To be born into a place where you will experience trauma

From “US: The Resurrection of American Terror” by Rev. Kenneth W. Wheeler

Jim Crow meant that your movements as a Black person were restricted. You were not free to travel in any white community after dusk. It also meant that you had to observe certain social norms that had become institutionalized. You had to step off the sidewalk if a white person was approaching you on that same sidewalk and allow that white person to pass before you continued on your way.

Jin Crow meant that you could not look a white person directly in the eyes if they were speaking to you. Older Blacks would even look down to the ground so as not to offend that white person. It meant that a white person could always call a Black person by their first name or call them “Boy” or “Uncle” if they were male and “Girl” or “Auntie” if female. But you always had to address that white person as “Mr.” or “Miss” Fourteen-year-old Emmett Till was brutally murdered by two white men because he allegedly whistled at a white woman.

I grew up knowing as young as five, six, and seven years of age that the world in which I lived was not safe for someone whose skin was black. We lived under the rubric of “separate but equal.” The separate was true but the equal was a lie. Even our houses of worship were separate. When we died we were buried in separate burial grounds. To be born in America as a Black person was to be born into a place that was hostile to your Black body. Racial segregation was about doing daily violence to your spirit and daily violence to your soul. Every day your humanity was being called into question by a system that saw you as less than human.

This is why Jim Crow was immoral as well as amoral; it was designed to attack Black humanity not just physically but psychologically. It was meant to maintain white privilege and protect the virtue of white women at all costs, even if it meant murdering innocent Black men.

Today I am clear that to be born in America as a Black person is to be born into a place where you will experience trauma that is the result of the daily assault of racism – a racism that is fueled by white supremacy. When I was a child I didn’t know what trauma was. I didn’t have a word for the anger or the pain that I felt. I had no idea that the anger that was growing on the inside of me had to do with the pain inflicted at will by white supremacist behavior and by a white supremacist culture.