By Rosaland Tyler
New Journal and Guide
The Rev. Dr. Martin L. King Jr. did not use the term “mind games” in his 1967 book, “Where Do We Go from Here” because the term officially came into existence the next year, in 1968. Specifically, the dictionary defines the term “mind games” as an act of calculated psychological manipulation, done especially to confuse, intimidate, or to depersonalize to gain the advantage.
A mind game is a largely passive-aggressive sport. One example is the recent Rubik’s Cube. And, Mats Valk set a new world record on Nov. 7 by skillfully lining up the squares on the Rubik’s Cube in 4.74 seconds at the championship match in Indonesia.
The point is Dr. King performed a similar feat in 1967 by isolating himself from the demands of the Civil Rights Movement, renting a house in Jamaica with no telephone, and finishing a book that focused on the fork-in-the-road-moment that had surfaced in the civil rights struggle.
Just as Valk recently set a new world record by skillfully lining up the 26 tiles on the Rubik’s Cube, King’s book solved the puzzling problems of his day 50 years ago by lining up the achievements, successes, and strengths of the Civil Rights Movement.
“The fight is far from over, because it is neither won. . .nor lost,” King wrote on pages 16 and 17. “Negroes have irrevocably undermined the foundations of Southern segregation; they have assembled … power. And beyond this, they have now accumulated the strength to change the quality and subsistence of their demands. … They are now advancing to programs that impinge upon the basic system of social and economic control.”
King added, “What distinguished this period from all preceding decades was that it constituted the first frontal attack on racism at its heart … Since the beginning of the civil rights revolution, Negro registration in almost every Southern state has increased by at least 100 percent.”
Pointing to a clear impact, in other words, King added, “There are no illusions among Southern segregationists that these gains are unimportant. The old order has already lost ground … Far more important, the racists have restructured old programs to cope with the emerging challenge … The most serious contender in recent elections was a white governor who publicly welcomed the Negro vote, shaped his policies to it and worked with Negro political organizations in the campaign. This change in itself is a revolutionary event.”
And this is where the mind games come in. The struggle for civil rights is at another crossroads, as President Barack Obama exits office and announces plans to launch a new redistricting reform effort with former Attorney General Eric Holder and key Democratic Party leaders, according to news reports.
Is the new mind game to marginalize, dismiss, and ignore the gains that African-Americans have made in the past 8 years?
According to census reports, more than half of the nation’s children are expected to be part of a minority group in 2020. Meanwhile, US News and World Report noted on June 2015, the US is becoming a majority-minority nation. “In 2014 there were more than 20 million children under 5 years old living in the U.S., and 50.2 percent of them were minorities.”
Is the new mind game to recycle old, tired up-in-your-face racist symbols like the Ku Klux Klan, or the recent nomination of alleged racist Jeff Sessions for Attorney General, or to disproportionately use electronic surveillance in minority neighborhoods, in order to intimidate? Or gerrymandering which helped to launch the Trump presidency? “The white, rural, working class voter did it,” the New Republic said of Trump’s win on Nov. 15. “The white working class was instrumental in delivering Trump the White House.”
The problem is Jacques Lacan: the French Freud called mind games the struggle for prestige.
Former Chesapeake Mayor Dr. William Ward was asked to sum up African-American progress at this crossroads, like King did in 1967. Ward said, “We still have the vote. We don’t always use it wisely, but the vote is probably the only strength we have.”
Ward continued, “We have a presence in the legislative arena; but we don’t have a controlling bloc of votes in any legislative area. We have many Congressional Black Caucuses in state legislatures; but many state legislatures are controlled by Republicans. We have also used the ballot to elect mayors in recent years but we have not sustained those positions in other cities across the nation. Many mayors are white.”
Pointing to other strengths, Ward said, “We have a voice but it is sometimes a voice in the wilderness. And we have the ability to mobilize – and a legacy of mobilization – that is something we may have to rely on again. Another one of our strengths is the dollar. Blacks in Hampton Roads could exert control by not spending their money here.”
In plain terms, are mind games overshadowing the gains that minorities have made in recent years? “Historically a mind game has been played on us,” Ward said. “We have been the subject of mind games from the 1600s to the present.”
Ward continued, “The belief in our inferiority has been instilled in us. And we have internalized the message to the point that we have a belief in our inferiority, and believe we can only accomplish so much, given the constraints that we have faced.
