There are many things I carry with me when I leave the house.
It always takes me back to when I was a little girl and I would watch my mother scoop up her pocketbook or my father pat his back pocket to make sure his wallet was there. Sitting on my chair swinging my legs, I’d always giggle at the frantic pace of my parents as they worked to make sure they had everything they needed.
Eventually it was me leaving the house and my parents would run down a checklist before shooing me out to my friend’s house.
“Who’s all going to be there?
“Stay out of trouble”
I never saw it then, but I notice it now- The fear that my parents, along with many Black parents, carry for the ones they love. This fear is bone deep and comes with knowing that for many Black people going out into this world often feels like we are going into battle. Of course, the other side is heavily armed and well beloved and well we just have the clothes on our back and the scarlet letters painted on our chests.
As I got older, I no longer only carried my parents’ fear that had been earned through wars waged with crosses burning in their yards and racial profiling. My pockets held more than just the terror that had been passed down from grandparents and great grandparents- terror that had coated streets red as Black bodies hung like fruit from trees.
I had collected my own experiences of pain and rejection. I had existed in spaces where I was “too Black” and not enough. I had palmfuls of hate that had been thrown at me before I had even learned to love myself. I had saved slurs thrown at me like pennies collected in jars.
I carried with me the pain of being Black in a world that sees my color as the proof that I am somehow less.
I felt it then. My shoulders were heavy and my back ached.
I feel it now. I feel it get heavier with every unarmed Black death at the hands of a cop. I feel it strain with every micro aggression and every “you’re so articulate.” I feel it digging into my shoulders every time I’m reminded that my skin and my features will never be the beauty standard. I feel it take my breath away when I see a video of another Black person stopped and questioned in a “nice neighborhood” because they look like they don’t belong. I feel it in my gut when I think about the fear of raising Black children in a world that has already decided that their lives don’t matter.
For myself and many Black people, we walk around on edge and it almost feels like the weight can’t get any heavier.
Then it does.
Then it does, and we still have to get up and go out in to this world even when it feels like the world is against us. We are supposed to act “normal” even when normal just means that we pretend that every thing is fine.
It wasn’t until the death of Treyvon Martin, that I had learned about this idea of Racial Trauma. I had been carrying what felt like generations of pain and I hadn’t realized the impact that being Black in this country was having on my mental health.
Racial Trauma, or Race-Based Traumatic Stress refers to the cumulative effects of stress, both physical and emotional due to racism. Racial trauma involves ongoing exposure, re-exposure, and injury on the collective and individual levels (St. Jean, N.E., Endale, T., &NCTSN Culture Consortium, 2020). Things like being exposed to racial stereotypes, fear about safety, direct and indirect exposure to racism and discrimination and people not taking your experiences of racism seriously can have a great impact on you mental and emotional health.
Experiencing racial trauma can lead to symptoms of PTSD including avoidance of things that remind you of the incident, intense anxiety or depression, hyper-vigilance, and increase reactivity. Racial trauma can lead to communities’ mistrust in the health and mental health systems, financial and educational disparities. It’s like this never ending cycle. Years of abuse by the very hands of the system that is supposed to protect us has resulted in many Black people choosing not to reach out for help out of fear.
It is important now more than ever that we are taking care of ourselves. In this time it seems like every news station is minimizing the racism experienced by marginalized communities and we are told that we are “playing the race card” when all we want to to is verbalize this very real pain we feel. We need to take the time to care for our bodies and our minds.
There are many things I carry with me when I leave the house.
I am learning how to carry resilience and self care stuffed deep in my pockets to remind myself that I am deserving of moments of peace and good.
Some things you can do to cope with racial trauma
• Unplug, unfollow, and unfriend people and profiles that make you feel unseen, unheard, or unloved.
• Set boundaries with the things you consume. You don’t have to watch, and rewatch, videos and images of violence against Black people. Mute stories or posts of people who share those images; even temporarily.
• You don’t have to argue your worth! Pick you battles. Ask yourself if the conversation is worth your emotional labor and mental health. Remember that some people seek these conversations out not as a way to understand but as way to push their own hate-filled narrative. You are not required to have these conversations.
• Connect with people who DO understand and validate your feelings and experiences.
• Focus on self care. It is okay to take some time away to yourself and focus on doing things to nurture your own wellbeing.
How to be an ally to someone experiencing racial trauma
• Don’t minimize their experiences. Micro aggressions and covert racism can be just as impactful to an individual.
• Use your power and privilege to amplify the voices of marginalized individuals.
• These conversations are hard- have them anyway! Allow yourself to have these conversations from a place of growth not guilt.
• Do the work. Don’t expect Black people to carry the burden of emotional labor.
• Liberate app- Liberate is a Black owned mediation app that strives to be a safe space for Black people.Though anyone can use it, this app works to speak directly to the realities of being Black in today’s world. With guided meditations on areas such as anxiety, stress, micro aggressions and internalized racism, this app is an amazing resource.
• Restorative Yoga for Ethnic and Race-Based Stress and Trauma by Dr. Gail Parker. Dr. Parker works to show how the practice of yoga can aid in addressing the very real impact of ethnic and racial trauma and stress.
• My Grandmother’s Hands: Racialized Trauma and the Pathway to Mending Our Hearts and Bodies by Resmaa Menakem. Remsaa Menakem works to explore the impact of racism and offer a new, body-centered understanding of white supremacy. She offers a step-by-step healing process based on the latest neuroscience and somatic healing methods, in addition to incisive social commentary.
• 44 Mental Health Resources for Black People Trying to Survive in This Country