Internalized Oppression

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Activist Erica Garner, daughter of Eric Garner, died at 27 from heart attack . Black mothers in New York City, where Garner lived, are 12 times more likely to die than white mothers.


 

Internalized Racism
Double Consciousness
Racial Trauma
Non-Physical Racial Violence
Weathering
Historical Trauma
Emotional Labor
Coping with Racial Trauma


Internalized Racism

Dismantling Racism: 4 Foundations of Racism by Dismantling Racism

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“Racism not only impacts us personally, culturally, and institutionally. Racism also operates on us mentally, emotionally, physically, and spiritually. When racism targets us, we internalize that targeting” Dismantling Racism

  • Internalized Racist Oppression (IRO)
    • Internalization by people of color of racist images, stereotypes, prejudices, actions, and messaging promoted by a white supremacist culture
    • Effects thoughts and feelings about:
      • Oneself , one’s racial group, other POC
  • Internalized inferiority in People of Color
    • carry internalized negative messages about oneself and other people of color
    • believe there is something wrong with being a person of color
    • have lowered self-esteem, sense of inferiority, wrongness
    • have lowered expectations, limited sense of potential for self
    • have very limited choices: either ‘act in’ (white) or ‘act out’ (disrupt)
    • have a sense of limited possibility (limited by oppression and prejudice)
    • cycles through generations
  • Internalized racism can manifests itself as:
    • Self-Doubt
    • Sense of Inferiority
    • Self-Hate
    • Low Self Esteem
    • Powerlessness
    • Hopelessness
    • Apathy
    • Addictive Behavior
    • Abusive and Violent Relationships
    • Conflict Between Racial Groups
    • Mediocrity
    • Violence and the Threat of Violence
    • Change in Behavior
    • Destruction of Culture
    • Division, Separation, Isolation

The  Self  System

The Self System model illustrates the impact of racism on personal identity. This multi-generational process of dehumanization is known as Internalized Racial Oppression and Internalized Racial Superiority.

The four aspects of self include Mental (Self Concept), Spiritual (Self Esteem), Physical (Self Image), and Emotional (Self Love).

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All aspects must be in balance for an individual to be balanced. An imbalance in one aspect results in an imbalance of the entire self. Additionally, there are two dimensions of well-being: personal well-being is the individual dimension and community well-being is the collective dimension. Communities consist of multiple individuals with varied states of well-being.

The Self System & Internalized  Racial  Oppression

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NEGATIVE  MESSAGES

In a racist system, the dominant culture regularly sends People and Communities of Color negative messages about who we are both individually and as a community. The Self System of People and Communities of Color is inevitably shaped by the images, values, norms, standards beliefs, attitudes and feelings that presume dominant group members and their culture are the standard by which all people are to be measured.

The arrows represent the messages, communicated by all institutions, that People of Color hear about ourselves and our communities. There is no insulation or escape from the messages. The messages affect our individual and collective psyche despite the affirmations we may receive at home and/or in our communities.

Some of the messages about who we are include (but are not limited to): Loud, Ignorant, Violent, Underachieving, High Risk, Minority, Extinct, Tokens, Mascots, Unworthy, Broken, Bad mothers, Promiscuous, Lazy, Dead beat dads, Inadequate, Poor, Criminal,

Inferior.

The  Impact  of  Negative  Messages

This graphic represents what happens to the Self System as a result of the internalization of racism. Some manifestations of the internalizations of consistent negative messages are: confusion, tolerance, a sense of owerlessness, anger, apathy, denial, colorism, shame, assimilation, rage, protectionism, invisibility, emotional numbness.

The process of internalization is like a coil that spirals inward into the psyche. The attack is ongoing and repetitive. As a result …

  • Self concept is limited
  • Self-esteem is lowered and corrupted
  • Self-image is negated
  • Self-love is absent

Actions we take individually or collectively because of IRO include:

  • Failing to seek support from other POC because we feel isolated in our experience;
  • Intra-racial challenges, for example Black-Brown conflict;
  • Holding positions of power is tenuous because these positions exist in a white supremacy system and are often challenged;
  • Fear and/or avoidance of risk-taking because our taking of risks is interpreted negatively;
  • Continued exploitation. For example if we share something about our experience of racism in a racially mixed group, white people benefit by learning about their privilege at the expense of our reliving of our experience of racism.

​The greatest loss is the damage done to the psyche, resulting in an inability to do that which is in our own best interest.

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Source: languages.oberlin.edu/blogs/ctie/2016/02/28/the-stereotype-threat

Malcolm X Speech: Self Hate-Like The Roots Of A Tree

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Double Consciousness

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  • Coined by W. E. B. Du Bois to describe a black person having difficulty unifying their black identity with their American identity
    • Feeling of being part of the American society yet not fully of it
    • Struggle among black Americans to find room in a civic/political system built to deny them full citizenship
    • Feeling identity is divided into several parts
      • Making it difficult or impossible to have one unified identity
  • Very common with immigrants of color and second generation immigrants
    • Balancing two worlds of their cultural heritage and American values and institutions
  • Star Spangle Banner Example
    • Written by Francis Scott Key, a slave-owning lawyer, during 1812, a failed expansionist war started by US
    • Appropriated by US military for flag ceremonies
    • Long suppressed third stanza
      • “No refuge could save the hireling and slave/From the terror of flight or the gloom of the grave”
        • Reflects composer’s embrace of slavery and anger felt toward British officers promising emancipation to recruit slaves
      • Became ubiquitous as Americans rallied to the flag during World War II
      • “The hypocrisy of extolling American freedom in song at a time when black servicemen and servicewomen were confined to military installations that featured segregated housing, movie theaters and buses. With black soldiers subjected to segregation even as they offered their lives for freedom, cultural icons of all kinds — including the national anthem — were subject to deconstruction and criticism.” Brent Staples – NY Times

“The black papers also pointed out the hypocrisy of extolling American freedom in song at a time when black servicemen and servicewomen were confined to military installations that featured segregated housing, movie theaters and buses. With black soldiers subjected to segregation even as they offered their lives for freedom, cultural icons of all kinds — including the national anthem — were subject to deconstruction and criticism.” Brent Staples – NY Times

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NY Times: African-Americans and the Strains of the National Anthem

“Many of us who were born black in the 1950s abandoned reverence toward the national anthem once we were old enough to grasp what Martin Luther King Jr. meant when he said that the country had defaulted on the promises embodied in the Declaration of Independence — and had written people of color a bad check that came back stamped “insufficient funds.’’

That metaphor hit home with considerable force during my high school years in a Pennsylvania factory town during the 1960s. Dr. King was assassinated for preaching nonviolent resistance in the South. Muhammad Ali was stripped of the heavyweight boxing title for refusing induction into the Army. And the Vietnam War was unmasked as a morally repugnant enterprise built on a foundation of racism and lies.

By the time I started college in 1969, dissent from the national anthem was endemic. It was an almost everyday occurrence to see groups of African-Americans (and whites as well) — occasionally even athletes and cheerleaders — remaining defiantly seated at sporting events as the audience rose dutifully to its feet for “The Star-Spangled Banner.”

Threats and insults were not uncommon. The most consistent and perplexing response came from veterans of World War II, who dominated public life at the time and saw nothing contradictory in the argument that the freedoms they had fought to preserve did not include the liberty to do anything when the anthem was played except stand at attention.

African-American anthem dissidents are heirs to a venerable tradition of critical patriotism that dates to what W.E.B. Du Bois termed “double consciousness” — the feeling of being part of the American polity yet not fully of it. This insider-outsider status has driven a longstanding struggle among black Americans to find room in a civic and political system that was built to deny them full citizenship.

The “Star-Spangled Banner” itself has been a subject of that struggle since shortly after Francis Scott Key, a slave-owning Washington lawyer, wrote it to commemorate an American victory over the British during the War of 1812. The song would no doubt have been lost to obscurity had the United States military not appropriated it for flag ceremonies beginning in the late 19th century.

This history seems innocuous enough until one considers that the song tightened its grip on the country during the height of the lynching era in the South and became popular at baseball games at a time when African-Americans were barred from white baseball.

This connection was not lost on the great newspapers of the Negro press, in whose pages the song was referred to as “the Caucasian national anthem.” Black columnists discredited the song by unearthing a long suppressed third stanza (“No refuge could save the hireling and slave/From the terror of flight or the gloom of the grave”) that can be read as reflecting the composer’s embrace of slavery and the anger felt toward British officers who used the promise of emancipation to recruit enslaved African-Americans.

By the early 20th century, African-Americans were already turning their backs on the “Star-Spangled Banner” in favor of “Lift Every Voice and Sing” — known as the Negro national anthem — written by James Weldon Johnson and his brother, John Rosamond Johnson. Passages like “We have come, treading our path through the blood of the slaughtered” acknowledge the place of lynching and slavery in the national history.

The bellicose and jingoistic “Star-Spangled Banner” became ubiquitous as Americans rallied to the flag during World War II, giving the idea of patriotism an increasingly narrow — and militaristic — resonance.

The Negro press applied Du Bois’s double consciousness forcefully during this period: It characterized the war as a battle to defeat two foes — Nazism abroad and Jim Crow segregation at home.

The black papers also pointed out the hypocrisy of extolling American freedom in song at a time when black servicemen and servicewomen were confined to military installations that featured segregated housing, movie theaters and buses. With black soldiers subjected to segregation even as they offered their lives for freedom, cultural icons of all kinds — including the national anthem — were subject to deconstruction and criticism.

This attitude is still widely held among African-Americans. A recent poll shows that two-thirds of them believe that the national anthem protests — begun by Colin Kaepernick to protest injustice — are acceptable. Most whites, of course, disagree. And as in the past, the narrow view that people can be counted as patriotic only if they grant the anthem sacrosanct status still holds sway.

The National Football League’s decision to curtail the protests through a threat of fines sets the stage for a potentially combustible football season that will coincide with the midterm elections — and will provide the president with yet another opportunity to exploit racial divisions.

The league’s decision is likely to radicalize players who have come to believe they have a role to play in the debate about police brutality and the resurgence of white supremacy in the age of Trump. Kneeling on the field may have been just the beginning.

Trevor Responds to Criticism from the French Ambassador – Between The Scenes | The Daily Show

Them: Patriotism Has Always Fueled Marginalization

The artillery shells used to rattle our windows. “They’re practicing,” my mom would say, and we’d ignore it. When I was little, my sister and I would pretend the sounds came from a giant that had gotten loose at Ft. Sill, its footsteps shaking the earth, and it was the soldiers’ jobs to fight him back into his cage. The wall between Ft. Sill and Cache, our sleepy Oklahoma town, gave us ample space to dream up things that were happening on the base. But otherwise, the steady, booming noise came as regularly as a heartbeat, more common than thunder, and we didn’t pay it much attention.

In Cache Middle School, we would watch Channel One, a news show they’d play on fuzzy TVs perched on the ceilings of our classrooms. Channel One was helmed by kids our age, or at least it was made to look like it. A girl in a business suit several sizes too large would casually read off the day’s events, and then we’d get the casualty count in Iraq, the names scrolling down in the sidebar. “Died in a roadside bomb,” it would say. “Died in combat.”

Cache was a poor town, and it still is today. Given that, and its proximity to Ft. Sill, it was a recruitment hub. Military officers would come by sometimes for special assemblies, where we would stand in respectful silence while they marched, or twirled their guns, or played music. The orchestra visited us once and played “Mars,” a symphony for the god of war with menacing drum beats and horns that sounded like the end of the world.

“Screw it, nuke ‘em,” a classmate said once in third period science. She was the daughter of a farmer, and nobody really batted an eye except for our teacher, who offered an anemic “Watch your language.” Such was the mood then. Everyone wanted to fight, though few could clearly articulate what or who they were fighting, a void that various prejudices rushed to fill: Arabs, commies, faggots; the French for some reason. Everything foreign became the enemy, and there were more enemies than we could reasonably identify and root out.

For us kids, patriotism was an unspoken mandate that we were expected to either enthusiastically participate in or at least humor. My sister, who was in a dance class at the time, gave her recital that year. Her team, dressed in flowing pastels, did a delicate number set to “Courtesy of the Red, White, and Blue.” I remember my sister and the other girls gently tiptoeing across the stage, shaking their fists at the sky to the line, “Well, Uncle Sam puts your name on the top of his list / and the Statue of Liberty starts shaking her first.”

There was no room to be gay in this environment, so I kept it to myself. Everything in our little forgotten town, draped in flags, had taken on the feeling of brutal purpose, a common cause to which we all either contributed or detracted from with no in-between. Being anything wrong, being anything short of what was required, was grounds for treason. You either had to fit the red-blooded American mold or just be a full-on goth. “Bomb those faggots” was a common refrain.

Cultural scholars at the time understood this link between patriotism and disdain for anyone who wasn’t straight and white. Billie Joe Armstrong of Green Day was one such prophet: “Well maybe I’m the faggot America / I’m not a part of a redneck agenda,” he sang in his smash hit song American Idiot, and then again in Holiday, singing from the perspective of the American government, “Kill all the fags that don’t agree.”

I couldn’t have articulated it at the time, because I was a kid and it was all I knew, but the culture I lived in was experiencing a collective shrinking. I could not have imagined, to give a more or less superfluous example, that in 1996 RuPaul had his own talk show and was not, as I had assumed, introduced to pop culture through Drag Race, which I watched for the first time as a college student. I could not have imagined that country music once celebrated the likes of Dolly Parton, essentially a drag act, and was not always, as I had thought, primarily a genre for threats about putting boots up the asses of America’s enemies.

As a kid, I knew little about empire, about the lands we invaded and the lives that we snuffed out. It haunts me to know that we watched Shock and Awe together, as one might watch any piece of entertainment, and for all its flashiness it did seem normal, because why else would the adults let us watch it?

It’s important to understand how empire moves. How it thinks. How it feeds itself and who, in times of war, it eats. It eats “the other,” which renders human beings as conquerable obstacles, and anyone with any degree of marginalization who believes they can avoid that category because of their proximity to privilege are either fooling themselves or reaping profits off the backs of others like them. When it comes time to sharpen America into a razor point, we others are always the first to be whittled away, and it often happens so slowly that we might not even recognize it.

Patriotism needs marginalization to exist. Nativism would be nothing without “the other,” the necessary enemies. In these troubling times, as calls to patriotism and war are louder than they’ve been in recent memory, we can’t allow ourselves to be complacent, especially if we have some degree of safety in our present cultural landscape. “This is not normal” has been our rallying cry since 2016, but the reality is much worse: this has been America’s normal since long before that horrifying election. The task at hand is more arduous than voting for a Democrat in 2018. It lies in changing the very heartbeat of America.”

