SHE Is Deeply Concerned About Humanity
"The Negro writer who seeks to function within his race as a purposeful agent has a serious responsibility. In order to do justice to his subject matter, in order to depict Negro life in all its manifold and intricate relationships, a deep, informed, and complex consciousness is necessary; a consciousness which draws for its strength upon the fluid lore of a great people, and molds his lore with the concepts that move and direct the forces of history today... to do no less than create values by which his race is to struggle, live, and die..." Richard Wright, Blueprint for Negro Writing
Black people endure so much trauma because of racism. We live in a world that consistently tries to marginalize and contain the brilliance, beauty, and charisma of Black people, despite the fact that those attributes are manifested everywhere in the Black community. Those of us who have not imbibed the constant chatter that tries to convince us of the myth of Black inferiority—that “the Blacks” are a lazy, unintelligent, unproductive group of people who have to transcend their Blackness to be worthwhile—bear a special “cross” of sorrow and psychic pain.
In everyday life, Black people can get very tired because there are so many injurious elements lurking all over the place. There are people who simply cannot accept and be comfortable with the amazing qualities and assets of people who do not look like them—unless those qualities are used to entertain. Too many White people simply cannot peacefully co-exist with the people whose stolen brilliance and appropriated labor made this country the extraordinary place it is today. Those people insist on deluding themselves and pretending that they are the architects of everything good in this society—and in the world. Therefore, they, fallaciously, reason that they are the appropriate heirs to everything good, to the exclusion of others.
It takes courage to withstand and defeat the viciousness that people who are accustomed to operating in the world with white privilege inject into the culture daily. It takes energy to deal with people who have a sense of entitlement predicated upon their White skin and appalling lack of historical knowledge. Their white privilege (which is a system of UNEARNED benefits that advantage White people simply because they are White) abounds. Far too many White people are intellectually lazy; they want to live their lives believing in the despicable stereotypes of Black people that they put into the culture, because that provides a level of comfort that allows them to put forth ridiculous excuses as unarmed Black people are gunned down in the streets by the police. These stereotypes conceal the selfishness, greed, and insecurity that allows them to affirm the actions of those who discriminate against and deny Black people jobs, contracts, mortgages, and proper housing in the neighborhoods in which they want to live. It permits them to sit by idly as Black children are consigned to schools that have been disinvested in, schools that do not afford them the educational opportunities they need to succeed, schools to which they would never send their own kids. In effect, their delusions and ingrained stereotypes allow them to mentally accommodate the denial of Black folks’ rights to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,” and to a decent quality of life.
Yet, Black people have to get along with the very people who seek to ghettoize their talents--except when those talents can be deployed for White people's pecuniary gain, or exploited for their satisfaction. We must interact daily with people who, not only freely launch microaggressions, but who are clearly comfortable seeing Black people suffer and struggle in a society that is bountiful—in a society in which the overwhelming majority of Black people are more than qualified to thrive, and the others could if given half a chance to prepare themselves.
So…try to find peace and serenity where you can as you try to “make it” in spite of the unconscionable people in this society who, seemingly, can't be comfortable unless they are sure you are being made uncomfortable. That means you must undertake a healing project that has to be ongoing; it is a self-care and self-love project that has to be attended to everyday. Try to find peace in nature, or with friends who are “woke.” Try to find comfort in the knowledge that you are not the problem. You don’t have to apologize for being Black; there is nothing wrong with you. You have what it takes to do whatever you desire; just try to be consistent with your work. Your time will come; just hold on tight and create your happiness by doing the things you enjoy in the meantime. No matter what, give yourself permission, and the space, to create some happiness—for your own mental health.
By Rhonda Sherrod, J.D., Ph.D.
