By Kayan Cross of Vista Grande Community Church (Colorado Springs, CO)
When I attended the August 28, 2020 “Get Your Knee Off My Neck” March on Washington I experienced and witnessed so much en masse. Community, strength, perseverance, unity, talent, networking, peace, commitment to safety (covid-19) and so much more. I also noticed a vast population of people frustrated by the mere fact that people were gathered again to do Racial Justice work in Washington that not only had been done before, but also undone using varying terminology on the State and National levels legislatively. That undoing coupled with the history of Black people has manifested in my eyes, my spirit and my daily life as something I’ll call Black Trauma.
Trauma is an emotional response to a terrible event. Immediately after the event, shock and denial are typical. Longer term reactions include unpredictable emotions, flashbacks, strained relationships and even physical symptoms like headaches or nausea. Using this definition, or without it, I am able to see that a disproportionately large amount of Black people live in trauma daily.
Although black lives are not only about trauma, our entire history as a people of the African Diaspora is filled with taking from and diminishing our existence. Therein lies the creation of a trauma culture for Black people. A trauma culture intentionally created to diminish, dehumanize and destroy a people. This statement is not to imply an additional taking away of our capacity for living fully into the lives intended for each of us and our communities by creation, it does however point to the challenges and difficulties, historically and continuously put upon us due to daily experiences of Racism. As I listened to leaders and speakers and communicated with others during these 3 days I gained awareness of the weighted blanket of Black Trauma that exists.
I would like to attempt to present to you through my lens how I see racism continuously perpetrating and deepening this trauma. When a person grows up in and amongst people that are relegated to substandard housing, insufficient wages, limited or no access to quality education, criminal injustices, fear of being murdered based on the color of their skin, not being held up as someone who is valued based on the color of their skin and being encouraged overtly and covertly to separate and isolate from other Black people, These are all terrible events. Events that are simultaneously experienced every day in the lives of far too many Black people. When a life continues along this path as an adult the trauma which has been embedding itself throughout your childhood intensifies and along the way becomes all too normal. This in my eyes is worse than PTSD, which society seems to have much apathy for, because it is ongoing, lifelong traumatic stress. It repeats generationally. This type of trauma has been the root to so much Mental unwellness in Black communities, that also is neglected by the lack of availability and access to sufficient health care.
The way I see it is this. When we gather and present ourselves in a unified manner to advocate, stand for and demand Racial Justice, we bring all that we are. Seen and unseen. It flows, intensifies and grows amongst the masses of the moment. It also shows to those who choose to notice, not just by our gathering, but also in our words, songs, love, impatience, faith, pain, separate approaches and yes, sometimes obvious displays of distress, that not only must racism end–it is absolutely unrealistic to expect that Black people’s response to it will always be or look rational. Where there is trauma there is little room for rationale.
I left the March with a clarity that had not come with me. I left the March with a commitment to end racism with an intention that had not come with me. I write this with an expectation that has grown exponentially due to the undeniable truth I witnessed: My people are truly being pushed down, held back and kept away from what is rightfully and justly theirs. A life worth living and unconditionally offered by the Creator. We hold these truths to be self evident.