The purpose of these words is to incite critical thinking with the goal of teaching White people how to create more meaningful steps in the anti-racism movement. It is designed to help White people, who want to actively assist in dismantling White supremacy, learn ways to show up better, stronger, and smarter to the anti-racist movement so their efforts can have positive impact.
In this essay, capitalizing White as it pertains to race is respectfully intentional. The article written by Ann Thúy Nguyen and Maya Pendleton, titled “Recognizing Race in Language: Why We Capitalize ‘Black’ and ‘White’” posted on the Center for the Study of Social Policy website states “To not name ‘White’ as a race is, in fact, an anti-Black act which frames Whiteness as both neutral and the standard.”
Quick background about me (the writer you’re deciding whether or not to give your time to) is that I was born in Canada and raised in the US by parents who immigrated from the former Yugoslavia in Europe. I am an author with a doctorate degree in clinical and humanistic psychology, and an undergraduate degree in sociology.
In order to understand how you can make more useful contributions to this movement, the three main points of discussion will include trauma, anger responses, and actionable responses. Various critical thinking points will be highlighted throughout.
Part I: Trauma
To begin let us differentiate between trauma and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). A general definition for trauma is the experience of a deeply distressing and/or deeply disturbing event. I believe that to live is to know trauma, at least some form of it. I think that most of us have experienced some type of trauma in our life. PTSD however, is elevated trauma. Think of PTSD as a colossally inflated version of trauma. Regular trauma = balloon, PTSD = gigantic blimp.
It’s important to know what creates Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). The following criteria are interpreted from what is outlined by the DSM-V, though the content is mostly verbatim from the manual.
Criterion A – The person was exposed to actual or threatened death, actual or threatened serious injury, or actual or threatened sexual violence, in one or more of the following ways:
• Directly experiencing a trauma event
• Witnessing the trauma in person as it occurred in real-time
• Learning that the traumatic event occurred to a close family member or close friend
• Experiencing repeated exposure or extreme exposure to aversive details of the traumatic event that occurred
Criterion B – Presence of one or more of the following intrusion symptoms that begins after the traumatic event occurred:
• Experiencing recurrent, involuntary, intrusive, distressing memories of the trauma event
• Experiencing recurrent distressing dreams and/or nightmares centered around the trauma event
• Dissociative reactions including but not limited to flashbacks or blackouts, where the person feels or acts as if the trauma event was occurring again
• Psychological distress that is intense, prolonged and/or recurrent, and is centered around the traumatic event
• Physiological reactions to internal or external cues that center around the trauma event (think stomach pain, headaches, nausea, sweating, loss of appetite, increased appetite, increased heart rate, vomiting etc).
Criterion C – Persistent avoidance of stimuli associated with the trauma event in one or both of the following ways:
• Avoidance of distressing thoughts, feelings or memories which center around or stem from the trauma event
• Avoidance of trauma-related external reminders that arouse distressing memories, thoughts or feelings. This includes avoiding certain people, places, conversations, activities, situations, and/or objects.
Criterion D – Negative thoughts or feelings that began or worsened after the trauma, in two or more of the following way(s):
• Inability to recall key features of the trauma
• Persistent and exaggerated negative beliefs and assumptions about oneself, others and/or the world (some non-exhaustive examples include “I can’t trust anyone,” “I’m bad,” “The world is completely dangerous,” “My health is permanently ruined.”)
• Persistent and distorted thoughts about the cause(s) and/or consequence(s) of the trauma event that leads the individual to blame her/him/they, or others
• Experiencing a persistent negative emotional state (some non-exhaustive examples include feeling fear, horror, anger, guilt or shame.)
• Markedly diminished participation or interest in significant activities (some examples may include not taking a shower, not wanting to spend time with loved ones, not wanting to participate in activities that brought joy prior to the trauma event, like art, music or dance. Examples listed are not exhaustive.)
• Feeling detached, alienated, estranged and/or isolated from others
• Challenges or an inability to experience positive emotions, including but not limited to happiness, joy, pride, satisfaction, hope, love, peace, confidence, support.
