The Black Experience Series: Trauma

By Joshua Turner, Special to AFRO 

“How you wake up in the morning feeling evil, trauma” —  Trauma, Meek Mill 

Trauma, according to the Oxford Dictionary, is  best defined as a deeply distressing or disturbing experience. What I find to be interesting is that the definition uses the singular tense to explain this phenomenon, meaning that one experience is enough to cause trauma. Being Black in America, regardless of wealth or status, acts as a scarlet letter which perpetually subjects you to a host of traumatic experiences throughout your life’s sojourn. A child watching their parents use drugs, a mother struggling to pay her bills, and the act of having to assimilate to your white peers in order to fit into their standard of what an acceptable Black person should look like are all traumatic experiences. 

According to an article about traumatic stress by J. Douglass Bremner, trauma can lead to post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).  This condition is categorized by hyperarousal, flashbacks, nightmares, and changes in memory and concentration. What I find to be particularly troublesome is that some of the “outliers” that have achieved success look down upon their brothers or sisters who are less fortunate. This exhibition of self hate furthers the plight of the collective Black community and speaks to the skewed view that insists upon pushing forward the normality of resilience and trauma contributing to the despondentic mindset that destroys our community. Habituality does not equal normality. If a system is flawed, it will produce a dysfunction which is converse to said system’s normal function, meaning that although these experiences may happen frequently, or habituality, it is not the norm. Normalization pushes forward the dogma that Black trauma is the norm and that Black resilience is the norm perpetuating the stagnancy of the Black condition. In order to change our condition, we must deconstruct and rectify our systems to patch up the governmental and systemic lapses that have disproportionately subjected Black and brown people to trauma.

(Courtesy Photo)

What It Means To Survive

As a Black person in America, you do not live a normal life. Every moment of your existence is a perpetual state of survival. At our inception, we were taught how to survive, even for those that “defy the odds” or those that are wealthy, the fight at the surface level may appear different, but the goal of survival remains the same. We are given “the talk” not about sex, but on a series of Black codes that we will need to keep us alive. This includes training on how to handle the police: say yes sir or no sir, don’t talk back, and don’t move a muscle. This ensures that a routine traffic stop does not become a public execution. We are taught to always sit facing the door and never go into a one way building, along with a slew of others, these briefings and Black codes operate at the base of our “boot camp” that is ill equipped for preparing us for the “trenches” that lie ahead. The fact that we have to fight to not “live,” but “survive” speaks to the gravity of the Black condition within our country. Meaning that as a Black person in America, you are in a constant fight to preserve your life, rather than living it and this revelation alone is traumatic. 

Survival is living with a tight noose on your neck with your hands prying to create space. It puts individuals into situations that are traumatic, not because of the choices that are made, but the lack of choice that pushes an individual into a course of action that brings about trauma to not only oneself but those around them.

The Trenches

“They got us warring for our freedom” — Traruma, Meek Mill

The Housing Act of 1934 brought about the racist and discriminatory practice of redlining, which created economically disenfranchised areas that still exist today and are largely populated by the same demographic since its inception. These areas are known as “the ghetto,” “the hood,” or as my generation calls them, “the trenches” because Black people have a heavy presence in those communities. When you look at what is happening in these areas a fundamental economic principle lies at its epicenter: scarcity. 

Economics is meant to address the issue of scarcity, by way of allocating resources in a way that efficiently maximizes the use of resources and minimizes scarcity. What we see happening in these communities is the systematic and direct maximization of scarcity and or the creation of scarcity zones (the trenches) creating a perpetual state of survival. Scarcity, not only refers to money, but resources and services. Which explains why, within these areas, there are large quantities of vacant homes and dilapidaded properties, food apartheid, environmental and climate segregation, higher rates of unemployment, higher rates of drug use, lack of access to mental health care professionals, low rates of home ownership, and low performing schools accompanied by high rates of incarceration. The maximization of scarcity zones has subjected countless individuals to perpetual trauma. Perpetual Trauma has a way of killing hope and instilling despondency the prime catalyst for the collective suicide of the Black community. Our people navigate through trenches set with a variety of intertwined traps that are rich with hoards of traumatic experiences guiding us to our own demise via miseducation, disheveled communities, economic disenfranchisement, inept prison systems, and gun violence.

Joshua Turner is a civil rights activist and social justice community developer and
organizer. He is the co-founder of Students Demand Action Baltimore and a member of
Everytown Demands Action for Gun Safety’s National Advisory Board.

The opinions on this page are those of the writers and not necessarily those of the AFRO.
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