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Black Men, Black Trauma
By Melvin Hayden
When trauma happens in our homes, the dynamics of black household relations places a strain on the mind. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is developed after being exposed to something that is highly stressful, scary or dangerous. This exposure doesn’t have to happen directly to the person with PTSD.
Black men have an unbelievable weight on their shoulders. It’s not because they are black or to separate the struggle of others we all share. The stress comes in every direction daily. The idea that walking down the street in your neighborhood carries a responsibility that impacts your psyche. It should not be normal to make sure the way you dress to jog doesn’t threaten onlookers or how fast or slow you exercise. Any disruption of how you proceed with life as you know it can be a traumatic experience when the results do not fit your mental picture. You don’t know who to trust.
Trauma transcends race - can you trust someone just because they look like you when that person is bound by that same fear or intrinsic notions that place you on high alert? It is not that the police can be difficult to trust, it is the data that tells them who to trust. We live in a data driven society which dictates policing, so you don’t know if they’ll protect or serve. It depends on the daily report and the agenda of the department.
For instance, you no longer must see traumatic experiences, hear about young men being killed, or see news feeds that only have interest in the details and not the story. Marked by frequent flashbacks, mood changes and avoidance behavior, PTSD is a disease that gets overlooked in our community. The “Be a Man” motto left many men in silence with PTSD and suffering the effects of it. Dr. Holland-Kornegay says, “it can be intrusive symptoms such as thoughts and emotions that intrude into life and causes us [to] re-experience trauma such as flashbacks, nightmares, and sudden feelings of terror. Another way of knowing are attempts to avoid re-experiencing trauma, and constantly feeling threatened.”
“The normal way of life for brothers” is a terrible misconception. Trauma should never be a normal way of life for anyone. There has been a very dark history with black men and its distrust of the medical institution. Although the Tuskegee Experiment has been long forgotten, the historical effect has many black men at home self-diagnosing or coping in ways that are detrimental. However, the past should never dictate the future.
Lack of awareness creates a foundation for trauma
African American men are statistically dying prematurely at the hands of prostate cancer. However, if you ask a black man where the prostate gland is, he may not know. It is a lack of information out there for black male health concerns. All we seem to hear about are things like the Susan G. Komen Walk for Breast Cancer, but not initiatives for the mental health of black men.
The “Do It Yourself” motto creates a cycle of trauma
As black men, we are taught to be stoic and not complain about our problems. We don’t seek help because we’re taught to make it happen in silence, which leads to a lot of harmful coping behaviors. This is an enormously powerful barrier to therapy because black men are so innately designed to not ask for help. In this society, we value the man that does not show any pain. Studies have shown a correlation between life stress and income. For every other race besides the black man, as income increases, life stress decreases. I guess what Biggie Smalls said was right, “Mo Money Mo Problems.”
Crazy creates misinformation about trauma
Make no mistake about it, men do not want to be categorized as crazy. Dr. Bonhomme uses a famous phrase when addressing his patient’s uneasiness about seeking therapy. “You’re not crazy, you’re responding to things that are crazy.” You should be feeling a certain way when you’re surrounded by death, you should be sad after going through a painful divorce and you should be irritable for going through workplace racism daily. Do not be afraid to address the elephant in the room.