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Commemorating 6.19 & Coping with Racial Trauma

By Amanda Lamorte, LCSW

*Content adapted from "The Historical Legacy of Juneteenth" article published by the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C.

"Today on Juneteenth, the day we celebrate the end of slavery, the day we memorialize those who offered us hope for the future, and the day when we renew our commitment to the struggle for freedom." Angela Davis spoke these eloquent words as a tribute to this historic day. It's important to recognize, however, that Juneteenth isn't actually the first commemorative event of its kind for Black Americans. For nearly 60 years prior to June 19, 1865, there were many other "Freedom Day" celebrations marking important milestones throughout Black History. Some dating back to the early 1800's. Here’s a snapshot:

  • January 1, 1804: Haiti becomes the first Black republic in the Americas

  • January 1, 1808: The end of the transatlantic slave trade, even though many white Americans continued to engage in illegal, international slave trade after 1808.

  • July 4, 1827: The abolition of slavery in New York. This however, was celebrated by many Black Americans on July 5th, so that it could have its own day to celebrate independence.

  • 1834: The end of slavery in the British West Indies. This became one of the most widely celebrated "Freedom Day" celebrations in the 19th century.

But who knew? Many Americans don't realize the depth of the history—-of the struggle to make freedom for blacks a "real thing.” Freedom does not carry the same meaning for black as it does white people. We’re talking about the freedom to be able to exert oneself as full-fledged American citizens without societal backlash, judgement, or conflict.

Sadly, both past and present societal norms have shown us that Black Americans—although “free” from bondage, still aren’t always afforded the very basic rights as their white counterparts. We’re talking about equitable opportunities in education, desegregating our schools, economic prosperity, and improving accessibility to vote…heck…even being able to go for a jog, drive, or sleep in your own bed at night without fear of being killed. Instead we continue to see a rise in mass incarceration, persistent “redlining” practices, significant disparities with health conditions (highlighted through the COVID-19 pandemic), access to adequate healthcare, and an increase in traumatic experiences Black folks face on the whole.

It has been a long, tireless, battle. But we won't give up the fight. Now recognized as a federal holiday—Juneteenth National Independence Day—it is that much more important to honor this special day in history as it provides a unique opportunity to tell and retell the story of black people's ongoing struggles with slavery and yearning for true emancipation.

There is a keen awareness in the minds and hearts of many Black Americans that slavery remains alive and well in the world in which we live. And the recent events involving police brutality and racial injustice have only brought this notion closer to the surface.

Stress, fear, and anxiety are extremely heightened among those in our Black communities. With frequent exposure to triggers, including direct acts of racism, (hate crimes, discrimination at work—pay inequities, lack of diversity, systemic oppression) as well as indirect acts of racism known as micro-aggressions (comments or questions that perpetuate racial stereotypes), the effects weigh heavily on the hearts and minds of Black individuals in our country, as they have for generations.

As a result, and all too often, Black Americans find themselves at the center of racial trauma. Racial trauma is defined as “the cumulative effect of racism on one’s mental and physical health.”

How does one cope with this type of trauma? We know that its effects closely mirror those of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), and thus, can be treated similarly.

If you or your child might be experiencing the effects of racial trauma, OR if you are a friend, loved one, caregiver, or ally to someone in the black community, and could use some support for coping with the associated stressors, please check out some ideas here:

  • Ensuring your basic needs are being met. For example, making sure you are getting enough sleep, eating well, and exercising at least 20 minutes per day.

  • In moments of anxiety, utilizing tools such as journaling, meditation, or just going outside can go a long way.

  • Utilizing grounding techniques to bring mindfulness to your body

  • Engaging in visualization practices (i.e. Think about your favorite place and use all five senses to imagine yourself in that space).

  • When feeling hopeless or powerless, you may find that activism in and of itself is a great coping tool as well. Engaging in ways to support the greater cause such as attending peaceful protests, posting about racial injustice on social media, and helping to grow the Black Lives Matter movement serve as a powerful release for many people.

  • Educating and empowering your mind to antiracist work. *Please feel free to utilize this amazing list of Antiracist resources compiled by my colleagues at Buffalo Grove High School.

As Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “the time is always right to do what’s right.”

Here at Graceful Therapy, we are purposeful and intentional on our journey with antiracist work and support for our clients of color. If you feel you could benefit from some graceful healing—particularly from some of these past and present racial traumas, please contact us. We are here for you. Finally, to close with one last quote from former President Barack Obama: “Juneteenth has never been a celebration of victory or an acceptance of the way things are. It's a celebration of progress. It's an affirmation that despite the most painful parts of our history, change is possible--and there's still so much work to do." We can work through the journey together. After all, “My humanity is bound up in yours—for we can only be human together.”

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