Criterion E – Marked alterations in arousal and reactivity centered around the trauma event that began or worsened after it occurred, in at least two the following way(s):
• Irritability and angry outbursts (with little or no provocation) typically expressed as verbal or physical aggression toward people or objects
• Reckless or self-destructive behavior
• Exaggerated startle response(s)
• Difficulty concentrating
• Difficulty falling or staying asleep
Criterion F – Length of symptoms outlined in criteria B, C, D and E, last for greater than 1 month.
Criterion G – The symptoms create distress or impairment in social, occupational and/or other areas of functioning.
Criterion H – Symptoms are not due to medication, substance use, or a medical condition.
Brief review: when a person experiences trauma, the coping response is individualized. Symptoms of PTSD can include major depression, loss of interest in activities, feelings a sense of detachment from others, irritability, hypervigilance, escalated startle responses, a pessimistic attitude about the future, inability to focus or concentrate, low self-esteem, low self-worth, addiction behaviors, alcohol and/or drug abuse, patterns of intimate relationship conflict and interpersonal conflict, difficulty maintaining employment, intense feelings of anxiety, panic, anger, rage, helplessness, guilt and/or shame, physical ailments, recurrent physical ailments, nightmares, suicidal thoughts and/or behaviors. This list is not exhaustive and goes on.
Not all trauma victims process experiences and cope with the symptoms above in the same way. The healing process varies. Some remain paralyzed by the onslaught of symptoms for months, years or decades, some struggle to cope but reach recovery, some struggle for the rest of their lives, some forgive their abuser and some don’t, some are debilitated for life, some create happiness again, some ____, some ____, and some ____. This list is also not exhaustive and goes on.
The person who has experienced PTSD has just and valid feelings. Their feelings are based on their lived experience. Their feelings are just. Their feelings are valid.
: Do you think Black people have experienced and continue to experience, trauma and/or PTSD in their lives? From what I know about studying trauma, world history, US history, and from what I know about conversations between myself and Black clients and between myself and Black friends, and from listening to other Black voices, I think the answer is a glaring YES. Black people have experienced, endured and witnessed atrocities for centuries. Let’s repeat that in all caps. BLACK PEOPLE HAVE EXPERIENCED, ENDURED AND WITNESSED ATROCITIES FOR CENTURIES.
Being stomped by heel of White supremacy is not just 1 “trauma event,” it is innumerable trauma events that have consistently and repeatedly occurred against Black people for centuries, and that are consistently and repeatedly occurring against Black people in present day. *Please note I am not saying “all” Black people have PTSD. I am saying that when you look at the criteria for what creates trauma and/or PTSD, the prevalence of it in the Black community appears potentially astronomical.
To the White people in the front, back and middle: When George Floyd (RIP) was executed, we watched an innocent Black man plead for his life until the last breath he softly wept was violently pushed out of his body by a racist White police officer. Community bystanders were helpless. If they physically intervened they would have (likely) been killed. How many bystanders do you think wanted to protect and defend George Floyd (RIP). How many wanted to intervene? How many wanted to stop the police officers present for the brutality and hate crime they were all witnessing?
: The community restraint displayed demonstrates White supremacy in full effect. If you think beloved George Floyd (RIP) was the only one handcuffed, think again. The entire crowd was in shackles.
From a White person’s perspective, one thing I view happening is that many of us White people are beginning to see the problem. Just see it. The hate inside of Derek Chauvin was undeniable. The sacred life inside of George Floyd (RIP) and his gruesome murder are undeniable. Many White folks are horrified by what we have witnessed and repulsed by the feelings that arise within us knowing consciously or subconsciously that we have contributed and are also implicit in his death. Many feel reprehensible. Please keep reading, this is not about White people’s feelings. (I have more to say about how and why meaning is ascribed, but not here.)
