August 6, 2020

Remaining Trauma Informed: Collective Trauma Part 1

update

Written by Phil Bradfield

The second quarter of this year has been filled with difficulty, unrest, and a deeper need than we have previously experienced for Jesus to heal our land.  Quite literally, 2020 will be hindsight, and my prayer is that in the coming days, weeks, and months, that we experience deep spiritual transformation as a nation… especially in our nation’s Christian church culture, who need to be leading the way.  That certainly includes WSH and the work that we do!

This month’s piece on trauma will be focused on the collective trauma experienced by the Black community, what we can do in response, and how that overlaps with foster care and group care in the work of WSH.

Collective trauma is a traumatic psychological effect shared by a group of people that can be any size, including an entire society.  Intergenerational trauma is another term, which means that trauma can be passed between generations.

What is the collective trauma that the Black community has experienced?  The answer to this is complex, layered, and difficult to summarize for a monthly newsletter.  I think we have to start by admitting that history is not as far back as we might try to throw it, and so collective trauma includes intergenerational trauma.  As a people, Blacks have endured slavery, followed by emancipation that may have lifted the thumb of slavery, but did nothing to lift the hand of racist oppression.  Following emancipation there was a wave of arresting, jailing, and imprisoning many of the Black community, particularly males, for extremely minor infractions.  It was not long after that, that Jim Crow laws were introduced and created a reign of tyranny, spearheaded by groups like the KKK.  Segregation and denial to basic human rights were imposed on them to oppress them.  All of which is incredibly traumatizing.

Thank God for people like Rosa Parks, and the movement led by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.  The Civil Rights movement was the next wave for Black Americans to overcome.  Although basic rights were finally given, Dr. King’s dream for all people including Black American to be only judged by the content of their character has not yet been realized.  The 1970’s and 80’s began the war on drugs, and shortly thereafter came mandatory incarceration laws.  These laws created far more problems than any solutions they ever could have gained. The United States makes up five percent of the world’s entire human population, yet houses 25% of the world’s entire prison population, most of whom are Black males.  That means that a quarter of the people in prisons throughout the entire world are right here in our backyards.  This is where the rubber meets the road today, and how we got to where we are with police relationships being so negative for the Black community. The mandatory incarceration laws fed into the current traumas we see with police brutality, with no one policing those sworn to protect and serve.  The intersection of all this trauma and the maintenance of systemic racism, often very subtle, is called unconscious bias.  The unconscious bias will be the focus for next month’s article.

Black culture today feels the need to teach their children from a young age how to engage with police.  To the point that I have sat and heard many of them state that they have to teach their boys not to show anger in public, especially with police nearby.  Can you imagine the pressure?  There is a traumatizing culture of fear that they feel forced into.  Each time their young boys and girls are leaving the house, it is as though they are going out into shark infested waters.

I was not truly confronted with modern day racism, privilege, and all of these tensions until about 13 years ago.  I remember taking a multicultural diversity class during my Master’s program, and was confronted with it.  I felt confused, upset, and found it hard to accept if I am being honest.  I did the one thing that has never steered me wrong, and I prayed about it, asking God for His heart on the matter.  Well wouldn’t you know, we have a God who speaks.  That very night after I fell asleep, I had a very vivid dream that I will never forget.  In the context of the dream, I saw two Black children swimming in the ocean, having so much fun, who were so completely innocent.  Suddenly in the dream there was incredible, almost tangible danger, and I knew that there was a great white shark swimming around near them.  I woke up terrified for the children, but also knew instantly that I did not need a Joseph or a Daniel to be able to interpret what God was saying.  The danger for them is real, and the trauma is current, but what makes it multilayered is the historical trauma narrative that the Black community or Black Americans have playing repeatedly in their minds.  All of that history is dark American history, and the enemy wants to continue using it to steal, kill, and destroy.  Therefore, the trauma continues to this day.

What can we do in response?  At this point I think we have to be willing to listen.  We have to learn to be slow to speak and quick to listen (James 1:19).  Even if you have not seen the reality of Black people’s perspective of how we got to where we are today, we need to allow ourselves into their stories, and to hear their overall narrative as a people who have endured intergenerational trauma.  We must show ourselves as listeners willing to understand.  It is high time to put relationships above our need to be right.  It means listening and only responding in empathy.

I think the other immediate response has to be confrontation.  We have to be willing to confront biases, prejudices, and even racist thoughts or beliefs in ourselves.  We do not have to be an outspoken racist in order to have some responsibility to turn to God in repentance.  We all have biases and prejudices, and the only way I know to deal with it is Psalm 139:23, 24, “Search me God, and know my heart; test me and know my thoughts; and see if there is any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.”  I would submit to each of you, that if we ask the Holy Spirit to speak to us about these things, He will pinpoint what is needed.  I have been surprised by what He has unearthed in me 13 years ago and in recent days, and would be happy to talk about that in person, virtually, or by phone.

How does all of this overlap with foster care and the work of WSH?  Simply put, the children in foster care and group home living are disproportionately ethnic minorities, and WSH staff and parents are mostly white.  That is not bad in and of itself, but we do need to be aware, and keep this conversation at the forefront.  I sincerely hope our ministry continues to grow in diversity, and thus it can no longer be Black people that hold up the burden of this issue alone, along with the oppression.  We all need to do our part to lift that burden so that we can be part of the solution, and represent ourselves as willing to partake of the pain in the body of Christ.  We rejoice together, suffer together, and grieve together.  “And if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; and if one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it” (1 Cor. 12:26).  I do not think there has ever been a greater opportunity for intentionality in our nation’s history than this hour.  We must be willing to build trust and unity, and unwilling to compromise anywhere that threatens it.

I leave you with this thought: If we want to see lasting change, it has to come from spiritual transformation through Christ.  I believe this can be achieved and bring us all into a refreshing season of unity in Christ, but it will not be possible if we do not begin with repentance, and receive grace from the Lord.

“Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord.” – Acts 3:19

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