It was the last bright day of sunshine I can remember before the winter hit. I was at my friend’s home, celebrating her son’s 5th birthday. The party brought all the feelings that children bring, the sweetness of cake, pregnant laughter, and of course adults encircling care around the dining table. While my friend’s son sat at the table, preparing for cake, he had somehow—I forget exactly how—hurt his finger. He did not cry, but called out to his father.
“You’re okay,” said his father in response. “Pain is temporary.”
“Not always,” his son replied.
I laughed at the depth of the response, and his father had no choice but to laugh as well.
I retell this story because the father’s remarks represent a struggle that I believe we as Black people have to continually engage. Namely, how we cope with the everyday traumas and pain of being Black–the emotional and spiritual traumas that come from being disproportionately poor, undereducated, and mistreated while living in a white supremacist country. While of course I recognize the resilience of the Black community—I also understand that everyday we must contend with mundane traumas that can ensnare us as a result of living in a country of injustice. For instance, I think of myself, a Black gay male, who comes from a low-income background, raised by a single parent, and from a family that has its own share of mental illness, abuse, and suffering. And I often ask myself: What are the ways in which this history continues to impact my choices? What inward struggles do I face that I have yet to overcome? Where is the room for my healing? For the healing of all Black people?
As Black people, we have not had the room to fully cope with our emotional and spiritual issues because we are too busy surviving. Accordingly, my friend’s partner was trying to teach his son one of the key principles of being Black—that pain and trauma are indigenous to our history as African-Americans. We have become accustomed to tolerating our pain.When faced with repeated injustices hurled upon us, we are quick to mutter, “that’s just the way it is.” Or, when faced with glass ceilings and institutional barriers, we tell our children, “that you must always be 120 percent better.” Instead of bull dozing through the pain, how can we teach ourselves, our families, and our friends to make room for their pain while not being swallowed by it?
In many ways, I am trying to learn how to embrace and engage my pain, rather than run from it. In my life, I continually find ways to affirm myself, speak positivity over my own life, and remember to love myself no matter what. This is what healing looks like for me. For others, it will be forgiving the pain folks have caused them. Forgiving themselves, strengthening relationships, or severing them. Regardless of the routes, what we need to remember is that pain is not a temporary thing. It lingers. For the Black community to thrive, I believe we in part, must not only talk about economic justice, but be truly radical by talking about collective healing. Yes, self-care is a hard discussion when one struggles to make ends meet, but whatever room we have to nourish our hearts and minds, we must take full hold of it.
How are you promoting healing in your own life?