On the day that George Floyd died, after desperately pleading to regain ownership of his breath, many black people stopped breathing right along with him. We stop breathing every time this happens to a black body, but with the world being on "pause" due to the COVID-19 Pandemic, many non-black people suddenly had more time to think and reflect on racism in the U.S. Many White people were outraged, as if for the first time, that a black man could be killed in the middle of the street in a matter of 8 minutes and 46 seconds. Many began feeling overwhelmed with anxiety, fear, confusion, and a deep ego-centered discomfort about their Whiteness and wondering if they had been not only benefitting from racism, but also contributing. In my practice, I had black clients share that they randomly received Venmo's, gifts, or plants from white peers or associates, seemingly as an immediate need to do something to show their black friends that they were listening and supportive. When really, they were gestures to manage their own discomfort. There is not "lunch on me" Venmo or gift that can even begin to honor the absence of black breath.
Black people in the U.S. have been socialized in a way that often results in us losing our breath. Each time we are racially profiled, pulled over by the police, followed in a store, questioned whether our work is our own, have our children singled out in schools, questioned about or birthrights, or minimized by medical professionals, we lose our breath. Trauma is a normal response to experiencing racism and many of us have experienced a countless number of experiences that cause our hearts to jump, our minds and bodies to go into a numbed or shocked state, our breathing to become more shallow, and our thoughts to begin racing. In mainstream media, PTSD is often limited to being associated with military soldiers or after instances of abuse/violence. Racism is one of the oldest forms of violence in the U.S., wreaking havoc on the souls, minds, and bodies of black folks. The pause we feel every time a Black body is wrongfully taken from us is another moment of losing our breath.
The past 30 days have been increasingly stressful for many black people across the country, but we must not forget or let go of our roots. We are often resilient to a fault, have power and creativity beyond our wildest dreams, and are heirs of royalty and greatness. We must remember to center ourselves on our truths and the aspects of our culture that keep us rejuvenated. We must breathe again, to honor the breath of the countless black bodies we have lost to racism and white supremacist ideals. We must remember to slow down, pause, and reframe ownership of the current social unrest and crisis we are experiencing. Dr. Janet Helms told us recently, "this is not our crisis, this is their crisis." We must meditate and refocus our energy to set new boundaries. When we take deep breaths, we want to inhale love and peace, while exhaling stress. We want to inhale discernment and healthy boundaries, while exhaling exhaustion. We want to inhale hope and joy, while exhaling bitterness. We must restore our breath to continue this work and to continue to contribute to the greatness that we are. We must restore our breath to renew our voices and hold our white peers and associates accountable with strategic action items. We must restore our breath to raise up and teach our young black babies to have a fierce, unapologetic presence in this world. Black breath has been the foundation of greatness in the U.S., even during unimaginable living conditions. Now, imagine the power of Black breath without the deadly force of white supremacy constantly on our necks. It is time to breath.