Racialized Trauma – A Post-Discussion Series Reflection

By Taiga Guterres, MA/MSW ’22

“There is a familiar saying: time heals all wounds. Trauma represents an antithesis to this statement. In fact, in trauma, distortions in time constitute the wound. The problem of temporality is at the root of the phenomenon of trauma. Trauma is not a one-time event. Instead, trauma speaks to an event in its excess.” ~Shelly Rambo in Spirit and Trauma

St. Ignatius speaks of the importance of memory and imagination within the Spiritual Exercises.  For some, the murder of George Floyd has ingrained the reality of racialized traumas into their visceral memory.  Yet, for others, this was an event that has cut into a wound that has always been there. 

“They have treated the wound of my people carelessly, saying, ‘Peace, peace,’ when there is no peace.” ~Jeremiah 6:14

For the last 5 weeks, a group of interested students, faculty, and staff came together to explore, learn, and sit with the wounds of racialized traumas in our society and our community.  Together, we wrestled with the ways in which at times, we are so busy looking for the personal traumas, but we don’t have the language or context to give room that it might be historical, intergenerational, or institutional trauma.  At times, the three ‘cardinal symptoms’ of post-traumatic stress disorder can be seen in the ways we fight, flight, or freeze in the face of racialized discussions and experiences:

  • hyperarousal (persistent expectation of danger)
  • intrusions (the indelible imprint of the traumatic moment)
  • and constriction (the numbing response or shutting down) 

Sitting with embodied traumas – black body, white body, police body, and communal trauma – was in some ways uncomfortable and at times felt awkward.  In the current socio-political climate, it felt odd to spend an entire session on white body traumas and police body traumas.  However, it wasn’t to say that trauma between these bodies are the same, but rather that individual and communal trauma work is to help create context so that both lamentation and healing can happen – so that we can both have spaces to ‘let it out’ and to ‘let it in.’   

In 2 Samuel 21, we hear the lament of Rizpah insisting that King David see her grief and acknowledge her pain after he sent her children to their death without a proper burial.  In hearing the lamentation of Rizpah, David was moved to let it in and then moves towards action instead of just allowing her to have a cathartic moment.  Sheila Wise Rowe says that “activism is often a byproduct of lament.  Although our grief diminishes, it may never fully leave.  However, as we grow we may discover that it leads to something new.”

The framework and language of trauma might help us in recognizing that when a body is traumatized, it can get stuck in activation or in withdrawal because it has felt the need to do so for survival.  In the communal bodies that we are a part of, it raises the critical reflection, are we stuck?  If we are stuck in activation or in withdrawal, how do we return to a healthy flow that moves towards healing and prophetic justice? 

Bryan Massingale calls culture the soul of a people.  While we cannot be cured of our racialized experiences and histories, we can move toward healing.  The healing from racial injustice in our nation and in our own communities requires the work of the soul, of culture.  It is not something that is fully rational.  Resmaa Menakem in his book, My Grandmother’s Hands, challenges white Americans to re-envision and build white culture without supremacy.  The work of transforming culture, the soul of a community and people, requires a moral imagination influenced by the embodied memories of its members, especially those most oppressed.  

In coming together over these past 5 weeks, we did not make big institutional changes or cultural shifts.  In coming together, we were invited to learn, to feel, and to put language to how we feel and where we want to go.  It is a beginning.  It is an invitation to feel once more, to place our experience in context, and to come out of the globalization of indifference that Pope Francis speaks of in hopes that it will lead to something new.

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