Black Lives Matter: a Surfaced Trauma

Originally published on June 11, 2020, on LRT.lt (in Lithuanian)

The violence isn’t new, it’s the cameras that are new – this is a statement often made during protests against police brutality in the US for years now. Having ticked for centuries, the bomb of racial inequality has exploded.

What has exploded is school financing, voter suppression initiatives, racist legal institution behaviour and incarceration rates, and, yes, police brutality. What has gone viral, unlike these statistics, are videos of police officers suffocating unarmed men, repeatedly body-slamming children,  or shooting at drivers who didn’t commit any offence. And there’s surely much more that hasn’t gone viral.

In this category of non-viral pieces of news we find research that reveals how Covid-19 has disproportionately affected black communities in the US. Where there’s more poverty, fewer job opportunities, weaker or non-existent access to healthcare, and jobs that  require one to physically be present at the workplace, there will be more death. And when the US government says that it needs to restart its economy as soon as possible, it knows which communities will be paying the highest price. Those are the same communities that have historically been treated as less valuable. 

In his interview focusing on the Black Lives Matter movement, Resmaa Menakem, an author and a trauma expert, claims that historic wounds and oppression don’t just disappear into thin air. “Trauma decontextualised in a person looks like personality. Trauma decontextualised in a family looks like family traits. Trauma in a people looks like culture.” From the chains crossing the Atlantic, fingers cut while picking cotton, tree branches that still recall public lynchings, police dogs biting into one’s flesh, to a knee hold by someone who’s supposed to serve and protect. 

We can only hope that these mass protests will lead to the beginning of healing. It would be strange to expect for any trauma to heal in the very environment where it has developed. Yet where could that healing start? Instead of generously funding police, the protestors are demanding more investment into social and youth programmes, job creation, hiring mental health professionals and other policies aimed at addressing the root causes of systemic issues. It’s not about introducing minor changes to the system; it’s about changing the system itself.

In his book How to Be an Antiracist, historian Ibram X Kendi states that there’s nothing between racist and antiracist views: a saying “I’m not a racist” simply doesn’t have a meaning. We either believe in racial hierarchy, or in racial equality. If we believe in the latter one, we are against systems and institutions that  treat some people as inferior.

Without antiracist marches, petitions, and tough conversations the system is not going to change. Historically, that’s not how systems change. We can either walk proudly together or stay in a comfortable silence, the same silence that serves as a fertile soil for trauma to grow. Let’s not forget: “I’m not a racist” is not a category; there are only two of them.

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