I’d like to invite you on a journey, my friends. It’s not a journey to any exotic land, unfortunately - at least not for a while yet - instead, it’s a journey across space and time to…last week’s post.
It was a post I was excited to write. I am always excited to combine science and story-telling. To combine my everyday healthcare life with my creative writing life. And it didn’t hurt that this particular science was so provocative.
But despite my excitement, after I posted early Sunday afternoon as I usually do, I went on about my day. Eventually, I went back to reading - well, listening to - How to Be an Antiracist (by Ibram X. Kendi) and digging its compelling mix of life story and broad history.
Somewhere into what I was hearing, however, I began to feel a heaviness in the pit of my stomach. A little something blossoming. An unease thinking back to the words I’d just written.
My first instinct was to ignore it.
But I decided I couldn’t let it go. Letting it go would be the easy thing and exactly what I’ve been doing for far too long. Exactly what I am trying not to do.
So, I asked someone I trust to read it.
This someone is not only years ahead of me in his antiracism work, he also just happens to be one of the most intelligent people I know and I knew he’d give me his take honestly and dispassionately.
“Yes, I do think there are problematic implications to this article,” read the first line of his response.
Let me just say here that, perhaps oddly, my feeling at reading this was something akin to pride. Sure I’d posted the problematic words, but shortly after that, as I continued with my education, I had already begun to sense my error. I had just needed some help putting my finger on it.
This, I felt, was progress.
It was not my conclusion that was problematic, this person went on to say, but the use of the specific study to support it.
The study essentially says, that the effects of trauma can be passed through generations via the low nurturing behavior of a mother toward her offspring. The study also shows that a more nurturing environment can temper these effects.
These findings, I say, are especially noteworthy given that the effects of trauma from something like chronic oppression can have deleterious long-term health effects. To me, the connection is clear. Remove the trauma and the offspring have a better chance of avoiding its harms.
The problem with my set-up, however, is that it leaves open the likelihood of seeing the mother as the source of the trauma rather than the oppression - that the victim of the trauma is to blame rather than the system - and to further conclude that the offspring might be better off being removed from this traumatized mother’s care.
It made me so uncomfortable that I could be interpreted this way.
Just to clear things up then, I’ll quote directly from my trusted source:
“The whole reason for discussing systemic oppression, or systemic racism, in particular, is that the trauma and stress come from the systems and structures that make up the whole world around us. Yes, people may actually be enacting these traumas upon you, but those traumatizers are following societal rules, laws, and norms. And those rules, laws, and norms are set up to have unequal outcomes. Those rules are ultimately the source of the oppression, and we can only alleviate the oppression by dismantling the systems rather than perpetuating them.”
Wait, who’s the writer here?
Anyway, relating this not only corrects an error, it also illustrates a point, which is that this stuff is really hard.
That even when we’re trying, we’re going to mess it up. That the temptation to hide and maintain the status quo is strong. That the impact that results, however unintended, is real.
It conveys too, I hope, that this can’t be an excuse to stop. That we can keep doing better.
Keep learning, keep working, keep asking for help. And above all of this, even when it's hard, keep speaking up.