“We were willing to ignore that shit, for the larger goal” The Godfather of Harlem (2022).
I am preparing to publish my first edited book and create a new workshop. I began to reflect upon, “the impact of race trauma”. While watching one of my many shows, two separate fractions divided by race and privilege began to question, consider, and attempt to build and collaborate with each other. There was a price that one takes when we are hoping to build for the larger goal. In race trauma, the loss can lead to devasting impacts that transcends through the individual, the family, the community, and throughout generations. Examining the impact from an organizational standpoint, to an individual level will help to shape the changes which will continue to occur.
“Anti-Black Racism is defined here as policies and practices rooted in Canadian institutions such as, education, health care, and justice that mirror and reinforce beliefs, attitudes, prejudice, stereotyping and/or discrimination towards people of Black-African descent”.Dr. Akua Benjamin
I recently worked in collaboration with another organization for a period of a year. During this time, they declined meetings, sent intrusive email messages, and intimated the team. Much of the difficulties stemmed around the financial fiduciary requirements. One day, we received a message stating that as an organization we failed to meet their expectations, and they wished to severe their ties. Once I processed the shock, I began to examine what were the messages that informed their decision making and hesitation to work with our organization.
When you think about “Black people”, what messages come to mind? When you think about people who identify as “Muslim”, what stereotypes do you consider?
Our entire perceptions of other is based on implicit and explicit biases that we hold about others. Thus, when we are interacting with others on any level, we have to examine our decisions and actions through a introspective lens. Sometimes the questions are not always so clear, but they are important. For this organization, they would need to examine:
- How do I create space to listen and understand, before I react?
- What beliefs do I hold about Black people? How are those beliefs informing my decisions?
- What power do I hold in this situation? How can I redistribute power so my counterpart feels there is equity?
Another experience I had in 2016 was working in an organization that serviced a diverse population, with multiple needs. I understood the task involved, and I accepted the challenges. However, I was not ready to encounter the impact. On a call with a family, the parent of the client began to swear at me on the phone. She started off with the usual hurtful words, until she stated, “you n..**r”. I remember discontinuing the call. Feeling shock, and I told the first person who passed my office what happened. I was told that it was expected. The family was unwell, and the I should not take it personally. A similar conversation with a therapist, also led to the same conclusion. “Don’t take it personal”.
Organizations that support employees and staff team members who will experience oppression, discrimination, stereotyping, and other difficult assaults will truly understand that these behaviours are taken personal. When a staff team member expresses these concerns, organizations are encouraged to take the following steps:
- Any attack on a persons’ race, gender, religion, body size, etc., should be considered as a breach of their human rights.
- Take care of the employee. Give them the support they require to work through this experience. Don’t force the employee to reengage with the party, and work with the employee to develop a solution that works. If the assault came within the organization, ensure there are tangible steps that address unlearning and repair that will occur.
- Be clear on your stance on how you will “show up” for a safe work environment.
- Ensure that the organization engages in regular training, workshops, and circles to remain progressive, and innovative in diversity and inclusion initiatives. The unlearning does not stop.
What are the individual costs?
Dr. Kenneth Hardy writes, “Racial oppression is a traumatic form of interpersonal violence which can lacerate the spirit, scar the soul, and puncture the psyche” (Hardy, 2015). In his article he explains that racial oppression leads to: voicelessness, internal devaluation, an assaulted sense of self, inner rage and more. Similarly, in a prior workshop, I shared that racial oppression also contributes to mental health symptoms such as depression, anxiety, hypervigilance, fear, hyperarousal, and more. In a study from South Africa, they examined the impact of racial trauma on a communal and familial level. And, Dr. Joy Degruy introduced a concept called, “post traumatic slave syndrome” where she tracks the connection between the experience of slavery and current behaviour, parenting practices, and intergenerational trauma. Resmaa Manekham (2021) explains that as the “oppressed” have trauma that is locked within their DNA, the “oppressors” also hold supremacy within their DNA. Thus, the individual costs to racial oppression transcends throughout generations and within community. At the same time, the oppressor also holds similar trauma that has persisted oppression to occur.
I leave you here to consider. To check in with your bodies. And to consider the pain that is held within us.
What are you willing to accept, as we consider the larger goal? What is the cost and the sacrifice on your well-being? And how will you intentionally heal?
I would not be a good therapist, if I did not explore with you the importance of healing your trauma, your ancestors trauma, and your future generations trauma. It is important as we consider the “larger goal” that we are also cognizant of the “work that we embark upon” and the unlearning that helps us to shift our trajectory for the better.
- Do the work– whichever path you learn to accept, do the work to “unlearn”, to “heal”, and to protect yourself.
- Gather your people– despite how the past three hundred years have developed, we need our people, our tribe and our community. As you accept difficult experiences, select the people that will stand by your side in love, in laughter, in comfort, and in joy.
- Establish healthy boundaries- know yourself, and understand how much you can accept. It is okay to say no, and it is okay to choose a different path at any time.
- Show yourself kindness and compassion– while we accept difficult things, we also accept that we will encounter temporary pain and trauma. Through these difficult things, it is important that you are your best friend and you can show yourself grace as you navigate an experience that is hard. Love yourself.
- Find Joy– Joy is always available for you when you are ready to shift and create balance. Be mindful, and open to experiences of joy. Be grateful for the opportunities to experience beauty in life.