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  • Writer's pictureRebecca Bryan

White Americans, It's Time to Listen and Affirm Our Black Neighbors

Updated: Jun 7, 2020

"It turns out that asking, listening, and accepting are a powerful form of doing..." - Vincent Felitti, MD, original ACE study researcher

I can't help but view recent events through a trauma-informed lens, from the murder of African American George Floyd by White police to the protests occurring globally. And while I find the violence and looting that have accompanied some protests to be frightening and deeply disturbing, I withhold my judgment, choosing instead to view them with sober curiosity. Echoing in my head repeatedly are two trauma-informed principles that have served me well: 1.When you understand the trauma, you understand the behavior and 2. Every behavior is sending a message.

We (powerful White America) didn't listen when Colin Kaepernick took a knee - a peaceful demonstration that cost him his job. We didn't listen when the NAACP repeatedly warned state and national leaders that rioting was inevitable. We have allowed blatant racism to rear its ugly head through language and policy from the White House down to the local government. And we looked the other way and began to prematurely reopen our country once we realized that COVID-19 was primarily impacting people of color (Blacks and Hispanics). And of course, these are events that have pushed Black frustration and anger over the edge; Black existence in this country has been a resilient, determined uphill battle for 400 years that is not adequately taught to our children, nor was it taught to us.

George Floyd's death by asphyxiation was the perfect metaphor for Black Americans who have been suffocating from structural racism, COVID-19, and now pepper spray and tear gas. It's time for White Americans to give them space to breathe so they can speak - and we need to actively listen.

When the #MeToo movement occurred, women demanded we believe their stories of sexual harassment and abuse. The same open ears and respect are owed to Black Americans. We White Americans need to listen without judgment and respond with a reflection back of what we think we heard, (active listening) rather than negating, reframing, or diminishing their experiences.

Before we assert any opinions on race, we White Americans have an ethical imperative to educate ourselves first - about slavery, Jim Crow laws, the Great Migration, and the structural racism still alive and well today. It's a mess! We can't speak to it unless we at least begin to understand it. This is another trauma-informed principle - trauma that is not transformed is transmitted. The path of transformation is through the pain - we need to learn enough to feel this pain ourselves. We need to rely on each other to learn this rather than looking to a person of color to teach us.

And we White Americans need to figure out how to talk about race...including our White race, turning the race lens on ourselves, which begins by naming Whiteness as "a thing". I know I grew up never thinking about it - I just thought the way we lived was normal. What we don't need to feel is guilt. We were born into a system that promotes our privilege and the denial of race. Nadia Bolz Weber posted on Facebook on Saturday about how she is no expert on race, but that we White people must start talking about it, awkward as it feels. I second the awkward part - it is. Brené Brown would call it an FFT! And it is critically necessary for the life of our nation.

I am ready and willing to have a conversation about race if you want someone to talk to. I will also be posting useful resources on my website. My prayer is that this moment in our nation's history will be a Kairos moment, a liminal space where anything is possible. May it be so.

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