the playing field is level. That’s the future. My kids, because they have a mom and a dad who have a master’s degree shouldn’t get any more advantage than the single mom having to work two jobs to care for herself and her children. They should have the same advantages. They should have the same opportunities in life. And we’ve gotta stop pretending that everybody does because they don’t.
Gabe Howard: When I bought my first house, Okpara, one of the things that somebody told me is, hey, this is a great school district. It then occurred to me that in order to have a great school district, you have to have a bad school district. And when all of us become 18, some of us graduated from a great school district and some of us graduated from a school district that was not great. We’re now all on the same playing field at 18, and there’s just a ton of examples like that that have been pointed out to me in the last month. They’ve been pointed out to me, frankly, all of my life. I’ve just chosen to ignore them because I believed that hard work and dedication would get me there. Okpara, we’ve talked a lot. We’ve talked a lot about how the world is not fair, how you had to work twice as hard, how your relationship with the police is different from mine. Let’s talk about all the trauma that has caused, because that’s one of the things that you said to me in preparation for this episode, that it’s very traumatic knowing that your country, well frankly, feels not good about you. You literally said that this was traumatizing. Can you talk about that?
Okpara Rice: Yeah, man, it is. I want people to understand and to realize, because we’ve become so desensitized to images. I took my sons a couple years ago to the new African-American Smithsonian Museum in D.C. Me and my wife made a commitment to make sure that our kids are exposed to understand who they are. And there’s an exhibit there, if people haven’t been there, I highly encourage them to go. It is an amazing, amazing museum, but we’re turning the corner. And I remember being next to my sons, and there was an exhibit with an image of lynching and having a discussion with them about what lynching is. And my son asked me, why are all the people standing around watching, you know? And I think about that image that gets burned in right now. Again, I’m a grown man. These are images I’ve seen my entire life. And I grew up on the south side of Chicago where schools would even talk about the civil rights movement and slavery. Flash forward. I live in Iowa now. Civil rights are hardly talked about in the schools here at all. I have this battle every year with the school district to talk about what are they going to bring into the classroom.
Okpara Rice: It is something that you’ve got to think about. What are those images? We literally just watched a man die. We all collectively, as a society just watched a man die. And we go back to the Tamir Rice video, even from Cleveland. They showed that. So because we do have all these little phones in our pocket. From Ahmaud Arbery, we just watched all those things happen and think about what that does to our psyche. I’m like, I’m a social worker by trade. You think about clinically what it does to you. Of having people tell you and reinforce images of you’re not worthy or your life doesn’t have value. That is what is happening to the black community. So there’s a collective sadness and exhaustion. When I watched the video, I’m like another guy. Like, seriously? And I’m watching that video. And I don’t know what, it’s kind of like disaster porn in some ways. I don’t want people to like. I mean understand what they’re watching. It’s not just about that. Look at the face of the officer. He didn’t have a care in the world kneeling on that man’s neck.
Gabe Howard: And it’s important to understand that he knew that he was on video. And it’s sad to say it this way, but I think maybe this is why this one was the flashpoint, because it, one, it was a very long time. It was eight and a half minutes. There were other police officers around there were first responders that gave him a warning. And, of course, he knew that he was being filmed. And as the majority of my friends say, if this is how you act when, you know, people are watching, what are you doing when people are not? And I hate to ask the question again, Okpara, just I’m asking you and only you. How did that make you feel?
Okpara Rice: Sad. I mean, it’s just sad. It’s because you have to sit down. And again with my kids and explain why a guy who’s already handcuffed, laying on the ground winds up dead. How does a guy like Freddie Gray wind up in the back of a paddy wagon and have his neck and spine snapped? How does that happen? It’s getting harder and harder to answer that question. For me, it is exhausting and it is tiring. I was sad, because you have another life that is brutally taken for no reason, no reason, and it just becomes exhausting watching another black brother die at the hands of people who don’t give a damn about our lives. And that’s not, that’s not OK. And then you have the anger with it and saying, what is it going to take? You know, what is it going to take for people to understand? And this has to stop. Something happened, and I can’t put my finger on it but something happened that collectively as a society around the country, around the world, people are like, wait a minute, OK, like, OK, this is, this is it. Who knows what starts a movement? What starts the rallying cry? I have no idea. I’m just going to appreciate that it has started. That this man’s life will have meaning far beyond the years he spent on this earth, because he may save someone else’s life and not even realize it.
