We are seldom moved to act or think differently simply because it is the right thing to do. It is much too easy to find justification for our current behavior and to rationalize away the need to do different. People are generally resistant to change. We cling desperately to the status quo by training ourselves to not notice the cost. We cultivate clever narratives that explain away phenomenon which might otherwise lead us to question whether or not we should be doing things differently.
This is how we’ve learned to deal with racism — by not dealing with it. The trouble is, not dealing with something doesn’t make it go away; nor will it protect us from the destruction caused by structural, institutional, and interpersonal racism. The only way for us to stop the harm caused by racism is to first be willing to acknowledge and wrestle with the cost of racism for us personally so that the cost of inaction begins to exceed the fear and perceived cost of change.
RACISM IS A FORM OF TRAUMA
Over the years, I have come to understand the system of white supremacy and anti-Black racism as a form of trauma. More specifically, the ongoing process of being socialized into a system of white supremacy and anti-Black racism creates continuous traumatic stress. It repeatedly fractures our sense of connection and belonging and forces us to adopt painful and harmful adaptive strategies to survive. We experience throughout our lifetime a multitude of cognitive dissonances as we work to reconcile what we innately know to be true about ourselves and others with what we have learned to believe, say, and do from the world around us.
Like other sources of trauma, the pain and impact of racism lives in our minds, our bodies, our acts and in the space between us. It shows up in our minds through the stories we tell ourselves about who we are and who others are. It shows up in the bodies of Black and brown people whose health and wellness is so devastatingly impacted by the chronic stress of racism. It is embedded into the nervous system of white people who are unable to conceal their discomfort or fear when around Black or brown people. It shows up in our acts when we engage in senseless discrimination and hostility fueled by both implicit and explicit biases and incentivized by the institutions we operate in. It shows up in the space between us by maintaining space between us. It keeps us apart from one another causing us to forever engage as strangers with apprehension, mistrust, and fear to drive our interactions.
In this way, racism acts as a source of trauma for us all – regardless of our individual racial identity. The most important thing we can do with this proclamation is to sit with it and examine for ourselves the ways that we are hurt by racism. This is especially true for white people who have been so thoroughly conditioned to not notice the harm caused by racism to themselves and others. Ask yourself, how have I been hurt by racism? If you’re having trouble identifying this for yourself, find a white person who is further along in their racial healing journey and ask them to help illuminate this for you by sharing their own insights. For the rest of us, the task is to sit with the cost of our own complicity in the system of white supremacy and begin to mend the psychological and spiritual fractures caused by anti-Black racism so we can find healing and restoration in spite of the world in which we live.
By doing so, I believe we will begin to build our individual and collective courage and capacity to bring about radical transformation toward racial justice and reconciliation in our world