Trauma, Perspective, and Moving Forward
Once more invoking the great Frederick Douglass, I will submit the second submission in a two-part series querying, What is the Fourth of July to the African American?
In this extended season of trauma, some perspective may be helpful. Without question, African Americans, and other people in touch with their own humanity, have been mortified by the sanctioning of police brutality and systemic injustice in legal cases involving African American victims. White American terrorism in the age of media has haunted us since seeing Emmett Till’s ravished body and melanated bodies swinging from trees.
We have been outraged since the deaths of Oscar Grant, Trayvon Martin, and the host of unarmed children, women, and men murdered or assaulted by police officers. Judges and juries then magnify our pain by failing routinely to convict murderous officers.
We have every right to grieve the deaths of these priceless souls and to lament the injustice that follows. We have every obligation to engage efforts of social justice — small or grand. Equally important is our obligation to live our very best lives in honor of our ancestors, martyrs, and ourselves.
According to the 2015 Census, there are 46,282,080 African Americans (14.4% of the population identifies as “Black Only and Black in combination with another race”). Mindful of the detriment of collective trauma, we must place the deaths of Sandra Bland, Philando Castile, and others, within a framework for healing. We must do this individually, and where possible, collectively.
Wherever we gather — in churches, mosques, Masonic Temples, sorority or fraternity meetings, etc. — we need practices for carrying on with Kübler-Ross’s five stages of grief: Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, and Acceptance. Be it a prayer, a moment of silence, wailing from the mourners’ bench, or vocalizing a lined-hymn, we must grieve and heal.
Our trauma is layered. It is repetitive and multifaceted. First, we learn of the injustice. Then we encounter repeated images and news stories, followed by a protracted legal proceedings culminating in hung juries or not guilty verdicts. In some cases, we are also subject to heinous video footage as in the case of little Diamond Reynolds, concerned for her Mother’s safety after they witnessed Castile’s murder.
Seemingly, flurries of near fatal blows are directed at us. As difficult as this may be, as a people we cannot allow these murders to stymie us. It has been said so many times before, but our ancestors endured far worse.
Terror has always been directed at African Americans in this country. Even so, we have always found ways to flourish. African American resolve and genius have always been on display.
Our challenge remains as it always has. We must ask how do we enhance our institutions and ourselves? With 46,282,080 African Americans we ought to develop ways to strengthen our collective might.
Our institutions failed us during the 2016 Presidential election by upholding the Democratic establishment and by not rendering a fair, thorough, and pervasive critique of a viable alternative. Bernie Sanders was the only candidate that had a statistical chance of beating the man who currently holds the office.
We are our institutions. So, that failure falls squarely on our shoulders. We must question whether our institutions are stale? Whether the course we are charting is conducive to success and whether our leaders are worth of the mantles they bear? The first step, however, is to examine ourselves.
How are we contributing to our demise and the sustainability of the system, which I call White Social Domination? “White Supremacy” is a myth and a fallacious ideology. White Social Domination, on the other hand, is strategic societal construction by a statistical majority that exploits historical systemic advantages, human rights atrocities, and privilege.
We must query whether our conduct, which we have control over, is conducive to our individual and collective success. This is not a call to respectability politics. It is not about what we wear, how we speak, or what we look like. No, what I suggest is far more substantive. My standard is whether we create and relate in love or fear (and its various manifestations like hatred, jealousy, and viciousness).
Developing a deep, abiding self-love is essential and is a worthy first step. One hundred and fifty one years after the abolition of slavery (save for the incarcerated) getting over Post-Traumatic Slave Syndrome must be priority one. Vestiges of shame, self-loathing, backbiting, envy, classism, and identifying with the oppressor must be overcoming if we are to craft our story.
Self-love changes our metaphysical vibration, our outlook on the world and our place in it, and equips us for indignities associated with being African in this land. Self-love will also transform the ways in which we relate to one another.
Within that number of 46,282,080 African Americans we will find every identity imaginable — cis, queer, trans, single, married, Democrat, Republican, Independent, Christian, Muslim, Spiritual, Agnostic, Atheist, employed, underemployed, unemployed, incarcerated, returning citizen, never incarcerated, credentialed, aspiring, marginalized, elite, blue collar, immigrant, native born, rightfully maligned “Coon”, and more. While identities matters, an inclusive, loving view as to who is African American matters much more.
Inclusiveness may be the closest we can get to unity. If we can see ourselves as One, we can shift this horrid paradigm in our favor.