 

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Racial Trauma

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Racial trauma may result from racial harassment, witnessing racial violence, or experiencing institutional racism. The trauma may result in experiencing symptoms of depression, anxiety, low self-esteem, feelings of humiliation, poor concentration, or irritability.” Erlanger A. Turner, PhD

  • Racial Trauma also includes
    • Stress of being overwhelmed by news, media and social media flooded with images of racial brutality
    • Fear of you or someone you love being the next victim
  • Symptoms of racial trauma may be but not limited to:
    • Depression
    • Anxiety disorders
    • Low self-esteem
    • Withdrawal, emotional numbing
    • Poor concentration
    • Irritability, increased aggression
    • Hypervigilance
    • PSTD
    • Disrupted child development
    • Increased alcohol and drug usage
    • Hopelessness, suicide
  • Due to cultural stigma and barriers to care like insurance and jobs that provide time off
    • Black Americans are substantially less likely to receive mental-health treatment that other ethnic groups
      • Despite black people being 20% more likely to suffer from mental illness (National Alliance on Mental Illness)

“In an attempt to capture how racism and discrimination negatively impacts the physical and mental health of people of color, many scholars have coined the term “racial trauma” or race-based traumatic stress.” Erlanger A. Turner, PhD,

“In a study published in the American Journal of Public Health (Geller, Fagan, Tyler, & Link, 2014), the authors reported that 85% of the participants reported being stopped at least once in their lifetime and 78% had no history of criminal activity. What is more concerning is that the study also found that those who reported more intrusive police contact experienced increased trauma and anxiety symptoms. Furthermore, those who reported fair treatment during encounters with law enforcement had fewer symptoms of PTSD and anxiety.

What is Racial Trauma?

In addition to the mental health symptoms of individuals who have encounters with law enforcement, those who witness these events directly or indirectly may also be impacted negatively. In an attempt to capture how racism and discrimination negatively impacts the physical and mental health of people of color, many scholars have coined the term “racial trauma” or race-based traumatic stress. Racial trauma may result from racial harassment, witnessing racial violence, or experiencing institutional racism (Bryant-Davis, & Ocampo, 2006; Comas-Díaz, 2016). The trauma may result in experiencing symptoms of depression, anxiety, low self-esteem, feelings of humiliation, poor concentration, or irritability.

Effects of Racial Trauma on Communities of Color

Decades of research have noted the impact of discrimination and racism on the psychological health of communities of color (e.g., Bryant-Davis & Ocampo, 2006; Carter & Forsyth, 2009; Comas-Díaz, 2016). Although not everyone who experiences racism and discrimination will develop symptoms of race-based trauma, repeated exposure may lead to the following. According to a report on The Impact of Racial Trauma on African Americans, Dr. Walter Smith notes the following effects of racial trauma:

Increased vigilance and suspicion – Suspicion of social institutions (schools, agencies, government), avoiding eye contact, only trusting persons within our social and family relationship networks

Increased sensitivity to threat – Defensive postures, avoiding new situations, heightened sensitivity to being disrespected and shamed, and avoid taking risks

Increased psychological and physiological symptoms – Unresolved traumas increase chronic stress and decrease immune system functioning, shift brains to limbic system dominance, increase risks for depression and anxiety disorders, and disrupt child development and quality of emotional attachment in family and social relationships

Increased alcohol and drug usage – Drugs and alcohol are initially useful (real and perceived) in managing the pain and danger of unresolved traumas but become their own disease processes when dependency occurs

Increased aggression – Street gangs, domestic violence, defiant behavior, and appearing tough and impenetrable are ways of coping with danger by attempting to control our physical and social environment

Narrowing sense of time – Persons living in a chronic state of danger do not develop a sense of future; do not have long-term goals, and frequently view dying as an expected outcome

Coping with Racial Trauma

Racial trauma or race-based trauma often goes unnoticed. These hidden wounds that adults and youth of color experience are worn like invisible weights. Hardy (2013) provides the following eight steps to heal after experiencing racial injustices in our community.

  1. Affirmation and Acknowledgement: This involves professionals helping the individual to develop a sense of understanding acceptance of racial issues. This step is important because it opens the door for us to dialogue about issues related to race.
  2. Create Space for Race: Creating space allows an open dialogue with our communities about race. Hardy notes that we must take a proactive role to identify race as a significant variable and talk openly about experiences related to race.
  3. Racial Storytelling: Gives individuals an outlet to share personal experiences and think critically about events in their lives. This provides an opportunity to hear others voice how they have been treated differently due to their race and it helps expose hidden wounds through storytelling.
  4. Validation: Can be seen as a personalized tool used to counter devaluation. This provides confirmation of the individuals’ worth and their redeemable qualities.
  5. The Process of Naming: With the scarcity of research on the effects of racial trauma on mental health, there is of course no name as of yet making it a nameless condition. This in turn increases the doubt and uncertainty. By naming these experiences we give individuals a voice to speak on them and also recognize how they impact them. If we apply a mental health condition, individuals may experience symptoms similar to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
  6. Externalize Devaluation: The aim for this step is to have people focus on increasing respect and recognizing that racial events do not lower their self-worth.
  7. Counteract Devaluation: This step uses a combination of psychological, emotional, and behavioral resources to build self-esteem and counter racial attacks. This helps prevent future loss of dignity and sense of self.
  8. Rechanneling Rage: By rechanneling rage, individuals can learn to gain control of their emotions and not let emotions consume them. This is an important step because it empowers people to keep pushing forward after adversity. This may include taking steps to engage in activism or self-care strategies such as spending time with family.”

The Cut: The Little Understood Mental-Health Effects of Racial Trauma

“On Sunday, police officers in Seattle shot and killed Charleena Lyles in her home. She died in front of “several children,” according to reports, and her family members say she was pregnant. Just days before, Jeronimo Yanez, the Minnesota police officer who shot and killed Philando Castile during a traffic stop, was acquitted of all charges. Earlier this spring, an unarmed teenager named Jordan Edwards was shot and killed by police as he was driving away from a party. By now, it’s become a sickeningly familiar sequence of events.

While the trigger (both literally and metaphorically) is the same, there is an aspect of these events that is frequently overlooked: the effects of the frequent police killings on black Americans’ mental health in the form of racial trauma, a psychological phenomenon that some experts say is similar to post-traumatic stress disorder. “Racial trauma is experiencing psychological symptoms such as anxiety, hypervigilance to threat, or lack of hopefulness for your future as a result of repeated exposure to racism or discrimination,” said Erlanger Turner, an assistant professor of psychology at the University of Houston-Downtown, who is one of only a handful of researchers studying racial trauma.

Symptoms can include depression and angry outbursts, much like what is typically seen in those suffering from PTSD. But Turner has observed additional behaviors that are specific to racial trauma, including a reluctance to interact with or general mistrust of white people. Racial trauma can be triggered by many events, but among the most common triggers are continued racial harassment, being a victim of police violence, or witnessing said violence. Even witnessing violence on the news can be damaging. “Research has consistently shown that visual exposure to events can be traumatic,” Turner said. “I particularly believe that the recent news coverage of police shootings of black and brown men will cause some short-time trauma for individuals, especially children. I strongly encourage parents to limit exposure to this type of news coverage.” And yet few researchers are studying the lasting impact of racial trauma.

Due to cultural stigma and barriers to care like insurance and jobs that provide time off work, black Americans are substantially less likely to receive mental-health treatment that other ethnic groups. This is particularly problematic because black Americans are 20 percent more likely to suffer from mental illness, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness. For those who suffer from mental illness, the recycling of brutality and violence on the news may worsen symptoms.

Although all negative racial events do not result in trauma, it is important that we are increasingly aware of this topic, and that researchers do more to study its causes and effects. Recently, Science of Us spoke with Turner about his work, and his determination to improve scientific understanding of black mental health.

How would you define racial trauma? How new is this concept?
Racial trauma or race-related stress is not a new concept. Decades of research have examined the role of racism and discrimination on mental-health functioning. Racial trauma may result from racial harassment, witnessing racial violence, or experiencing institutional racism.

The trauma may result in experiencing symptoms of depression, anxiety, low self-esteem, feelings of humiliation, poor concentration, or irritability.

How is racial trauma similar to PTSD, and are there any key differences?
Similar to PTSD, racial trauma may result in experiencing symptoms of anxiety, hypervigilance, poor concentration, or irritability. The symptoms for both include direct or indirect exposure to a traumatic event. However, the DSM-5 (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) notes that PTSD is specific to events such as sexual abuse, serious injury, or exposure to actual or threatened death. As you notice, it does not capture events related to cultural background that may result from racism.

What are the signs you should consider speaking to a professional about trauma as a person of color?
There are some behaviors you should consider when deciding to seek help. I think the most important is answering the question, “Do you have problems getting through your day or functioning at school or work?” If the answer is “yes,” it will be useful to talk to a professional. Other signs to consider if you should seek help include: mood changes (being more irritable, sad, or angry), feeling withdrawn and not wanting to be around those who you previously enjoyed spending time with, or when you begin to engage in more risky health behaviors (such as drinking or smoking).

What environmental factors do you believe contribute most to racial trauma? How prevalent do you believe racial trauma is?
That’s a hard question. I don’t recall many studies that have examined rates of racial trauma. Additionally, there is so much continued racism either directly or indirectly it’s hard to recover from one incident before another occurs. Furthermore, not everyone who encounters racial discrimination will experience racial trauma. For example, with the increased media coverage of police brutality in the past few years it has potentially led to increases in trauma or stress. This research is still emerging. However, a recent study was published in April that found police and law-enforcement stress is associated with racial discrimination and depression symptoms among black men.

What has your research informed you is most important to keep in mind with racial trauma?
Again, not every incident of racism will result in racial trauma. The research shows that those who directly witness police violence or are continually exposed to violent images are at a higher risk of trauma than those who witness others. It’s important for providers and psychologists to assess how the experience has affected the individual.

What do you hope to discover next?
Currently my research lab is working on a study to look at factors that hinder and promote the use of mental-health services among black Americans. My hope is that the research can help us to better understand stigma, identify ways in which providers can improve their client-therapist relationship, and improve providers ability to engage in cultural competency.

I see your current research projects study cultural factors that either promote seeking help or attitudes that limit seeking care. Can you tell us a little about those projects?
My current research focuses on mental health among Latino and black Americans. I recently published a paper with a colleague at Santa Clara University on the impact of therapy fears, ethnicity identity, and spirituality on the use of mental-health service among Latino college students. This project will also be exploring these variables among black Americans. Preliminary findings show that religion and spirituality are important to black Americans. These strong spiritual beliefs may also decrease decisions to seek treatment.

What do you believe is the most groundbreaking finding you have come across in your time as a researcher?
Over the past ten years, my research has focused on access to mental-health treatment. The research consistently shows that a positive attitude is associated with seeking treatment. However, some of my early work found that positive attitudes predicted help-seeking for whites, but not for black Americans. In a recent study that I published with four of my former undergraduate students, we found that fears about therapy was a more important barrier to treatment for ethnic minorities such as black Americans. Specifically, the more people have concerns about being respected by the therapist, working with a competent provider, or having values different than the therapist it increased the likelihood that they will avoid treatment. It really highlights the importance that other things beside stigma impact the use of treatment. We really need to make sure that therapists are engaging in cultural humility.

Do you have advice for people of color, in terms of seeking mental-health help?
My advice is that if you feel stressed or have difficulty getting through life you should consider meeting with a psychologist or behavioral-health provider. If religion or spirituality are an important aspect of your life it is appropriate and perfectly okay to ask the provider if they can incorporate your values into treatment. This will help you make the decision of whether that is the person you want to work with to address your concerns. Going to therapy should be a mutual relationship and it is my view that providers should collaborate with their clients.”

NY Times: Racism’s Psychological Toll

“Our screens and feeds are filled with news and images of black Americans dying or being brutalized. A brief and yet still-too-long list: Trayvon Martin, Tamir Rice, Walter Scott, Eric Garner, Renisha McBride. The image of a white police officer straddling a black teenager on a lawn in McKinney, Tex., had barely faded before we were forced to grapple with the racially motivated shooting in Charleston, S.C.

I’ve had numerous conversations with friends and colleagues who are stressed out by the recent string of events; our anxiety and fear is palpable. A few days ago, a friend sent a text message that read, “I’m honestly terrified this will happen to us or someone we know.” Twitter and Facebook are teeming with anguish, and within my own social network (which admittedly consists largely of writers, academics and activists), I’ve seen several ad hoc databases of clinics and counselors crop up to help those struggling to cope. Instagram and Twitter have become a means to circulate information about yoga, meditation and holistic treatment services for African-Americans worn down by the barrage of reports about black deaths and police brutality, and I’ve been invited to several small gatherings dedicated to discussing these events. A handful of friends recently took off for Morocco for a few months with the explicit goal of escaping the psychic weight of life in America.

It was against this backdrop that I first encountered the research of Monnica Williams, a psychologist, professor and the director of the University of Louisville’s Center for Mental Health Disparities. Several years ago, Williams treated a “high-functioning patient, with two master’s degrees and a job at a company that anyone would recognize.” The woman, who was African-American, had been devastated by racial harassment by a director within her company. Williams recalls being stunned by how drastically her patient’s condition deteriorated as a result of the treatment. “She completely withdrew and was suffering from extreme emotional anxiety,” she told me. “And that’s what made me say, ‘Wow, we have to focus on this.’ ”

In a 2013 Psychology Today article, Williams wrote that “much research has been conducted on the social, economic and political effects of racism, but little research recognizes the psychological effects of racism on people of color.” Williams now studies the link between racism and post-traumatic stress disorder, which is known as race-based traumatic stress injury, or the emotional distress a person may feel after encountering racial harassment or hostility. Although much of Williams’s work focuses on individuals who have been directly targeted by racial discrimination or aggression, she says race-based stress reactions can be triggered by events that are experienced vicariously, or externally, through a third party — like social media or national news events. She argues that racism should be included as a cause of PTSD in the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (D.S.M.).

Williams is in the process of opening a clinical program that will exclusively treat race-based stress and trauma, in a predominantly black neighborhood in Louisville. Shortly after the Charleston shooting, I called Williams to discuss her work; what follows is a lightly edited and condensed transcript of our conversation.

