Opinion: The Road to HealingJul 01, 2021 12:01AM ● By Trish Ahjel Roberts
@ Collaboration of Angelo Roland and Paul Marquardt. Sculpture by Kwame Akoto-Bamfo and photography by Sonia Kapadia. Courtesy of Trish Roberts
When I hear the word “slavery”, my stomach immediately tightens. I cringe when people refer to enslaved people as “slaves” as if that is an identity instead of a circumstance. I am triggered by images of beautiful, young, brown-skinned souls that look like my uncles and aunties, barely clothed, chained, and broken-hearted. It is part of a brutal history that I would rather forget.
I have learned to manage this history in two ways: first, the proud recognition that my ancestors are survivors; second, the profound love I have for the culture of the African diaspora. Whether I find my people in the Caribbean, Latin America, Europe, the Motherland or any other corner of the world, we carry a spiritual song in our bellies, a soulfulness that is beyond description. It is the link that connects Africans across the globe, even if we do not speak the same language. We hear a drum, taste a spice, smell a fragrance, nod our head or swing our hips and we recognize ourselves. We add literal and metaphorical flavor to all we do. We are creative.
Africans traded with the Americas long before the kidnapping, enslavement, and displacement of African people, which is described in detail in Ivan Van Sertima’s pioneering work, They Came Before Columbus. And yet, most African Americans trace our history back to enslaved ancestors, often with a combination of the blood of our oppressors, marking a painful heritage of rape, dehumanization, and destruction of families. This is not ancient history. The last living enslaved American, Sylvester Magee, died in 1971, only 50 years ago.
The history of slavery is an open wound in our nation that erupted in January at the U.S. Capitol. When we pretend white supremacy and institutional racism do not exist, we continue to have uneducated and unhealed souls on both sides of this tragic legacy. In my opinion, as long as the Electoral College allows us to overturn the popular vote of the people, we will not see racial equality and healing. We are a nation of gaslighting. One that beats Black children for learning to read, then tells them they are stupid. One that rapes Black women, then tells them they are whores. One that brutalizes Black men, then tells them they are violent.
It is always possible to heal from trauma if time, motivation, and resources are available. When it comes to this country’s ongoing institutional racism and oppression of Black and Brown people, some of us will heal. Each generation may make it farther along the healing path. Society may progress and support oppressed and marginalized communities. However, in a country where “progressive” is often a dirty word, many of us will not find room to heal. We will be born into poverty, brutality, powerlessness, and hunger. We will console ourselves with alcohol and drugs. We will not have support systems or resources. Nobody will expect anything from us. We will rise to no occasions. Society will throw us away and never look back. This profound loss of human potential is both avoidable and unforgivable.
The violent mob that stormed the Capitol in January possessed a primal rage. They think they are fighting for their lives when they are actually fighting for their status as the empowered majority. There is no pie. Power is not diminished when it is shared. We are always stronger when we work together.
One presidential election will not solve the complicated problem of racism and oppression in our nation. However, the Biden/Harris administration has created the most diverse cabinet in American history. It is a start toward national healing.
My Grandmother’s Hands by Resmaa Menakem, Pleasure Activism by Adrienne Maree Brown, or my own book, Thinking Outside the Chrysalis, will not heal racialized trauma, but it can be a powerful step along the path. I encourage you to choose the voices of Black authors. I hope you are inspired to begin the journey. Become an independent thinker. Buck tradition. Create a self-care practice to nourish your soul after you have committed to the work of anti-racism. Meditate and pray. The road to healing is a long one, but it is the path of love. The only path worth traveling.
Trish Ahjel Roberts is a self-actualization coach and author of the self-help memoir, Thinking Outside the Chrysalis: A Black Woman's Guide to Spreading Her Wings. Access her blog and free self-care e-book at MindBlowingHappiness.com.