The Trauma of Racial Injustice

The past few months have brought the whole world together onto common ground. COVID-19 makes everyone nervous, no matter where we live or how much money we have or how strong our immune systems are. The sentiment I most frequently hear from people is that we’re all ready for it to be over. We’re eagerly anticipating a downturn in diagnosed cases. We’re watching the news for reports that smart people in laboratories are working tirelessly to find a vaccination and an effective treatment. We have hope that we’ll get through this, because we have history to rely upon. We’ve seen other diseases vaccinated. We’ve watched the economy turn around for the better. We’ve been encouraged as businesses increase supplies and take measures to keep people safe. Hope is a powerful force that keeps us all moving forward.

But what if we couldn’t see over the horizon into something better? What if we watched as scientists stopped believing COVID was dangerous and decided to give up trying to create a vaccine? What if ranchers and farmers stopped supplying their goods to stores so they could have more for their own families, thus emptying everyone else’s food supply? What if nobody took action to help those who lost jobs because of this pandemic? What if hope diminished and even disappeared because everyone decided just to fend for themselves and ignore the plight that others are facing?

As I’ve watched the tragedy and atrocity play out regarding the murders of George Floyd and so many others, I’ve been struck by the overwhelming juxtaposition between how many of us view the COVID-19 crisis and how we view racial injustice.

We have hope that COVID will end and all will be well again. African Americans don’t have history on their side to remind them that things will get better, that other people will use their positions of influence to support, defend and advocate for them. Instead, they look at history and see a cycle of violence that continues to roll over and over through countless generations. I’ve heard people asking why people have to protest so strongly. This statement proves that we don’t understand. We are only seeing from our white perspective.

I’m a trauma specialist. It’s what I’ve studied for 20 years. When I see what’s happening in our nation, I’m not a bit surprised at the protests and riots. I don’t advocate for violence, but I can see how it happens. A woman who lives with an abusive husband runs out of choices pretty quickly. She tries everything she knows to work within the system she’s been handed. When nothing works, she has two options: she can decide she’s the one who’s wrong and figure out how to obey his every demand (even though that doesn’t stop the violence), or she can rise up. In order to rise up, she has to have hope that something can get better. She has to believe she is worth being protected and loved. She has to have outside support from those who are not being abused. And sometimes when she rises up, she screams. Sometimes she pushes back. She senses that she has no other way to make her voice heard.

This is the same scenario I see playing out on a systemic and national scale.

I’m white, and I’m growing to realize how much privilege and power my whiteness gives me. I’m also learning that we white folks love to pat ourselves on the back about how much progress has been made in racial equality. My stomach turns as I think about the abusive men I’ve encountered who say the same thing about their marriages.

Maybe we are expecting a tall glass of iced tea and a foot massage because we mowed the backyard on a hot day (using our riding lawn mowers), when there’s a 40-acre plot just out of sight that’s overgrown with weeds and grass up to the waist. But that plot of land isn’t infringing on our afternoon pool parties, so we’ll leave it be. Not until that overgrowth and chaos comes to our doorstep will we venture to do anything about it. And even then we may just try to pass the work off to someone else.

I am not stating that all white Americans are the abusers and all African Americans are the abused. I’m simply pointing out that the trauma inflicted against African Americans is abusive, and we must advocate for their healing, hope and equality. Those of us who have stood by passively and watched as abuse has occurred are culpable as well. We have kept silent, and we have chosen to defer the work to someone else. We may care, but we feel powerless to make change. We may grieve with our black brothers and sisters, but we’re afraid to do the wrong thing. We’re way past due to advocate. To stand alongside. To create change that will last longer than just one turn of the cycle.

Seeking to understand brings hope. Safety brings healing. These are principles in trauma care. Black Americans have experienced trauma after trauma, and our job is not to control the narrative. Our job is to come near, to advocate, to use our power for helping others. Most of all, our job is to point people (including ourselves) toward the only Hope that will ever change the world. That Hope is Jesus Christ.

I long to see justice flow down. I long to see hope revived in every heart. I want to be a part of the healing.

If this post resonates with you, please share it. I’m planning to write more on the subject of trauma and racial injustice. I’d love to hear from you about this topic! Please leave a comment or complete a contact form.