From a white male perspective, things for other people of color may look improved historically, but within the shadows, many of the same demons still lurk and at times reimpose themselves. Yes, slavery has been eradicated, separate but equal denounced, and African Americans elected to almost every position of government, but there still are large issues. The George Floyd case shows it. While there is a new color, “blue”, that has its own brotherhood, those who are black or brown in color face greater threat of profiling and violence during arrest. Not all cases can be validated, but there are enough cases to point towards an inherent problem. In addition, due to socio economic barriers since the time of slavery, African Americans suffer a heritage of disadvantage in where their families came from, lived, and were educated. This imbalance still reveals itself in poverty and crime statistics. It also showed its ugly face in how African Americans received unequal care during the Covid Epidemic.
These types of inequalities and historic pains and scars lead to a unique experience of grief and loss coined as “Black Grief”. Many experts have referred to this as a type of subconscious trauma as well that lingers within the DNA of Black Americans who suffer from this type of treatment by the police, or other agencies. Anxiety, depression, and hyper vigilance are added emotions to Black communities due to national issues with police brutality and other types of unequal treatments. There are simply more social stressors associated with one’s color of skin.
This in no way frees individuals from personal responsibility. In no way is this a free pass for African American to commit a crime against a White American. Black culture calls for responsibility of oneself, but the lingering affects of over a century of racism, poverty and displacement, plays a key role in current situations of many impoverish African Americans who did not receive a fair handshake with the American dream. In many ways without progressing too far down a “woke” agenda, there is a privilege being a White American every time an officer pulls someone over or when someone acts erratic in public or when someone applies for a position. This does not mean the individual has not earned or worked hard and deserves credit for achievement, but it does point towards a system that put Black ancestors at a totally unfair and immoral disadvantage. It is true certain European immigrants faced hate and ridicule but none experienced the immorality of slavery itself.
While on the outside the Civil Rights Movement has made great strides and racism is considered heinous and a political and financial death sentence, there exists within the modern African American communities a disadvantage and a trauma that causes Black grief. It manifests in poverty, lack of opportunity for many, and police treatment. While many African Americans boast of succeeding, their unique stories should not dismiss the many that are trapped in a system that has left them without an equal hand since they were born.
The same can be true for other peoples of color or different descents that do not blend into the Caucasian colors. Spanish descent individuals face a blatant racism equating them to cartels and illegal immigration. While the Lady Liberty supposedly calls all to her shores, these individuals are rejected at the border. Let us not also forget the great grievances and murders against the Native Americans whose land was stolen. These individuals were relocated time again and again and some faced genocide at the hands of the American army in the 19th Century. The loss of self and land closely is tied to Native Americans is a lingering subconscious and collective trauma. Finally, let us not forget the unfair treatment of Asian Americans and Japanese Americans during World War 2 and the camps they were illegally assigned to. within the United States and currently the anti-Chinese hate due to Covid-19.
There is a dangerous balance in play in American history as America attempts to understand itself. On one side is a proud movement that recognizes the Founding Fathers and the beauty of the Declaration of Independence and its profound affect on the entire world. It sees America as the City on the Hill and as a birth place for democracy. Yet in love of country, sometimes one loses sight of patriotism and fosters nationalism. Patriotism loves one’s country and defends it but does not dismiss other cultures and expressions. Nationalism on the other hand proclaims one’s nation and nationality as superior as others and looks to maintain purity of it. It is racist and warlike. It is a distortion of patriotism. It fails to reprimand one’s own nation for past ills and proposes a select history that only sees on view and one side. Nationalism is what led to the World Wars.
American exceptionalism is a myth. The United States, while a great nation, is not a perfect state, nor has ever been. Not only did the United States support slavery and utilize it as a key part of its economic survival, the White Anglo Saxon Protestant (WASP) had infiltrated itself into the core of the nation at its conception. This can be seen in the its puritan roots where it was viewed as the City on the Hill and its nationalistic Manifest Destiny expansion West. Horribly also, was the Know Nothing Movement/Nativist Movement and political party that worked against all forms of immigration. Irish and Catholics and Jews were all discriminated against in the Early and Mid-Nineteenth Century and bias continued into the 20th Century. Well after the Civil War, these White Nationalist Movements based on WASP principles demeaned not only Blacks but also any immigrants. It is terrifying to see such ideals manifest itself today under such nationalist slogans under MAGA. The insurrection at the Capitol only shows the movement of WASP like cells looking to revive nationalism and nativism over patriotism.
Does this mean as Americans we turn against our past heroes? The “Woke” movement looks to erase the past, as much as the Nationalists look rewrite it, but there is balance. Some monuments should be removed, but not all. Some bases may need renamed, but not all, but for the most part, past American heroes should still be revered but also ridiculed for their faults. They can be revered for their service of country but also criticized for moral decisions. As the future proceeds, new monuments can be created for those who were left in the past or treated unfairly to show the progress of American enlightenment against past wrongs and commitment to betterment. Those who were immorally enslaved, or murdered or relocated from homes, deserve recognition of their past trauma. This does not undo the evil but it does help current generations find some collective justice and recognition of their grief.
Two forces are looking to tear the country in two. Extreme rightists who favor a nationalist agenda and extreme leftists who looks to eradicate the past, but in the balance is found in true patriotism that loves the nation but recognizes its wrongs. Tearing down the past is not the answer to collective trauma but rebuilding the future with recognition to that grief.
African Americans, Native Americans and immigrants have all faced unequal treatment in the past. While it has improved, the collective trauma manifests in these cultures through anxiety, depression hypervigilance. This is only re-awakened when incidents such as George Floyd erupt. African Americans, especially, face an equal uphill battle and face anxieties that White Americans do not face during simple traffic stop.
While America is not the City of the Hill that many nationalists envision, she is still a great nation trying its best. Most Americans are good people and are patriotic enough love her but also see her wrongs. It is especially to critical to the future to acknowledge the wrongs of the collective trauma experienced by Americans of ethnic minority.
If interested in the concept of grief and especially collective grief of minorities, please review AIHCP’s Grief Counseling Certification. Please also review AIHCP’s new Grief Diversity Program which is open to qualified and certified Grief Counselors. The program is online and independent study and addressed the particular issues facing minorities and their collective grief.
“The Imposition of Black Grief”. Nneka Okona. February 27th, 2023. Yes: Solutions Journalism. Access here
“A hidden pandemic: Grief in the African American community”. Mishel Reja. February 2nd, 2021. ABC News. Access here
“America’s Most Oppressed Minority “. Candy Raye. February 22nd, 2020. Odyssey Online. Access here
“Cultural perspectives of death, grief, and bereavement”.