TRAUMA, OPPRESSION & MENTAL HEALTH
Recently, we have heard a lot about Juneteenth. A previously obscure holiday celebrated almost in its entirety by Black people that has now gained national attention. Big names such as Nike, Twitter, General Motors, Best Buy and many others have come out in support of and are observing the holiday. The City of Philadelphia and Governor Andrew Cuomo (D) of New York have designated Juneteenth a holiday. What exactly is Juneteenth? Like many events in American history, its origin remains unclear. The name Juneteenth began in ambiguity. The actual date of freedom for enslaved black people in America is still unknown. One such story is that Juneteenth received its moniker as a blend of the month June and its 19th day. On that date in 1865, Major General Gordon Granger of the Union Army landed in Galveston, Texas. He informed slaves that the Civil War had come to an end and slavery had been abolished. Despite being declared free under the terms of the 1862 Emancipation Proclamation, many slaves continued toiling in bondage until General Granger’s arrival. It is the first day that many dared to hope that the promise all men are created equal as written by Thomas Jefferson in 1776, may be realized for all of America’s people. However, like the name Juneteenth the promise of freedom for all in America remains uncertain. The specters of inequality on which this country was built continue to haunt us in 2020. No other area is this more apparent than the arena of mental health.
Due in great part to celebrities and social media influencers lending their names and platforms to the discussion, the conversation surrounding mental health awareness is increasing. However, the impact and understanding of trauma particularly as it impacts the Black community continues to be a challenging discussion. A study published in JAMA Pediatrics (2018) that showed that suicide rates for black children aged 5-12 were roughly 2 times higher than those of similarly aged white children.
Along with doubled suicide rates are: insufficient access to healthcare, food apartheid, a fractured educational system that disproportionately impacts black children, violent crime in urban areas, police brutality, disproportionate incarceration rates and sentences for Black Americans. All of which indelibly impacts the social emotional functioning of Black children. At the root of all of the aforementioned plagues impacting Black children in America are the seeds of systemic racism. It has reinforced to black children across this country, in which all men are free and created equal, that their beautiful lives created by God hold so little value to this country. Reinforcing examples are: the murders of Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Tamir Rice, Freddie Gray, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor and most recently George Floyd. How do we explain to the children that the reflections that they see in the mirror could very easily end up on a T-shirt? How do we explain that in America, it is not enough to be human but you must be a paragon of virtue above reproach to be considered blameless in your own murder?
Mamie Till Bradley demanded that the casket of her beloved son, 14-year old Emmett remain open during his funeral so that the world would be forced to witness what the ugliness and savagery of racism did to her beautiful child. With the advent of social media, dashboard cameras, police body cameras and camera phones, we now have a constant media stream of murder and barbaric treatment. America is again forced to face that she has fallen short of Thomas Jefferson’s promise.
If we ever want real change, these stories need to be told with hope that these images of Black humans being subjugated do not desensitize us. The fear is that repeated witnessing horrific abuses in-person or on screen, we are further traumatized. Trauma in the Black community is not new. We are carrying this trauma in our DNA and passed down to the next generation like our ancestors before us. Like the scars transferred through the horrors of chattel slavery, Reconstruction, and Jim Crow through epigenetic inheritance. Scars that in present day have names like Depression, Anxiety, PTSD, and Oppositional Defiant Disorder.
The prayer is that by exposing the cruelty visited upon these citizens that all of America will say “Enough is Enough!” That the changes in policies such as Breonna’s Law, the removal of traumatizing historical statues, and the renaming of streets resulting from the protests of the death of George Floyd. People who were once silent on the sidelines are now adding their voices to the movement sweeping the world to say unequivocally that “Black Lives Matter”. The hope is that we will continue united, to trend in the direction of progress and change. While changes are beginning to take shape on the global stage, we must remain steadfast in our commitment to the healing and development of our communities as well as making our personal mental health and self-care a priority. Let us never forget that for each person who has been lost, there is a family left to mourn. Through necessity, as a community we have historically been unable collectively grieve. The time for that has passed. If we are to heal than we must take brave first steps to put words to our pain. Deciding to no longer swallow whole the anguish and pain we have experienced for generations. Mental health services must be available to our community so that we can collectively mourn these deaths together. At BTST Services, we are tasked with helping to heal those often forgotten. Using a strengths-based clinical perspective, we are here to instill hope, help individuals, strengthen families and rebuild communities.
Juneteenth reminds us that although the promise of freedom has come, there is still much work to be done. As we stand together in honor of this day in remembrance of those who came before us, we must be mindful, patient, empathic, loving, kind and supportive to each other. Every interaction is an opportunity to help someone heal or further their pain. We are optimistic about our future now more than ever because we understand that "A Better Tomorrow Starts Today."
Photograph by VISUALCLEANSE