Healing from Racial Trauma

Updated: Jun 14, 2020

I will never forget how I felt when I first learned about what happened to Trayvon Martin. Racist violence had felt distant before that moment. Trayvon’s murder was one of the first in a long line of devastating blows to my confidence in the idea that this country values the lives of Black people and people of color. When Coronavirus began to spread rapidly in the US, Anti-Asian hate crimes spread along with it and xenophobic attitudes were perpetuated by the man in the highest office of the land.

At times, the pain of senseless racially motivated violence feels like a wound that is constantly being reopened. A scroll down any social media timeline might mean that you could witness someone being murdered for jogging while Black. Ahmaud was jogging in February when he was confronted and shot to death by two men who weren’t even arrested until May. The murder of Ahmaud Arbery is yet another infuriating example of the danger of simply existing in this world as a Black man. In a time where we collectively have more time to reflect, it is worth exploring ways to begin to heal mentally from this form of trauma.

Helpless. That is how I felt when learned of what happened to Ahmaud. The helplessness and anxiety that comes from watching someone lose their life or be attacked simply because of the way they were born can weigh heavily on our mental health. The loss of our brothers and sisters at the hands of racial violence can be overwhelming. Even though you may not have personally known the victim, you can’t help but see your son, cousin or father in their eyes. According to Ogor Chukwu, author of The Geometry of Being Black one of the first steps toward healing is beginning the grieving process. It is okay to feel. Here are some suggestions for how you might process these emotions:

Release: Give yourself permission to express your anger, fear and sadness. This is a natural reaction to injustice. You can try journaling or meditation to check in with how you are feeling without the distractions of the outside world.

Check in with loved ones: Reach out to friends, family and partners for support. Go where the light is. You deserve to feel supported and respected.

Self-Care: If you need to take a personal day, take it. Your mental health demands your full attention. Try to do things that bring a smile to your face, and take some time away from social media. It can be triggering to see a timeline full of outrage.

Seek Empowerment: Though stay at home orders make protesting in person difficult, make an effort to support or engage in local anti-racist activism. You can use your social media as a tool for awareness about the injustice. As we saw with the Ahmaud Arbery case, public outcry can be the impetus for law enforcement to finally address the situation.

Leading psychologist Angela Duckworth Ph.D has done studies on psychological resilience in the face of collective traumatic experiences and she found that people do well when they feel that they are navigating their feelings as part of a group. If you have felt sad, irate, or afraid in response to the murder of Ahmaud Arbery you are not alone. We are in this battle against injustice together. As Martin Luther King said, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”

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