Content warning: this essay contains racist language and instances of racialized trauma that may be triggering for some people.
I haven't watched any of the recent videos of the killings of Black folx. I am afraid. I am afraid of what I might not be able to unsee. I am afraid of vicarious trauma. I am afraid it will feel all too familiar in my life. I haven't watched the videos, yet they have found a way into my dreams.
I am on the frontlines protesting. It is night-time. The sky is red-orange, reflecting hues from the street lights. I am locked arms with the people around me; come what may, I will stand. Shots are fired. People around me are being killed. There is no reason to kill them. I wake up to find another Black man killed by a National Guard rifle in Kentucky. RIP David McAtee.
My mom waved to a little child in a store down the street from the Kentucky home where I grew up. The child asked her, "are you a n****r?"
I am holding this and other stories of embodied racialized trauma. How do I hold these stories and still work effectively as a clinician?
At some point in the past week, it became too much. "It" is the pressure of what it means to be a young Black therapist in this cultural climate. For me it means listening to Black folx talk about their racialized trauma in a clinical setting, then hearing my family and friends share their trauma when I go home. It means hearing about the murder of Breonna Taylor, waiting for justice to come, angry that another black woman's life was senselessly taken. I know I need to process my trauma too, but when? My schedule says there is no time. My body forces me to make time. It grieves in the background like white noise, between therapy sessions, between email threads of well-meaning white people wanting to "join the fight," still asking me to give a little more of myself away.
"Caring for myself is not self-indulgence. It is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare," -Audre Lorde
I am tired. I am tired of pretending. Pretending that it doesn't hurt when it does. Pretending that I can use words to sanitize the pain. To make it more palatable, more pretty. I'm tired of my calculations paying off, the way I've learned to present myself, and how well that is received. How many times must I soften to make white people feel comfortable enough so I can be listened to and not seen as a threat?
This is not just a personal reality. It is a political one. I've spent my life trying to make sense of the two. To be seen and deemed "safe" by Whiteness takes changing the fabric of who I am. It means having to be twice as smart, or twice as good, or twice as careful because I'm Black. It means spending so much time pretending to be someone I'm not, only to peel away the conditioning to return to who I am. The constructs of Whiteness, reinforced by institutions, media, and systems, try to convince me that I am not enough. Because of the color of my skin; because of my wide nose, my coily hair. So I spent many years of my life trying to convince white people that I am enough. I tried to be more polite, changed my hair, dressed up — but not too much to tempt people to lust after me; not too much to tempt people to bring me harm. I've learned this is what it takes to be accepted through the White gaze. It is distortion. Living that distortion is its own kind of suffering.
"If you have come here to help me you are wasting your time, but if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together." -Lilla Watson
The psychedelic field seems to enjoy making diversity feel "sexy," while America marginalizes, exploits, and jails Black people for the exact same things the field profits from. These medicines can help us heal, but who is "us?"
When I envision a world that's truly representative of healing in psychedelics, I see people like my mom. My dad. My brother. Myself. We are people who are deserving of a break. Deserving of experiencing the world beyond the oppressive constructs we've had to live in. I want to put my hands on our hearts and say "We are enough. We've always been. The world has just tried to make us think that we are not." In the words of Resmaa Menakem, I want to say, "We are not defective."
I still can't part from my mother without her worrying if I'll be safe. She asks where I am going, who I am going with, when I may be back. Every time I leave she is afraid that a police officer will take my life. That fear is always around the corner, because as a Black mother in America, she doesn't know what a safe world looks like.
Grandma said, "Black folx used to own a lot." After the Great Depression white people made it almost impossible for my grandfather to buy land in the rural south. They tried to stop him from surveying. They kept him from getting any tools. He went out by himself and measured over 300 acres of land on foot. We still have that land. My parents worked jobs they didn't want because they felt they had to, to give me a better shot at life. That's my legacy. My family has paid for those sacrifices with mental, physical and emotional loads. Their bodies track the sacrifices — through hypertension, diabetes, and cancer. Each day I try to live my life to ensure their suffering is not in vain. The coming generations depend on the continuing legacy.
For me, working in the psychedelic field is not about chasing prestige or publications or wanting to receive some type of validation or credibility. It is about healing. It is about healing in community. Healing in a way that most white people have never experienced before. Healing in a way that is raw. That is unfiltered. That challenges everything you thought you knew about yourself and the world around you.
"White people have quite enough to do in learning how to accept and love themselves and each other. And when they have achieved this, which will not be tomorrow, and may very well never be, the negro problem will no longer exist, for it will no longer be needed." -James Baldwin
To the white folx reading this, what will it take for you to see that your liberation is tied with mine? This is not just about white people doing the work. It is about the implications for you not doing it. The problem is — and has always been — you do not have to. That is one of the biggest differences between our lives. You can choose to ignore the injustices you believe don't directly affect you and retreat to your safe haven of whiteness. That is its own privilege: the privilege of retreat.
It pains me to see the veil that so many of you have over your eyes: it is a veil of fear. Fear of not having enough. Fear of saying or doing the wrong thing. Fear of the discomfort or not knowing how to be with it. I cannot continue to be collateral damage to the unlearning of white fears that connect to my Blackness. My offering to you is to rethink how you view oppression.
Oppression comes from a scarcity mindset. It comes from feeling that everything is uncertain and there is not enough. In that mindset the best thing to do is hoard — to hoard resources, to hoard power. However, if we examine the natural world, we see that nature is always giving. The sun doesn't say "you've got to do this thing for me to shine." It gives. Without hesitation. The grass grows. The bees pollinate. Life is full of abundance. Scarcity is an illusion of the mind. It is a construct we've created. You see, when we give out of scarcity, we give from a place of necessity — we give to get something in return. In order to be free, we've got to deconstruct that frame. That is the fundamental shift: to move from the place of taking to a place of giving. It is the move from fear to love. That is where the freedom lies.
The shadows you won't face reveal a truth about our humanness: we cannot escape our suffering. To deny our suffering is to deny a part of ourselves that makes us human. It is to deny an opportunity to deepen our understanding of Love. That kind of Love that holds us through the resistance, through the tears. That kind of Love that believes a change is gon' come despite what we see with our eyes. It is connection to this Spirit-based love that has allowed Black and indigenous folx to survive despite the colonization, genocide, and constant dehumanization of our existence. Light is always present with a shadow. Like my mother, and my grandmothers, and the generations before me, I carry their suffering with me. I also carry their strength, resilience, and determination to fight for freedom. I am a freedom fighter. I am fighting for the physical, emotional, and spiritual liberation of Black folx. I will face my shadows. The time has come for you to face yours.