When Will Smith slapped Chris Rock in front of the audience at the Academy award ceremony I, like undoubtedly many people of color who saw it, felt a remote and intangible sorrow and trauma born of generations of marginalization in this country.
My body tensed, my teeth gritted and my heart broke a little. These two prominent men carried, and we bore witness to, pain they likely couldn’t even express. Neither could we, the witnesses.
The pain was felt by all who saw and yet none could understand, though opinions flowed like water from the press, the theater community, and pundits across our nation.
The sadness, though, is that no one specifically spoke to the collective trauma and healing strategies that could’ve been beneficial to this divided and traumatized country. That is what we antiracist, nonviolent advocates seek to do. It requires maturity, nuance and a love of country and fellow man that isn’t taught in our current education system.
This is what we call trauma-informed awareness. This is what we need to be truly inclusive and diverse. This is what is a clinical approach to institutional racism as a public health crisis and what CDC refuses to do. This is what CDC is tasked as their control and prevention mandate. This is how their refusal to do so literally defines gas lighting as Camara Jones and other clinical antiracists have asked of them. This is what we as a nation must demand.
It is not enough to castigate Will Smith, who only responded after feeling his wife’s pain and disdain, channeling the degradation of generations of black women, nor to commend Chris Rock for channeling his quasi-privilege of the generations of black entertainers as each of them carries more than their individual experience in that moment. These speak to traditions of maladaptive behaviors conditioned out of necessity in the face of oppression.
It was directly indicative of our nation’s oversimplification of these complex phenomena and criminality and concurrent victimization by a false narrative of entitlement and torture. How might the ethnicity and gender of these men have impacted their behavior and our interpretation of their actions?
The “blacklash” we saw after Obama’s administration that led to Trump’s election was another symptom of this institution unique to America in its brand of racism and the “John Henryism” weighs on Black people from generations of chattel slavery and Jim Crow. It makes for a petri dish breeding unconscious bias, systemic inequity, and hate-driven illness for black and white citizens alike.
It’s not enough to decry the damage; how do we heal? I am Black, I am a woman and mother, and I am a frontline healthcare clinician. I can tell you that this approach can be directly correlated with that of COVID 19, and lessons learned from it.
1 - Politics has no place in healing.
2 - Thought errors can be deadly.
3 - Bringing healing into Community keeps vulnerable patients out of clinical environments.
4 - Resources must be diverted and prioritized to those most vulnerable.
5 - Fear will obstruct progress, so courage is needed even when most difficult.
6 - We must not let economics, politics, class, or gender obscure the multifaceted approach needed.
This is precisely why the approach needed is clinical and data-driven rather than emotionally contaminated by our history. It is why even while our care teams are burned out and overwhelmed, we need their compassion and de-escalation work to intercede and be supported.
How do we accomplish these things? We listen to frontline workers, and most acutely, Black healers and mothers. We go to those for whom these have been missions for the longest. We avoid fallacies of logic, especially gaslighting, straw men, appeal of authority, bandwagon, hasty generalization, black and white (literally), and slippery slope—among others.
We must as a nation begin to mature past these thought errors as they have, like our planet’s evolution, become more costly with each generation. We can learn from these errors and from our very natural environments how to elevate the conversation from pettiness and false narratives to heal us all.
But it will require a clinical approach such as we’ve seen with Covid 19 and it will require humility at a time when we are just coming back together after two years of sequestration.
This will be difficult as emotions are running high and fear threatens us at nearly every turn. So much turmoil contaminates emotions and steals attention.
The question is: Will we deem it necessary for our children, our planet, our culture, and our legacy? Time will tell and the cost is high if we continue to ignore these traumas and the measures requisite to healing them.
Those of us on the front line of this health crisis are offering our expertise, our vulnerability and our investment. Will you meet us? Will you listen? Will you elevate the voices of these frontline workers or will you let this virus continue to spread to our detriment?
We are here. We are engaged, sad witnesses to this folly. Where are the spiritual leaders who should be standing in the shoes of Martin King? We are missing the voices of the ecumenical community in this struggle. We are here calling for unity, strength, faith, and peace in this critical time.
Yes, this is a lot from witnessing one Black man slap another. But all of us carry triggers with deep histories. Can yours and mine meet to move forward in a new light together?