A Thousand Cuts: The Invisible Trauma Of Racism
"...racism continues as psychological warfare that is much more nuanced than the traditional Jim Crow variety of bigotry."
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Here we are at an apex in the universe. We are at a point where we have learned that policies and government regulations cannot erase the racist legacy in this country. One in which, again, Black people will have to navigate and push through even when the odds are completely against us. This is a time unlike other instances in history where racism presented itself as a tangible byproduct of hatred. There were actual laws and policies that clearly could be called out and shown to the world as blatant racism. Now, racism continues as psychological warfare that is much more nuanced than the traditional Jim Crow variety of bigotry. So nuanced that racists can convince themselves that they are not racist. Not to mention, Black people are now accused of reverse racism when trying to call out injuries caused by racism.
But let me not spend too much time pointing fingers at who may be a racist or what action constitutes racism, because as a people, racism is something that we have lived with forever in this country. The starting point for the conversation about racism should always be that it is an institutional and psychological social construction that has plagued this country since its inception. For Black people, racism is a thousand cuts over a lifetime. We rarely talk about the trauma that is carried with us on a daily basis and is connected to our experience with race in this country. I do not profess to speak for every Black person, but I do hope I am speaking on behalf of those Black people that may find themselves voiceless.
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Can you imagine having some of your earliest memories as a child interrupted by the pain of intolerance? Every time you remember being followed in store; or being pulled over by a police officer, not feeling like they were there to protect and serve you, but to make you feel like you did something wrong when your only crime was being Black? Or even those slight injuries of bias that come in the form of statements like, “You’re really pretty for a Black girl,” or “Slavery was a long time ago, you should just get over it.” Even worse, the colorism that is perpetuated within our own communities by megastars that “prefer” light skin over dark skin tones. Or the constant misogynoir which is a daily assault on Black women. From the White House to the courthouse, Black minds, self-worth and identities are assaulted daily.
Every year of your life, new cuts are created, new wounds appear with some healed and some still bloodied. To your coworkers, your boss, your children, your significant other, at times these wounds are invisible. They are invisible because you are forced to still navigate the world as if though racism doesn’t impact your everyday life. We are at a time in history where once again racism is not only the norm, but an accepted comfort zone for the dominant culture — and this time there is no apology in site. Thus, there is no space for Black people to heal their wounds. The invisible physical and mental scars continue to accrue, and at what cost?
According to the American Psychiatric Association, the death rate among AfricanAmericans is much higher than our Caucasian American counterparts, related to heart disease, cancer, stroke, asthma, influenza, HIV and AIDS. The American Psychiatric Association also noted that only one in three African-Americans that suffer from mental illness receive the mental health care that they need.
Now one might argue that many of the aforementioned health ailments come from things like a poor diet, environmental factors or personal choices in terms of sexuality, all while ignoring the reality that Blacks in this country still do not receive equal treatment in healthcare or housing or education, which is institutionalized racism. Layer on top of that the understanding that stress compounds the severity of these diseases. Bottomline, even though we have been conditioned to ignore the thousand cuts and “Keep Calm & Carry On,” racism is stressful.
According to the Annual Review of Public Health, more studies related to Understanding Racism Across the Life Course are needed to understand how racism affects individuals at key developmental stages in their lives. But for many of us, we do not need a scientific study to verbalize the pain, the shame and the untamed internal war that we fight within ourselves every morning when it’s time to go to work and face that boss who takes liberties with white privilege because they can and you need the job. Or, the energy it takes to go to the parent-teacher conference where the staff has all but stated there must be a problem with your parenting style and family structure. Going to that interview for a job you should have been promoted to years ago based on your qualifications with the gut feeling that you will be passed up yet again due to nepotoxic nature of the 21st century is stressful. And even going to that club where you know if your skin is not light enough, VIP is off limits.
Welcome to the new Jim Crow. No signs saying "whites only" are needed.
So how do we survive this crossroad we find ourselves at with this administration in the Oval Office that seems to only be pouring salt on these thousand cuts by making a mockery of many of the Black leaders that are still standing and vilifying Black urban communities that have all but been forgotten for more than 30 years now? How do we reconcile how the society views Black people and how we view ourselves? How do we continue to garner the Herculean strength it takes to face coworkers, bosses, friends and others that we know full well are complicit themselves in perpetuating racism by simply pretending it doesn’t exist? How do we continue to navigate the world with a thousand cuts, all the while being mocked because we are wounded? This should not only be viewed as a political fight; this is a fight for our health and sanity, as well.
I implore the Black community not to take your health or mental health for granted at this important time. Stop pretending that you are not hurt. Stop pretending that you don’t need help. Talk to friends, talk to family and coworkers. Speak your truth to those individuals that would like to simply ignore your pain as if it were not real. We must take care of ourselves for the work that lies ahead. Whether that be to simply be strong enough to care for and protect our families or prepare for the political battles leading to the 2020 election. Do not absorb negative energy that comes from the evil of racism. Push it right back out by calling it what is and not allowing others to be comfortable in their complicity. Speak your truth for those that cannot give voice to their pain, that suffer in silence or reconcile their issues in a life of addiction or in a cell. And yes family, I know it may be at a cost but using a racist’s rhetoric in reverse, “What do you have to lose?”