Now, imagine being a sufferer of PTSD and all of a sudden, your actual abuser or your abuser’s accomplice who witnessed your abuse and didn’t speak up until now, wants to show you empathy and love. They’re (me/we’re) coming out of the woodwork and professing pleas for you. Professing sadness. Professing sorrow. Professing anger for injustice. Professing X-Y-Z. Would you trust it? Would you question it? Doubt it? Be enraged by it? Sickened by it? Saddened by it? Hurt by it? Somewhat ok with it? Pissed by it? Confused by it? Disturbed by it? Betrayed by it? Annoyed by it? Nauseated by it? Feel indifferent about it? Feel mixed emotions by it?
: How do you think you would feel if your abuser or his or her accomplice, wanted to create a connection to you because ** experienced an “awakening”?
When I work with a client, we do not always have shared life experiences but we are often still able to make progress. As a White person (people), I (we) will never understand what it’s like to be Black because I (we) can never have that life experience. We have unequivocally thrived, benefited, and grown by power systems in place that we have not tried hard enough , to dismantle. These systems are the only thing many of us White people have known since day 1. It is our norm and therefore does not require critical thinking. Choosing to un-norm it requires critical thinking. When you think critically, you raise your conscious, and a raised consciousness can manifest change, manifest action, and manifest results.
[A non-centering paragraph on my background that illustrates privilege, shared to promote critical thinking: My Grandpa was dirt poor and came from a small village in Serbia. He is deceased but will always be my top human. He was the brightest person I have ever known and he had a 4th grade education. He fought Nazi’s in WWII. He was shot at age 19 and survived alone in the forest for days. He immigrated to Detroit when he was 35. He left his wife and 4 daughters in the “old country” until he earned enough money to bring them over. In the United States he learned the trade of baking. He got a mortgage for a house. He worked 18 hour days 7 days a week. He gradually brought his wife and children to America in phases. He bought a bakery. He employed his family. He built a successful business because he worked hard. … correction, the sentence doesn’t end there and should read- *He built a successful business because he worked hard *and* had White skin.* His White skin enabled the bank to give him a mortgage. White skin enabled him to own a business in Detroit in the 1960’s on. And, very importantly, White skin made other White people feel comfortable patronizing the establishment, which created a need for our goods so the business could be successful. That success enabled my family to move into a neighborhood that gave me access to a vast number of resources including an excellent public school system. I am not denigrating my grandfather. He is my idol, was cool af and created crazy amazing recipes for food. I owe the life I have to him, but I know that it’s not just to him. It’s also to his Whiteness and my family’s Whiteness and my Whiteness. This is privilege.]
: White people, assess your origin story. As you review and examine how you got to where you are today, I’m not attempting to ignore hardships you had (single mom waitress who put herself through college), sacrifices you saw your dad make (worked his butt off doing manual labor at a factory), or minimize the challenges your mom, or granny or aunt or uncle or whoever raised you had. I’m saying that as you identify the characteristics that you and people in your origin story had which created successes for them (for example, drive, determination, perseverance etc), you also acknowledge and admit that skin color, as a characteristic, was always in play and it contributed. [“Characteristic” as defined by Google – a feature or quality belonging typically to a person, place, or thing and serving to identify it.]
One major way White skin as a characteristic contributed to successes achieved by your family and mine, is that it created opportunity for them (me/us). This opportunity in turn meant that the drive, determination and perseverance they demonstrated could yield success. Key word here is “could.” Black people have survived atrocities for hundreds of years and continue to survive them today. This most assuredly requires exponential amounts of drive, determination and perseverance plus a billion other magnificent qualities. I don’t think it’s possible for White people to fathom what it takes to persevere through White supremacy. That said, as a White person, what I can fathom is that for any Black, Brown or non-White person to transcend White supremacy, it requires monumental strength. I can understand that dismantling White supremacy means working so that opportunity and that “could” I mentioned, are both no longer synonymous with White skin.
Many White people haven’t had to consider skin color as a characteristic because if you’re in the US (and many other places), White is the norm, White is the majority, White is the dominant group. Things constantly cater to us, rendering us oblivious to numerous phenomenon that Black people don’t have the luxury of being oblivious to. Another case in point for privilege.
