Walking on Both Sides of Racial Trauma
Updated: Jan 20, 2021
Exhausted. Angry. Powerless. Sad. Scared. These are some of the feelings I have been feeling in the past month. The commonality and normalization of people of color being killed left me with a heavy bleeding heart. The murders and modern day lynchings of the black bodies forced me to walk through this trauma with a perspective emanating from my identity. See, I am Senegalese Canadian. My mother came from a small Bassari village in Senegal and my father from Sainte-Julie, close to Montreal, Canada. I was lucky that my parents did a terrific job at raising me with equal respect for both sides of my cultural identity, which in turn helped me embrace both my blackness and my whiteness. Having a multi-racial cultural heritage comes with its share of wonders and its shares of downfalls. One of them is to address and react to racist events, confronting both sides of an identity I have learned to cherish, nurture and love.
When events such as Ahmaud Arbery’s hunt-and-kill, Breonna Taylor’s murder, George Floyd’s lynching and Regis Korchinski-Paquet’s death occur, I struggle to comprehend why it is still happening and why it is so hard for white people to acknowledge that they are part of a racist system, built on the premises of whiteness and the sweat and blood of black bodies. For people of bi-racial heritage, more specifically black and white like myself, it generates a multidimensional cascade of reactions that helps conflicting feelings to be dealt with. First, it can trigger an internal dialogue with my blackness and my whiteness, on how to navigate racial issues and ultimately how to address them.
Second, being biracial or multiracial grants privileges that black people do not have, simply because of the lighter skin tone, more Eurocentric features or “good hair”. Third, being mixed does not exclude you from the realm of racism: you can be mixed and racist. You can have a preference towards one side to the detriment of the other, depending on your cultural intelligence and conditioning. This preference may be due to mixed people’s whitepassing or their code switching, which in turn benefits them in their daily life. It is important to remember that whether it is voluntary or not, mixed people can actively contribute and benefit from white supremacy and its systems. On the other hand, even if mixed people were raised to favor their blackness, it can be incredibly hard to find a voice to speak about racism and prevent an imposter syndrome to take root, questioning if it is their place to take up space to talk about racism on black people or if they are deemed “black enough”.
Fourth, the ability to navigate both sides of one’s identity allows mixed people to understand blackness and whiteness, yet without entirely fitting in. As a matter of fact, whiteness affects mixed people the same way their privilege benefits them. But, even if you were raised primarily in a black or white environment, you can never claim to fully understand the extent of the racism black people have to face. The intergenerational trauma caused by decades of brutal discrimination is also passed down to biracial individuals and I feel it in my bones when I try to make sense of the world we live in, where a part of my identity is openly killing the other part. Does it make me complicit of such act? How can mixed people address these traumatic events without losing themselves in the process? Society wants me to choose a side of my equation, when in fact I am both.
The way mixed people live these traumas comes in different shapes and forms, including how we respond, our feeling of safety and our feeling of grief. The response to racial trauma will be directly linked to the exposure mixed people had with black culture and how much they identify to their blackness. The wound created by racial trauma needs to be felt deeply to be tended to and acted upon. This wound is a call to action and it takes advantage of the unique position of mixed people to draw power from our black rage and anger but also from privilege from our whiteness to become the co-conspirator our black brothers and sisters desperately need.
I am exhausted and desperate but I also know that I am safer to some extent, than my black counterparts. This safety is cherished deeply and the depth of it is directly correlated to the tone of my skin — the darker you are, the less safe you may feel — in the same way my privilege is directly linked to how light my skin tone is. This innate privilege needs to come through to create actionable change and increase the survival rate of people of color. Use it to be heard, to help dismantle racism and to redirect the narrative of the race conversation where it should be, towards acknowledgement of the world we live in as is, and not via the white frame lens it was built upon.
I am also grieving. Grieving the peace of mind that comes with knowing my partner, my brother or my nephew will come back to me alive. Grieving the blissful innocence of children being children without having the “talk”. Grieving the loss of a future for my children where they won’t be gunned down for having darker skin and where they will always be forced to be in control of their emotions to not be perceived as “dangerous”. A future where they can simply live and not survive.
It can be hard to reconcile our cultural identity, especially when one or two parts are at constant war with each other. But I owe it to my blackness to give it my all and to use all my privileges for the fight against racism, hoping one day both my blackness and whiteness can live in balance and harmony.
To the person with a black partner, I see you. To the parents of mixed children, I see you. To the black mothers and fathers with black children, I see you. To the mothers and fathers with dark-skinned children, I see you. To the black men and women who grew up in a predominantly white context, I see you. To the people who love a black man or woman, I see you. To the black, biracial, multiracial or mixed men and women, I see you.