“[S]uddenly there was Sweet Home rolling, rolling, rolling out before her eyes, and although there was not a leaf on that farm that did not make her want to scream, it rolled itself out before her in shameless beauty. It never looked as terrible as it was and it made her wonder if hell was a pretty place too. Fire and brimstone all right, but hidden in lacy groves.”
-Excerpt For Toni Morrison’s Beloved
Banners were erected on the main streets of Mount Shasta, California declaring it to be, by its banner maker’s standards, “Heaven On Earth.”
I cannot remember if this “heaven” was declared before or after a local woman walked down the main Boulevard screaming the “n-word” violently into her phone two doors away from City Hall and the Police Station while I sat puzzled in the large, open, window of the store that my (very much) former “partner” (who also eventually uttered the word as violently as the woman did one fateful afternoon) and I ran, before the woman and her friend eventually sauntered into the store where I humbly served the community as if nothing had occurred a few minutes before.
I was disappointed, but not surprised (as I never am) by the deadly silence that hung over the main street as I realized that the so-called “spiritual community” that I almost called my home’s beauty was only present in the natural environment in which the town happened to be built.
It became clear to me that day that no “spirit” (none that I wanted to be a part of anyway) existed within the hearts and minds of most of that city’s inhabitants as not one person came to console me after the loud incident occurred, nor did anyone utter a word of protest to show an ounce of solidarity with the young black woman who helped manage the store in front of which the woman loudly, rabidly, and practically foaming at the mouth, spewed her hatred, fully aware that I was sitting there watching.
When I moved to Flagstaff, Arizona several years later, attracted by the lore of the city’s claimed beauty, the trend of ugliness within the people in that seemingly “nice-looking” place was emphasized the moment that I landed, only to then be reinforced later that week in the Walmart as I shopped for items while settling in, and then again in the casual statements of the (to my surprise) Native American men and women who hurled the same “n-word” (and others) at me violently as I walked downtown or worked on my car in the parking lot of my first apartment complex.
In every encounter that I had while grocery shopping, or while at one particular dentist, or just while trying to water my plants on my patio in my second apartment in that mostly sunny city, I became more and more aware of how hell could indeed be “a pretty place.” “Pretty” places created all across America, where its inhabitants festered with hatred that made my stomach turn even as the sun shone brightly and birds chirped unaware from tree branches nearby.
From micro-aggressions to outright violent aggression. I am no stranger to the experience of observing the ugliness inflicted casually upon black people by delusional and diseased racists minds of all races, ages, and creeds.
From the day I arrived in America at the age of seven, to the day I completed my undergraduate schooling in Upstate New York, to my living and breathing in a culture fueled by the shameful disdain that pervades throughout the country, the unfortunate truth is that, despite my “excellence,” kindness, and beautiful expression as an undeniable aspect of the Ultimate Creator, I have been called the “n-word” by strangers and “community” members alike virtually everywhere that I have stepped my foot in this country, and I know from my studies, and understanding through my work, that I am not alone in this unfortunate experience.
In most cases in which trauma is an issue that human beings encounter in their lives, aside from familial or communal longer-term trauma (such as domestic abuse or economic adversity) which can often last for many years before survivors can escape the violence of their perpetrators, most trauma results from a temporary, or an in-the-blink-of-an-eye experience that individuals or groups can move on safely from even when many may take months or years to fully recover.
Racial trauma, however, is different from situational and other forms of Trauma.
In most cases, racial trauma is something that is a persistent and ongoing threat to the safety, security, and quality of life of those impacted by it for all of their lives. This is simply because as long as racial hatred and the casual normalized violence exists in the everyday encounters and actions of members of society, survivors are never fully safe, nor able to relax and entirely recover from the effects of an attack and can, therefore, only continually regroup and develop resilience as opposed to truly healing from the reality of their situation without miraculous societal change.
The fact of the matter is that healing from trauma requires removal from the dangerous situation that caused trauma to begin with. But with racial trauma, the dangerous situation is the society in which one lives.
Plainly stated, in American society, it is stressful and traumatic to simply exist as a black person (which is my focus here). Going about everyday normal activities, even in a country where the labor of this said targeted group literally built and sustains the very nation that all people “enjoy” is an emotionally challenging experience.