“It has always been an uphill struggle. Society says we have already overcome because Obama was president – you can do what you like and so forth. And our young people get caught up in the mentality that they live in an inclusive world, and do not see themselves as a sector of a sub-caste.”
Where do we go from here? Ward said, “We need to support our institutions. New leadership is needed. And what happened to the momentum and enthusiasm (from the Obama era)?”
Where do we go from here, King asked 50 years ago? Now, the answer comes sharply into focus as you study the history of the Rubik’s Cube. After the first international Rubik’s Cube world championship was held in Budapest on June 5, 1982, and was won by Minh Thai, a Vietnamese student from Los Angeles, with a time of 22.95 seconds, a steady stream of books showed readers how to solve the Rubik’s Cube. Specifically, most books showed you how to take the Rubik’s Cube apart and put it back together again step-by-step. This means writers dissembled the Rubik’s Cube and analyzed it.
Did the same thing happen to the Civil Rights Movement?
Ironically, the year that book sales on the Rubik’s Cube slowed, President Ronald Reagan was elected to office in 1981. This means the year that bestselling how-to-books on the Rubik’s Cube were slowing to a crawl, Reagan took office. “He pursued no onslaught against affirmative action,” Doug Rossinow wrote in his –book, The Reagan Era: A History of the 1980s.
“Instead of issuing executive orders curtailing affirmative action, Reagan chose the slower course of naming executive and judicial appointees who showed little zeal for civil rights enforcement in general,” Rossinow continued.
“The Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, as well as the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission now chaired by Clarence Thomas, became far less active … Sandra Day O’Connor … became the stealth conservative on the U.S. Supreme Court … (taking) the lead role in decisions that undid certain affirmative action policies and (giving) the cold treatment generally (to) plaintiffs of color who alleged discrimination.”
As bestsellers showed the secret to solving the Rubik’s Cube was taking it apart and reassembling it in a solved state, are Republicans moving along similar lines as they announce plans to dismantle and reassemble Obama’s signature legislation?
The good news is mind games also have a beneficial effect. These games increase the brain’s plasticity, a term neuro scientists use to show how the brain has the ability to change at any age – for better or worse. For example, a 2008 landmark study at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor showed mind games may improve so-called fluid intelligence—the capacity to succeed at new cognitive tasks and in new situations.
The report disputed the historic but disputed notion that intelligence is inherited and cannot be modified. “I think it’s important that someone has demonstrated. . .you can change measures of ‘intelligence’ by intensive training,” study co-author Martin Buschkuehl, a U.M. psychologist said of the 2008 study, which had 35 participants who did the exercise and improved as they trained. The more they trained the better they got. Instead of learning items one by one, subjects in the study boosted their brainpower by simultaneously handling consonants heard on headphones, and managing visual small squares on computer screens. They had to determine if what they were hearing and seeing were identical to the stimulus.
The point is this. If recycled mind games are proliferating at this crossroads, will African-Americans manipulate and manage what they are hearing and seeing, like the study participants did in the 2008 University of Michigan study? They intentionally manipulated their brains by managing what they heard and saw, and improved so-called fluid intelligence – the capacity to succeed at new cognitive tasks and in new situations.
“We have been taught that mind games are something that makes us feel bad,” said former Norfolk NAACP president Bob Rawls. “But we have never considered the benefits that come from mind games.”
At that point, Rawls paused and offered clear strengths that he sees in the African-American community, like King did in his 1967 book, Roles said, “First, we came out in strength when we elected Kenny Alexander as the mayor of Norfolk. Blacks finally realize we have political power.”
Rawls paused and pointed to another strength, “And if we do not spend our money here the economy will be terrible. We have contributed a lot to the economy here. And we are trying to unify. In fact, we need to unify as other groups have,” Rawls said, pointing to advocacy and community groups unable financially to maintain a working phone line, staff, or a building. “We need to unify and become a force,” Roles said.
“Yes, we encounter people who are playing mind games–folks who are trying to belittle us. The problem is we haven’t gotten to the point where we see the medical benefits of mind games.
“We need to talk to our children and teens and let them know that not all mind games are belittling; but mind games can actually change things around in your brain. Too often we are playing mind games in our community that are often against each other. We should get together and educate people on the benefits of mind games.”