What is race-based stress and trauma?

It’s a natural byproduct of the types of experiences that minorities have to deal with on a regular basis. I would argue that it is pathological, which means it is a disorder that we can assess and treat. To me, that means these are symptoms that are a diagnosable disorder that require a clinical intervention. It goes largely unrecognized in most people, and that’s based on my experience as a clinician.

What are the symptoms?

Depression, intrusion (the inability to get the thoughts about what happened out of one’s mind), vigilance (an inability to sleep, out of fear of danger), anger, loss of appetite, apathy and avoidance symptoms and emotional numbing. My training and study has been on post-traumatic stress disorder for a long time, and the two look very much alike.

Over the weekend, I received several distressing emails and texts from friends who were suffering from feelings of anxiety and depression. Do you think we should all be in treatment?

I think everyone could benefit from psychotherapy, but I think just talking to someone and processing the feelings can be very effective. It doesn’t have to be with a therapist; it could be with a pastor, family, friends and people who understand it and aren’t going to make it worse by telling you to stop complaining.

What do you think about the #selfcare hashtags on social media and the role of “Black Twitter” as resources for people who may not have the resources they need to help process this? Are online interactions like that more meaningful than they initially might seem?

Online communities can be a great source of support, of course — with the caveat that even just one hater can be stressful for everyone, and that’s the danger of it. But if you don’t have a friend or a family member, just find someone who is sensitive and understanding and can deal with racial issues.

In our initial email about the ripple effects of the murders in Charleston, you used the phrase “vicarious trauma.” What does that mean?

Because the African-American community has such a long history of pervasive discrimination, something that impacts someone many miles away can sometimes impact all of us. That’s what I mean by vicarious traumatization.

Is racial trauma widely recognized as a legitimate disorder?

The trauma of events like this is not formally recognized in the D.S.M. It talks about different types of trauma and stress-related ailments, but it doesn’t say that race trauma can be a factor or a trigger for these problems. Psychiatrists, unless they’ve had some training or personal experience with this, are not going to know to look for it and aren’t going to understand it when they see it. In order for it to be recognized, we have to get a good body of scientific research, a lot of publications in reputable peer-reviewed journals. Right now, there’s only been a few. And we need to produce more.

On your blog, you chronicled the experience of a woman who encounters a therapist who dismisses her fears about racism. Is one barrier to treatment getting the medical community to acknowledge that racism exists?

Yes. A lot of people in the medical community live very privileged lives, so racism isn’t a reality to them. When someone comes in and talks to them, it might sound like a fairy tale, rather than a real daily struggle that people are dealing with. Research shows that African-Americans, for example, are optimistic when they start therapy, but within a few sessions feel less optimistic and have high early dropout rates. It could be that clinicians don’t know how to address their problems, or they may even be saying things that are subtly racist that may drive their clients away. If the patient feels misunderstood or even insulted by the therapist and they don’t go back and get help, they end up suffering for years or even the rest of their lives for something that is very treatable.

Is there a recommended model for treatment?

We have great treatments that are empirically supported for trauma, but the racial piece hasn’t really been studied very well. That’s no easy task, because when we write these articles, they go to journals, where an editor looks at it and decides if it’s worthy and applicable to go in the journal. And then it goes to reviewers who decide if it’s a worthy and applicable topic.

Why has it taken so long to get momentum?

If you think about it, they weren’t even letting black people get Ph.D.s 30 years ago in a lot of places. Ethnic minority researchers are the ones who are carrying the torch, by and large. We’re only to the place now where we have enough researchers to do the work. And there’s so much work that needs to be done.”

The Conversation: Slow death: Is the trauma of police violence killing black women?

“We know from the stories of black mothers who have lost their children to state violence that the lingering anguish of living in the aftermath of police violence kills black women gradually. Depression, suicide, PTSD, heart attacks, strokes and other debilitating mental and physical illnesses are just some of the diseases black women develop as they try to put their lives back together after they lose a child”

Splinter: A working-class black man has to try 16 times harder to get a therapy appointment than a middle-class white woman

Mental illness in the black community is a public health issue that is all too often grossly underestimated and misunderstood. According to the Department of Health and Human Services, black people living below the poverty line experience a disproportionate amount of serious psychological distress compared to their white counterparts. In 2012, despite the fact that black people were 20% more likely to report symptoms associated with with psychological distress, white people were twice as likely to treat similar symptoms with prescription anti-depressants.

Some of that disparity can be attributed to the stigma attached to mental issues, but a Princeton study published in this month’s Journal of Health and Social Behavior found that even when black people did seek professional help, psychotherapists were less likely to actually offer assistance.

Fifth-year Princeton graduate student Heather Kugelmass worked with a team of professional voice actors to create a series different scripts that would be read on the voicemails of  320 randomly selected therapists working in New York City. Each of the scripts was customized to suggest the caller’s race (by name, ethnically-coded accent, and grammatical patterns) and likely income level. The voice actors were also evenly split by gender.

During each call the voice actors requested an appointment with the therapist, making a point of expressing their desire to meet during a weekday evening. It should also be noted that each of the characters making the call had the same type of private health insurance.

Kugelmass found that, on average, therapists who were responsible for their own scheduling were much less likely to respond to black people’s requests for appointments.

30% of the contacted therapists responded to middle-class white people. 21% of the therapists responded to middle-class black women. 13% responded to middle-class black men. Working class people, regardless of their race or gender, were contacted by less than 10% of the therapists.

That breakdown, Kugelmass concluded, likely had a lot to do with the fact that there isn’t much professional oversight when it comes to how therapists, many of whom run their practices privately, conduct business.

“Unlike employers or real estate agents, psychotherapists have not previously faced empirical scrutiny for potentially discriminatory behavior,” Kugelmass said. “This research provides a window into an otherwise private exchange that may subtly perpetuate disadvantage.”

Journal of Health and Social Behaviors

The fact that each of the characters attempting to schedule appointments had the same type of insurance prompted Kugelmass to further hypothesize that the anti-black bias that she observed was much more serious.

Many therapists, Kugelmass explained, are known to exhibit a preference for patients that they perceive as being young, attractive, verbal, intelligent, and successful (YAVIS). These patients, whom therapists often see themselves in, commonly come from similar financial and social backgrounds. Kugelmass reasoned that the bias against black people was likely connected to the idea that a white therapist might not be able to “embark on an intimate, long-term relationship with someone they feel they can’t relate to.”

“Ultimately, the goal is high-quality care for all, but people need access at multiple stages in the process in order to get to that point,” Kugelmass said. “There’s no quality of care for people who can’t get through a therapist’s door.”

AL: Racism created an Alabama mental health crisis

July is Minority Mental Health Month, established to spotlight the flawed diagnosis of mental illness among minorities. Black men, for example, are nearly six times as likely to be diagnosed with schizophrenia as white men. That problem is compounded by the fact that for minorities, especially African Americans, mental health care often gets provided in prison, where the standard of care is so low that lack of treatment has fueled a suicide epidemic.

States are repeatedly finding themselves in court for this malpractice. Just last month, U.S. District Court Judge Myron Thompson ordered the Alabama Department of Corrections to take immediate steps to improve its mental health services or face a court takeover of the prison system management.

Why is so much mental health care provided to African Americans in prison? First and foremost, because African Americans are overrepresented in our prisons and jails.

There are also other historical factors that exacerbate the problem. Over the past two centuries, medical and legal professionals mislabeled behavior such as escaping slavery and advocating for civil rights as a byproduct of psychiatric madness. Even worse, instead of treating this purported madness, they simply locked patients in facilities with deplorable conditions. This criminalization of mental health has strengthened the control of white authorities over African Americans by simultaneously delegitimizing activism and justifying incarceration. The racial disparities in mental health today have grown from centuries of racism, and only by addressing these systemic problems can we adequately provide mental health care to minority populations.

Racial disparities in diagnosing conditions such as schizophrenia are sometimes presented as an effect of biology, but they are not. Instead, they are the direct result of racist thinking about African American psychology that dates to at least the 18th century. Slave owners and their apologist physicians invented psychiatric “disorders” such as “draeptomania” to explain the urge to run away. In the lead-up to the Civil War, they distorted statistics to argue that freedom would drive the ex-enslaved crazy. They also propagated the idea that African Americans were more childlike and simplistic, incapable of feeling pain or sorrow, to justify experimentation and exploitation.

After the Civil War, as the South struggled with emancipation and Reconstruction, the black psyche was increasingly portrayed as immoral and inherently criminal, justifying both the need for Jim Crow and mass incarceration, in prisons and psychiatric hospitals. Sometimes the line between the two was exceedingly thin, with mental health-care facilities that functioned more like prisons than places of treatment.

Across the country, but especially in the South during the era of Jim Crow, these hospitals were segregated, with black patients held in separate parts of the institutions or in separate locations entirely. While the Supreme Court’s infamous Plessy v. Ferguson decision mandated these facilities be equal to those provided to white patients, in practice, they most certainly were not.

Instead, in many states such as Georgia, Alabama and Mississippi, African American patients suffered from state-sanctioned confinement and neglect. In Alabama alone, thousands of people were subjected to decades of substandard housing and nutrition in deathtrap buildings. Hospitals were presided over by white male superintendents who employed unlicensed Cuban refugee doctors, ordered massive amounts of electroshock and chemical “therapies,” and put patients to work in the fields as though the hospitals were still plantations. These states were not outliers – they were just the tip of the national iceberg.

In Alabama, these conditions went unchallenged until 1969, when Judge Frank Johnson heard a case brought by civil rights advocates and the federal government after a joint Justice Department and Department of Health, Education and Welfare investigation revealed horrendous conditions and almost no state spending on black patients, including children. Less than 50 cents per patient per day was allocated for food and clothing. Searcy, the black-only hospital in Mobile, had never applied for any federal funds to develop treatment programs because they did not believe black patients would respond.

Science, however, did not back this claim. Numerous witnesses declared there was no medical justification for segregation and no scientific difference between black and white mental illness. Looking at this evidence, Johnson declared the conditions for African Americans in Alabama’s mental hospitals unconstitutional and ordered they be fixed.

The state largely avoided enacting such changes, however, and this problem would only be exacerbated because, just as activists were tackling these deplorable conditions, their civil rights activism prompted the psychiatric community to create new justifications for diagnosing mental health issues among African Americans. In 1968, the American Psychiatric Association took deliberate steps to change the definition of schizophrenia to include “aggression” where it had previously not. While the APA denied (and has continued to do so) charges that such a definition would target the civil rights activism of black men, the research of historian Jonathan Metzl reveals this claim to be disingenuous. The anger of black men was portrayed as a byproduct of mental illness, rather than a fight against oppression. New drugs intended to target the angry black man were advertised to psychiatrists.

The mislabeling of African American activism as a pathology and the intertwined history of racism and abuse has had long-lasting consequences. The effort to demonize activism as a mental illness has meant those who are sick may struggle to seek treatment – African Americans are significantly less likely than white people to trust a psychiatrist. They are also less likely to be covered by insurance that includes mental health services, especially in states such as Alabama that refused to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act. These structural problems often lead to a cycle of lack of care, homelessness and imprisonment.

Rather than receiving treatment for illness, African Americans end up incarcerated because of its symptoms. As the ongoing Alabama lawsuit demonstrates, the same states that warehoused African Americans without offering adequate treatment for mental illness over 50 years ago are still locking people away in the same hideous conditions.

This tendency to incarcerate the mentally ill instead of treating them is not just a Southern problem. It’s a national one. The largest mental health facility in the country is the Los Angeles County Jail. But prisons are not mental health-care providers, and prison life itself is known to make mental illness worse.

The consequences of a system that overlays race with criminality is a lack of funding for mental health services where people need them and a continued belief that there is something biologically wrong with African Americans. We are both over-diagnosing some mental illnesses, such as schizophrenia, and under-diagnosing others, such as depression, mistaking symptoms for criminality that deserves punishment, not treatment.

Instead, we should be making mental health services affordable and accessible, and keeping people with mental illness out of jail. We must also be careful not to see mental illness in activism and assertiveness. When we talk about disparities in mental health, we need to look at these systemic issues, and not perpetuate myths about biological difference. The problem in psychiatry is not race – it’s centuries of racism.

Further Readings

The Cut: The Little Understood Mental-Health Effects of Racial Trauma

Psychology Benefits Society: Racial Trauma is Real: The Impact of Police Shootings on African Americans

 

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Non-Physical Racial Violence

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“Violence is far more than physical or even verbal, it is a deep seeded societal belief that ignores, invalidates, and denies the basic human rights of anyone or group of people. “anonymous

“White violence doesn’t have to be a lynching on a tree or a direct racist comment. It can be the dismissal of black pain in order to maintain white comfort by white women who “just want to love”” Rachel Cargle, activist

“Defining outcomes solely in terms of injury or death thus limits the understanding of the full impact of violence” World Health Organization

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Examples of Non-Physical Racial Violence

  • The disproportionate brutality people of color experience in the US every day
    1. Robs people of color of the right to feel safe
    2. Promotes internalized racism, trauma, weathering
      • “It’s impossible to feel safe…when you’re simultaneously feared and criminalized” Vanessa Rochelle Lewis, Everyday Feminism
    3. Is tone policed, devalued, ignored, dismissed
      • By the people who are, consciously or unconsciously, preserving the system that brutalized people of color
        • “it’s not simply opposing views. For black people the ideology of ignorant white people is LITERALLY life and death. This isn’t casual debate. Our lives are on the line.” Rachel Cargle, activist

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Weathering

“(Weathering) the stress on black women’s bodies from a lifetime of racism and abuse” Rebecca Schoenkopf – Wonkette

(late 1970s) Arline Geronimus, a professor at the University of Michigan School of Public Health, coined the term “weathering” for stress-induced wear and tear on the body. Weathering causes a lot of different health vulnerabilities and increases susceptibility to infection but also early onset of chronic diseases, in particular, hypertension and diabetes, conditions that disproportionately affect blacks at much younger ages than whites.” Nina Martin – Propublica

  • Black mothers 3-4x more likely to die than white mothers w/ same conditions
  • Black college-educated mothers who gave birth in local hospitals were more likely to suffer severe complications of pregnancy or childbirth
    • Than white women who never graduated from high school
  • Black women are:
    • 22% more likely to die from heart disease than a white woman
    • 71% more likely to perish from cervical cancer
    • 243% more likely to die from pregnancy- or childbirth-related causes
  • For much of American history, these types of disparities were largely blamed on blacks’ “supposed” susceptibility to illness and their own behavior
    • Many social scientists and medical researchers agree, the problem isn’t race but racism

The Root: Racism Can Kill You

“Black people in the United States have, since slavery, been systematically overexposed to health risks while also being deprived of healthcare. This lethal combination continues to cause suffering and death, as well as a massive and measurable loss of wealth, because it is expensive to be sick in the U.S. “ Jason Silverstein, Being Black in America Is a Health Risk. It’s Time for Reparations

  • Milwaukee County declares racism a public health crisis in May 2019
    • Racial health disparities have been extensively documented when it comes to asthma, arthritis, aggressive breast cancer, kidney disease, heart failure, maternal mortality, lung disease, chemical exposures, and overall life expectancy.

