Got Trauma? Coping Skills for Being Black in America

Words by Sahar Muhsin (Ashland, Oregon)

In diversity and inclusion competency we find there is power in naming things. There are so many well meaning people, who are silently complicit in a system of domination. Many identities are social constructs; they are no more or less real than the society which conditions us to believe and unconsciously perpetuate them.

When Nia Wilson was murdered it reminded me of what a neighbor of Michael Brown, (an unarmed 18-year old African American shot in a nice neighborhood, and left in the streets for 4 hours) said about how it reminded him of lynching’s past. These events are akin to public displays of our (POC) continued position as the subjugated members of society.

If a white person had been killed in the same manner as Nia Wilson, and/or a black person was the murderer, the event would have more mainstream media coverage, larger statistical outcome of conviction, etc. The killing of Michael Brown or Nia Wilson, shows the rest of us that we are still not counted as fully human, no matter the degree we conform to the mold of heteronormative patriarchy and white supremacy.

The Power of Language

#Blacklivesmatter. When you call a middle eastern child murdered by a US soldier an insurgent or, an African American child murdered by a police officer a thug, you condition a certain propagandized response from the masses which includes scapegoating accountability. Naming and centering the conversation is an important concept in social justice work. Naming Nia Wilson re-humanizes her. When she is named I feel that someone is saying her life mattered, my life matters, my children’s lives matter, black lives matter.

The attempt to label her murderer as mentally ill in hopes of subverting accountability and the obvious racial tones of her murder does not do her justice. This shifts the narrative away from the victim (centering) and the core issue.

In the US it is unfortunate but consistent that we experience mentally disturbed murderers randomly taking a gun and shooting up a school or taking a knife and killing an innocent woman. The argument often goes to gun policy or the lack of mental health services. Little coverage is done on the fact that white males are by and large the perpetrators of these crimes and the clear root of this problem in entitlement conditioned by heteronormative patriarchy and white supremacy.

The chain that binds – Interconnectivity is not just sunshine and rainbows

There is a link between the inability for members of the dominant group to engage conversations about intrapersonal manifestations of racism with anything but defensiveness or fragility. This internalized oppression or trauma response from members of a dominant group (eg white women) begins with guilt and is compounded by the lived and embodied constriction of the matrix of domination of our societal culture.

The chain links to the complacent acceptance of many aspects of our culture: bullying that goes unchecked, a rape culture that doesn’t examine how we raise our sons, the double binds of binaries such as gender or race. This same chain snakes around enslavement to economics, supports school to (private corporation for profit) prison pipelines, compartmentalizes the killing of innocent people nationally and internationally, and the lack of reconciliation for victims families, or accountability and rehabilitation support for officers/troops that return from doing this ‘duty’  

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In the west coast of the US I have experienced more racism than my time being raised in the confederate capital. White people here tend to pretend self identifying as progressive or spiritual leads to them having zero responsibility or accountability in acknowledging or countering oppression.

Spiritual bypass is the concept that some use spirituality as a scapegoat to actual engagement in personal growth and countering oppression. (You can only meditate your bad thoughts away you can not meditate your way into racial equity and full inclusivity. That takes action.) In this spiritual bypass culture taking without permission the practices of other cultures and profiting off them is often the sum total contribution many are claiming to make to the goal of Unity.  

It is the mark of a paradox that there can be good people who then say, ‘this problem is so big there is nothing we can do about it’, to justify continuity of escapist based non-engagement that permeates our stress discharging, tranced into media culture.  

More than half of the members of dominant groups I engage can not even have an informed conversation on it, and often lash out. They claim shutting the conversation down is a solution, when lack of dialogue and engagement is in fact a core root sustaining the problem. Those of us more effected by oppression, for the sake of our children, don’t have the privilege or luxury of just tucking it away.

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There are countless ways to do something about it. We can create systems of greater equity. It begins with changing our lives (healing our over prioritization on first world problems) and in reflection of feedback loops caring more for others. My advice to Ashland, and other people who care to be a saving grace on this planet, is to get off the sidelines. If you’re not doing something then you are compost caught up in the current of change constricting the flow.

Things to do: Get educated

How many hours have you researched make-up, games, or gardening techniques? I challenge you to commit to doing 3-hours of research on this subject I suggest you google any terms from the chains that bind.

Diversify

In permaculture we know diversity is a mark of a healthy system. This is not an abstract conceptualization but a lived reality of natural systems. How many people of a different race, differently abled, or LGBTQ individuals do you interact with in school, work, or religious/spiritual gathering? If the number is low make an effort to change that. Consider getting a diversity and inclusion consultant for your business

Are you making money off someone else’s Culture or Suffering?

Reconsider what right livelihood means. What form of permission do you have to utilize the skills or suffering of other less privilege groups? Are you a member of multiple non-target identities and engaging in diversity and inclusion consultation to pad your pocket? Is this another case of forgetting to center the target group?

Vote

We are all participating in this system. You don’t get to pretend you are not complicit just because you decide not to vote. You still garnish benefits often invisible to you that others are not as privileged to have access to. A little more engagement could create greater equity. Find out what measures are trying to be passed on the local or national level. I have watched things of great detriment pass in small towns based on 30 voters. Measure 105 on the November ballot here in Southern Oregon for instance is attempting to legalize racial profiling and you should definitely go in and vote NO on it.

Interrupt Business As Usual

Have the uncomfortable conversations, whether you are being called out, or if you are calling someone else out. Don’t be reactive or confrontational just invite yourself and others into higher integrity. Don’t tell a person who belongs to a target group not to be reactive that’s called tone-policing

Trauma Stewardship

What if I told you trauma stewardship was a radical act of social change? That listening with empathy and engagement to members of a target group is a powerful way to change the system.

Many POC’s have the worldview that conditions the internalized oppression or trauma response (intergenerational or day to day oppression from microaggressions or limits on agency) in the form of anger often as a cover to fear or grief.

Tend Others

Share the practices below without cost to members of target groups.

Offer scholarships or reduced cost for your services to those who (you know their ancestors built this country while dealing with enslavement, rape, murder, and discrimination leaving a multi-generational wealth gap)

Tend the Self

Consider getting a multicultural specializing therapist or spiritual director to guide you

Simple Somatics

Meditate for 3 minutes on the words: authority and power find out where they live in your body (Some other great concepts to research from Starhawk: power from within, power over/under, power with)

Trauma Release Exercises

All animals shake off trauma here are a few exercises that will naturally induce the shaking that we as humans unfortunately suppress over time.

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Emotional Freedom Techniques

Tap the points listed below while saying the set up phrase

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Jin shin Jyutsu

Hold one of your fingers for 2-3 minutes

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Want access to more practices

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