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Opinion | Orisabiyi Williams
Managing Editor | Liz Frank
African Americans suffer from mental health issues whether we want to admit it or not. Trauma is an emotional response to a terrible event that occurred in our lives and ultimately manifests itself in unhealthy behaviors. If help is not sought to heal these effects, the manifested unhealthy behaviors end up being passed down from generation to generation.
White Supremacy and racism have traumatic effects on African Americans.
Let’s follow the timeline: The Middle Passage, chattel slavery, Jim Crow, Vietnam, heroin addiction, the Crack Epidemic, gang violence, police brutality, poorly performing schools, and the Prison-Industrial Complex. When we look back on that timeline, we see that all of has happened and continues to occur in a relatively short period of time, and the trauma associated from all of the abuse and centuries-long pain has been passed down from generation to generation.
Many of us have never made an appointment with a therapist to discuss these issues and never will. We just keep going and putting on the appearance of strength when inside we are actually broken.
We are broken from the stress and effects that White Supremacy and racism has caused. So how do we cope? How can we start healing?
I believe these steps are a start:
“A people without the knowledge of their past history, origin and culture is like a tree without roots.” – Marcus Garvey
One of the biggest steps we can take toward healing is understanding who we are. America has negative stereotypes about who we are; you can see the stereotypes repeated in television, music, and movies. Major record companies rarely support and fund positive or empowering hip hop music.
After seeing this consistently negative representation of African Americans in the media, we begin to believe that’s who we are. Most media is a tool of the government, and the barrage of negative images representing black Americans is powerful propaganda. Propaganda like Hitler skillfully used to promote the Holocaust.
Our culture and spirituality have not been taken from us without reason. John Henrik Clarke said, “To control a people you must first control what they think about themselves and how they regard their history and culture. And when your conqueror makes you ashamed of your culture and your history, he needs no prison walls and no chains to hold you.” It is important that we learn our culture and history.
Of course, we know about the big-hitters: Harriet Tubman, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and Malcolm X, but we need to know our people’s history before we became enslaved. Henry Louis Gates said, “Africa is the mother of civilization itself; we have our roots here. And until we know Africa, we can never truly know ourselves.”
Therefore it’s imperative that we read all we can and participate in activities that teach cultural awareness so that our children can learn their heritage.
Knowing yourself is wisdom.
“Systematic racism doesn’t simply rear its ugly head. It’s voted on, enacted with policies, and used to disenfranchise. ” – Unknown
Racial Socialization needs to be taught to our children so they can understand the baggage that comes with being black in this country, and the need to understand systematic racism so they can learn how to cope with it for their survival in American society. Families need to have open and honest discussions about race and current events that children see on the news. Discuss how to avoid certain situations and what to do when some situations are unavoidable. We have all been the victims of racism and discrimination at our jobs, schools, interpersonal encounters, healthcare providers, and almost every other place we must interact with society.
Our children will face the same, so it’s important to prepare them for it through sharing our own experiences and discussing events they may see on the news or hear about in their communities. It is our responsibility to help cultivate our children’s self-esteem, spirit, and creativity. As a woman and mother, I feel it is my duty to uplift others, though they are not my biological children, by building up their self-esteem, spirit, and creativity, in particular, our men.
“Silence becomes cowardice when occasion demands speaking out the whole truth and acting accordingly.” -Gandhi
We must continue to speak out against racism and injustice. There is an African Proverb that says, “Do not suffer in silence.” Dealing with racism creates many emotions, and you can’t keep them bottled up. You have to transform the feelings of anger, sadness, and hopelessness into positive energy, by doing things like becoming involved in your community. Volunteer your time to make positive changes in your community. Start with local schools or organizations that are dedicated to fighting for the betterment of African Americans. And don’t be afraid to challenge legislation and policy with your local elected officials.
“Spirituality does not come from religion. It comes from our soul.” -Anthony Douglas Williams
Spirituality is the key to holding it all together. I am not talking about going to church or what religion you ascribe to, but we, as African Americans in this country, have to get back to the spirituality that was stripped from us. We are the most spiritual, forgiving people on the planet. African people understand the spirit, nature, and their importance of their Ancestors. Ancestral power is authentic and very real. In Christianity angels that fight for us, but in African spirituality, we have our Ancestors. Listening to your spirit and honoring your Ancestors can help you avoid dangerous situations; bring you through difficult times, and open you up to endless possibilities.
“I’m a reflection of the community.” -Tupac Shakur
We must establish community again. Today we no longer have a sense of community. Community means everyone supports each other, uplifts each other, and works together for the collective good and success of the community. We have less companionship with our neighbors; most of the time we don’t even know who our neighbors are! People in the community used to look out for each other and correct other people’s children when they were doing wrong, but now those days have passed. Our children are a reflection of the communities in which they live; we all are. So we need to be the example of what a healthy community looks like.
“Love is the only reality.” -Rabindranath Tagore
Understanding that love is the only reality breaks so many barriers. We are love, and we must be love in action. It’s time that we begin to be unapologetic about loving ourselves and loving each other. It is love that unites. Spirit can’t operate outside of love. You can’t get anything to grow in poor soil; you have to use good soil. So if we are to grow as a people and as a community, we have to do so in spirit and in love. We need each other so much more now than ever before. As a candle is lit, it can light many candles before its flame goes out. One flame; one love.
Knowing thyself, seeking racial socialization, speaking truth to power, being in touch with our spirituality, promoting community, and showing love are ways that we can hope to begin the healing process from the effects of racism.
I don’t have all the answers, and we can never be truly free from the psychological and emotional pain of bigotry as long as racism continues to exist, but hopefully, these coping tools will carry us longer on this journey.