After 300 years of slavery (which many still seek to excuse and/or minimize) and many years of segregation, discrimination, and outright oppression, the hearts and minds of millions (and their offspring) have been poisoned by the delusions caused by the valuation of African people, which makes it so that even children as young as 3 years old can pick up on the unspoken (but always loudly enacted) stories of superiority and inferiority that some benefit from continually perpetuating to this day.
And, the sad truth in this situation is that the problem, as serious as it may be for the mental and physical health of millions of citizens, will not be fixed overnight or any time soon.
Because the problem of racism exists not just in enforced institutions, but mainly in the minds and hearts of the millions of citizens (and noncitizens alike) who perpetuate it, those who are impacted by racism’s devastating ongoing and lifelong effects in America, instead of healing by removing themselves from the homes that they created (which is a possible but often not viable option for most), must find useful ways to cope with the issue to effectively thrive in the way that they were endowed to by their Creator. Despite the ongoing and very sloooooooooooooow progress to appeal to basic common sense, decency, and logic of mentally diseased racists for the sake of those who they traumatize, the casual and normalized hatred and violence that exists in the hearts and minds of “black” and “non-black” neighbors, colleagues, schools, workplaces, in the media, and just overall within the country in general, seems “here to stay.”
Coping with racial trauma, because it is unique in its ongoing and pervasive nature, requires a separate set of skills than the skills required when simply coping with the memory or experience of an event-related trauma, or a circumstance-related trauma (which many who experience racial trauma also sometimes have to simultaneously endure due to educational, housing, and social segregation/discrimination, and so forth as well).
So, my aim here, due to this understanding, is to, therefore, instill some hope in the hearts and minds of all “black” people and their children so that they (even though they come from diverse places, histories, and identities but are often lumped together into one stereotyped group for mass discrimination) can know that though the conditions may never be present for full health maintenance for all (which is not simply the absence of disease) in America, “black people” can still create the safety that they need within themselves to thrive regardless of the harsh reality of their overarching society.
5 Coping Tools Required For Managing The Effects of On-Going Racial Trauma In America (Guided By Yoga)
- Commitment to your personal character (Yamas and Niyamas): To ensure that you do not adopt the same hateful and toxic internal state as those who intend to (even if they claim to be unaware or be doing otherwise) inflict harm on you due to the color of your skin, you must develop a strong, and clean, internal space that you regularly work to monitor and maintain. Although it can be easy to become bitter and angry about the injustice, senseless violence, ignorance, and ugliness inflicted on people who look like you in the world (simply, or primarily, because of the color of a person’s skin, or historical background), especially as the media is constantly flooding your mind with images reminding you of this violence for their own personal gain, to maintain optimal health and functioning, you must support a well-adjusted internal perspective that sustains good mental health for you and your children’s sake if you happen to have little ones. Always remember who and what you are (a divine expression from the Ultimate Creator) regardless of how others may falsely perceive you due to ignorance or their own internal separation from the one unchangeable truth for personal gain or temporary internal gratification. Be aware of the fact that others’ behavior and feelings are a reflection of who they are and not a reflection of who you are. Never feel ashamed because of someone else’s shameful behavior. Stand in your light at all times and always nurture the beauty of your spirit regardless of any hatred that another may be harboring or festering in themselves due to their separation from the one unchanging truth. Others will be “judged” by their heart as you will be “judged” by yours in the end. So never allow anyone else’s ugliness to drag you down with them; your internal connection to your Truth is your point of power, so make a commitment (even if you are rightfully angry at injustice at times) to always come back to the light within yourself and stay close to your Source and the Creator no matter what.
Remember, and take inspiration from, those students who bravely walked to school and stood strong in the face of violent mobs screaming at them while they simply entered educational buildings during the desegregation of American schools. Remember that Love does not have to abandon you because it is no longer resides within another.
