July is National Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) Mental Health Month and it’s the perfect opportunity to talk about racialized trauma, how it might show up, and using rest to help navigate the current and generational trauma of racism and systemic oppression. As I begin this post, I would like to acknowledge the fact that we exist on Native ground. Our life experiences and cultural norms and habits are interconnectedly woven with the atrocities faced by the native people of this land. Countless transgressions have occurred for that to be our position today in a country that continues to embrace and empower systems and institutions that force our Native brothers and sisters to remain invisible. Feel free to join me in taking a few seconds for reverence.
Honoring BIPOC Mental Health this July is particularly different as most of the country and the world is grappling with the aftermath and continued struggle of the COVID-19 pandemic. We have the shared experience of collectively traversing through the challenges and difficulties of this prolonged crisis; a shared experience that provides a sense of togetherness. While also noticing this shared experience we encountered, I can’t ignore that there were unique struggles that some of us faced during the pandemic that lacks that togetherness quality. BIPOC people were disproportionately affected by COVID-19 as we, also, faced heightened racial tension. Much of what we encountered was not necessarily foreign (which in itself speaks to the breadth of racism and systemic oppression of this country), however, the intensity, frequency, and magnitude of what was happening amidst a pandemic, gave rise to increased stress and trauma within the BIPOC community.
If you’ve been able to keep up with the blog posts thus far, you’ve noticed many others have eloquently written about trauma—what it is and how it affects us. As others have mentioned previously, trauma is less about the event. Trauma happens when something happens too fast, too much, and too soon in a way that overwhelms our nervous system. It’s very important to take note that trauma is not a weakness. On the contrary, it is a highly adaptive and effective tool for safety. Our beautiful nervous systems are wired for survival. As I write that, there’s an invitation to smile and take in the beauty of that gift. If it feels right for you, I invite you to take a few seconds and sit with that as well.
Trauma is stored in our bodies. Because trauma is in our bodies, many BIPOC folks are not only navigating daily racialized trauma, but also the intergenerational trauma that accompanies us as well—genocide, colonization, enslavement, land theft, and displacement. As Resmaa Menakem talks about in his book, “My Grandmother’s Hands: Racialized Trauma and the Pathway to Mending Our Hearts and Bodies,” our traumatized bodies don’t speak the same language of the brain. Therefore, our brains cannot distinguish the difference between what has occurred in the past and what’s to come in the future. Our traumatized bodies only understand the now. Things that have happened and are happening to us show up in our bodies in the present moment. James Baldwin concisely communicates this, although I don’t believe he was intentionally referencing trauma and our bodies, his quote still holds weight here in this conversation.
History is not the past. It is the present. We carry our history with us.
This is exactly why it can be so exhausting, confusing, and infuriating when we bring up the effects of past, race-related, harmful events, and we’re gaslighted and/or minimized because it’s deemed as irrelevant because of perceived time discrepancies. Our bodies know no difference. At times this racialized trauma might show up in our bodies as anxiety, feeling stuck, rage, dissociation, indifference, and overdrive. We’ve had to and continue to have to use these mechanisms to survive a place that feels unsafe.
I can only speak to the specific experience of being Black and hope that other BIPOC folks can and will take up space to speak on the ways in which racialized trauma shows up for them. For brevity’s sake, let’s focus on how this shows up in Black folks as being in overdrive. Historically speaking, black folks were enslaved and forced to work. Our worth as human beings (actually considered property at the time) was synonymous with how much we worked. Slowing down, resting, choosing to not work, or pacing ourselves could have literally resulted in death. Today, those same patterns present in our bodies (overdrive) as we continue to have to navigate a system that perpetuates similarly harmful patterns (the continued tenets of racism, systemic oppression, and white supremacy). As Black folks, we’ve heard our fathers, mothers, grandmothers, grandfathers, aunts, and uncles declare that we must work twice as hard as others to be on the same playing field. Oftentimes, rest seems out of reach.
In addition, our society exalts exhaustion. Tricia Hersey gives a very sobering perspective regarding exhaustion in the U.S.
We exist in a culture that supports sleep-deprivation; we have been brainwashed by capitalism to work at a machine-level pace, and to equate our worth with how much we can produce.
We have these mechanisms as adaptations to exist in environments that are not safe. The goal, then, is not to extinguish mechanisms that keep us safe, but to have the ability to sense into and feel moments when these protective mechanisms are not needed.
relax, take a rest, ease up/off, let up, slow down, pause, have/take a break, unbend, repose, idle, loaf, do nothing, take time off, slack off, unwind, recharge one’s batteries, be at leisure, take it easy, sit back, sit down, stand down, lounge, luxuriate, put one’s feet up, lie down, go to bed, have/take a nap, catnap, doze, have/take a siesta.
– The Nap Ministry @thenapministry
Rest is a tool for healing that deepens our resilience. Rest is not something we should try to earn by exhausting ourselves, but it is our birthright. Profoundly put by the Nap Ministry, rest is also a form of resistance.
Rest is a form of resistance because it disrupts and pushes back against capitalism and white supremacy.
The Nap Ministry
BIPOC folks, when we rest, we heal. We can reclaim our birthright. Doubt may show up here as you read this and that’s okay. I, myself, am still navigating the fears associated with taking up the space to properly take care of myself in the form of rest. You might need to lean on communal support to process that and begin actively practicing self-love through resting. It might also be beneficial to speak with a healer/therapist to work through how you can begin to tap into the wisdom your body has to offer.
Walking in the liberation of rest is not wrapped in simple, quick fixes. It will take active engagement in an embodied way. Healing is available for you. In the same way that trauma is held in our bodies, so is healing. I’ll leave with this last quote as it offers a beautiful offering for those who have sacrificed before us.
One of your ancestors’ wildest dreams was being able to rest. Sit down today. Take a nap.
@geecheeexperience from @KeNaiyaa
My Grandmother’s Hands: Racialized Trauma and the Pathway to Mending our Hearts and Bodies by Resmaa Menakem
The Nap Ministry– Here you’ll find the link to a blog, podcasts, articles, playlists, and other resources to support your rest journey.