There is so much unmitigated pain and suffering in the Black community. Who among us doesn’t know or have a loved one – someone we know to be capable, talented, and smart – who is substance dependent, experiencing domestic violence, or in an otherwise abusive relationship that features mental cruelty or emotional mistreatment? What about the sister, brother, cousin, or friend with a child who is underperforming in school, or, even worse, who has attained the age of majority but continues to be a terror to the parents by draining their financial resources, conducting “thugs” in and out of their homes, or cooking crack in the basement and selling it out of their residences. (The “Jennifer Hudson trial” spotlighted, once again, how so many African Americans are living with horrific situations that are so beneath us as a people.)
Many sisters are struggling alone trying to raise children without meaningful contributions, emotional or financial, from the kids’ fathers, and it is really taking a toll on these mothers, as well as on their children. Many Black men are ashamed of their inability (for myriad reasons) to be effective and protective parents, so they assume the “cool pose” that has been written about extensively in scholarly articles and books. That is, they pretend to be impervious to pain or shame, all the while descending farther and farther into substance abuse or dependence, illegal activity, and, seemingly, incomprehensible behaviors.
What about the once sparkling young Black girls who have been sexually violated by a relative or family friend, or gang raped by neighborhood boys, and there is no one around who cares that these young girls have experienced what some mental health providers call “soul murder.” So, now on some level these beautiful, once innocent, young girls are spiritually dead and unable to live up to their greatness, because now they mistakenly believe that their already physically exploited bodies are to be used to gain the things they want in life. Alternatively, some of these sweet, but abused, young girls shutdown emotionally and suffer in silence, unable to access their vast potential because, now, most of their energy is consumed trying to deal with the depression, anxiety, hurt, and shame they feel. Indeed, if the abuser was a family member, or a family friend, those aforementioned negative feelings don’t even begin to address the confusion a young girl will most likely feel because someone close to her, someone she loves and had a right to trust, was the perpetrator of the unspeakable.
Meanwhile, other Black children with immense potential are being shot down in the streets with such devastating regularity, and apparent impunity, that it’s almost numbing. Those cherished children leave behind crushed family members and a castrated community, desperately trying to pick up the shattered pieces. In those situations, family members’ lives are altered forever and identities are instantly transformed. (For example, if the gunned down child was an only child, that means his parents are not “parents” anymore. Their child is gone.) Moreover, Black people of all ages are being killed indiscriminately in their own communities by stray, random bullets that pierce Black flesh as people sit in their homes, play in their yards, or simply walk down the street.
Furthermore, we have children who don’t understand the intrinsic value of an education, and schools that are not educating. This is true even though, as a society, we accept the idea that education, as Malcolm X presciently noted, “is the passport to the future, for the future belongs to those who prepare for it today.” Many of our children attend schools that are little more than “killing fields.” Bob Marley, in one of his many brilliant songs, talked about how the system kills so many of our kids, mentally, before they can grow. That is exactly what is happening, literally and figuratively, to far too many of our youths. Today, instead of education, it is mass incarceration for a huge segment of the Black community. And the list of problems negatively affecting Black people's lives goes on and on.
Pain. Sadness. Suffering. Anger. Powerlessness. Psychological paralysis. All of those adjectives fit what so many Black people feel. Yet, as a community, we have been taught to never, ever, under any set of circumstances, display vulnerability. Historically, that was sound advice because everything we did, and everything we felt, was pathologized. To illustrate, if a Black slave was tired from picking cotton in the hot, blazing, sunup to sundown conditions under which she labored, she was considered lazy! If she was bold enough to run away from the plantation, because she had the audacity to act on her perfectly human impulse to be free, she was branded “crazy.” (A runaway slave was often “diagnosed” with “drapetomania” a so-called “mental illness” (runaway slave madness) that supposedly afflicted runaway slaves.) If a Black enslaved mother was found rolling around the floor in hysterics because her baby or young child had been sold away, her powerful maternal emotions did not mean a thing because, as one White enslaver wrote, Black people “don’t love the way we do” so “she’ll get over it in a couple of days.”
