Hate crimes are punished more severely in our society based on the understanding that they affect more than just the immediate victims of the crime. The attack and its effects on the dignity, worth, and personhood of the primary victim spread to other people who share the characteristics that prompted the attack. Whether it is a nightclub shooting, yet another murder of a transwoman, the epidemic killing of black men and boys by police, the passage of discriminatory policies and laws that limit civil rights, or a televised protest of hatred and ensuing violence - each of these events that may happen geographically far from home, they don't feel far away. They are felt in the core of people of color, LGBTQ folks, immigrants and women everywhere. That is the intent of actions like this. To frighten entire groups of people. To control them. To silence them. To say, "you are not worthy of dignity and respect." This expands the victimhood of these events to entire minority groups.
So, if you are a victim of such an event, it is important to know that you have experienced a trauma.
When we experience trauma, events are happening and we are attempting to take in information that cannot be assimilated into our understanding of how the world works. Our minds, our worldviews, and even our concepts of our very selves cannot accommodate this new information. Our fear responses get (and stay) dialed all the way up. We (rightfully) don't feel safe. Very foundational beliefs that our lives indeed depend on are shaken and even split apart.
In response to this, it is a very human response to want to, as quickly as possible, regain a sense of safety and re-establish meaning. We want to make the world make sense again. Sometimes this can lead us to whitewash the truth, to minimize what has happened, to spread the blame around to "all sides." I have even said to myself and others that "this is just a small group of people who feel this way." We ask ourselves questions about "how could people do this?" and we answer by saying things like it's a learned behavior within a small community, or it's misplaced fear and anger. This quest to understand is understandable - we need things to make sense. But I don't want to make sense of terror and hate. I don't want to live in a world where it is understandable. This is the nature of traumatic events - they're traumatic because they should. not. happen. Let's not find ways to help our minds accommodate this. This is not ok. Let us work towards the hope that events such as these would not happen. But when trauma does strike, trauma should be disruptive, not normalized.
There is a place where we do need to seek to re-create and nourish meaning, and that is in our own and each others' sense of self, our sense of love and connection with one another, and each person on earth's sense of dignity and worth as a human being. This can look different for each person, and at different times. To some, or today, it may look like constructive rest. To others, or tomorrow, it may mean taking political action by donating money or physically showing up for restorative causes. Take in current events and remain aware and engaged, and please also take breaks from the bombardment of traumatic images and harmful energy. Find positive, supportive sources for news and information. Don't let hate and violence be the only messages you are taking in. Please rest when you need to. Cry and shout when you need to. Reach out for support. And if you are not feeling the need to rest, shout, cry, or reach out, then please turn to your neighbor that does and be of service.
A note to myself, and other white people: When I was asked to do an interview on this topic for the Atlanta Journal Constitution, I very nearly did not accept the interview. I was afraid that I might say the wrong thing. I was afraid to jump in to a conversation about race so publicly. When I recently had a conversation with other white clinicians about Charlottesville and about race, it was supremely uncomfortable for everyone involved. Getting uncomfortable is for-sure a price we have to pay if we want to see a country without racism, and we are going to be sitting (and hopefully standing and marching) in that discomfort for a while. It is indeed important for us, too, to practice good self-care, and rest when we need to. But I ask you, and challenge myself, to firstly consider two things. 1: Am I more tired than the people of color who have been fighting this battle longer and harder and with greater consequence than I have? and 2: Is it really just resting, or am I seeking to hide or to quit? When we take a break from this conversation, for us it can truly be a break. When our brothers, sisters, and siblings of color take a break, they get no respite from feeling the effects of what is being done to them. Surely, we will make mistakes. Surely, we will quite probably screw up in big ways every now and then. And being called out won't feel good. I say as much to myself as I do to you: please, do it anyway. Racism and division and hatred and injustice are damaging to us all.
For people of color looking for a safe space to heal, and anyone looking to support healing spaces, please check out the work of:
If you would like to learn more and get involved, please check out: