After traveling to Senegal, Seinabo Sey, a mixed-raced woman with paternal roots in the Gambia, penned the song “Breathe.” A song that in many ways captures our Diasporic Soul experience. In the song, Sey explains that in Sweden, where she lives, they are scared of her, so scared that she became scared of herself.
Yet, in contrast, Senegal affirmed Sey, giving her space to move forward, never backwards. Space to experience joy. Space to breathe when life gets rough and the going gets tough. Space to imagine her own future in her own terms. In Senegal, she does not have to explain that she is magical or valuable, or beautiful for that matter. In contrast, Sey laments that back in Europe they tear her soul apart. While in Senegal, she has the sense that the nothing that she is perceived to be in the face of anti-black racism can actually be loved into something.
Sey’s experience as a Black woman in Europe is one we can most certainly relate to. Like Sey, we have had their souls torn apart by epistemic violence, white supremacy and anti-black racism. We have, put another way, experienced what Dr. Gail Parker refers to as racial-based stress trauma injury and what Resmaa Menakem refers to as racialized trauma. Scholars like Malidoma Patrice Some, bell hooks and Gay Wilentz characterize these experiences as cultural and spiritual dis-ease.
Each one of us as Black women have first-hand experience with the ways that anti-black racism, epistemic violence and the constant threat of perceived intellectual inferiority produce anxiety, trauma, and general unpleasantness for them. Each of us have expended psychological and emotional energy to manage stress in academic and social contexts, as well as systemic and everyday racism, which can be overwhelming and taxing. Further, we have not had the luxury to ignore the significant injustices of societal racism and the toll it takes, even when they appear to be the tough and excel academically.
This racial trauma, like other forms of trauma, creates an imbalance in the body and in the spirit. In the body, trauma triggers a fight, flight, freeze response in the limbic system that produces stress chemicals such as cortisol and adrenaline. Trauma gets stuck in the body. Historical trauma, inter-generational trauma, institutional trauma, personal trauma vicarious or secondary trauma often interact.
As traumas compost and new ones occur, our minds, bodies and spirits experience greater and ever-increasing damage. Deep, persistent traumas live in many Black bodies. These compounded traumas contribute to a long list of common stress disorders in Black bodies such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), learning disabilities, depression, anxiety, diabetes, high blood pressure and other ailments.
Spiritually, trauma affects us at our root chakra, the energy center in our bodies associated with our sense of safety, security and belonging. Thus, racial trauma short circuits our sense of safety, security and belonging, which are fundamental human needs that must be met in order for us to fully develop, evolve and flourish.
Put another way, trauma tears us apart and leaves us with deep wounds to heal. These wounds can manifest even if an institution is well-intended and committed to creating a space of belonging.
Yet, like Sey, we can all experience some level of restoration and healing in Senegal.