The Trauma of Blackness

This post is from Dr Peter Olusoga, BPS Chartered Psychologist & Senior Lecturer in Psychology, Sheffield Hallam University. This piece can also be found here. Please do check out this piece he wrote for the Guardian.

The Trauma of Blackness – Police Brutality and Violence.

It’s been a difficult week.

I feel stupid even saying that, because unlike George Floyd, I haven’t had my last breath forced out of my lungs by a Minneapolis police officer taking a knee on my fucking neck.

Unlike Tye Anders, I haven’t been forced to lie on the ground by a sounder of police with their guns pointed at me and then arrested for evading arrest (whatever the shit that means), all because I allegedly rolled slowly through a stop sign.

I haven’t had some fucking racist douchebag call the police because he didn’t like seeing black people in ‘his’ building.

And I haven’t had to stand there while fucking Karen called the police because she’s a fucking racist. I didn’t have to listen to the entirely faked rising panic in her voice as she pretended to be under attack from “An African American man.” I didn’t have to stand there knowing full well that I could, at any moment, become yet another modern day Emmett Till.

None of those things happened to me… this week anyway. But I’ve seen all of those things play out, in glorious technicolour, on social media, various news feeds, you know, the internet. And that was only two days’ worth.

Tom Austin: A douchebag

Mobile phone footage, dash-cam footage, body-cam footage of the brutalisation, victimisation, the straight up, no-two-ways-about-it murder of black people. Right there in the palm of my hand, ready for me to digest at my leisure.

Fuck, man.

That shit takes a toll. And that’s why I have deliberately chosen not to link to any of those stories. If you want to see, you can go find them yourself.

Then there are the comments. Sweet Lordy Jebus, never read the comments. They’re precisely as predictable as they are dumb. But they’re always there. Without fail. Every time.

  • “What did the guy do before the footage started?”
  • “There must be another side to the story.”
  • “They must have been up to something.”

These comments usually come from people who insist that they aren’t racist, that they’re only being fair, and that it’s important to hear all sides before making a judgement.  They can’t, or won’t, see that by ignoring all of the evidence that points to racism, and insisting that there must be some explanation other than racism, that they are literally perpetuating racism.

Okay let’s just pause there for a second. In the UK…

  • Black men more than 3x more likely to be arrested than white men.
  • In the year to March 2018, black people in England and Wales excluding London were 26 times more likely to be stopped and searched under a Section 60.
  • Combined figures for England and Wales show black people were 40 times more likely to be stopped, up from 14 times in 2017.
  • Between April ’18 and March ’19, there were 4 stop and searches for every 1,000 White people, compared with 38 for every 1,000 Black people. Despite this disparity, the rate at which prohibited items are found in these stops is broadly even across all ethnicities.
  • When a crime has been committed, black offenders are 44% more likely than white offenders to be sentenced to prison for driving offences, 38% more likely to be imprisoned for public disorder or possession of a weapon and 27% more likely for drugs possession.
  • Feel free to look up stats for other countries too – I’m not doing all of your work for you.

Despite evidence of a clearly racist approach to policing, the first comment upon seeing a police interaction with a person of colour is, “well surely he must have done something to warrant this treatment.”

If you think weapons drawn and screaming “show me your hands” – at a kid whose hands are clearly visible, by the way – is an appropriate initial response for running a stop sign, then… well, just fuck off basically.

To witness such hate, such violence against people of colour, to experience again and again the predictable denial of racism and the gaslighting that follows is to experience trauma.

I guarantee that those same people asking to hear both sides of the story would scream and shout about the sacred notion of being innocent until proven guilty, yet the appearance of blackness confers guilt in their minds, perhaps subconsciously, but perhaps not. The victims – and yes I have chosen that word deliberately – simply must have done something to warrant such treatment.

Maybe those commenters won’t see it because to admit that racism might be the cause would be to admit that racism might be the cause. Maybe they’re not ready to admit that they live in a racist society, but for the love of Tino Asprilla, what would it take for them to be ready? What has to happen for people to see it, because I have to say, I think we’re there already. There’s not much further to go.

And then there’s the shock and surprise.

  • “This is disgusting, I can’t believe it.”
  • “How is this happening in 2020!?”

Like, that’s lovely and all, but when you see this shit three times a day, how can you continue to be shocked and surprised by it. If I punched you in the face every day at 3 o’clock, it won’t take but a few days for you to start looking around at 2.59.

Yet somehow the comments would make it seem like this is the first time these people have ever seen racism. Maybe it is, but that kinda begs the question: what the fuck have you been watching all this time?

I’m not even going to bother with the #AllLivesMatter crew. That can be for another day. I don’t have the energy or the words right now.

Because all of this, all of it together, takes a toll on people of colour. It’s traumatic, and I don’t use that word lightly. To witness such hate, such violence against black and brown people, day after day, even from the comfort of your own sofa, to experience again and again the predictable denial of racism and the gaslighting that follows is to experience trauma.

And it caught up with me this week as I finally broke, and I sat in my kitchen and wept.

  • Anger ✔
  • Anxiety ✔
  • Sadness ✔
  • Sleep disturbance ✔
  • Overwhelming stress ✔
  • Helplessness ✔

Racism is a mental health issue.

My mental health has taken a battering this week. I’m unplugging for a while after this post goes live. I have to.

I don’t have the privilege of being able to say “oooh isn’t it awful” and then get on with writing my shopping list (in aisle order obviously) as if nothing has happened.

Instead, I’m forced to contemplate my own existence as a black man in this world. Forced to contemplate my own place, my own behaviour, my own fucking life.

It’s too much to have to do that all the time. It’s too big an ask.

So here’s what I propose.

How about you do it? If you’re a white person reading this, how about you contemplate my existence as a black person in this world? How about you contemplate your existence as a white person in this world?

Just for a bit. If it gets too hard, you can stop, I promise. But then maybe go back to it. Just see what comes up. And maybe have a think about what you could do.

Is that too much to ask?

How about you do it? If you’re a white person reading this, how about you contemplate my existence as a black person in this world? How about you contemplate your existence as a white person in this world? Click To Tweet


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