By Precious Jones
A combo that doesn’t mix in America is melanin and nuance. The more melanin you have, the less nuance is expected. Aside from being denied the freedom of anger to express emotion, as a Black woman, I am often ill afforded nuance. Black is either this or that. The Black woman is either this or that. Much of my broken tears and current fears (trauma) rest in managing this nuance in the presence of a newly broken America. An America wrestling with the dark implications of systemic racism as Blacks feel the heavy weight of racial trauma.
The late congressman John Lewis, born in 1940, was the son of a sharecropper. My grandfather, born in 1912, was the son of a slave. How much trauma has been passed down through generations? The direct impact is closer than I’ve ever publicly acknowledged. Racial trauma is a burden I carry in my heart. My burden weighs heavily on my shoulders. Wrapping each movement in what feels like the dead weight of muscles too tired to carry this load. That weight then travels, moving ever so slightly to the lower back thereby giving me a new walk; a noticeable limp. Now my transitions aren’t as easy and this thorn in my side limits and even lessens my movement.
Racism has stolen innocence from everyone Black. Children no longer play freely. Adults no longer work freely. Move freely about their day or in their own space. The heightened awareness of being watched only to be devalued, judged, cast aside, or even physically harmed is HEAVY. It’s far from innocent. The reality of racism joins me on every walk, during every conversation with a person of privilege, as I purchase groceries, as I teach, lead, and live in America. Like nuance, without looking for it, systemic racism is present. In an age of reality television and online streaming, this trauma feels like I am living in episodes of unnecessary reruns where the outcomes could have and should have ended differently. I mean, we’ve already seen this episode in every decade since the 1930’s. I long for the perceived innocence of the past. The Black woman that was welcomed with open arms into so many spaces, yet ignored the trauma on her shoulders. It “felt easier” then.
The impact of racial trauma is just as nuanced as the impact of any trauma. In the same way that many are learning to sit in the discomfort of difficult conversations, we must allow the healing from the pain of racial trauma to be nuanced. Allow Black people the time and space to heal and reconcile when they are ready. Church folks, my people - don’t make this one solely about faith. Does faith play a role in healing? I think so. In this current time of unprecedented exposure to dialogue on race and inequitable systems, it saddens me that there’s almost a prideful expectation (in the Church) to “forgive and forget.” As if Black people have an unlimited supply of “we’ll forgive you” which they are able to provide. Personally, this swift movement towards forgiveness without unpacking the marks of trauma have left me deeply scarred. I believe in the freedom found in forgiveness. However, I don’t subscribe to forced forgiveness, especially when stereotypical norms dictate such. Premature forgiveness is cheap. It feels like the celebration of a game we haven’t won yet. An early celebration is a false victory. How then, is Christ glorified in that?
I don’t know why things feel so different now. This racial trauma I am experiencing is certainly not new, but maybe it’s weight has caught up to me. Maybe my body has finally dispelled the myth of the “strong Black woman.” Maybe it has said, ‘enough is enough.’ I do know that NOW I am listening. To my body. To the Holy Spirit. To my trauma. And THIS time, I want forgiveness from racial trauma to come from a place where I’ve fully acknowledged the pain, grieved what was lost, and made a decision to move forward because of how much I value a relationship. That’s nuance. I don’t want to have more “because it’s the Christian thing to do” moments of forgiveness where I have not counted the cost. Rote forgiveness. The exhaustion I’ve felt from racial trauma the past months is certainly connected to an unrealistic expectation of unlimited forgiveness because I am a Black Evangelical Christian. I fear that if I continue to offer forgiveness like candy, then my trauma will win. The burden will overtake me. A burden ignored begins to bruise. A bruise ignored becomes a sore. A sore which is ignored can become an infection. Infections can take over. I want healing; not the continuous spread of trauma throughout my body. Care and support for those who have experienced racial trauma must include nuance. Superficial reconciliation filled with photo opportunities and tokenism has already cost us too much. May we move in grace to offer people of color space to wrestle with their racial trauma in ways that don’t presume immediate forgiveness or the extension of an immature olive branch, but rather chooses proximity even in uncertainty.