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The Oppression I Still Experience as a 'Privileged' Black Woman in America

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As a middle class, masters level educated Black woman, I was raised with privilege. I am still scared of what White America is doing to me and has the power to do to me.

• What is PTSD?

When I was a child in the 70s my mother would take us to the mall in Los Angeles. This meant we had to dress up so that we would not appear threatening to other White folks who ran and worked in the stores. While shopping, we had to hold our hands behind our backs to make sure we did not look like shoplifters and we then had to return to the car after each purchase to put our bags in the car. This way no one could accuse us of stuffing our bags with stolen items.

All of these tactics have stayed with me all of these years. I still hold my hands behind my back in stores. I dress up to go shopping at the mall and I make sure I do not make any moves in the stores that appear to be shoplifting.

I recall shopping in the mall in a town outside of Boston, Massachusetts, while I was in graduate school at Brandeis University. I assumed in the North I would at least be treated better than where I was from in the South, but that was not the case. I have never been more obviously followed and stalked in a store. I must be honest — I wanted to just steal something to get back at my White stalkers. (I have never stolen anything in my life, but I was so angry.) My privilege did not buy me out of the absolute suspicion that White folks have of Black people.

I am not safe in my own community. I am not safe anywhere. The images of Black bodies dying is exactly what my mother feared, and she passed that fear on to me. She had post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) from growing up the 50s and 60s in New Orleans and she passed that mindset onto me. My parents wanted better for their children but better has not come.

We are still scared of what racial hatred will do to us. I go to bed at night fearing that I will be racially profiled and wrongly accused of a crime and sent to jail. To manage this panic, every day I keep a detailed calendar of my activities so that if I am ever accused of a crime I can account for my time. I know this seems drastic, but I am that scared. I wear a medical alert bracelet so that if I cannot speak for myself someone will be called on my behalf.

Racism causes multigenerational trauma and PTSD. I feel trapped and I am suffocating under the weight of racism. Mental health care is paramount for Black people but that will only be the beginning. Without systemic change in our society, we will not be able to overcome the PTSD. We need all White Americans to rise up as Allies and share their power to help us overcome. When there is room made at the table for all of us, only then will we be truly free from the trauma.

Getty image via LSOphoto

Originally published: June 6, 2020
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