: What I’m asking of you now, is that when someone asks/encourages/tells you to own your Whiteness, and when you ask and tell it to yourself, which you should and need to be doing, instead of getting butt-hurt and defensive, think about how your skin color is an undeniable characteristic that you have. And just like being driven, determined, and able to persevere gives you an advantage, so-does-having-White-skin. Own this so you (we) can work to dismantle the unfair advantage that the characteristic of having White skin gave and gives you.
: If you interpret this as a personal attack you are not understanding me. The attack is against White supremacy. I am not attacking you for being White (for fuck’s sake, I’m White!). .
: To learn about the advantages your White skin color has afforded you, turn to a Black author, activist, artist, human who has a lived experience that is different than your own.
Part II. Anger Responses
Anger and/or rage can be a feeling(s) that a victim of trauma or PTSD experience. The victim of trauma or PTSD has every right to these feelings. Their feelings are based on their lived experience. Their feelings are just. Their feelings are valid.
Their coping style is part of their process of healing. There is no blueprint for coping with trauma or PTSD for non-victims to understand. If someone who has experienced trauma or PTSD expresses anger (and is not physically threatening you, say on socials), or, if someone with trauma or PTSD has nothing to do with you and you perceive them as having anger or rage towards you, a total stranger, here’s what you/me/White people need to do: LET IT BE.
If you want to become anti-racist, you need to not become butt-hurt to the point that you stop listening. If you do get butt-hurt for whatever reason, work to get over it, get over it, and then come back to the movement. Keep coming back. KEEP COMING BACK.
: White supremacy is disgusting. Accepting that as a White person, you (I) have been a part of and co-created something you loathe- or think you loathe (power isn’t given up easily), is something you must come to terms with. I sometimes tell my clients “the only way out, is in” meaning, feel the UGLY. Feel that shit. That shame. That guilt. That nasty hubris. That frightful narcissism. That physical nausea. That feeling that comes with knowing you didn’t do more until now. That feeling that comes with knowing that it took seeing the assassination of an innocent Black soul in your current events, to begin seeing from a different lens. That feeling that comes with knowing you’re a hypocrite. That you should have been accountable but truly weren’t. That you were self-focused on your education, career, family, and that even though you’re in whatever profession, or donate to whatever causes, or volunteer wherever, you didn’t do more for a community and purpose you claim to care so much about. FEEL. THAT. SHIT. Feel it. Feel it. Feel it. It’s a necessary step. Feel it and use it to transform so that you can have a more meaningful place in this movement.
Healing from White supremacy is something non-White people get to do. Coping with the reality of knowing you’ve been implicit in White supremacy and that all of the above ugly shit applies to you, is something I’m asking/telling/encouraging/shouting at me and other White people to do, so that we can move forward and help this movement more meaningfully. Coping and “moving forward” does not look like forgetting and letting go. We don’t get to do that. What it does look like is that you’ve read, challenged yourself, dug deep, said or did the wrong thing but kept learning, felt butt-hurt for whatever reason and came back, that you have committed to continuing to learn, and that you have spent time questioning and understanding why certain emotions come up for you when you hear Black voices speak about race and your (my/our) Whiteness. It means knowing that you’re not the expert on race and if you want to truly learn about what you say you do, you need to listen to Black voices. It means if you feel angry or misunderstood by a Black human, you LET IT BE and listen anyways. It means if you get butt-hurt you don’t stop listening. It means that you commit to evolving your learning style. That you diversify the way you ingest information. That you grow your capacity to learn.
A lot of White people are used to being “gently” taught. If that fits for you, it’s all good, but you must also be open and willing to the way you’re used to being taught. Change so that you make an effort to learn from a teacher with an assertive style. And vice versa. If you’re used to learning from an assertive style, try learning from a different type of teacher. Gentle does not equal weak. Poets and other artists (as just a few examples) are colossally powerful with booming voices. Gentle also does not mean that confronting and fighting racism should not be absolutely in your fucking face or that it should be a soft topic. It’s NOT a soft topic and ALL White people should have a hard stance on it.
