On the Front Line After Another Racial Trauma
Another life has been claimed.
Another hashtag has surfaced.
Throughout the week the nation expressed confusion, fear, anger and outrage. Lines were drawn. Debates filled the comment sections and news feeds of media sites — but here we are again. In the same place of defeat and brokenness that has characterized this nation for too long.
What permits this ideology? What justifies these crimes against black and brown identities?
These behaviors and practices are reinforced by society. We cannot rationalize the pain. We cannot make sense of injustice. And as my fellow Mighty warrior, Amanda Lynch suggested, we cannot undermine the effects of racial trauma.
The result of injustice is ingrained in every facet of our lives. The result is harassment and bullying in schools. The result is violence and assault. The result is profiling and stereotyping. The result is punitive procedures and biases that work against black and brown youth. The result is loss.
Loss of our lives, freedoms and safety. Loss of our families, homes and peace of mind.
As a teen, I was heavily bullied. The taunts and threats followed me from the classroom to social media. There was no escape. I was ostracized because of my differences. My otherness made me a target. The isolation and withdrawal escalated into depression. Shaping my reality was no longer in my control. I was at the mercy of others.
So many youth grow up feeling unsafe in their own neighborhoods, schools and communities. The anxiety can stem from environmental factors. They may be picked on by their peers or humiliated by teachers or campus police. Part of what contributes to that toxic climate is prejudice and discrimination.
Headlines sensationalize the injustices that occur nationwide, but do little to address the aftermath. What about the populations of those who are left to grieve? What happens when it’s not easy to bounce back? Where are the resources for those who are economically disadvantaged? Accessibility to mental health care and education should not be a privilege.
Discussions of mental health are still stigmatized in communities of color. That is why more support is needed to ensure that needs are met and that options are viable.
We are reminded of our obstacles every day. We carry the weight and the burden. What about the hope? What about the possibility of change? What about our choices?
Without education and resources the barriers between equity and opportunity will widen. Perceptions of mental health will continue to be rooted in negative and untrue misconceptions. Without accountability, division will prevail.
If we leave it up to the lawmakers to make change, we will still be waiting.
That is why change begins here and now.
First, we must undo the damage.
We cannot bring back the lives of those we lost, but can honor their memory. We can do more to support their families, to ensure that they are heard. We can do more to support each other, to alleviate the toll of racial trauma. Depression is often viewed as “white” or as a weakness or flaw, yet some overlook the issues that contribute to trauma, withdrawal and isolation.
Data compiled by Monnica T Williams shows individuals who experience microaggressions (subtle acts of racism) and individuals who experience hate crimes are both prone to PTSD. Furthermore, almost one out of 10 black people are traumatized to some degree.
This pattern reflects a history of suffering and oppression. A history we are forced to relive every day.
Research also proves that racism is linked to depression and anxiety.
People of color are vulnerable because of the psychological distress they experience throughout their lifetimes.
That doesn’t mean we are flawed. That doesn’t mean we are weak.
Rather, we are at a point of desperation. The news is proof of this. Our experiences and narratives all reflect a point of no return. Enough is enough.
We all must exclaim: Stop killing us. Stop damaging us. Stop contributing to the cycle of unrest.
Next, we must repair the heartache.
Processing the trauma of my teenage years took a lifetime. I am still recovering. As a visible advocate for marginalized youth, I still face attacks. Only now, I am equipped with the resources I need to stand up against racial injustice and to stand up against depression.
On the good days I remember to:
Thank those around me. The love and support of those who stick by me is unreal. I am free to be myself in good company. I am not ashamed or anxious or afraid. I am prized. When I feel uplifted, I use that as an opportunity to uplift others, because I know that change is within reach.
Live in the moment. When I am joyful, there is no reason to be apologetic. Depressed individuals can experience profound happiness. Even in the face of adversity. Those who have overcome racial trauma, violence and injustice do not have to explain their smiles, hopes and dreams. We deserve to be free, loud and bold without reservation.
Express myself. Scream! Cry! Vent. Let out the frustration and rage in constructive, peaceful and beneficial ways for the community. Bottling it in only proved to be more problematic for me. I may have been trying to conceal my emotions and preserve my dignity, but it was at the expense of my health. Vocalizing my experiences and focusing on the experiences of others opened my eyes. It allowed me to have a voice and to give a voice to others.
On the bad days I remember to:
Unplug. Writing makes it hard to step away from Twitter and Facebook, but internalizing the brutal videos with every share and click is devastating. There is a time to rally but there is also a time to rest.
Practice self-care. This is vital for everyday life, but when it is especially difficult to cope or I am insulted or verbally attacked, I make it a point to revitalize, reassess and recharge. It is not selfish. It is necessary.
For other social justice warriors, students, leaders, game changers and allies:
Don’t be afraid to ask for help. From a friend, parent, educator or professional. If you do not know where to go ask someone you trust.
Surround yourself in communities that empower you. There may be times when you need to process your pain on your own terms and your own time, but involvement within campus clubs or causes can be a lifeline.
Mute the hatred. Block out the negativity. You don’t need to torture yourself with graphic footage, naysayers and haters. If you begin to feel a decline in your mood, take time to focus on you.
As a woman of color, I find myself on the front line. I rush to aid others and to advocate and educate the youth, but often forget about myself. Thankfully, the struggle is shared. In my ventures, I will be tested. But I will be in the midst of other activists and educators who bear the same cross. In these times, I am reminded of all that I have overcome and all that I will face. I know that social justice rests in our hands. I know we deserve peace.
As a nation, I know we are capable of healing.
Image credit: original photo by Denise Nichole Andrews