Authors Note: The purpose of this article is to provide psycho-education on how racism can be traumatic for BIack Americans and how to become an ally.
I AM A BLACK LIFE AND I MATTER! There is no denying the fact that the murder of George Floyd and the series of events following have affected everyone in this country and even across the globe in some shape or form. For many of us, it has evoked feelings of anger, disbelief, concern, hopelessness, frustration, and confusion. For others it has provided an opportunity for reflection and re-evaluation. I have found myself pondering, “How far have we really come?”; while others feel like racism is a thing of the past, and that BIPOC in America have the same access and opportunities for success as their white counterparts. What prompted me to write this article is to provide some context and understanding of what has transpired of the last several weeks and provide some direction of how we can move forward.
BIacks in America have been traumatized starting in the 1600’s with the Trans-Atlantic Slave trade, 365+ years of slavery, subsequent Jim Crow Laws, lack of civil rights, laws and a judicial system that is not favorable towards BIPOC to say the least. This we know: trauma rewires the brain for survival and is passed on through genetics to subsequent generations.
I did not experience the overt racism of my great-grandfather, grandfather, and father because overt racism has become socially unacceptable. But currently BIPOC in America still experiences racism in a different form: a more coded, covert, systemic form of racism that is rooted in unconscious biases geared to maintain the status quo. This comes in the form of micro-aggressions, redlining, policies and practices within organizations and institutions that are not inclusive of racial differences, incarceration rates, immigration policies, and voter suppression laws.
The culmination of America’s overt history of racism along with current oppression and subsequent laws that are racially coded have contributed to a “race-based stress” for many black Americans. The psychological and biological impact of race-based stress mimics many of the hallmarks of PTSD: flashbacks and nightmares, intrusive thoughts, hyperactivity, restrictive emotional expression, depression, anxiety, inability to concentrate, increased stress hormones (cortisol and adrenaline) and development of maladaptive coping strategies (social isolation, abuse of drugs/alcohol, & verbal/physical aggression).
Because blacks are often silenced and/or their experiences are invalidated when it comes to addressing personal experiences of racism, we tend to internalize many of our symptoms. These symptoms often show up as physical ailments (high blood pressure, obesity, anxiety attacks, migraines, etc). Counseling provides a safe place to address these symptoms and develop strategies to better cope with race-based stress.
So, how do we fix this system of oppression? I strongly believe white ally-ship will be a key force. What does ally-ship look like?
Learning how to listen and accept criticism even if its uncomfortable
Amplifying the voices of those who are marginalized
Researching and learning more about the history of the struggle in which you’re participating in
Doing inner work to explore how you participate in oppressive systems
Doing the outer work to help change oppressive systems
Calling out racism . . . If the only time you’re being an ally is when you’re around a person of color you are not being an ally. Hold your friends, family, and coworkers accountable!
For those who are reading this article who don’t identify as black or a person of color, counseling provides an excellent opportunity to reexamine potential biases around race. Race is often a challenging and uncomfortable topic to broach. This is due to the fact that issues directly addressing race have become politicized and taboo to discuss in broader society. Counseling provides a safe, non-judgemental space to start approaching these conversations, increase your awareness, and begin acknowledging how you may have played a part in systemic racism. It is an amazing opportunity for self-growth and may provide you with direction on becoming an ally and supporting reform of our current oppressive systems.
The following are organizations, community initiatives, and readings you can engage in and/or support to help promote sustainable change:
Black Lives Matter www.blacklivesmatter.com/ (eradicating police violence & criminal justice reform)
My Block, My Hood, My City www.formyblock.org (exposes at-risk youth to new experiences)
Chicago Urban League www.chiul.org (economic, educational, &social progress for A.A.)
Campaign Zero www.joincampaignzero.org (police reform)
The Color of Change www.colorofchange.org (largest online racial injustice organization)
George Floyd Memorial Fund www.gofundme.com/f/georgefloyd (costs related to his death, counseling, travel expenses for court proceedings, educational costs for his children, etc)
“White Fragility” by Robin DeAngelo
“My Grandmother’s Hands: Racialized Trauma and the Pathway to Mending Our Hearts and Bodies” by Resmaa Menakem
“The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness” by Michelle Alexander
“So You Want to Talk About Race” by Ijeoma Oluo
Racial trauma is something that affects many black Americans in some shape or form. If you feel that you're having a difficult time coping with the effects of racial trauma please reach out to a therapist.
Learn more about the author of this post: Claude King, LCPC