So, yes, in general, Black pain has rarely been acknowledged with any degree of humanity, sensitivity, or compassion. As Jesse Jackson, Sr. noted, during the 2005 Hurricane Katrina debacle, this society has a high tolerance for Black pain and suffering. So, we continue to walk around acting like we are impervious to pain, and nothing could be farther from the truth, because if one is incapable of feeling pain, one is either inhuman or sociopathic. Therein lies one of the biggest, unacknowledged tragedies of Black life; all too often dimensions of our humanity get cut off because, in the face of insensate racism and injustice, we have been forced to accommodate searing pain and act like things that hurt -- or even devastate -- us, don't. We still believe that disavowing pain connotes strength. There are times when it does, but many times it doesn't. So, we walk around deeply wounded, fractured, and highly vulnerable to negative interactions and situations that reduce us to leading lives that lack authenticity, purpose, and power, and, consequently, happiness. Moreover, and this is important, we LIVE the trauma we feel by engaging in self-destructive behaviors, and sometimes we don't even understand why we do what we do, but we are unconsciously trying to medicate or deal with our sorrows. So, we make a mess of our lives even as we walk around trying to convince ourselves, and others, that we're "good" and that we have everything, including our bruised psyches and emotions, "under control."
I have gone to forum after forum after forum about the pitiable state of Black relationships (romantic and familial), as well as forums about our schools and communities, and, all too frequently, those interactions degenerate into confrontational yelling, screaming, and blaming matches, characterized by tremendous misunderstanding and frustration. Many people are talking and attempting to articulate their pain – but few of us are listening with any real degree of respect and sensitivity, or with a desire to push beyond our pain to discover some solutions. Most of us are so fragile and defensive it's hard to concede that some of our behaviors are counterproductive and self-defeating, as well as antithetical to who we really are. So, let me confess something to you. I'll go first (because I am not afraid to talk about some of my pain): It hurts, really hurts, to see so many beautiful, talented, incredibly smart Black men, women, and children in so much pain. Moreover, we must vigilantly guard against getting to the point where we become desensitized to this high level of pain and suffering and accept it as normal or completely intractable.
Throughout my educational journey, I have always wanted to make sure my education and scholarship can be used to help advance Black people. Therefore, after a great deal of assessment and thought, I have developed a framework for analyzing the pain and suffering of Black people, and for attempting to help us arrive at solutions that allow us to act from positions of personal power. I conceived the SHE framework out of an intense desire to be of service – a desire to do something meaningful. The full trademarked name is: SHE (Surviving, Healing, and Evolving)TM. I use this framework to address problems in our community, because I recognize many of us are in survival mode – acting and responding the best way we can. We are just trying to survive the constant assaults hurled our way; we are living without much time to think and reflect about how to realize and access our brilliance. From my own personal observation and knowledge of history, I know that there is immeasurable intellect, talent, and creativity in our communities. All too often, however, those great attributes are “trapped” in myriad ways that makes it difficult for all that extraordinary energy to find positive expression.
What I want to do with this website, at least once a week, is provide information to the beloved community about some of the things that ail us. I want to address some of this pain within the SHE framework with compassion and sensitivity, and with a strong belief that we can have intelligent exchange and emerge from our conversations – each with his or her dignity intact – with something meaningful to think about implementing in our personal and professional lives to bring about healing. Hopefully, engaging in that process will lead, eventually, to evolution and personal liberation such that people can harness their genius and emotions, tap into their personal power, and pursue their ultimate purpose.
Moreover, perhaps people can get started on the task of finding the fulfillment and contentment they deserve. Goodness knows, we have the ability (and the right) to access “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,” if we can just free ourselves, mentally, from psychological, emotional, and even physical patterns that we may have fallen into that sabotage and undermine us. Hence, I encourage dialogue with readers of this website as we look at some of the problems of our community through a prism of love and deep compassion.
This excerpt is adapted from a chapter in the book: Surviving, Healing and Evolving.©