‘We eat pain like Skittles’ – MSR town hall explores Black trauma

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“There is no PTSD [Post Traumatic Stress Disorder] for Black folks because there has been no post,” said self-care expert Dr. Joi Lewis in a recent MSR virtual town hall on pain and healing in the Black community. “It’s been trauma after trauma after trauma.” 

Lewis called on viewers to acknowledge that this across-the-board trauma started with slavery and has been going on ever since to create present-day systemic racism and inequities.

News reports and research show what Black communities have long known: COVID-19 and civil unrest have exposed a pandemic within a pandemic. This is glaringly true in Minnesota, where research consistently shows that African Americans face the country’s highest disparity rates in health, economics, education and more.  

The ongoing barrage of viral videos of colloquial “Karens” and police brutality only add fuel to the fires of pain and protest following the police killing of George Floyd in late May. 

Dr. Brandon Jones, a psychotherapist, and Catrice Jackson, a licensed mental health practitioner and professional counselor, joined Lewis on the panel moderated by Stephenetta Harmon, founder of Sadiaa Black Beauty Guide and former MSR editor, to share their insights on Black trauma.

Jones, integrated services manager at NorthPoint Health & Wellness Center, said medical terminology has not yet been created to diagnose the Black experience. “There is no condition for what we are dealing with,” he said. “We came from enslaved Africans to become slaves in this world, and we have been an admixture ever since. We are literally a GMO [genetically modified organism] people.”

Jackson offered up her own language to help viewers better understand the oppression, using “White terrorism” to describe White Supremacy. “There is nothing supreme about what White folks have done and what they are currently doing right now” to Black folks, she said. 

She added that naming trauma can also help communities process pain. “If you can’t put your finger on the pain, you can’t heal it,” said Jackson, calling White fragility, White silence, White entitlement, and White interrogation “weapons of Whiteness.” 

The panelists placed self-care as a central point of healing and empowerment, encouraging viewers to not wait for the right moment to breathe or ground themselves.

“The revolution will be healing,” said Lewis. “Radical self-care is resistance because the system does not want us well.” She added that self-care is a right, not a luxury.

“It is mandatory,” she said. “It’s what you deserve. It is actually one of the most important things that you can do.”

Going beyond the idea of warm baths and candles, Jones said to look at culturally-based healing resources. “Things like hot toddies, yoga, and something as simple as sighing,” he said. “Black people sigh all the time. That is breathing. That is a healthy act for your body to decompress. But we don’t see that—we call it attitude. We have to get back to our cultural genius.”

Viewers were also encouraged to detach from communities that are not intentional about supporting or addressing issues and to come together in healing. Part of that includes showing each other “compassion and grace,” said Jackson. 

She emphasized the need to detox from Whiteness—not in terms of physicality, she said, but the “White thought, White belief, White noise that is infecting and affecting” Black community, health and healing.

“There is no way to minimize that,” continued Jackson. “Whiteness is oppressive, violent, intrusive. It’s pervasive.” She said detoxing could be as simple as keeping a library of Black-authored books or finding Black-created artwork to fill your home.

Jones shared three tips for healing: being honest about where you are in your health; finding and setting balance and boundaries; and making consistent constructive choices to cope with the current environment. 

“[We] eat pain like Skittles,” he said when asked how communities can heal while continually being broken and pretending to be okay. “We just take in pain and we enjoy it. It’s part of who we are, and it’s part of our resiliency and our culture. But it doesn’t do us any good if we are not evolving.”

For those who choose to seek professional help, Jones advised that they “make sure you have somebody who understands culture, who has some healing principles and practices to help you move forward.” Otherwise, he said, even if they are Black, they might not do you any good.

The town hall closed with panelists sharing an action to begin the journey towards healing. 

Allow yourself to “be vulnerable,” said Jackson. “Find at least one person that you can trust to have a conversation about how you are truly feeling.”

Jones added, “One of the biggest things you can do for your own mental health is to value who you are and not allow other people to dictate who and how you are and who you are supposed to be.”

Lewis shared the cathartic effects of crying. She advised viewers to strive for Black excellence, not perfection. “You are amazing, awesome and brilliant. You might just be having a hard time. You don’t have to be all the things right now,” she said. “That’s okay.”