Screen Shot 2019-08-11 at 9.33.56 PM.pngActivist Erica Garner, daughter of Eric Garner, died at 27 from heart attack . Black mothers in New York City, where Garner lived, are 12 times more likely to die than white mothers.

Wonkette: We Broke Erica Garner’s Heart

“Researchers call the stress on black women’s bodies from a lifetime of racism and abuse “weathering.” It affects poor women, middle-class women, the educated, the successful, the lieutenant colonels in the US Public Health Service. The same risks in pregnancy a white woman might have in her 40s start in a black woman’s 30s, according to ProPublica, compounded by biases health-care providers may not even realize they have. Black women don’t get proper pain medication; they aren’t believed when they say something’s “not right.” When they die, they leave babies behind to be raised by bereft fathers and grandmothers. Shalon Irving’s grieving mother will raise her daughter beautifully, but she will still, presumably, live in the United States of America.”

NPR: Black Mothers Keep Dying After Giving Birth. Shalon Irving’s Story Explains Why

Black expectant and new mothers frequently said that doctors and nurses didn’t take their pain seriously — a phenomenon borne out by numerous studies that show pain is often undertreated in black patients for conditions from appendicitis to cancer. When Patrisse Cullors, a co-founder of the Black Lives Matter movement who has become an activist to improve black maternal care, had an emergency C-section in Los Angeles in March 2016, the surgeon “never explained what he was doing to me,” she said. The pain medication didn’t work: “My mother basically had to scream at the doctors to give me the proper pain meds.”

But it’s the discrimination that black women experience in the rest of their lives — the double whammy of race and gender — that may ultimately be the most significant factor in poor maternal outcomes.

“It’s chronic stress that just happens all the time — there is never a period where there’s rest from it. It’s everywhere; it’s in the air; it’s just affecting everything,” said Fleda Mask Jackson, an Atlanta researcher who focuses on birth outcomes for middle-class black women.

It’s a type of stress for which education and class provide no protection. “When you interview these doctors and lawyers and business executives, when you interview African-American college graduates, it’s not like their lives have been a walk in the park,” said Michael Lu, a longtime disparities researcher and former head of the Maternal and Child Health Bureau of the Health Resources and Services Administration, the main federal agency funding programs for mothers and infants. “It’s the experience of having to work harder than anybody else just to get equal pay and equal respect. It’s being followed around when you’re shopping at a nice store, or being stopped by the police when you’re driving in a nice neighborhood.”

An expanding field of research shows that the stress of being a black woman in American society can take a physical toll during pregnancy and childbirth.
Chronic stress “puts the body into overdrive,” Lu said. “It’s the same idea as if you keep gunning the engine, that sooner or later you’re going to wear out the engine.”

Democracy Now: As Erica Garner Is Mourned, Why Are Black Mothers in NYC Dying at 12 Times Rate of White Mothers?

In Harlem, hundreds of people attended the funeral Monday of anti-police brutality activist Erica Garner, who died at the age of 27 on December 30 after an asthma-induced heart attack, four months after giving birth to her second child. Erica’s father, Eric Garner, was killed when police officers in Staten Island wrestled him to the ground, pinned him down and applied a fatal chokehold in 2014. Her funeral came as a new ProPublica investigation suggests Erica Garner’s postpartum death might be part of a wider national problem in which hospitals are failing African-American mothers, leading to disproportionately high maternal mortality rates. Every year in the United States, between 700 and 900 women die from causes related to pregnancy and childbirth. For every woman who dies, dozens more experience severe and sometimes life-threatening complications annually. We speak to Annie Waldman, a reporter at ProPublica. Her most recent article is titled “How Hospitals Are Failing Black Mothers.” The piece is part of a larger year-long ProPublica investigation called “Lost Mothers: Maternal Care and Preventable Deaths.”

Transcript

NERMEEN SHAIKH: In Harlem, hundreds of people attended the funeral Monday of anti-police brutality activist Erica Garner, who died at the age of 27 on December 30th after an asthma-induced heart attack, four months after giving birth to her second child. Erica’s father, Eric Garner, was killed when police officers in Staten Island wrestled him to the ground, pinned him down and applied a fatal chokehold in 2014. Outside the funeral, Shannon Jones of the anti-police brutality organization Why Accountability read from placards about Erica’s death.

SHANNON JONES: [echoed by the People’s Mic] On December 30th, 2017, Erica died after suffering a heart attack. Erica attributed her failing health to the trauma of racial injustice. A new study of mothers in New York City found that black mothers are 12 times more likely to die than white mothers and that racism kills. And that racism kills. Fact five: On August 6, 2017, Erica gave birth to a son, naming him Eric after her father. Erica said, “It’s hard, but you have to keep going, no matter how long it takes. We deserve justice, no matter how long it takes.” We deserve justice, no matter how long it takes! We deserve justice! This is not an isolated incident!

AMY GOODMAN: Shannon Jones of the anti-police brutality group Why Accountability, chanting outside the funeral of Erica Garner, who died just four months after giving birth to her second child, named for her father, Eric Garner.

Well, we turn now to a new ProPublica investigation that suggests Erica Garner’s postpartum death might be part of a wider national problem in which hospitals are failing African-American mothers, leading to disproportionately high maternal mortality rates. Every year in the U.S., between 700 and 900 women die from causes related to pregnancy and childbirth. For every woman who dies, dozens more experience severe and sometimes life-threatening complications annually. Here in New York City, black mothers are 12 times more likely to die than white mothers. That staggering statistic comes from this new investigation by ProPublica.

One new ProPublica article, headlined “How Hospitals Are Failing Black Mothers,” reveals women who deliver at hospitals that disproportionately serve African-American mothers are at a higher risk of danger. The article notes, “[W]hile part of the disparity can be attributed to factors like poverty and inadequate access to health care, there is growing evidence that points to the quality of care at hospitals where a disproportionate number of black women deliver, which are often in neighborhoods disadvantaged by segregation.”

Well, for more, we’re joined by Annie Waldman, reporter at ProPublica who wrote the article, “How Hospitals Are Failing Black Mothers,” the piece part of a larger year-long ProPublica investigation called “Lost Mothers: Maternal Care and Preventable Deaths.”

Annie Waldman, welcome to Democracy Now! We just heard Shannon saying, “This is not an isolated incident.” I mean, you have Eric Garner, his last words, “I can’t breathe,” 11 times, and then his daughter, only a few years later, dying of an asthma-induced heart attack, as she couldn’t breathe, either. Explain what we think, overall, this story may exemplify.

ANNIE WALDMAN: Yeah, well, first I want to say thank you so much for having me here. It’s an honor to speak about this work.

And secondly, you know, when I heard the news of Erica Garner’s death, it was horrifying. It’s incredibly—we, at ProPublica, have spoken to hundreds of women who—and families of mothers who have died in childbirth. And it’s a devastating thing and a heartbreaking thing to lose a mother, a new mother, in childbirth. And in these conversations, the most important thing that seems to come up with African-American women or with white women or women of other races is that it’s an injustice. And it’s injustice because in the United States we have some of the highest rates of maternal death across the board. And most of this is driven by the deaths of black mothers. As we heard in what Shannon was saying earlier, in New York City alone, women are—black women are 12 times more likely to die in childbirth than white women. This is an injustice—an injustice that can be stopped.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Well, in your piece, as well, or in the ProPublica investigation, I mean, there are some extremely, in addition to what you cited, distressing statistics, that a black woman is 22 percent more likely to die from heart disease than a white women, 71 percent more likely to perish from cervical cancer, but 243 percent more likely to die from pregnancy or childbirth-related causes. The investigation also cites the World Health Organization saying that black expectant and new mothers in the U.S. die at about the same rate as women in countries such as Mexico and Uzbekistan.

ANNIE WALDMAN: Right. And we were trying to understand: Why is this the case? Why is this happening? Why do these rates persist? Even though in the rest of the world the rates of maternal death have actually gone down over the past decade, in the United States the rates of death in childbirth have gone up. And if you actually disaggregate the numbers between black and white women, you’ll see that it’s the number of deaths in the black community which are going up. It’s not just in the white community.

So when we looked at research, we started to ask these questions. You know, researchers have often said it’s poverty, it’s social economic factors, it’s access to healthcare, fragmentation of healthcare. But what we wanted to know was: What can hospitals do? Does it actually—does this disparity persist at the hospital level? Could this actually be something that doctors have some influence on? Could this actually be something where it’s the unconscious bias which is in our healthcare system?

AMY GOODMAN: And what did you find?

ANNIE WALDMAN: We found that definitely that’s the case. If you look at hospitals that disproportionately serve black communities or communities of color, you will find that the number of birth complications are exceptionally higher. And this is not just for birth complications like hemorrhage, which many people see are incredibly preventable—this is not what Erica Garner had—but also when you look at complications such as hypertension disorder, so blood pressure issues, or blood clots, which is something that—I don’t know if you read the Vogue interview with Serena Williams yesterday, but she spoke about her tragic birth complication that she faced.

AMY GOODMAN: This is the tennis star.

ANNIE WALDMAN: The tennis star, the queen of the court. Even she experienced a birth complication at the hands of her doctor. She has a history of blood clots. She has a history of—I think she had a blood clot a couple years ago that took her off of the courts for a year. This is something the doctor should have been aware of when she came into the hospital.

AMY GOODMAN: She self-diagnosed.

ANNIE WALDMAN: She self-diagnosed, exactly. And should women have to go into the hospital and self-diagnose? I mean, there are medical staff for that. And, in fact, in the story, if you read closely, she asked the nurse, in order to get some kind of treatment, in order to get a CT scan, to see if here blood clots were getting worse. And the nurse said, “Oh, it’s the pain medication, which might be confusing you.” I mean, what does this make us feel as women? What would black women feel about this, to know that their pain is being ignored, their symptoms are being ignored? And, in fact, studies have shown that pain management is something—it’s a huge problem in communities of color. Doctors frequently do not give the right pain medication to black women, and they believe that sometimes it might be, like what happened to Serena Williams, somewhat in their head, or they might be confused.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about the stories of Dacheca and Tanesia?

ANNIE WALDMAN: Yeah. So, while we were—how we started with this investigation, at least the one looking into hospitals, was with the data. We wanted to find the hospitals that had the highest rates of birth complications. And what we did was we looked at three states, millions of births, so much data that it would overwhelm you. But what we wanted were the human stories. So we worked with an amazing team at ProPublica that does engagement, and they reached out to communities, asking for stories. Coincidentally, we were investigating one hospital in Brooklyn that had one of the highest rates of maternal harm in New York state, and a family reached out to us and said, “Our mother died there.” This—

AMY GOODMAN: Can you tell us what hospital it is?

ANNIE WALDMAN: Yes. It’s SUNY Downstate in Brooklyn. This is in a triangle that has—in Brooklyn, which is a borough in New York City, which has one of the highest rates of birth complications. One of the neighborhoods just near this hospital, Brownsville, one in 20 women there have a birth complication when they go into a hospital. So, when you think of these numbers, this is not just a rare occurrence. This is an everyday thing for these communities.

So, Dacheca Fleurimond, one of the women that we focused on, she died just months before our investigation into hospitals. We started looking in to her case. She was incredibly—while she was at risk, she had no idea that she was going to die when she walked into the hospital. She had had five previous pregnancies. All of them went fine. She was pregnant with twins. She didn’t know that she was actually at very, very high risk for a blood clot, what Serena Williams also experienced. Thirty-six hours after her cesarean section, she died.

And what was shocking about this, even though this is incredibly devastating just on its own, while we were investigating this hospital, another woman passed away, Tanesia Walker. She was 31 years old, just a few weeks shy of her 32nd birthday. And she was an American Airlines flight attendant. She had a kid before. She had a job. She was financially stable. She had a criminal justice degree from John Jay University here in New York City. She had her life in front of her, just like all of these women. And yet, when she walked into this hospital, she had no idea that within 24 hours she would also die. At this time, we don’t know exactly the cause of her death, but her family believes that it might have been a blood clot, the same thing as Dacheca Fleurimond, the woman who died at the same hospital just months before.

This brings up so many questions of: What are hospitals doing to investigate the deaths that occur on their own grounds? What are doctors doing in order to change the protocols, once a death happens? What is the conversation that happens? You know, I asked the hospital all these questions, and, unfortunately, they did not answer these questions. So I think that it’s really up for the public to put pressure.

AMY GOODMAN: And insurance, what role does that play, and lack of it?

ANNIE WALDMAN: Yeah, I mean, insurance plays a huge role. This is really part of a systemic issue. It’s not just the hospitals. It goes down to, you know, when a child is born and born into this society and whether they have healthcare. And then they grow up, and do they have good education? I mean, this is not just about the segregation of our healthcare system. This is about the segregation of our entire society, from education to housing and onward.

AMY GOODMAN: We want to thank you so much for being with us. This interesting point—it was written in the New York Post: “Pearson, the world’s biggest education company, has come under fire … for a page in one of its nursing textbooks—which features racist stereotypes about minorities,” one line saying, “Blacks often report higher pain intensity than other cultures.” “The harmful misconceptions can be found on page 161 of the textbook, ‘Nursing: A Concept-Based Approach to Learning, Volume I.’”

ANNIE WALDMAN: Yeah. So, as you will see, there is unconscious bias and bias in everything that we read, you know, and it’s really time for people to start standing up and questioning what’s happening.

AMY GOODMAN: We want to question you further about this; we’re going to post it online at democracynow.org. So please stay with us. But, for now, we’re going to break and then looking at another aspect of the life of Erica Garner that so many women experience now, as they deal with the stress of losing loved ones to police brutality. This is Democracy Now! Annie Waldman’s pieces and the whole ProPublica series, we’ll link to at democracynow.org, “How Hospitals Are Failing Black Mothers” and more. Stay with us.

