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Black Folks is it Normalcy or Trauma?

Updated: Feb 14, 2021

Behavior born from trauma and traumatic experiences can feel “normal” to us. We can learn to equate those reactions from trauma as status quo for behavior. We may mistake living in trauma as personality or cultural bonding. Examples: getting wasted to numb, negative views and behavior toward women, unwarranted aggression/ violence, overindulgence in sexual experiences that aren’t fulfilling or that simply don’t match the needs we are trying to fulfill, and shutting off from ourselves emotionally in an effort to move on. These behaviors don’t help us to heal.

Slavery laid the land for so much of our modern day trauma including but not limited to the oversexualization of black women, the fetishizing of Black men, denial of adequate resources, and separation of families through murder and wrongful incarceration. All of that deeply impacts us.

Enslaved Black women’s bodies were used as tools for profit, solidification of slavery, and traumatic enforcement of sexual desires. Black men’s bodies were used as a tool to impregnate and create a workforce pipeline. The enslaved’s needs and feelings were pathologized. The goal was to beat the body down to the point of disconnection and submission.

The views we can place onto Black women and their bodies today are so deeply engrained from slavery. Women are continuously forced to work through their own trauma. The trauma that is caused from how their bodies are treated. Often we shut off from our bodies and what they need in an effort to keep going, to uphold this American ideal of productivity, and to avoid sitting with the deep emotional and ancestral wounds our bodies hold the stories of. We subject ourselves and our own people to it everyday.

For this reason I rebuke the “Strong Black” {insert gender here} ideology. For so long I thought it was an asset until I realized that I couldn’t name my emotions in the moments when it mattered most. If we don’t know what we feel, notice the sensations of our bodies, know what we need, and truly believe we deserve to have our deepest needs met {love, respect, connection, basic resources} do we truly know ourselves?

I have observed that when folks begin to gain some healing and peace we sometimes equate their new behavior to them being soft, crazy, or weird. In actuality they are a glimpse of what our normal could be defined as if behaving out of trauma wasn’t encouraged. What it could be if we started to validate the trauma of others and encouraged them to seek peace, healing, and mind body connection. Instead of encouraging them to appear strong, to seek numbness, or to overindulge their way through pain.

Peace, healing, and connection should be a part of our normal. Peace, healing, and connection is an act of resistance against the forces {human and otherwise} that inflict traumatic experiences onto use. We have to stop accepting the traits embodied in order to survive in a broken system as the standard or glamorous. Those traits may serve an immediate useful function in the moment by helping us to survive and it may be constructed as “our normal” but that doesn’t make it what we deserve. We do deserve to start working toward healing, whatever that means. It may not mean we no longer feel pain, that we no longer have memories, or that we no longer get impulsive. It may just mean honoring ourselves, validating that we have been wronged, acknowledging that we did not deserve it, and engaging in what we do deserve to be well despite potential opposition.

We are cut off from a deep lineage. And I’m only discussing some aspects of the damage America’s bondage of Black bodies has done. I find that as a culture each generation realizes in a deeper capacity the ways we carry the pain of our lineage and are continuously subjected to it’s modern form. We are not who they say we are. We are so much more than they can understand.

As humans obstacles are put in our way and we still prevail; however, often we do not heal because we don’t even get the extent of what it is we are healing from. Our existence is colonized and in so many fucked up ways. When we know and learn we can start to unravel the damaged strings of history.

The same goes for this country when we learn from and own all of the ways trauma has manifested {ownership of bodies, capitalism, policy, etc.} the damages can start to be atoned for.

I am certainly taking advantage of the ability to learn from fellow Black social justice, anti-racism, and mental health folks who are laying the groundwork for understanding. I am learning where my pains come from and where my healing can begin for me but also for clients and those close to me. This shit is hard and mind boggling at times. There is always work to be done.

August Alsina’s song NOLA really made me sit with how insidious normalized trauma born behavior can be. It is so insidious because pain just like joy is ever present. It can be more overwhelming than joy. We often can’t stand the idea of experiencing pain and often believe it is unbearable. So we gravitate toward behaviors that can quickly alleviate the sensation in the short term. The issue is those behaviors do not sustain us and we are caught in a cycle of ineffective behaviors that our world tells us is normal. When someone makes positive change the path to achieving it may seem intangible and painstaking. However, just like with any goal for positive change, if we trust the process we will see some benefit.

Ineffective behaviors born out of the need to survive trauma do not have to be your normal. It can be hard because we live in a country that preys on the trauma of Black and Brown people while perpetuating our pain. But keep working toward healing as much as you can until you find some inkling of thriving because some of this survival shit is toxic to our wellbeing. I’m rooting for us!

Small Steps to consider:

  1. Practice awareness for your own internal experiences (feelings, sensations)

  2. Recognize and honor your emotions in ways that match your values.

  3. Become aware of any tendency to project your pain onto others.

  4. Practice what feels good for the long term (e.g. fitness practices, mindfulness, deep breathing, sharing with those close to us, accomplishing small goals, speaking positivity and compassion to ourselves, forgiving ourselves). Some practices are impulsive, momentary, and leave us empty afterwards so it is important to note what is and isn’t healing us.

  5. Seek professional help in exploring our internal and external worlds. Sometimes we just need assistance. Doesn’t make us “crazy.”

  6. Love on folks and receive love. If love isn’t being presenting in one place it doesn’t make us unworthy. It means our value isn’t seen there and it will be somewhere else.

  7. Know we cannot control others and learn to accept what we can and cannot change/fix/ control. We can’t always control every aspect of ourselves have compassion and accountability for those moments.

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