: If you’re new to this topic and movement you (we) must make a concerted effort to find activists and writers who’s teaching styles gel with our learning style so that we can receive the breadth of content they share in a way that yields maximum positive impact. Simultaneously, we must also commit to putting in the concerted effort it may take to be able to learn from someone who’s teaching style does not initially gel with us (I think this is true for essentially all learning on various topics). Seek out teachers whose style escorts you right out of your own dangerous comfort zone. Teachers who challenge your learning style, thoughts, beliefs and intentions are critical because the learning that happens outside of your comfort zone can be transformational. When you learn to listen with both ears (not just the one you’re used to) you have the potential to gain a lot and what you do gain, will then equip you to be a better ally and hopefully, a fellow warrior someday.
Part III. Actionable Responses
Lastly, White people, be smarter about how you amplify Black people. Financially supporting Black activists, artists, businesses, causes, organizations, non-profits, and all Black people in general, is needed and will create change. Think critically any time you are the customer of a company with employees who work on commission and ASK FOR A BLACK HUMAN. Companies want your $business$ and they will accommodate. If they don’t have Black employees or enough Black employees, and customers keep asking to work with a Black employee, what outcome could potentially happen? You can help create DEMAND. Remember: Where you choose to spend your dollars creates the future you want to be a part of. When you’re leasing or buying a car, speak to a Black person. Any time you work with a company for home improvement, ask for a Black employee to assist. Need new windows? Request to be connected to a Black woman. Looking for insurance? Ask to speak to a Black staff member. Need art for your website? Hire a Black designer. Need catering? Hire a Black owned business. Getting your nails done? Go to a Black-owned beauty shop. AND, if you are blown away/satisfied/pleased after you work with him or her, make it a point to go further. Contact the boss or manager or supervisor of the Black banker, or doctor, or nurse, or teacher, or daycare employee, or grocery clerk, or librarian, or postal service employee, or customer service rep, or retail associate, or VP, or ____, or ____, or ____. Highlight them. Let managers know how happy you are with the service provided. Let supervisors know that the employee you worked with should get a raise because they are an asset, earned your business and will now make you a return customer. If the Black person you worked with is the owner, write your city and highlight what a gem the business is. Write a Yelp and Google review. Tell your friends, family, coworkers and neighbors. Put *thought* into how you can highlight, uplift and amplify Black people.
Donate without wanting and without needing ANY external validation. Donate your money to causes, organizations and non-Profits that will benefit Black people. Donate your money directly to Black activists that are helping you learn because they are teaching you how your footprints in this movement can be more meaningful. Donate your time to marching, to reading, to volunteering, to looking inward and to reminding yourself that you need to keep showing up. Not because your friends, family or followers on socials would think it’s cool, but because it’s the right thing to do. Show up for your Black coworkers. Hold your work, employers, employees and co-workers accountable. Call them out for overt and covert racism and for any and all microaggressions you see, hear and experience. Request your employer hire a Black-owned business to regularly provide trainings on a topic related to race that is important. Don’t back down. After you requested it, demand it. Demand Black workplace inclusion. Vote. Write politicians. Call your representatives. Call the White House. Don’t be intimidated by your racist family members or neighbors. Keep your Black Lives Matter signs up. Fight for Justice for Black People. Fight for what is right.
: Get in the habit of using your own mind to think critically so that rather than “finding” more solutions, you instead CREATE more solutions. This will help you make a more meaningful contribution that has impact.
Last, to any Black, Brown or non-White reader, if any of my words have offended you, my sincerest apologies. Fumbling through the polarities of thinking I should shut the fuck up, while also wanting to assist, can be messy. If you think I should eat shit, that is all good. I will let it be, and I will still hold love, respect, and honor for you as I figure out how to co-create a better world, together.
To anyone reading, thank you kindly for your time. I hope these words caused far more good than harm. Stronger Together. PEACE! -Tiff
Black Bodies are Sacred
Black Lives Matter
Black Lives Always Mattered
Black Lives Will Always Matter