Racial Health Disparities

  • A 2012 study found that Black Americans report “experiencing discrimination at significantly higher rates” than other racial or ethnic groups, leading to PTSD-like symptoms – not from war, but from living in the United States.
  • According to the CDC, black mothers in the U.S. die at three to four times the rate of white mothers, one of the widest of all racial disparities in women’s health.

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    • A black woman is:
      • 22 percent more likely to die from heart disease than a white woman
      • 71 percent more likely to perish from cervical cancer
      • 243 percent more likely to die from pregnancy- or childbirth-related causes.
    • In a national study of five medical complications that are common causes of maternal death and injury, black women were two to three times more likely to die than white women who had the same condition.
    • In New York City, for example, black mothers are 12 times more likely to die than white mothers, according to the most recent data; in 2001-2005, their risk of death was seven times higher. Researchers say that widening gap reflects a dramatic improvement for white women but not for blacks.
    • The disproportionate toll on African-Americans is the main reason the U.S. maternal mortality rate is so much higher than that of other affluent countries. Black expectant and new mothers in the U.S. die at about the same rate as women in countries such as Mexico and Uzbekistan, the World Health Organization estimates.
    • A 2016 analysis of five years of data found that black, college-educated mothers who gave birth in local hospitals were more likely to suffer severe complications of pregnancy or childbirth than white women who never graduated from high school.
    • For much of American history, these types of disparities were largely blamed on blacks’ supposed susceptibility to illness — their “mass of imperfections,” as one doctor wrote in 1903 — and their own behavior. But now many social scientists and medical researchers agree, the problem isn’t race but racism.
      • There was the new mother in Nebraska with a history of hypertension who couldn’t get her doctors to believe she was having a heart attack until she had another one. The young Florida mother-to-be whose breathing problems were blamed on obesity when in fact her lungs were filling with fluid and her heart was failing. The Arizona mother whose anesthesiologist assumed she smoked marijuana because of the way she did her hair. The Chicago-area businesswoman with a high-risk pregnancy who was so upset at her doctor’s attitude that she changed OB/GYNs in her seventh month, only to suffer a fatal postpartum stroke.
      • The systemic problems start with types of social inequities that include differing access to healthy food and safe drinking water, safe neighborhoods and good schools, decent jobs and reliable transportation.
      • Black women are more likely to be uninsured outside of pregnancy, when Medicaid kicks in, and thus more likely to start prenatal care later and to lose coverage in the postpartum period. They are more likely to have chronic conditions such as obesity, diabetes and hypertension that make having a baby more dangerous. The hospitals where they give birth are often the products of historical segregation, lower in quality than those where white mothers deliver, with significantly higher rates of life-threatening complications.
      • Those problems are amplified by unconscious biases that are embedded in the medical system, affecting quality of care in stark and subtle ways. In the more than 200 stories of African-American mothers that ProPublica and NPR have collected over the past year, the feeling of being devalued and disrespected by medical providers was a constant theme.
      • In a survey conducted this year by NPR, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, 33 percent of black women said that they personally had been discriminated against because of their race when going to a doctor or health clinic, and 21 percent said they have avoided going to a doctor or seeking health care out of concern they would be racially discriminated against.
    • An expanding field of research shows that the stress of being a black woman in American society can take a physical toll during pregnancy and childbirth.

Sources: 

NPR: Black Mothers Keep Dying After Giving Birth. Shalon Irving’s Story Explains Why
ProPublica: Nothing Protects Black Women From Dying in Pregnancy and Childbirth
Everyday Feminism: Here’s Your Proof That White Americans Don’t Face Systemic Racism

Further Reading

Vice: Racial Discrimination Can Take 18 Years Off Someone’s Life

VICE: Being Black in America Is a Health Risk. It’s Time for Reparations.

WP: Racism has devastating effects on children’s health, pediatricians warn

 

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Historical Trauma

“Often distorted, denied, or concealed.  Historical trauma has to do with collective, cumulative emotional wounding across generations resulting from cataclysmic events.” Dr. Helen Kim – UChicago

“Essentially, the devastating trauma of genocide, loss of culture, and forcible removal from family and communities are all unresolved and become a sort of ‘psychological baggage… continuously being acted out and recreated in contemporary Aboriginal culture’.” Social Justice Report, 2008, Australian Human Rights Commission

“Trauma leads to fragmented and fractured identities that in turn contribute to the escalation of violence between people. The future feels meaningless, and people articulate their felt sense of powerlessness and lack of life purpose in violent acts on themselves and others. Relationships are destroyed and communities fragment. These problems cascade down the generations, growing more complex over time.” Judy Atkinson – Sharing Culture

  • Historic Trauma
    • The cumulative emotional and psychological wounding of an individual or generation caused by a traumatic experience or event
    • Trauma is inherited in our epigenetics, the proteins that control DNA expression
  • Historic Trauma around farming
    • Stigma of relating farming to slavery, share cropping, convict leasing, etc.
    • “There is a danger in confusing the oppression that our people experienced on land with the spirit of the Land itself.” Leah Penniman’s new book, Farming While Black

Mill City Kids Production: Historical Trauma and Context

Sharing Culture: What is Historical Trauma?

“Essentially, the devastating trauma of genocide, loss of culture, and forcible removal from family and communities are all unresolved and become a sort of ‘psychological baggage… continuously being acted out and recreated in contemporary Aboriginal culture’.”
Social Justice Report, 2008, Australian Human Rights Commission

Psychological trauma represents an emotional state of discomfort and stress resulting from memories of an extraordinary, catastrophic experience which shattered the survivor’s sense of invulnerability to harm.

“People subjected to prolonged, repeated trauma develop an insidious progressive form of post-traumatic stress disorder that invades and erodes the personality. While the victim of a single acute trauma may feel after the event that she is ‘not herself’, the victim of chronic trauma may feel herself changed irrevocably, or she may lose the sense that she has any self at all.” Judith Herman

“Trauma is qualitatively different from other negative life stressors as it fundamentally shifts perceptions of reality. Negative stressors:

leave an individual feeling ‘put out’, inconvenienced and stressed. These experiences are eventually relieved with the resolution of the stressor. In contrast, trauma represents destruction of the basic organising principles by which we come to know self, others and the environment; traumas wound deeply in a way that challenges the meaning of life. Healing from the wounds of such an experience requires a restitution of order and meaning in one’s life.[27]

Gregory Phillips talks about three areas of trauma experienced by Indigenous peoples:

  • Situational trauma – trauma that occurs as a result of a specific or discrete event, for example from a car accident, murder or being taken away.
  • Cumulative trauma – it is subtle and the feelings build over time, for example racism.
  • Inter-generational trauma – if trauma is not dealt with adequately in one generation, it often gets passed down unwittingly in our behaviours and in our thought systems… For example, if you want to heal children and youth, you have to heal yourself as well to break the cycle.[28]

Importantly he notes that for Indigenous peoples who have experienced trauma as a result of colonisation, dispossession and dislocation, as well as the trauma of on-going racism, family violence and other events, often all three forms of trauma are applicable.[29]

Research has shown that the impacts of trauma are even more pronounced when the trauma has been deliberately inflicted rather than a result of natural circumstances… deliberately inflicted trauma creates victimisation as well as all the associated emotional, psychological, cultural and spiritual harm. Deliberately inflicted trauma is much harder to recover from as it undermines the cohesion and strengths of individuals and communities.” Social Justice Report, 2008

Dr. Joe Solanto, from Canada, discusses different types of trauma, as well as the nature of inter-generational, or historical, trauma. Part 3 can be found here.

Historical or intergenerational trauma

“Individual trauma reverberates across communities but also across the generations. The concept of historic trauma was initially developed in the 1980s by First Nations and Aboriginal peoples in Canada to explain the seeming unending cycle of trauma and despair in their communities. Essentially, the devastating trauma of genocide, loss of culture, and forcible removal from family and communities are all unresolved and become a sort of ‘psychological baggage… continuously being acted out and recreated in contemporary Aboriginal culture’.[31]

In Australia, Indigenous researchers have also demonstrated the connections between the historical experiences of colonisation and the forcible removal of children to the disadvantage of today’s Indigenous peoples and communities. Professor Judy Atkinson has worked on the intergenerational and transgenerational transmission of trauma arguing that many of the problems in Indigenous communities, be it alcohol abuse, mental health problems, family violence or criminal behaviour, are symptomatic of the effects of this unresolved trauma reaching into the present day.[32]

Gregory Phillips also speaks of trauma that is handed down spiritually. Using Canadian elder, Vera Martin’s, reference to it as ‘blood memory’, he explains: ‘It is a collective memory of what has happened and what has not happened’.[33]

This unresolved trauma is not limited to the forcible removal of children from their families. Trauma can occur in response to exposure to family violence, sexual assault, child abuse and neglect, substance misuse and other forms of experience that can harm an individual’s sense of self and wellbeing. These traumas also find their way to influence subsequent generations to come.

Professor Helen Milroy, an Indigenous psychiatrist specialising in child psychiatry, describes how trauma flows through to Indigenous children:

The transgenerational effects of trauma occur via a variety of mechanisms including the impact of attachment relationship with care givers; the impact on parenting and family functioning; the association with parental physical and mental illness; disconnection and alienation from the extended family, culture and society. 

These effects are exacerbated by exposure to continuing high levels of stress and trauma including multiple bereavements and other losses, the process of vicarious traumatisation where children witness the on-going effects of the original trauma which a parent or care giver has experienced. 

Even where children are protected from the traumatic stories of their ancestors, the effects of past traumas still impact on children in the form of ill health, family dysfunction, community violence, psychological morbidity and early mortality.[34]

… the transgenerational impacts of trauma also challenges us to shift our thinking on the distinctions drawn between perpetrators and victims as we understand how offenders are often victims of trauma or transgenerational trauma themselves…

… Professor Judy Atkinson argues that trauma becomes expressed as anger, violence and criminal behaviour, where ‘rage turns inwards, but cascades down the generations, growing more complex over time’.[39]  Anger, hopelessness, worthlessness and lack of genuine opportunities and disconnection run like a common thread through the experiences of both victims and perpetrators of violence.” Social Justice Report, 2008″”

Maria Yellow Horse Brave Heart: Historical Trauma in Native American Populations

Further Reading

 

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Emotional Labor

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“Emotional labor is the folding and contorting of one’s own emotions for the benefit of others, in order to put them at ease, making space for their feelings by burying your own.

In the context of race, this means ignoring offhand racist comments and microaggressions for the sake of keeping the peace, absolving white people of their guilt and swallowing righteous anger.

Emotional labor is not an inherently negative thing. But it becomes so when it’s compelled, without any promise of reciprocation. Black people, especially black women, have perfected the art of emotional labor for the sake of survival.” Zeba Blay – Huffington Post

Screen Shot 2019-08-13 at 5.24.11 PM.png“If your “personal opinion” has the consequence of erasing or minimizing the realities, dignities or livelihood of others— I’ve no interest in discussion. I will not be “open minded” to your violent bullshit” rachel.cargle

“Try to understand that Black women do not exist… in all of our glory and magic, solely for the purpose of your education. We are not tools for your learning, but instead individuals with feelings and emotions. Recognize the emotional labor you ask from us, and attempt to take some of the burden for yourself. Take extra time to read informative texts and narratives from various perspectives, and think about the impact your words can have on those in our community before you speak. In addition, do not play the “devil’s advocate” regarding matters of my existence; there is no opposition to the truth of Black history and Black lives, only the legitimization of oppressive perspectives. Use your privilege to the best of your ability to challenge and deconstruct oppressive structures within Columbia and the world.

Stop forcing the oppressed to explain and fight for their existences. It is emotionally and physically draining, unfair, and oppressive. Black women do not exist to provide you with Free Black Emotional Labor.” The Columbia Spectator: Black emotional labor is core to my Columbia experience By Amari Gaiter

HuffPost: ‘Mudbound’ Has More To Say About Whiteness In America Than Any Other Trump-Era Movie

“You could be reading a letter from your son who is away at war, or having dinner with your family,” she said. “But at any moment you have to stop doing what you’re doing. Your family connections are displaced or your emotion is displaced, and suddenly you have to perform someone else’s convenience.”

She is speaking of emotional labor, a concept wound up tightly with the story of white and black America. Emotional labor is the folding and contorting of one’s own emotions for the benefit of others, in order to put them at ease, making space for their feelings by burying your own. In the context of race, this means ignoring offhand racist comments and microaggressions for the sake of keeping the peace, absolving white people of their guilt and swallowing righteous anger.

Emotional labor is not an inherently negative thing. But it becomes so when it’s compelled, without any promise of reciprocation. Black people, especially black women, have perfected the art of emotional labor for the sake of survival.”

—-

Amari Gaiter : Black emotional labor is core to my Columbia experience

“Entering Columbia University, I knew that I would have to partake in the Core Curriculum. I did not realize that in addition to mandatory coursework and rigorous academics, I would frequently be required to offer my existence and knowledge as learning tools, let others challenge the fabric of my humanity, and allow my peers to use my emotional vulnerabilities for the greater sake of education and awareness. I am never thanked for my emotional expenditures, but I am always left feeling as if I’ve made a slight impact on my counterparts’ thinking and worldview, and by extension made the world a slightly better place. Thus, I am left with a conflict: Do I self-sacrifice for the greater good of our community, or prioritize my own well-being? Society chooses for me, and I am left as the instructor of an additional course titled “Free Black Emotional Labor.”

I came into this realization after a barrage of emotionally draining, shocking, and racist interactions with those around me. I’ve heard the slur “n*gger” flee my white peer’s mouth not once, not twice, but three times. I consistently have had to defend my Black existence to my white counterparts. I have even had teachers attempt to invalidate my experiences as a Black woman, citing Oprah and Michelle Obama as examples to refute the subordination of Black women. On a daily basis, I deal with passive-aggressive and outright aggressive racism, while constantly being tokenized by my peers.

I have come to understand that on top of my current 18-credit course load, I may be forced to teach an extra class in my daily life. One in which I am constantly instructing my peers on my existence and recovering from racial trauma while avoiding a personal descent into complete Black rage—a form of anger, frustration, and disillusionment that stems from the historic racism derived from the Black experience. Not only is my course very popular, as it seems that almost every white person I interact with has taken interest in testing my Blackness and the limits of my personal strength, but I also spend more time explaining my existence, lecturing on Black identity and history, physically and mentally recovering from racist conversations and interactions, and trying to maintain a level-headed sense of sanity than I do on my course load.