Gabe Howard: I feel again. Thank you. For being so honest. I mean, you’re doing this live. You don’t even get a retake. I sincerely appreciate that. My next question has to do with like you said, we’re still in the middle of a pandemic. We spent a lot of time watching the news and we watched white people carrying AK-47s storm the capital, disobey police, walk into a building with semi-automatic weapons. To be fair, they were carrying legally, but with semi-automatic weapons. They disobeyed police and went into a capital building that housed that state’s governor. No arrests. And then a month later, we see African-Americans protesting for equal treatment, for fair treatment after on video being traumatized by an eight and a half minute death. And because of those protests, rubber bullets, gas, pepper spray, and just dozens upon dozens of arrests. How does it make you feel to know that if you were a white guy, you could storm the capital with a semiautomatic weapon where the governor was and not even get arrested? But as an African-American protesting police misconduct, you will be arrested. What does that do internally?
Okpara Rice: Let’s go back to the story about the Michigan protests. Because I’ve said this to a lot of friends. It’s not a joke, but it’s kind of funny. If it was a group of brothers walked in there with AK-47s and walked in the capital. What do you think would have happened at the end of that? Do you think that would have been a peaceful protest? Do you really think that’s how that would have gone down? No. You would have a lot of black men dead at the hands of police. I’m sorry. It is, again, we keep pretending that the rules for one is the same as the rules for all. And it’s just not. That is reality. You look on stories, people even who right now stand there, protesters with their guns out, you know, trying to use intimidation tactics. What if we use those same tactics? So ask yourself, why don’t we use those tactics? There are plenty of black gun owners in this country. Because we know if we step there and we go there, we are going to be dead. And that is not going to help anybody carry that message. So, again, it is not equal. It is not the same. And we have to stop pretending that it is and call a spade a spade. And that’s the reality. So, of course, it’s going to be met with rubber bullets and whatever when we have this power in law, like we are like, you know, we’re trying to come down hard and be tough sort of thing, like, yeah, OK. That’s not a surprise. But let’s not pretend that is exactly the same.
Gabe Howard: Okpara, you have to make your way in this world, too. And you have literally just described white privilege, systemic racism, unfair treatment. I’m not you. And I’m angry on your behalf. How does it make you feel? What kind of trauma is this causing? How does it influence your day to day decisions?
Okpara Rice: I will tell you this, you know, because the other thing that we haven’t even talked about is we’re in the midst of a pandemic, where it’s also a disproportionate effect on African-Americans. So there’s a lot of things happening in society. I went down to a rally that we had in Cedar Rapids with my sons and my wife. And we’re a blended family, an interracial family. And again, it was important for us that our kids be there and hear and be a part of that. And what I saw. Hands down. We had a very mixed crowd. And there were people who were as outraged as I was about what was happening, if not more so, and vocal about it. And I was thinking, all right, we might get something done. So I’m going to say, you know, as pissed off as I am about everything that has happened and is happening and has continued to happen, I’m actually kind of encouraged because maybe it woke some people up to understand. Yeah, there’s such a thing as white privilege. There is inequalities in society and God doesn’t Colin Kaepernick feel pretty justified right about now? He’s talking about this and look how he got blackballed. So he’s got to feel pretty damn good. Right? So the reality is people are waking up to understanding that, OK, this isn’t right. But this is just one tip of a much larger policy dialog we need to have about how communities of color in particular have been held down by all of these systems. Police reform, criminal justice reform is just one part of a much larger policy debate we need to have to empower these communities to come forward. That’s the part that can’t get lost. We absolutely need to march and deal with this, but we also have to deal with these other issues that people also have. Just waking up to that this is also issues in society that have to be dealt with.
Gabe Howard: Okpara, you’re a dad. You have two children and you’ve been telling the story so far as this is a learning opportunity. I want to educate my children. I want them to grow up to be good men. And does that weigh heavily on you?
Okpara Rice: Oh, man, I look at it as an opportunity. And I’ll say about my kids in particular. My oldest son is named Malcolm. We named him after Malcolm X and my younger son is named Dylan Thurgood and he’s named after Thurgood Marshall. They carry that weight. They understand their namesakes and what they gave for this country. We talk about this stuff all the time. And my kids have bracelets and this is what we talk about. It’s a Bob Marley quote for those who like Bob Marley. I don’t come to bow, I come to conquer. And that’s the mindset that you have to have. Society is going to continue to throw things at you. They’re going to continue to put obstacles up for your success. You’re either going to lay down and let it happen or you’re going to conquer those things. And that’s the attitude we’re trying to raise our sons with. And so I wouldn’t be here if there weren’t people who believed in me along the way. But I know I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for people who are pioneers who laid the path. Yeah, we stand on the shoulders of giants right now. I am standing watching these young people who are out there protesting and all these folks. And I’m in awe of them because they are taking that advocacy the same way that that’s been the part of who we are for a long, long time.
