Ruta Smith file photo

As a Black male from Pelion — a small South Carolina town with a 97 percent white population — I began working at 15 to assist with family household expenses.

Wednesday evening, when I saw a video of Charleston’s beloved Quintin Washington in an altercation, I saw someone who could have been me at that age.

I’ve crossed paths with Quintin on a few occasions and have admired how respected he is and the positive perception he embodies.

Briggman | Provided

Seeing Quintin in a physical altercation was the last thing I expected to see on my timeline Wednesday evening. In my failed attempts to rationalize this altercation, I attempted to remember when I felt misunderstood as a child learning how to exist in an adult world. A world that often pushed me to mature faster than my friends did to cope with my skin color’s societal perception. Daily responsibilities like walking into the grocery store, traveling home from work or even visiting my friends’ families could mean conflict.

As I grew from these experiences, I realized that my skin color came with a certain power and responsibility. This responsibility and power was realized over various unusual interactions with other adults. Though most ended up harmless, some resulted in verbal and physical altercations.

This video reminded me of the insecurity, embarrassment and inability to express myself as a teen, effectively creating further confrontations. I was not a perfect kid. Even with the knowledge imparted upon me from the parental figures in my life, I was still at a loss when it came to an understanding of the mechanics of this adult society.

Translation: I bumped my head a lot, and luckily social media did not exist to magnify my mistakes. At that point, I began to realize my reputation was at stake and that it would already be tough enough to cope with the societal perception of my skin color.

This also presented an extra dilemma when witnessing others that were able to express themselves without the same consequences. Questions from a child’s perspective developed: Was I sacrificing my identity? Is this how I grow into a mature adult? And what emotions are safe to display? The level of difficulty required to comprehend that more places I could not go without a clear understanding of racial context forcibly transitioned me to a higher actualization level.

In my experience as a Lowcountry mental health professional, it is apparent that there isn’t much access to male practitioners, especially ones with the cultural competence necessary to de-escalate instances like this one.

My professional perception of this unfortunate incident presented a slew of observations not elaborated on in social media comments. Initially, as I’m sure, everyone who watched this video wanted to know: Who is this child? What was the tone of the remark made by Quintin? Why wasn’t this child in school? Could this have been handled differently?

These questions directly correlate with my professional training as a licensed clinical mental health counselor (associate) and 11 years of experience in mental health. Based on my experience, I find these questions are crucial to appropriately address these types of altercations. In their early stage of cognitive development, teens begin to think more about ethical, social, political and moral issues from a theoretical or abstract perspective. Basically, during this time, the prefrontal cortex is still developing, which means misinterpretations will occur. At this point, deductive reasoning is curated to interpret one’s surroundings.

This presents a few questions like: Where is this teen in his development process? Were there precursors that motivated his behavioral response? Are these precursors related to societal, racial or familial norms? I can only imagine the pressure this teen is under as he experiences life-altering events like mine.

Studies suggest individuals who have experienced childhood trauma, such as public altercations and social shaming, are more likely to develop medical conditions and disorders. It is crucial to avoid this happening at all costs.

While justice must be served, there must be a different approach that doesn’t result in conversations made up of current preconceived notions about Black teens who are still just growing up.

Christopher Briggman is a vocational expert and mental health counselor who lives in Charleston.

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