Despite the constant hypervisibility and emotional demands, I am simultaneously forced into a dichotomy of forced visibility and invisibility; I am too often required to either explain my identity, or to pretend like my Black rage does not exist for the comfort of others, for the sake of white feelings and white “safety.”

On the one hand, I am thrust into spaces where my existence is constantly questioned, and I am immediately forced to put on my defensive, hyperintellectual hat and fight on behalf of all Black women, to teach the Black experience on behalf of all Black people. I am put in positions where my Blackness is apparently the only identifiable trait about my personhood and character, and thus I am constructed as the go-to token for racial conversations.

On the other hand, my Blackness and pride is not favored. In these same spaces, I am condemned for being too loud or too vocal. I am not taken seriously or ignored when I speak up. I am seen as just another angry Black woman, or my feelings are dismissed as “Amari just having her daily social justice breakdown.”

After experiencing invalidation, anger, frustration, anxiety, and sadness, I am always left feeling emotionally and physically drained. And at the end of it all, I retreat back to my room at night, blast Solange, and force myself to lull my exploding Black rage down to a dormant stage of repression, preparing myself to enter the white world and the whiteness of this institution tomorrow. And the next day. And for the rest of my life as I continue to navigate a white world as a Black woman.

When I address this hidden emotional labor with my peers, I am often confronted with statements such as: “Why don’t you just opt out? Can’t you stop taking on the emotional labor and save yourself?”

However, opting out will not resolve this problem. If someone is spewing racist ignorance, I can not leave such ignorance unchallenged. If someone questions whether or not Black lives matter, I can not just stand there and let Black people be invalidated. I can not comply in the perpetuation of oppression by allowing others’ harmful speech or ideas to thrive. The world forces me into the endless role of educator and giver of emotional labor for as long as ignorance surrounds me.

Therefore, as the forced instructor of Free Black Emotional Labor, I would like to finally teach all my “students” a few key concepts. Note that this will be on the final exam (and yes, non-Black people of color should take note, too):

Try to understand that Black women do not exist at Columbia, in all of our glory and magic, solely for the purpose of your education. We are not tools for your learning, but instead individuals with feelings and emotions. Recognize the emotional labor you ask from us, and attempt to take some of the burden for yourself. Take extra time to read informative texts and narratives from various perspectives, and think about the impact your words can have on those in our community before you speak. In addition, do not play the “devil’s advocate” regarding matters of my existence; there is no opposition to the truth of Black history and Black lives, only the legitimization of oppressive perspectives. Use your privilege to the best of your ability to challenge and deconstruct oppressive structures within Columbia and the world.

Stop forcing the oppressed to explain and fight for their existences. It is emotionally and physically draining, unfair, and oppressive. Black women do not exist to provide you with Free Black Emotional Labor.”

Andrer Henry: To All the White Friends I Couldn’t Keep

To All the White Friends I Couldn’t Keep:

In the summer of 2016, my life changed forever when the police-involved death of Philando Castile went viral online. I don’t know if you’ll remember. He was the one who told the officer that he had a licensed firearm in the car,  the one who’s girlfriend was sitting in the passenger seat, the one who’s four-year-old daughter was in the back when the officer unloaded his gun into Castile’s chest. I don’t know if you’ll remember, but I was devastated, because I knew that this sort of thing—randomly being stopped, suspected of crime, death by police—happens more often to black people. I decided that day that I wouldn’t let the news cycle determine when I spoke up about racism anymore.

I think you’ll remember that I went live on Facebook almost everyday that week to share my own experiences of racism. I thought that if you heard from a black person you trusted—me—that racism is alive and well in our times, that you would come to understand that what happened to Mr. Castile, to Mr. Martin, Ms. Bland, Ms. Boyd, Mr. Sterling, Mr. Brown, Mr. Garner, Mr Grey, Ms. Shirley, Ms. Gaines, and so many others were not unique, isolated incidents but parts of a pattern.

I didn’t bring these things up to make you feel shame, but to make you aware. I thought you would hear about how I was accused of stealing my own bike, randomly stopped and searched for drugs and weapons, refused an apartment that was all but mine until the landlord saw my brown skin, and I thought your hearts would break. I thought your eyes would be opened and I thought that you would finally see, not just facets of the world that were previously invisible to you, but me. I thought that you would finally see how carefully I tread through this world in order to remain free and whole, how intentional I must be to prove to others that I am not a threat. I thought you’d see this and be angry at the ways that this society keeps telling me that it knows that deep down I am a criminal, and they’re just waiting to figure out what type. I thought you’d fight to live in a world where I didn’t have to fear random searches and false arrests, police brutality and plea deals, mandatory minimums and prison labor and torture.

I thought you would see this burden. I even acted it out for you, with the largest boulder I could manage.

I was wrong. In hindsight, I see that I was naiive to even think that I could get through to you. But I’ve learned since then.

My biggest lesson in all these years is that only family is family. I know that if your actual blood came to you and said they were raped, you wouldn’t ask them “How do you know? Are you sure? What were you wearing? Calm down. Let’s get all the facts. Protecting rape victims is not a priority to God. Let’s just stay focused on the Gospel. Why are you stirring up trouble?” I know that many families do respond that way, but I’ve seen how you defend your children, even when they’re clearly in the wrong. I know how much more you’d show up for them if you believed they were victims. You wouldn’t look for reasons to disbelieve your blood like you worked so hard to disbelieve me. Like Carolyn Bryant, you would believe her. You would hunt the man down, make Emmett Till out of him. You’d be at the police station demanding justice. You’d be looking for the bastard that harmed your kin. You’d be at city hall demanding that we create a world where your blood will be safe. Tell me what you wouldn’t do if one of your own came home telling you that they’d been harmed or were in danger? You didn’t do that for me, and that told me everything.

You told me that I wasn’t your blood when you showed that your ideas, your theologies, a flag, a song, prison buildings, police officers you don’t even know are more important to you than understanding the type of America that I live in.

You’d rather make a madman, a heretic, a reverse racist out of me than to consider that I may actually know what I’m talking about. How could I keep you?

You think I blocked you because we “disagreed”? No. I blocked you because you were invalidating my experiences. Because you can’t seem to tell where the language of agreement is inappropriate.

You can disagree on matters of opinion. You can disagree where you are relatively as informed as your conversation partner. But if I tell you that black people receive harsher punishments for committing the same crimes as white people, you can’t just disagree. You either don’t know the fact to be true, or you know the statement to be untrue and can disprove it. You can’t “disagree” that I’ve experienced racism when I tell you stories that you weren’t there to witness, just because you don’t think it was a racist instance. Not only does this feel insulting, but it’s deeply offensive to tell someone that their experiences are invalid. But you don’t seem to care when your words caused someone harm.

You’ve never applied yourself to deeply investigate what racism is, yet you’re telling people who have experienced it, studied it, and work against it on a daily basis that they’re wrong. How would you know?

When you go to your doctor, and they tell you something you don’t want to hear, do you tell them you disagree? Do you disregard all of their years of study in medical school to present rebuttals to their diagnoses? You call me arrogant for not listening to you, but have you considered how arrogant it is for you to present your opinions as though they are just as valid as mine, knowing that I’ve lived these things and study these things on a daily basis?

You try to tell me about Dr. King  even though you’ve only read one of his letters and listened to half of one of his speeches. Meanwhile, I pore over his sermons into the wee hours of the morning, searching for some insight that might be useful in the fight against racism. You try to tell me what methods for change work even though you’ve never studied the subject, nor have you ever lifted a finger for racial justice. Meanwhile, I’ve sat with people who have toppled dictators to glean from their wisdom. And if anyone says to you what you already know, that you have no basis for your argument, you get offended.  You say I hate you even though I’ve never even thought that. Do you know how hard it is to talk to someone who behaves this way?

I didn’t block any of you because of hate. I don’t hate you. I love you. I blocked you because you showed no empathy.

Not one time, did any of you reach out to me and say “Help me understand.”

Not one of you ever called me to ask “Are you okay?”

It was only “Were you this upset at Obama?” “Are you actually likely to be racially attacked?” “Prove to me that racism is a thing!” “Tell me, Andre! What sins of my ancestors should I atone for!” “

You mocked me, even as I said “I understand why you might feel like racism isn’t a thing, but…”

I learned again.

I learned that speaking softly to you doesn’t matter. Because this isn’t about how I say it. This is about what I’m saying.

You call me angry as though I have no reason to be.

You say I’m a troublemaker as though there’s not already trouble around me.

You show no urgency to care for us. You’re looking for reasons not to.

I can’t bear to see you, knowing how little you care about me, and knowing how deeply I believed that you loved me. I can’t watch your faces scroll across my Facebook feed and remember the smug tones, the blank faces, and the smart remarks you served me when I told you how much it hurts sometimes to be black in this country.

Even after years of separation, not one of you has reached out to me. Yet, sometimes I go through my inbox and read our last exchanges. Sometimes I dare to reach out and call some of you to wish you Merry Christmas. I always find, in these years of separation, that no one has further examined their positions. My absence has meant nothing.

Come. Be honest about what has happened between you and I.  When you were angry, didn’t I call you? Didn’t I invite you out for a drink to discuss the matter? Didn’t I arrange a time to video chat? Didn’t I apologize to some of you when you were offended? Who among you has ever apologized to me? Who of you has taken the initiative to mend our relationship?

You’ve scoffed at my pain.

Now you tell me: who is being hateful?

I didn’t do this to us. You did. It broke my heart to learn that many people are just incapable of truly loving black people, and to have to walk away.

If you ever came back to me, having looked into these matters yourselves, with a sincere apology, ready to fight for a world without racism, I’d have you back. But I have no reason to believe that you will. Our relationship is in your hands.

All my love,

Andre

This past year I not only stood unapologetically in the full and complete truth of my identity but also voiced that truth, my truth, aloud to all those closest to me. Including a lot of White people. People who think we’re quite close when in reality they neither see nor support me as my whole, loud and proud Black female-identifying self.

So this is my ode to them and to all the other seemingly liberal White folx out there. My ode to you. The ones who think you’re doing enough. Who wholeheartedly believe you support Black womxn. Who have a Black womxn friend or two (and whether you admit or not many of you believe you’re woke simply for befriending us). Whether you think you’re colour blind or an ally. This is for every White hue-man in my life — past, present or future. Major newsflash ahead so buckle the fuck up.

Before I Begin

This is a good time to point out that you’re not going to like what I have to say. Not one bit. Your ego and White privilege will seethe. You’ll be inclined to label me angry — classic! — and wonder who the fuck I think I am to speak to you this way (I am my ancestors wildest dream, for the record). You may feel I’m ruthless for spelling this out so publicly, that I should speak to each of you in private. It’s all standard White violence, as to be expected, so if you feel you need to stay there by all means — do you boo.

But for those of you who truly give a shit, I hope this will give you pause and help you become empowered to show up for myself and other Black womxn in an authentic, nourishing, sustainable way. Lord knows it’s long overdue.

Giving Up White Comfort

In 2018 I had the nerve, as many of you would believe, to affirm my own Black womxnhood and demand that the mostly White people around me, do the same. In other words, I stopped prioritizing whiteness and White comfort and rather centered myself and Black and Indigenous womxnhood. The audacity!

Now, make no mistake I’ve been fighting racist heteropatriarchy most of my life in various ways, from college campuses to government agencies, but like many Black womxn, I had yet to truly bring it home to roost. To make my needs and boundaries clear to the White and wealthy community that I was raised in. One that has caused me decades, if not a lifetime, of emotionally violent racialized harm. And I had failed to do so for damn good reason — it was not and is not safe.

It wasn’t safe at 4 years old when the White “caregivers” at daycare would lock me outside alone in the rain. It wasn’t safe at 8 years old when my White BFF told me I looked like I had been dipped in poo. It surely wasn’t safe at 16 when my White high school sweetheart’s friends asked him how kinky I was in bed. Nor at 31 when my mom died and my closest friend didn’t support me “because I’m so strong” (read: strong Black woman trope). Still not safe at 33 when a White friend of 20 years admitted she had never thought of me as Black because, unbeknownst to her, White privilege allowed her to barely see me at all.

Nope. The community within which I was raised is a battlefield of White supremacy and I, as the only Black person, let alone Black womxn, in the mix did the best I could simply to survive. This is not an experience unique to me. But here’s a hard hit of realness White folx have the privilege of ignoring: as a Black woman, the majority of the time being your “friend”, hell even acquaintance, has meant my playing small. It meant biting my tongue and keeping quiet for your benefit and comfort at the detriment of my own.

Growing up in an incredibly White space, this means I’ve accrued a bunch of White folx who became my “friend” on the condition that I did’t challenge you or the system of oppression you perpetuate in and benefit from. And for a long time, I didn’t — constantly (albeit subconsciously) ensuring that the White folx surrounding me weren’t made to acknowledge race or racism in any way because it would almost surely result in violence. White fragility, microaggressions, White entitlement, gaslighting, triangulation, spiritual bypassing, White exceptionalism — you name it, I’ve endured it a million times over. Yes, even from you. Did you do so intentionally? Sometimes yes and sometimes no. But impact trumps intention. Every. Damn. Time. And let me be real fucking clear: I’ve had enough.

If I talk a little louder
If I speak up when you’re wrong
If I walk a little taller
I’d be known to you too long
If you noticed that I’m different
Don’t take it personally
Don’t be mad, it’s just the brand new kind of me
And it ain’t bad, I found a brand new kind of free

– Alicia Keys

The Shift

In that enoughness lies my biggest shift of 2018, and undoubtedly one of the biggest transitions of my life. In re-awakening to my work as a racial justice advocate, in once again aligning with my calling to speak up and out on the injustices of this world and witnessing the brilliant work of my fellow Black and Indigenous activists, I became unfuckwithable. At 34 years old I fully embraced my mission, morals and values and got clear that the racialized violence I endured at the hands of whiteness, at the hands of you, was no longer acceptable. I became willing to speak my truth, despite the pain I knew would ensue, and cut all ties with White folx, or any folx, unable or unwilling to stop causing harm and centering whiteness.

