Thinking back, I feel like I’ve never truly evaluated the effects that racial trauma—derived from instances of racial bias, abuse and discrimination—have had on my life. Strange, I know. Sure, in passing I’ve been able to monitor my mental health, assessing how much I need to remove myself from heavy social media use to not become overwhelmed with constant racial violence. But I’ve also witnessed my levels of trust in white people decrease over time, especially in homogenized white environments. If I’m being truly honest, it’s tough to know how they feel about Black people, and putting my emotional being at risk in order to find that out isn’t always something I’m terribly adamant about doing. I guess I’m also particularly aware of my Blackness when pursuing any type of romantic relationship, unsure of how people feel about Black women as potential partners. But, overall, these developments didn’t initially present themselves as instances of racial trauma. Why? Because most Black folk (and notably dark-skinned Black women) have to deal with things like this on a daily basis. But when instances of racial violence began to reinvent themselves in my subconscious and reappear within my dreams, I knew I had a problem.
It was the night after I’d heard about the recent murder of Daunte Wright that I had this odd yet terrifying nightmare that arguably epitomizes much of what I fear as a Black individual. Of course, it’s important to mention that what I saw in my dormant state isn’t necessarily a reflection of what I’ve undergone in real life but merely a fabrication of occurrences that many individuals within the Black community have had, and continue, to experience.
To give you some context as to what was occurring in the dream, I was in my room, waiting for the ending of a strange annual event that took place within the area we lived. I recall referring to it as a “Black person trauma simulation” (not very creative, I know). But, regardless, it was a workshop that, in this dream, I purposefully avoided year after year by staying in my room. This year, however, I happened to venture downstairs and outside, convinced the yearly affair had passed. What I was met with, instead, was an older white man leaning against a pole not far away from my house. To get back inside, I had to cross over by where he was standing, but because I knew he was part of the ‘trauma simulation,’ I was adamant about not doing so. In fact, hesitancy impeded my movements, and I was stuck, breathing heavily in fear and apprehension, not quite sure what I would be met with if I dared to leave my spot. After considering my options, I decided to sprint to the door, my goal being to keep as much distance as possible between myself and the sinister aura surrounding the man beside the pole. Racial slurs followed me as I ran, but I refused to stop until I reached the inside of my home. Breaking through my house, I then ran into another group of white individuals who forcibly tried to grab me, ripping my clothes as I attempted to pull away. Tears poured down my face, but I continued to move through the crowd, desperately searching for a safe haven. In the chaos, I was just barely able to hear someone refer to my appearances as masculine, but not before jumping in fright as gunshots were fired in my direction. Ducking under a desk, I found asylum for the remainder of the “workshop,” but I remember feeling nothing but terror, panic attacks shaking my body for what felt like hours until after the simulation was over.
After this passed, I remember ripping pages out of this notebook I had previously written in, tears continuing to rush down my face in the dream. My parents were impassive. They washed dishes like they were cleaning up after a party. My mom turned to me; “I just do the simulation and call it a day,” as if the workshop was just something that we live through, something I have to get used to. Her face remained calm, but the next words that left her lips were arguably the most memorable:
“If I let everything affect me, I’d be a broken woman.”
Immediately after hearing that line, I woke up. Initially I just tried to recover from the nightmare, but then I truly took in what my mother had just said to me. There’s a reason why I try not to look at my previous experiences as traumatizing: suppression. I, in addition to many of my Black friends, family members and peers, am actively suppressing much of the damage that racial microaggressions, prejudices, discrimination, violence, etc. has had on my sense of self. Why? I guess the simple answer is to keep my sanity. I mean, imagine you live in a country (that your ancestors built, by the way) where people look at you as angry and brash because of your skin pigmentation; where society sees you as more masculine because of your skin pigmentation; where our public servants fear you because of your skin pigmentation; where, collectively, you are hated as an individual because of your skin pigmentation and YET you are still expected to go about your daily life like any other American citizen.
Unfortunately, we don’t have to imagine.
While this is not at all what I intended to write about, Mr. Wright’s murder has had some unusual effects on my current state of being. Or maybe, it just acted as a catalyst to reveal much of the trauma I was withholding from witnessing these and other racially-motivated events in the past. Sometimes, all it takes is one experience to bring back the pain of everything you’ve suppressed over the years. I suppose I should say this experience was a lesson that taught me how to better view my trauma and therefore aid me in the healthy processing of racially damaging incidents that affect me as a Black woman, but is that realistic? If I start to truly process everything, won’t I turn into the person my mother feared in the dream: a broken woman? Or, by not doing so, am I already establishing myself as one? Of course, these are just thoughts in passing.