2) Radical Love of your body, life, and self (Asanas and Pranayamas): Care for your body, and love yourself and all that evolution/nature has given you in the form of the amazing advantages passed down within your DNA. Love your built-in sunscreen and the coils that surround your crown and protect your head and brain from the harshness of the external environment. Be proud of the genetic resilience that made your ancestors strong enough to survive even the harshest conditions of kidnapping and inhumane treatment during and after slavery, and remember that your lineage existed in thriving communities and histories before being written into the sad history of those who should be ashamed of their brutal mistreatment of others. While it is recommended that you never get too absorbed with shallow physical obsessions and standards that fade with time and sentiment, always remember that nature created you perfectly as you are, and all of your features (no matter how much historical “fun” has been made of them) were crafted by a power greater than any man or woman and/or his/her judgments. You are a perfect expression of the strength and beauty of the Love of the one Creator.
3) Non-attachment to the state/consciousness of the world (Pratyaharas): Written history, based on the limited perspectives of so many, often seems to remove (or attempts to remove) you from the history of the human species to designate you, and those who look like you as some “other” (to make it more justifiable for evil-doers to exploit and abuse you), but remember that these separations are all illusions. All human beings evolved from the same common ancestors and all humans (and creations) are from the same Source. Stay connected with the truth of who you are at all times and never be swayed from this truth by even the most seductive historical writings that attempt to place you within the context of ever-changing historical narratives based on the current or past stories of man.
4) On-going self-regulation (All Limbs): Constantly work on coming back to homeostasis and Love within your body and mind each day. Never allow the dysregulated behaviors or delusions of the world to take you too far from your equanimity, and work to respond appropriately to all things as opposed to being guided by intense, and destructive, reactions to them. Maintain peace within yourself and be aware and honest about the things that you feel as you navigate through any stressful situation, especially those that are race-related.
5) On-going mental health-care (All limbs): From solo activities such as writing and crafting to therapeutic partnerships with aligned mental health professionals, to safe group settings and communal activities such as sports or book clubs, make it a point to support and maintain good mental and emotional health.
In addition to doing these things for yourself, it is vital that you teach your children these things as well and that you Love them so fully so that they never seek external validation from an outside world that is honestly and severely inadequate for fulfilling their needs for the Love and nurturing required for them to thrive as individuals. Teach your children how to fill themselves up with True Love by caring for them on all levels emotionally, physically, and socially and by showing them how to stay connected with the Love within themselves.
Understand that while many in the world may be lost and confused about the truth of who you are and who people who look like you are, you can always ensure that the people who you bring into this world are clear about who they are and are supported with maintaining their connection with this ever-present unchanging Truth through Love in their hearts.
While you may not ever be able to fully shield your children from the reality of existence in racist societies that will never fully see them or you as full human beings, you can always ensure that you and your children always see themselves, and others, for who they are, and know that everyone is an undeniable expression of the same Truth and Creator.
Although many things can make even the most beautiful planet in our universe feel like absolute hell, there is much beauty to be seen and experienced in life and on planet Earth, and there is an infinite amount of beauty to be created in your heart and mind as well.
Keep true “heaven” and light in your heart, and teach your children to do the same for their own sake and the sake of the future of our species. See the hatred of others for what it is (ignorance and separation from the truth of the eternal Love that is present for and within all of us), and remember that you do not have to adopt the hatred and ignorance of others as your own.
Remember, please, that while wishful thinking has its place, and we should always keep hope alive that things can improve, and people can heal from their disease of hatred and racist delusion, it is important to see things as they are to most effectively take appropriate action in the face of the dangers of racism in America and elsewhere. In the same way that you would not wishfully sit, doing nothing in a burning house, hoping that the fire will not consume you, it is important to do your due diligence to protect your mental health and the health of your children in the face of undeniable racism in this country by looking at the issue for what it is (as opposed to only hoping for the best) as well.
Martin Luther King had a dream when he participated in the Civil Rights Movement, but even he knew that in order to manifest that dream, even the simple act of speaking up or sitting still at a lunch counter was a required and appropriate first step. In this case, standing in Love and giving Love to your children can be your most important first step in protecting yourself and them from the reality of this depraved consciousness landscape, even as we all collectively work towards basic common decency and humanity amongst/for all people moving forward.
Restorative Yoga for Ethnic and Race-Based Stress and Trauma
5 Essential Internal Tools That You Will Need In An Effective Trauma Healing Kit
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