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The Persistent Denial of America’s Most Traumatic Event: Racism as a Haunting Mental Illness

Part I: Trauma Legacy

What do you remember about your last nightmare? In Bassel A. Van Der Kolk’s book, The Body Keeps The Score, the writer explores the effects of trauma on the body, mind and spirit.  He argues that if you neglect your mental health after a traumatic event the effects will eventually catchup with you.  Perhaps your body will start to show signs of fatigue because your mind is restless.  Or maybe, you become easily agitated after witnessing public violence.  In the classic piece, Ghost from the Nursery, scientists explore the profound effects of trauma and chronological trauma on infants and young children. By examining the connection between traumas experienced from birth to age 4, psychoanalysis Robin Karr-Morse and Meredith S. Wiley were able to better predict aggressive, bullying and violent behavior.  They also debunk the myth of a violent gene so toxically argued by some in a feeble attempt to explain black on black crime. Additionally, Ghost from the Nursery takes things a step forward and makes a sound argument that most individual trauma can be traced to past generational traumas.  Has alcohol plagued your family?  If you look into the genealogical history of your family do you notice a pattern of substance abuse?  This is the central point, if we do not deal with our past ghosts, our trauma, we will continue to pass that mental, spiritual and physical burden onto our next generation. Although we think the effects are dead, these ghosts remain and continue as the future caretakers of our children and children’s children.

Part II: Racism and Denial of its Trauma

While there are many traumas that exist in America’s history, slavery and America’s tumultuous relationship with racism is one that has greatly interfered with America’s mental, spiritual and physical well-being. Let me get this out of the way, racism is a mental illness.  It includes irrational thought, provokes unsolicited hateful behavior and coerces the privileged to swallow their guilt.  For a large portion of Americans, facing a lifetime of guilt by acknowledging their privileges is a feat too painful to endure.  The result is a vehement denial of racism and outright objection to supporting the notion of privilege. How one can deny the FACT that structural racism still plays a major role in shaping the trajectory of our lives is mind-boggling?!?!?   Such delusions even sparked a 1970s movement by prominent black psychologists to push for racism to be included in the DSM.  The DSM is most commonly used by therapists and provides a list mental disorders in psychology.  Unfortunately, the motion to include racism in the DSM was rejected as the review panel, the American Psychiatric Association (APA), saw racism so widespread in America that it was considered normative thus not a sign of mental illness. Because we continue to deny the vast inequalities existing within our education system, financial institutions and policing practices we as a society will never be able to mend our pain completely.

Part III: A Call for Change

So how can we halt the haunting continuous cycle of racism?  One suggestion is we need to stop shaming mental illness.  Especially when racism ensures that all of us are victims of its trauma. Go to a Trump rally, it appears we are sick and afflicted by some delusional mental illness.  Stop calling people crazy and start looking at them as those who need to seek help. As all people are effected by racism, we need more work done to open the dialogue for those afflicted. While exploring race, America needs to take a long historical look on how slavery and racism has played a significant role on impeding America’s progress.  Black Lives Matters has forced us all to question our cities’ policing practices across the nation.  Michelle Alexander the author of The New Jim Crow has taken an in-depth look at the racial differences in our judicial system.  She explores the data and research regarding the unequal treatment of black and brown citizens including topics like policing, policy, funding and the horrendous prison industrial complex.  Countless economist have spoken about the wealth gap and the appalling policies like the decision to exclude black veterans from the full support of the GI Bill. Discrimination through redlining practices have created and entrapped black impoverishment to the confines of our ghettos.   Many educational leaders and researchers have brought the School to Prison Pipeline argument to mainstream. We see it in our dog whistle political schema today.  Our party lines are separated by race because each party, both democrats and republicans, overtly and covertly appeal to our racial identities. We are not colorblind.  We do not live in a post-racial society.  We in fact live by race and it consistently shapes us individually and collectively. Unfortunately, the primmest examples of racism continue to reshape our mindset like any other psychological trauma.  This racism will eventually consume us if we do not address it.  As soon as we look through the true history of racism within America we can begin to correctly identify some of the most pressing societal problems and work to avoid them in the future.  We need to look at our problems through the lens of racial inequalities and critical race theory.  By critically examining society and culture, through the intersection of race, law, and power we can see our ghosts.  Our eldest American ghost is slavery and its offspring, structural racism, needs to be called out. Once we begin to deal with this truth, we can build systems to identify and change racial problems.  Hopefully, through continued healing and open dialogue about race, we can avoid the haunting effects of racism induced trauma.

By: Peyton Craig

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