The Trauma of Racism

The Trauma of Racism

My Black British Experience Matters too, by Juliana Olayinka

I can’t recall ever experiencing a bout of post-traumatic stress disorder until very recently.

After a week of seeing the outrage trend on social media I decided to watch the video footage showing the brutal murder of Ahmaud Arbery. 

Unfortunately, the sad tale of Arbery’s untimely death is a familiar one. He was a young black male killed while out jogging in his neighbourhood in Georgia, after being hunted down by father and son Gregory and Travis McMichael. The incident took place on February 23rd. 3 months later the pair were arrested and charged with felony murder and aggravated assault. An indictment that may not have occurred if not for the relentless outpouring of disbelief and horror expressed by the black community and beyond.

For at least 30 minutes after watching the video, I sat frozen at my desk. I could not erase the image of Arbery attempting to fight off the killers out of my mind. What would he have been feeling and thinking at that precise moment? What were his killers thinking? Why did they do this? How can any human being loathe another so deeply purely because of the colour of their skin? I was traumatised. 

It’s because of this experience that I have refused to watch the full clip of George Floyd’s murder. I’ve seen the haunting image – it’s unavoidable - but I’m afraid of what that footage will deposit within me. I’m even more afraid of what these depictions of black men and women being slaughtered will do to the younger generations who are consuming this heightened narrative with no pause button.

At times I’ve felt drained and helpless over the past couple of weeks and the global lockdown hasn’t helped to calm the anxiety. Black men and women are nearly twice as likely to die with coronavirus as white people in England and Wales, according to the Office for National Statistics. 

As a Black British born woman of Nigerian descent, I’ve often wondered if my opinion matters to the Black Lives Matter Movement whose origins are very much entrenched in the injustice felt by African Americans in the States? 

Throughout most of the 15 years that I’ve worked in media – calling out racism has been morphed into having a chip on your shoulder as an ‘angry black woman’. How can I compare losing out on promotions (time and time again) to my less qualified white peers to the brutal murder of an unarmed black man in police custody? These past couple of weeks have taught me that I don’t have to compare the outcome as the intent is all part of the same problem. 

Do I believe insidious and institutionalised racism exists in Britain? Absolutely I do. The inequalities felt by ethnic minorities in the UK may not manifest itself as overtly as what is being witnessed in America, but the disease of oppression still exists. It exists across the world.

The Historian and Broadcaster David Olusoga summarised this sentiment perfectly in a recent article published in The Observer;

“When black Britons draw parallels between their experiences and those of African Americans, they are not suggesting that those experiences are identical. Few people would deny that in many respects’ life is better for non-white people in the UK than in the US. The problem is that it is not as “better” as some like to believe. Black men are stopped and searched at nine times the rate of white men. Black people make up 3% of the population of England and Wales but account for 12% of the prison population and not since 1971 have British police officers been prosecuted for the killing of a black man, and even then they were charged with the lesser crime of manslaughter and that charge was later dropped.”

Just a few weeks ago my social media feed was flooded with images of lynching, today it’s flooded with images of unity. Of tens of thousands of people from across the world marching together in solidarity for change. The anxiety I used to feel anytime a Black Lives Matter incident trended on social media, has been replaced with hope. The hope that this period may be a defining moment in our quest for equality. 

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