Black Trauma

Black trauma is central to disrupting Black Joy. This is not by accident. Black trauma is lighter when it is shared.

Black trauma is the lived experience of repeated exposure to racism in all its forms. It is passed down over generations. It is in our DNA. Not only do we inherit trauma, but we experience trauma in our everyday lives. Many of us live in trauma instead of with it because we don’t know the context for this trauma. We don’t fully understand where it comes from or how it relates to much of what is happening around us. Black trauma is the reason so many of us find it hard to smile. To feel hopeful. To imagine a future. To believe.

If you can relate, you are not alone. And you matter, no matter what you might have seen, done, heard, or felt throughout your life.

Black trauma – past, present, and future-promised (as Black people living in white America) – contributes to our “allostatic load.” Think of this load as the sum of the stress that we hold in our bodies every time we have a negative experience because of how other people (white people) react to the color of our skin. Then think about how often these experiences happen, and you see how that load increases over time.

We don’t get much time to process one trauma before we experience even more trauma. I once heard a man say, “Pressure makes pipes burst,” and right away, I knew exactly what he meant.

Even reading this piece, which reminds us of the traumas we’ve experienced and brings that pain back to the forefront of our minds, it adds to that load.

The buildup of our allostatic load affects how our bodies function in response to continued stress, and it explains why we as Black people are more prone to illness and disease. It is not because of our Blackness but because of how we are treated in this world for being Black.

The body can only take so much!

Yet, we are so busy being traumatized that we often displace trauma to make room to hold more without even realizing it. If you’ve ever forced yourself to hold back tears or felt the need to pretend that something that hurt you was no big deal, then you understand what I mean.

We do this to keep on moving, but eventually, it holds us back.

We learn how to carve space for trauma before knowing how to love ourselves for our Blackness, not despite our Blackness.

In a 1988 essay, Audre Lorde said, “ Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare ” [ Lorde, A. (2017). A burst of light: And other essays. Courier Dover Publications].

True as her words, we are often so busy fighting for our lives that we don’t get much of a chance just to live. Instead, we are constantly Saying Their Names.

How many vigils must we attend? How many names must we chalk? How many families must we donate to, signs must we carry, sleepless nights must we sacrifice?

We carry all this in our collective memories. In our tears. In our bones. Every generation has “the talk.” We learn that we are hated before we learn how to cope. The game is to survive every encounter. The truth is, many of us lose because the rules keep changing.

If you are reading this, you probably know at least one Black person whose life was taken too soon —maybe by gunfire or some other type of violence, or maybe at the hands of the police or a stranger.

Perhaps the person responsible was never caught. Or they were never held accountable. Perhaps you know more casualties of Black trauma than you can count on two hands. Perhaps you stopped counting because it became too much. Perhaps you never realized that Black trauma includes the ways we as Black people may have hurt someone we loved or someone we did not know when we didn’t mean to because our trauma gave us little to work with.

We did not know how to deal with our trauma, so we took it out on someone or something else. We never learned how to take the hurt and acknowledge it for what it is, a thing that happened to us, in front of us, that was not okay and should not have occurred. And as we grew older, we accumulated more trauma, and it became so great that we needed to get rid of it. But instead of caring for ourselves and processing it, our trauma response ended up becoming someone else’s trauma – Black, white, or otherwise.

It makes it harder for us to get to know ourselves because we are constantly seeing what happens to people who look like us, and too often, it is a painful and permanent reminder of how society wrongs us.

Black trauma is central to disrupting Black Joy. This is not by accident. Black trauma is lighter when it is shared.

If we become willing to talk about it, it loses some of its power.

Black By God recommends Black Imagination By Natasha Marin’s Black Imagination – available at Taylor Books.

“(D)on’t think for one minute that Black Imagination is easy. As you will read here, it is hard-earned and sometimes dangerous, but it’s necessary, and radical, to claim and work towards. Listening to my people in this book gave me so much life, and I’m pretty sure, dear reader, you’re in for the same.” ―from the Foreword by Steven Dunn

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