Okpara Rice: And they’re taking that. What I want to see happen is that we take that advocacy and we move it to policy and broad policy. And I think we can do that. So for me, my kids, unfortunately, get to hear this a lot, almost on a daily basis around these issues because we don’t run from it. What happened in Charlottesville? We stopped and we talked about that. We talk about hate. We talk about what is the Klan and disparities in education and why is it important to vote. So we are very honest with our kids about where life is. That’s part of our responsibilities, to raise them to be as strong as they possibly can and to be able to deal with whatever this world and this society throws at them. And that’s what you do, man. You don’t give up hope because of the anger. Anger just eats away at you.
Gabe Howard: The Black Lives Matter movement rose up in response to police misconduct and law enforcement overreach. And then all of a sudden people started yelling, All Lives Matter. I’ve been a mental health advocate at this point for 15 years. Whenever I said we need to help people with severe and persistent mental illness, nobody came up to me and said, we need to help people with cancer. We need to help people with all illnesses. Like how traumatic is that for you that you can’t even discuss the issue without being told that apparently you dislike all the other humans on the planet? I can’t even fathom.
Okpara Rice: Remember, this is all smoke and mirrors, man. It’s just another way to try to divide people away from the core issue. No one is saying black lives matter and everybody else’s lives doesn’t matter. It’s not even rational to say that. Right. But what the reality is, is saying we are dying at the hands of people who are supposed to be protecting us. We have systems of oppression that have been rooted in this country from the beginning. So there is nothing wrong with saying, hey, our lives do matter. That’s all I’m saying. And we are not disposable in society. Our lives matter. That doesn’t mean that nobody else’s lives matter. It doesn’t mean any of that. You don’t have to put up one to put somebody else down. It is a false narrative that I think is being perpetuated to keep people apart. Look, the core issue, the difference is, I don’t know if it’s going to fly this time. I’m not sure people are hearing it. You know, I really don’t. And so I think that maybe a few years ago, because then we had all the other lives matter and we had I mean, everybody had one. Right. And then I think people are coming to realize, oh, I really do start to understand, you know, what they’re talking about. Oh, my God, I am starting to see this. So, you know, I don’t even get into that All Lives Matter debate because I think it’s just silly and people are just trying to divide us because that’s what’s convenient and easy to do.
Gabe Howard: Okpara, sincerely, I can’t thank you enough. I want to give you closing words. What is the last thing that you have to say to our audience before we ride off into the sunset?
Okpara Rice: I’m going to say very simply to your audience, vote, right? Vote if you don’t agree with what is happening. It is our responsibility and our power to get people in office who have our best interests. And we have to continue to read. We have to continue to read between the lines. And I highly encourage people to have a dialog with somebody else that can challenge their thinking. And part of the reason we wanted to talk today was just to talk as friends. I’m not an expert on systematic racism in America. I don’t write any books. But there are a ton of people out there who are. And that’s our responsibility to go and find that knowledge and bring that knowledge in. And we can do that. We have the power to do that. So there’s an election coming up at the end of the year. And this country is going to decide where do we want to go in the next four years? I’m going to be hopeful that things come together. People have the power to bring about change. We helped create these systems. We can tear them apart. And now is the time. And we can’t wait for other people to do it. And we can do that. So use your voice, use your advocacy. Use each other to make that happen. And please have a dialog with other people and share and go out there and take a risk. And somebody is going to help you learn. But remember, it’s not every African-Americans’ responsibility to teach you about racism. So find some resources as well. And there are plenty out there. But know that people will have this conversation if you’re genuine and if you’re coming from a place of intellectual curiosity and love. So remember that.
Gabe Howard: All right. Thank you, everybody, for listening to this special Facebook Live version of The Psych Central Podcast. Please, like, subscribe, rank, review. Share the Live Facebook version of The Psych Central Podcast on Facebook to complete the circle. We have our own special Facebook group, you can find it at PsychCentral.com/FBShow. Check it out. And remember, you can get one week of free, convenient, affordable, private online counseling anytime, anywhere, simply by visiting BetterHelp.com/PsychCentral. And we will see everyone next week.
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This article originally appeared on Psych Central as Podcast: The Trauma of Racism- An Open Dialogue.