The result? Well, needless to say whiteness, aka you, didn’t like this at all and every fear a Black person has about calling White folx out became manifest. You’ve shamed me for naming racism while the people saying or doing racist things are absolved. After being attacked by a group of White women for calling out racism on a stagette, I was removed as the MC of your wedding. Some of you, whom I’ve known for decades, tell me you don’t know where you fit in as my friend anymore (i.e. — you can’t understand how to be friends with me if I’m not prioritizing your comfort). Many of you have and still harshly dismiss my lived experience of racism if and when I attempt to share. Some of you have distanced yourselves entirely, others are palpably awkward in my presence and more of you have taken to protecting your precious egos by talking shit behind my back (surely I must be the problem, not you).

I’ve had White “friends” reach out to test the waters because you don’t like what it says about you if I no longer want to be friends, but you have zero desire or willingness to look at your shit or change in any way; let alone give a fuck about what this experience is like for me or any other person of colour.

I get that redefining any relationship is hard, especially when it involves a complete overhaul of a power dynamic that you feel utterly entitled to. After all, you live in a world where, whether you like or not, everything panders to your supremacy. From beauty standards and healthcare to education and the judicial system — whiteness reigns supreme. And my colonial role as a Black woman is to avoid naming or rocking that boat, or suffer immense emotional, spiritual, mental and/or physical harm by your hand dare I step out of line. It’s a fucked up but entirely intentional scheme and your subjugation of my humanity renders any possibility of being able to relate to, respect or connect with me or my fellow Black bbs impossible. Well, I have no time for it.

Which leads me to the ultimate point of this here sermon — all White folx, friends of Black womxn or otherwise, you gotta do better. Like, way better. I’ve said it many times before and I’ll say it again: y’all are causing Black womxn, myself included, mad harm. ALL of you. Every day. Even and perhaps especially the Black womxn you call friends or family.

For those thinking “not me”. YES, absolutely you. Overtly or otherwise and in many ways unbeknownst to you. I know a lot of it is unintentional and I know it’s 2019 — not knowing about racial harm is intentional and entirely unacceptable. Your ignorance is violent. So, what the fuck to do?

How White Folx Can Be Better Friends to Black Womxn

There’s no one-size fits all and — reminder — Black womxn are people just like anyone else. Meaning we all have various life experiences, privileges, worldviews, triggers etc. and our needs and wants for friendship will differ.

What I will share are 5 suggestions for how White folx wishing to be my friend (or continue to be my friend) can begin to authentically engage with and support me personally. Key stress on begin. These actions aren’t a surefire way to friendship, because nothing is. But given the grave amount of harm myself and so many Black womxn have + continue to endure at the hands of White people (of ALL people but I’m starting with the most harmful), these are my current precursors to rules of engagement with any fairer skin friends moving forward. Take it or (as many of you will) leave it…

1. Admit You’re Racist — Whether you like it or not, intend it or not, racism is the status quo of whiteness. If you are committed to minimizing harm to myself and/or other Black womxn, then you will acknowledge and address your learned White supremacy and its consequences. If you can’t acknowledge that you belong to a group that as a whole has oppressed Black people to build + maintain your privilege and understand the power dynamics at play in our relationship as a result, you’re not someone I can feel safe with nor trust. This means education yourself and engaging in conversations about race, racism + White privilege (and not in a manner that requires unpaid time, energy and emotional labour of Black womxn), learning and using proper terminology (Google is your friend!), committing to doing better, owning and apologizing when you fuck up and cause harm — because you still will — and continuing to dismantle your White privilege for the rest of your days.

2. Do Your Inner Work — In addition to admitting your participation in White supremacist systems and all the ways it (and you) have caused Black womxn harm, there’s the deep, inner work of actually addressing your personal racism so you can not only identify the harm you cause us, but minimize it. I suggest the best way to begin is to engage in ongoing active education led by BIWOC, for example Layla Saad’s Me and White Supremacy Workbook, my Spiritual Activism workshops and Catrice Jackson’s 30 Day Crash Course for White Women.

Reading books is great but passive education is insufficient, especially in the absence of critical analysis from BIWOC. And sidenote — doing it solely through or with other white folx ain’t it either, nor is liking a post or two on my Instagram. On that note, if you follow me + my work but believe you’re somehow excluded from actually doing anti-racism work of your own — your privilege is showing! There’s no silver bullet and your work will never be finished, but it’s on you to do it every single day for the rest of your life. Or not, but that means you and I can’t be homies #sorrynotsorry.

3. See Me — This sounds incredibly simple doesn’t it? Yet I’ve found it unbelievably challenging for White people to do. If you want to authentically engage with me then you need to see and acknowledge me, as in allpartsof me. Not just the parts you like or want to co-opt. Not just the bits that you understand. Certainly not just the parts that make you comfortable. ALL of me. Including my Blackness. I am human, just like you. But the majority of White Americans don’t have any meaningful relationship with POC, so y’all be tripping and treating us like aliens. Listen up — I am a whole, dynamic, complex, multifaceted person. Shit ain’t hard (especially if you’re addressing your own racism). Listen to me. Acknowledge me and my experiences. Sit with me in my anger and do your best to appreciate how and why centuries of oppression would leave me so damn pissed off. Believe me. Even and especially when my experiences make you uncomfortable. SEE me.

4. Stop Centering Yourself — Not everything is about you. This may come across as facetious but it’s a simple truth pill many White folx have a tough time swallowing. If you expect me to educate you (unpaid / outside of my role as an educator) on race, comfort you as you process your racism, send you love + light supremacy after you’ve caused me harm or engage in personalized discussions about your hurt feelings re race (or my resulting boundaries), you’re making this entire thing about you. It’s not. If I no longer want to associate with you, maybe take a tick and ask yourself why that is and what that experience may be like for me.Conduct an honest review of our relationship, racial harms you’ve caused me and figure out if you can honestly and earnestly attempt to fix that harm — for my benefit. Not just yours. I’m tired and I don’t owe whiteness a dang thing, including an explanation.

Ceasing to center yourself also means you understand that you cannot and will never understand my experiences as a Black womxn because you have never endured oppression or discrimination on the basis of both race and sex (and if you disagree then we can call this whole “let’s try and be friends” thing quits right now). If there are things I’ve shared or tried to explain, or behaviors I’ve exhibited, that you simply don’t understand — have some fucking compassion. I am enduring a daily onslaught of hate and discrimination that you could not begin to fathom. If I say it’s about race — it is. Your attempts to tell me otherwise are violent and about your need for comfort over mine. Stop it.

Lastly, prioritize and fight for the needs, wants and comfort of myself and other Black womxn even and especially when you don’t feel you directly benefit — not just the times you feel it impacts you personally (like seeing Dr. Ford take the stand).

5. Support Me — There’s no such thing as “being” an ally, but you can choose to act in allyship with myself and other Black womxn as much as possible. That doesn’t mean hitting up a protest and posting it all over IG to ensure everyone knows you were there. Nor does it look like wielding your greater economic power (which you have as a result of White privilege) to try and absolve yourself of your racism or rectify harms you’ve caused. Financial reparations and acts of service can certainly be supportive, but they do not replace doing your inner work to address your racism. Salvation cannot be bought, and neither can I.

Support means nurturing and uplifting me emotionally, mentally, spiritually and physically. Checking in on me regularly. Having to constantly navigate White supremacist heteropatriarchy is painful and exhausting on a good day nevermind in the wake of, say, Jazmine Barne’s murder or the backlash from every single non-Black womxn re #muterkelly. Support my work to dismantle racist patriarchy, either by partaking in it yourself or helping me spread the word to other White folx. Support my humanity by, as a start, calling out other White folx who partake in racist acts towards myself or others, paying Black womxn, using any platform you may have to speak on or in some way address racial justice, withdrawing financial support of racist institutions and ceasing to associate with folks who refuse to do the work. If you believe you’re “doing the work” but your BFFs/hubby/clients/closest circle aren’t — you’re lying to yourself.

Still with me?

Good! I just spilled some majah tea, but there are some hard but incredibly important truths you needed to hear. I’m not asking you to become an activist (and when it comes to racial justice I don’t believe White people are worthy of the term) but you do need a willingness and capacity to face your discomfort and unpack your privilege. To unplug from the matrix of White supremacy and help us all, yourself included, get free. You will fuck this up. You will feel guilt, grief, anger and shame. Keep at it anyways.

Understand that the most unprotected person in this world is the Black womxn and to authentically engage with us means you must acknowledge the harms inflicted by White supremacist heteropatriarchy, including the personal harms inflicted by you.

Do more. Do better. And do it now. You’re already centuries behind. And always remember, if you’re anti-racism is not about centering and supporting Black and Indigenous womxn, whether you know us personally or otherwise, then its bullshit.

As for us, if you’re a friend then you’ll want to get know me again. This new me. The one who makes my comfort, not yours, the priority.

A note to my fellow Black womxn

We have no choice but to navigate White folx, whiteness and constant misogynoir, so we have a lot of healing to do from it all. It goes without saying that I in no way judge Black womxn who cannot or do not call out your White friends/bosses/whoever. It is a deeply disturbing process on many levels and is the source of much pain, loss and grief.

I am also acutely aware that my privilege has granted me the ability to cut ties with whiteness in a way many Black womxn cannot. Still, I would like to encourage us to prioritize our peace above that of White folx wherever and whenever possible. I get so many DMs from my fellow Black bbs asking me how. Stay tuned for my follow-up where I’ll share my suggestions for you to commence your journey to unfuckwithableness. And let me tell you — giving up White comfort feels damn good!

AfroPunk: Having white friends comes with trauma I’m not willing to deal with anymore

“I can’t answer anymore White People demanding an explanation for why something is “racist”. I can’t take anymore White People sending me videos of Black People being murdered without thinking of how it will affect me. I can’t sit through any more arguments for why race “isn’t always a factor”. And I can’t keep ignoring the cowardice silence when it’s time for White People to confront each other about race.

My dad warned me about White People when I was around 7 or 8. He told me that no matter how close I felt to these people, I would always be first and foremost Black in their mind. And at no time could a Black person rely on a White person to put their privilege on the side if it ever becomes a Me vs. Them situation. As a kid, this was, frankly, another one of my dad’s pessimistic, paranoid lectures. Be on the lookout at all times just…in case. And as an outgoing, compassionate human-being his words rolled off my back. But in time I’ve learned that Daddy-o was onto something and the ugly truth is that in one way or another, White friends, largely, just aren’t safe to have…

…With every close relationship I’ve had with a White person, their unconscious but blatant biases against and misunderstandings of Black People, in particular, tends to reveal itself sooner or later. Unprompted and accepting admissions that their Good White parents aren’t racist but would never “let” them date a black person, the tokenizing, the microaggressions, and dismissals of Black pain. The emotional labor, the holding back, the shrinking required to put up with the willful ignorance and mismanaged guilt and resentment of White People is too much.

And the fact of the matter is that I’m finding it impossible to trust any White Person to not, at some point, perpetuate ideologies that oppress me. Being friends with White People is just too fucking hard on my psyche.”

 

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Coping with Racial Trauma

“Healing Hidden Wounds of Racial Trauma” outlines the following strategies can help cope with racial trauma

  • Affirmation and Acknowledgement:
    • This involves professionals helping the individual to develop a sense of understanding acceptance of racial issues. This step is important because it opens the door for us to dialogue about issues related to race.
  • Create Space for Race
    • Creating space allows an open dialogue with our communities about race. Hardy notes that we must take a proactive role to identify race as a significant variable and talk openly about experiences related to race.
  • Racial Storytelling
    • Gives individuals an outlet to share personal experiences and think critically about events in their lives. This provides an opportunity to hear others voice how they have been treated differently due to their race and it helps expose hidden wounds through storytelling.
  • Validation
    • Can be seen as a personalized tool used to counter devaluation. This provides confirmation of the individuals’ worth and their redeemable qualities.
  • The Process of Naming
    • With the scarcity of research on the effects of racial trauma on mental health, there is of course no name as of yet making it a nameless condition. This in turn increases the doubt and uncertainty. By naming these experiences we give individuals a voice to speak on them and also recognize how they impact them. If we apply a mental health condition, individuals may experience symptoms similar to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
  • Externalize Devaluation
    • The aim for this step is to have people focus on increasing respect and recognizing that racial events do not lower their self-worth.
  • Counteract Devaluation
    • This step uses a combination of psychological, emotional, and behavioral resources to build self-esteem and counter racial attacks. This helps prevent future loss of dignity and sense of self.
  • Rechanneling Rage
    • By rechanneling rage, individuals can learn to gain control of their emotions and not let emotions consume them. This is an important step because it empowers people to keep pushing forward after adversity. This may include taking steps to engage in activism or self-care strategies such as spending time with family.”

“In a study published in the American Journal of Public Health (Geller, Fagan, Tyler, & Link, 2014), the authors reported that 85% of the participants reported being stopped at least once in their lifetime and 78% had no history of criminal activity. What is more concerning is that the study also found that those who reported more intrusive police contact experienced increased trauma and anxiety symptoms. Furthermore, those who reported fair treatment during encounters with law enforcement had fewer symptoms of PTSD and anxiety.

What is Racial Trauma?

In addition to the mental health symptoms of individuals who have encounters with law enforcement, those who witness these events directly or indirectly may also be impacted negatively. In an attempt to capture how racism and discrimination negatively impacts the physical and mental health of people of color, many scholars have coined the term “racial trauma” or race-based traumatic stress. Racial trauma may result from racial harassment, witnessing racial violence, or experiencing institutional racism (Bryant-Davis, & Ocampo, 2006; Comas-Díaz, 2016). The trauma may result in experiencing symptoms of depression, anxiety, low self-esteem, feelings of humiliation, poor concentration, or irritability.

Effects of Racial Trauma on Communities of Color

Decades of research have noted the impact of discrimination and racism on the psychological health of communities of color (e.g., Bryant-Davis & Ocampo, 2006; Carter & Forsyth, 2009; Comas-Díaz, 2016). Although not everyone who experiences racism and discrimination will develop symptoms of race-based trauma, repeated exposure may lead to the following. According to a report on The Impact of Racial Trauma on African Americans, Dr. Walter Smith notes the following effects of racial trauma:

Increased vigilance and suspicion – Suspicion of social institutions (schools, agencies, government), avoiding eye contact, only trusting persons within our social and family relationship networks

Increased sensitivity to threat – Defensive postures, avoiding new situations, heightened sensitivity to being disrespected and shamed, and avoid taking risks

Increased psychological and physiological symptoms – Unresolved traumas increase chronic stress and decrease immune system functioning, shift brains to limbic system dominance, increase risks for depression and anxiety disorders, and disrupt child development and quality of emotional attachment in family and social relationships

Increased alcohol and drug usage – Drugs and alcohol are initially useful (real and perceived) in managing the pain and danger of unresolved traumas but become their own disease processes when dependency occurs

Increased aggression – Street gangs, domestic violence, defiant behavior, and appearing tough and impenetrable are ways of coping with danger by attempting to control our physical and social environment

Narrowing sense of time – Persons living in a chronic state of danger do not develop a sense of future; do not have long-term goals, and frequently view dying as an expected outcome

Tips for Healing School-Age Trauma

“Unfortunately, from curriculum to discipline policies, too many schools reinforce racist messages and our systemic disregard for Black lives. From the Connecticut textbook that claimed slave owners treated enslaved people like “members of the family,” to the young Black girl in South Carolina who was thrown across the room by a school police officer for refusing to put away her cell phone, to the two young women in Boston who were kicked off their sports teams, banished from prom, and given detention for wearing their hair in braids, students are too often further traumatized by an education system that reproduces society’s inequities.

