Monday, May 25, 2020, 9:25 pm: Do you remember where you were at that moment? I recall retiring early in preparation for a hectic week. As I slept, I had no idea I would wake up to a changed world.
On Tuesday, May 26, 2020, I watched in shock and horror a viral video documenting the murder of Mr. George Floyd. I recall quickly sending a text to my three children warning them not to watch a video that was circulating. They responded, “It is too late, Mom.”
The four of us were among the millions of people who collectively witnessed Mr. Floyd’s last moments. We were now forever bonded as witnesses to a traumatic event. Per Wikipedia, “Collective trauma is a traumatic psychological effect shared by a group of people of any sizing, up to and including an entire society.”
As people of color, we have experienced similar losses over 400 years. Through social media, we have repeatedly collectively grieved for so many people of color, those familiar to us and those unknown to us personally.
As a psychiatrist, I listen each day to people share their stories, often involving trauma. My training prepared me to function and to offer appropriate treatment to these patients. But as a mother, I was never prepared to worry about my child’s life being threatened or their life lost by performing mundane acts like driving to work, playing in the park, having a broken tail light, birdwatching or exercising.
My fears are shared by every mother and father of color and each individual of color. We worry that we or someone we love be will the next person memorialized in a hashtag.
I remember the first time I heard the name Trayvon Martin. When I learned more details about his murder, I worried about my own sons, particularly my eldest son who has a habit of wearing a hoodie low, obstructing his eyes.
When there was no justice for Trayvon, I blamed the Florida justice system. I told myself the outcome would have been different in a different region of the country, but that was a lie I told myself so I protect my perception of American life.
I have cried myself to sleep countless nights after learning about another Black life lost. Someone once asked me why I cry over strangers and why my posts on social media are often dark. I never met George Floyd, but when I saw that disturbing video, he wasn’t a stranger—he was my son, my nephew, my friend and my brother.
I saw every Black man I loved lying on the ground dying for simply being Black. While watching that video, I experienced a surge of so many complicated emotions flooding my body at once. How could I intelligently express to a therapist what I am feeling? How would I explain to my primary care provider why my blood pressure does not improve?
Emotional stress has been associated with the development and progression of several chronic medical and mental conditions including coronary heart disease, obesity, headaches, clinical depression, anxiety disorders, and dementia. As people of color, racism affects our daily lives, our health outcomes, and our life expectancy. It is most definitely a public health crisis.
I am no longer able to cry and move on until the next hashtag appears in my social media feed. I want justice for my community. As a nation, are we really so collectively naive that we don’t see a connection between the dehumanizing of young Black men and the number of young men lost to suicide and homicide?
Do we really believe that an early campaign to devalue young Black men is not playing a role in the deaths of so many Black youth? How would it be possible that lacking access to good education and work opportunities and even basic needs does not erode away your sense of self-worth?
How many young Black men grow up feeling their early death or incarceration is inevitable? As a nation, we should all be outraged because this public health crisis has been killing Black men, women, and children for decades, yet we have examined each case separately. But no more.
The current uprising is our community’s effort to save our lives, our families, and yes, our community. I long for a single day without experiencing a micro-aggression or having to justify my experience of being a Black woman.
I want elected public officials to stand up for all Americans and denounce the ongoing mistreatment and public executions of Black and Brown people. I want major change in how the media responds to these deaths. I want to be able to sleep without reliving another trauma.
And most importantly, I want my children and granddaughter to be free to live their lives while engaging in the most mundane tasks, to celebrate major events without the fear of becoming the next person immortalized by a hashtag.
We all have dreams about changing the world, but Mr. George Perry Floyd did. Because of George Floyd, people all over the world are rising up and demanding sustainable changes in law enforcement policy, public health, and leadership.
Thank you, Mr. Floyd. You changed the world.
My name is Dr. Dionne Hart. I’m a proud mother, nana, and aunt. I’m a female physician, and above all I am a human being. #SayMyName #GeorgeFloyd #EndRacism #RacismIsAPublicHealthCrisis
Dr. Dionne Hart is a graduate of the Mayo Clinic College of Graduate Medicine. She is board certified in psychiatry and addiction medicine. She practices community and public psychiatry at multiple sites. She’s held multiple leadership positions in national, state, and local medical organizations including serving as the first chair of the American Medical Association’s Minority Affairs Section. She currently serves as the vice president and president of the Minnesota Association of African American Physicians, a future statewide chapter of the National Medical Association.