When I was asked to write an essay about how I’m processing racial trauma as a Black woman, I had to really stop and check in with myself. Explaining the mental and physical effects and consequences of racial trauma on Black people — Black women in particular — is difficult to put into words.
After all, every day I wake up and step outside into the world, I am reminded that as a Black woman, I am expendable.
I am reminded when I look into the Black faces belonging to Black bodies that line the sidewalks of Los Angeles.
I am reminded when I walk past the tents that have become home to unhoused Black men and women in a city whose only Zip code with a growing Black population is the one that belongs to skid row.
I am reminded as I watch on the evening news an 82-year-old Black widow in danger of losing a home she’s owned since 1986 because she racked up homeowner association fees. Thanks to gentrification, her home is now worth nearly $1 million.
As a single, childless Xennial woman, the state of Black people in my city is a constant reminder to me of what awaits if I can’t pay the rent. If they can throw an 82-year-old home-owning Black widow out onto the street, what do you think they’d do to me? After all, what’s one more unhoused Black person in L.A.?
It gives me nightmares. It stresses me out. It gives me anxiety. With each day that passes, I feel like I am less and less hopeful about my future, and the future of Black people in America.
It doesn’t matter that none of these things are happening to me personally. As a Black woman in the United States, just witnessing the harm experienced by other Black people is painful, overwhelming and depressing.
That’s also why I don’t watch horror films. I know that it’s just acting and special effects, but the psychological effect of watching some of those killing scenes triggers all types of feelings.
Every time new cellphone footage pops up on my timeline showing the tragic death of another Black person at the hands of the police, it’s that same nightmare. Except when I see that video footage, I know it has happened in real life.
It’s why I never watched the complete video of George Floyd’s death. I couldn’t.
I also didn’t watch the video of 16-year-old Ma’Khia Bryant being fatally shot by the police.
I already have to watch enough videos of Black people being killed by the police. As a media consultant to some of the top Black civil rights law firms in Los Angeles, I see my fair share of Black death and suffering. There’s no need to add to it if I don’t have to.
That’s not to say that I don’t want the videos shared, because I do. I am old enough to remember when we didn’t know what was happening with Black people on the other side of the country until the weekly Black newspaper and Jet magazine published. Much of the progress over the past several years in criminal justice reform has to do with the collective anger and outrage over what people saw in these videos. So they do play a pivotal role.
But I am also old enough to know my limits. I am already struggling with the effects of a bad breakup with my ex-girlfriend, depression and a decades-old unhealthy relationship with food. Adding the effects of racial trauma on top of all my real-life problems, and I’m one video or incident away from being on the evening news for all the wrong reasons.
At one point, I felt so low that I tried to get help through my health-care provider. It proved to be a nightmare. After weeks of trying to see a therapist, I was finally handed over to a disconnected White woman who suggested I attend Overeaters Anonymous meetings.
I’ve since found ways to process my racial trauma on my own. Long walks, hikes and focusing on more lighthearted things, like plus-size fashion blogging, all contribute to my sanity.
These days, I am very intentional with my time and my space. I no longer have the desire to work seven days a week — and honestly I really don’t need to. To be my best me, I need to follow the advice flight attendants give you at the start of a trip — put your oxygen mask on before you try to help others.
I credit the pandemic with giving me the opening I needed to explore myself. I’m emerging from self-quarantine a completely different woman in many ways.
Having lost a dear friend to the coronavirus, I spent a lot of time in deep reflection, considering what’s really important in this one life we’re given, because it’s not a dress rehearsal. I continue to make sure I am being the person that I really want to be in this life, in public and at home.
I also created a space around me that reflected more of who I am — and realized in the process that interior design might be in my future. I started cooking. I went back to playing tennis. And because I live in Los Angeles, I make it a point to find myself lying on a beach every weekend in a bikini.
I have found that by giving myself the space to focus on other interests — no matter how trivial — that have nothing to do with the politics of life, I am able to cope better. The end result is a Jasmyne who is getting by. A Jasmyne who hasn’t teetered off the deep end and who lives to fight another day, because the struggle continues.
I’m not the poster child for how to process race-based trauma. I’m figuring it out as I go. What’s helped a lot is not pretending that what’s happening is not happening, because skirting around it doesn’t make it any less real.
I owe that to myself and future generations of Black people in America.
Jasmyne A. Cannick is a journalist, writer and political strategist.