Meanwhile, the millionaires and billionaires who drive the corporate school reform movement claim that “no excuses” discipline and endless test prep will close the achievement gap between Black and white students. Yet these reforms have not led to any significant progress for Black students. In fact, this test-and-punish regime has forced the closure and further privatization of public schools in Black and Brown communities. Instead, we need to demand investment in schools and the communities they serve, coupled with an anti-racist, pro-justice pedagogy and curriculum.” Rethinking Schools

Rethinking Schools: Making Black Lives Matter in Our Schools

  1. Ensure that our curriculum teaches and values Black lives and anti-racist struggles
    • From abolitionism to civil rights, the Black freedom struggle has been a catalyst for movements that have transformed this country for the better. Therefore, bringing anti-racist curriculum into our classrooms is both about helping Black students feel valued and connected to their learning, as well as about all of us learning from the central struggles for justice when injustice is regularly front-page news. As the current movement phrases it, “all lives will matter, when Black lives matter.” Rethinking Schools
  1. Ensure schools support, encourage, and listen to Black and Brown staff members
  • Develop multi-school networks where teachers of color can congregate to discuss issues that they face in schools
  1. Transform our schools into sites of resistance to a system that devalues Black lives
  • Helping students start Black Lives Matter and other anti-racist clubs, putting on student and community forums, work with other teachers on taking collective action together, etc

“If schools are ever to be truly “safe spaces,” we will need to build our capacity to defend each other. Whether from police, white supremacists, ICE agents, or climate disaster, this will require social justice work inside and outside the classroom. As we return to our schools this fall, we need to rededicate ourselves to building an education system and a society that values Black lives.” Rethinking Schools

Rethinking Schools: Making Black Lives Matter in Our Schools

“How do you kill Mr. Phil and nothing happens?” According to parent Zuki Ellis, this is the question students at J. J. Hill Montessori Magnet School in St. Paul were asking just a few days into summer. On June 16, the Minnesota police officer who fatally shot Philando Castile, or Mr. Phil as students knew him, was acquitted on all charges. Castile worked as a cafeteria supervisor at J.J. Hill. He served as a role model for hundreds of kids, memorized the names and allergies of all 500 students, and greeted them with high-fives while they waited in line for breakfast.

As news of the verdict spread, Ellis and other parents spoke to the Huffington Post about the trauma their students were experiencing. One parent who also teaches at the school, John Horton, said, “Castile’s death would often come up in class. The children drew connections to Castile when learning about civil rights issues. They tried to make sense of Castile’s death in relation to a larger context of injustice. But for many . . . it still seemed senseless.” Horton went on to say that the kids’ struggle to make sense of the world reflected that of adults in the school who are also “still trying to work through” and process what happened.

Many teachers, parents, and students across the country may be feeling similarly as they re-enter schools this fall. As the school year ended and the summer began, story after story made it clear that in this society, Black lives don’t matter. In late May, a white supremacist stabbed University of Maryland student Richard Collins III at a campus bus stop just days before he was set to graduate. A few weeks later in Portland, two Black high school girls were targeted after school on a train by a white supremacist who took a knife to three intervening adults, killing two. In Seattle, Charleena Lyles, a public school parent and pregnant mother of four, was gunned down by police after she called them for help. And at the end of the summer, torch-bearing white supremacists descended on the University of Virginia campus ostensibly to protest the removal of a statue of Confederate general Robert E. Lee. The following day, met by large numbers of counter-protesters, these far-right racists responded with violence. Several viciously beat counter-protestor Deandre Harris — who worked as an instructional assistant in a special education classroom — while another drove a car into anti-racist demonstrators, killing 32-year-old Heather Heyer and injuring about two dozen others.

The racist rhetoric of the Trump administration has provided license for police and white supremacists to escalate their attacks on Black people and in other communities of color. As a result, many students across the country will likely be returning to the classroom this fall carrying the pain and confusion borne of the racist events of summer.

Unfortunately, from curriculum to discipline policies, too many schools reinforce racist messages and our systemic disregard for Black lives. From the Connecticut textbook that claimed slave owners treated enslaved people like “members of the family,” to the young Black girl in South Carolina who was thrown across the room by a school police officer for refusing to put away her cell phone, to the two young women in Boston who were kicked off their sports teams, banished from prom, and given detention for wearing their hair in braids, students are too often further traumatized by an education system that reproduces society’s inequities.

Meanwhile, the millionaires and billionaires who drive the corporate school reform movement claim that “no excuses” discipline and endless test prep will close the achievement gap between Black and white students. Yet these reforms have not led to any significant progress for Black students. In fact, this test-and-punish regime has forced the closure and further privatization of public schools in Black and Brown communities.

Instead, we need to demand investment in schools and the communities they serve, coupled with an anti-racist, pro-justice pedagogy and curriculum.

And if the assault on our public schools by corporate reformers wasn’t enough, the state assembly in New Jersey passed a bill over the summer that would require schools to teach children how to interact with police “in a manner marked by mutual cooperation and respect.” In a similar way to how high-stakes testing blames students and teachers for the problems facing public schools, this new law sets a dangerous precedent for who will be held responsible for deadly confrontations with police. Rather than make any effort to hold police accountable for their regular murder of Black and Brown people across the country, New Jersey legislators have chosen to blame children and their teachers for not properly “interacting” with the police.

In light of all this, how do we make our classrooms and schools places where our students of color feel safe, valued, and empowered? What can we do differently or increasingly to make Black lives matter in our curriculum, workspaces, and relationships? What can we do as teachers to fight and organize for a more just society? How do we challenge our unions and our districts to stand up for racial justice? And how do we help support students to be leaders in the fight against racism?

For one, we need to ensure that our curriculum teaches and values Black lives and anti-racist struggles. Educator Kara Hinderlie does this by teaching her kindergartners and 1st graders the simple concept that “Black is beautiful” [p. 20]. At the high school level, biology teacher Gretchen Kraig-Turner uses the story of Henrietta Lacks to discuss bioethics with students and explore the discrimination Black people faced and continue to face within the healthcare system [p. 34]. In social studies, Adam Sanchez and Jesse Hagopian critique current textbooks’ portrayal of the Black Panther Party and engage students in a mixer to learn how the party organized against police brutality and much more [p. 26]. From abolitionism to civil rights, the Black freedom struggle has been a catalyst for movements that have transformed this country for the better. Therefore, bringing anti-racist curriculum into our classrooms is both about helping Black students feel valued and connected to their learning, as well as about all of us learning from the central struggles for justice when injustice is regularly front-page news. As the current movement phrases it, “all lives will matter, when Black lives matter.”

We also need to make sure our schools support, encourage, and listen to Black and Brown staff members. We should also develop multi-school or districtwide networks where teachers of color can congregate to discuss issues that they face in schools. The pages of Rethinking Schools are another place where those topics can be discussed. In “Who Do I Belong To?” [p. 40] Natalie Labossiere explores some of the specific difficulties teachers of color face when working in predominantly white schools. Historic inequities and past racist policies have created a school system where the teaching staff of a school is typically whiter and wealthier than the students they teach. In a profession where most teachers leave within five years, it’s especially important we push school districts to recruit, hire, and support more teachers of color.

And most importantly, we need to transform our schools into sites of resistance to a system that devalues Black lives. Helping students start Black Lives Matter and other anti-racist clubs, putting on student and community forums, discussing with other teachers how to join the movement and taking collective action together, are necessary ingredients for resistance and transformation. Jesse Hagopian and Wayne Au, in “How One Elementary School Sparked a Citywide Movement to Make Black Students’ Lives Matter” [p. 11], show how teachers were able to pull off a districtwide Black Lives Matter action, challenging their union and district to take a stand that reverberated throughout the country. These are the kind of bold actions that we desperately need.

Michael Brown, Philando Castile, and Charleena Lyles were all victims of police violence — but they were also public school students, workers, and parents. If schools are ever to be truly “safe spaces,” we will need to build our capacity to defend each other. Whether from police, white supremacists, ICE agents, or climate disaster, this will require social justice work inside and outside the classroom. As we return to our schools this fall, we need to rededicate ourselves to building an education system and a society that values Black lives.”

Triggering Trauma

“We see the videos and we are authentically horrified and saddened by what we see. But many of us have the ultimate privilege of changing the channel, clicking on another Facebook post. We can make it go away if we choose and the horror of the scene is quickly forgotten. We can leave it behind and go about our day. And most white people don’t attune to just how different an experience it is for black people.” Dr. Jonathan Kanter, University of Washington

“The trauma of exposure to these videos sits on top of layers of trauma that go all the way back to slavery. It is all one and the same. It starts with the kidnapping of my ancestors from Africa and “slave patrols” – bands of white men hired to police communities for slaves who tried to escape, and a forerunner to modern American law enforcement . Our country’s history goes on to include the Civil War and subsequent 13th Amendment, which abolished slavery (except for those convicted of crimes,) followed by the systematic criminalization of black men. We then had Jim Crow laws, segregated communities, police brutality during the fight for civil rights – historical trauma.

There is also the experience of ongoing discrimination at the individual level that leads to daily stress and contributes to early death from ailments like cardiovascular disease. On top of this we have community trauma that includes racial profiling and, now, police murders caught on tape and broadcast on social media — where often nothing happens to the killers. The trauma is real, and it is cumulative” Monnica Williams – PBS

PBS: White people don’t understand the trauma of viral police-killing videos

“In Baton Rouge, cops straddle a guy pinned on the ground, put a gun to his back and pump bullets into him. His life ends. That one still haunts me. In Charlotte, a man lies bleeding as his wife screams for help. She asks if anyone has called an ambulance. The police wander around with indifference as his life drains away. This is hard to see.

People ask me if the problem is getting worse. No, this has been going on all along but now we’re capturing more of it on video. How is this affecting the black community? “How do you think,” I want to say. We are sad, angry, and traumatized. We’re living in terror. This racial trauma can cause symptoms like anxiety, depression, phobias, acting-out and feelings of hopelessness (e.g., Carter, 2007).

The trauma of exposure to these videos sits on top of layers of trauma that go all the way back to slavery. It is all one and the same. It starts with the kidnapping of my ancestors from Africa and “slave patrols” – bands of white men hired to police communities for slaves who tried to escape, and a forerunner to modern American law enforcement (Turner et al., 2006).

Our country’s history goes on to include the Civil War and subsequent 13th Amendment, which abolished slavery (except for those convicted of crimes,) followed by the systematic criminalization of black men. We then had Jim Crow laws, segregated communities, police brutality during the fight for civil rights – historical trauma. There is also the experience of ongoing discrimination at the individual level that leads to daily stress and contributes to early death from ailments like cardiovascular disease. On top of this we have community trauma that includes racial profiling and, now, police murders caught on tape and broadcast on social media — where often nothing happens to the killers. The trauma is real, and it is cumulative.

I close my eyes and sometimes have flashbacks of these killings. When I see a police car I feel terrified. They are supposed to protect and serve everyone, but because of my race I don’t really believe that includes me or people like me.

According to Dr. Jonathan Kanter, professor of psychology at the University of Washington, white people underestimate the severity and impact of these videos on people of color:

“We see the videos and we are authentically horrified and saddened by what we see. But many of us have the ultimate privilege of changing the channel, clicking on another Facebook post. We can make it go away if we choose and the horror of the scene is quickly forgotten. We can leave it behind and go about our day. And most white people don’t attune to just how different an experience it is for black people.”
— Dr. Jonathan Kanter, University of Washington

Kanter notes that white people are so coded not to associate themselves with being black that it is easy to distance from it. “That person getting shot doesn’t look like me, sound like me or act like me.” It can be like watching a horror movie. “It’s not about me.” Most white people in the United States have no black friends to even talk to about any of this so there is no easy way to get their perspective (Ingram, 2014).

If you are a white person, try this simple empathy experiment: Imagine every one of those police killings you’ve seen in the last several years, but change the images. Make the man getting shot look like you, your brother or your son. Make the girlfriend or wife look like your wife, your sister, your daughter. Imagine that these videos unpredictably show up in your Facebook stream, or assault you on the evening news, without warning, week after week. There seems to be no end to them, and there seems to be no way to predict when it will happen. Imagine that you can’t hide them from your son or daughter if you have one, because you’re scared to not tell them about it. Imagine that you feel you have to expose your child to the videos, because they may not be safe if they don’t know what the world is really like.

Now imagine driving down the street with a broken taillight and getting pulled over by a police officer.

The empathy experiment could go on, and it should, because the differences don’t stop there. Add in the layers upon layers of trauma that are a part of the black experience in America but not a part of the white experience. Try to imagine all of it, to really shift perspectives, and understand what it is like to live the experience of these videos as a black person in United States.

So should these videos be released? They have to be in order to show the public what’s going on and hold law enforcement accountable. I remind myself that there are good police officers, but these videos can help us see which ones aren’t doing their jobs. Despite the pain of viewing, many people of color want the videos to be shown for the same reason Emmett Till’s mother chose to have an open casket funeral – so the world could see what horrible torture had been done to her little boy for allegedly whistling at a white woman.

We need the world to see what is being done to our people to help bring it to an end. And it’s not just black people – these things are happening to Hispanic people, Native Americans and the mentally ill. The stigmatized and disenfranchised among us. I feel solidarity with all of them.

Try to shift from your experience of sadness and horror that you can switch off, to a chronic experience of terror, hopelessness and injustice that has no off switch. You can’t hide from it, or make it go away.

That is just a small portion of the trauma experienced being by black in America.”

Further Reading

Medium: The Future of Healing: Shifting From Trauma Informed Care to Healing Centered Engagement

 

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