Ignorance is Bliss & Trauma Never Ends
By Elizabeth Wright
Often, when something that’s not ideal happens to you, you try to make sense of it. Whether it’s be being passed up for a promotion, a cashier is rude to you at your grocery store, a friend says something that makes you furrow your brow, you usually try to reason why it happened. “I got passed for that promotion because the other person has more experience than me”, “that cashier was rude because I had a huge load of groceries and he was due for his break”, “my
friend was having a bad day--they didn’t mean it.” This is the process we all go through, we try to reason why this thing happened.
As a person of color, I’ve struggled with this my entire life. I, like everyone else, come up with all the reasons something happened to me. Most of the time, I can figure it out. Sometimes, when I have nothing else to go on, I wonder if it has anything to do with race. “Is it because I’m brown?” is a thought that’s never very far on my list of reasons. I’d like to point out how hard it is for me to admit this, as well. Often, when I have said to white people, “Well, I just wondered if it was because I’m brown.” They’d quickly shut that idea down and I’ve even had people say, “I think that’s just you thinking that--it has nothing to do with that, that’s something you just have to work on.” Then there are my white friends who say, “Probably! That’s what I was thinking!” or “Gosh, that’s awful...I’m sorry” (shout out to you guys--you make a girl feel validated).
It’s not like I want to go “there” in my thoughts, but when I’m left with nothing but what the world has taught me about how people who look like me are treated, that’s exactly where I go. I’ve been trying to come up with an analogy to help people who haven’t experienced this understand what I mean. The closest I can come up with is if you’ve ever been in a relationship and you can’t explain your partner's actions. They’re acting distant, things aren’t the same, and where do we all go in our brains? “I wonder if they’re cheating.” You don’t want to accuse them, or even wonder if they’re cheating, but you automatically go there because you have nothing else to explain their behaviors. Who wants to think their partner is cheating? My guess, no one.
In the same way, I don’t want to think that someone is treating me poorly because of my skin color--especially when I don’t know them. “Then why do you think it?!” you might be saying--it seriously cannot be helped.
So then, there’s a catch-22. It’s completely uncomfortable to say out loud, “I wonder if it’s because I’m brown…?” or “Did you say that because I’m brown?” In the past, this hasn’t worked out too well. People feel accused or have dismissed my thought. So what happens next? I’m stuck with all the thoughts, feelings, and baggage...to sum it up, it’s trauma. Here I am wondering if they made an assumption on who I am, my race, my education level, my family life, my values, my skills, my work ethic, the validity of my citizenship, based on my skin color...meanwhile the conversation or incident is nowhere on their radar. It is white fragility and white privilege that allow this reaction, in turn causing more harm and for the person who causes the harm, they don't take any responsibility for actions, words, or negative impact; again, leaving the person of color with the trauma. If white people could push their fragility aside, and validate the person rather than dictate what they think is happening or what they want to be happening, we could understand one another better and learn from each other.
The quote in this photo is exactly the feeling I'm trying to explain. I finally realized with some relationships in my life, I'm the only one still thinking about the microaggression or the racist thing my friend or family member said. Things are no longer the same with those relationships and it'll be hard for them to ever be the same when the racist incident has never been acknowledged.
I couldn't stop thinking about it if I tried (and believe me, I have tried). The reason I don't call out every microaggression and racist statement, is because they often come from family and friends. If I knew my friend or family member would consider my thought rather than dismiss it, I'd point it out every time. The fact is, I have about 4 white friends whom I can do that with. If you're reading this, please know that a great starting point is to validate and acknowledge. If that happened more often, I can almost guarantee that people of color would deal with less trauma. Instead, the feeling is that I am left with all the anxiety and wonderings while they’re moving right along, seemingly never knowing how the conversation affected me and continues to affect me every day.
Have you ever experienced this? What has been the response from others? How do you deal with it? I’d love to hear from you all.