Ferguson, Tulsa, trauma and systematic genocide: An open letter to America

Michael Brown and Trayvon Martin

WASHINGTON, August 15, 2014 — Dear America,

Yesterday I cried, yesterday, I cried like I have not cried in a very long time. I cried not only for Mike Brown and Trayvon Martin, but also for Kandy Hall, Islan Nettles, Mia Henderson and any African American whose killers have not yet been brought to justice.

Yesterday, I cried for the victims of genocide in America, people of color, killed simply for existing. My sorrow was so deep I thought the River Niger would over flow with my tears.

Then I realized I had work to do.

Since I was 11, it has been my job to speak about the state of people of color, particular those who identify as black. When I am like this, I go back to places that have always held answers for me: I go back to history.

We are asking why, why does black life seem disposable, why are black men and women being killed by those very same people who took an oath to protect; why are we still finding ourselves asking for the rights the supposed law has said they awarded us ages ago; and why do many people still find it acceptable to peddle the notion of “black on black crime” rather than joining us in our outrage?

And the why is never found in the dialogue from our mainstream media? Because many are unwilling to admit the legacy of colonization and slavery are still taking black lives.

Some people say you cannot live in the past; some people find it acceptable to tell me, a trans woman of color, a member of one of the most marginalized and oppressed people in America, that I make too many excuses for the state of “Black America.” I reply that any psychologist worth their salt knows that when a victim/survivor or victims/survivors are coping with trauma the only way to truly heal is to eventually confront it.

As a survivor of sexual molestation and physical abuse, I knew I could not speak proudly about my trans truth if I did not confronted head on the crimes committed against me both in my personal life and in history. I tried coping with the traumatic experiences of my past with alcohol addiction and at the age of fifteen, nearly died from pancreatitis. It was only through confronting the pain that I was able to escape a destructive patterns I had come to inherit as a way of life.

I share my story to say that when we look at the atrocities done to persons of color and in particularly those who do not meet a colonist standard of “acceptable whiteness” we must begin to see these events and activities as traumas that are imprinted on the American psyche. When we do this, we begin to understand systematic forms of oppression, colonist agendas and in response “black rage,” which sometimes is aimed against the body of black life.

Sometimes, when trauma occurs, the person traumatized will somehow internalize the belief that they deserved what happened. Only through confronting the truth – that the victim of the trauma was innocent and was violated – can we see effective change and growth.

Likewise, the trauma/crime of slavery is impressed on American Culture and we have yet to confront it. We have yet to tell black folk they did not deserve it. We have yet to admit the psychological impact slavery and colonization has had on legislation, housing, culture, gender, sexuality, media, and business.

Instead, we condemn black people for the ineffective ways that our society integrated a large number of its population as “citizens” while still denying them access to resources, while still seeing their bodies as commodities, and while still seeing their lives as expendable.

Then we fast forward to places like Tulsa in the 1920s which itself had a wealthy, affluent and sustained black community that was decimated by their  white  neighbors.

This community and others pulled themselves up by their bootstraps, but found genocide in response to their success. Many white Americans came into those communities and slaughtered those African Americans.

To colonization, even the notion of black wealth can only be” made”, “manufactured” and “redeemable” through the “cooperation”, “approval”, “support” and control of the colonizer. When black communities support each other, it is seen as an act of aggression and an act of violence against “The Peace”.

We can look at the lessons black students are taught in school. I never learned about the rich history of my African ancestors in a school that was supposed to teach me how to be a person of knowledge. I found celebrations of black faces outside those school walls. I wasn’t able to learn about my native American ancestors and their progressive psychological ideas about gender and community. Once again this knowledge and wisdom was given to me by forces outside of the school of knowledge.

But I was given history and knowledge about several white Americans and European kings. So, even places of knowledge approved by legislative powers worked against me in my quest against erasure. I understand why; because to erase black affluent identity, to erase Native American narratives from history means not having to confront the traumas of colonization, slavery and its lasting effect.

When speaking to my friends, I often discuss that rage is a secondary emotion, it stems from something else. Rage is birthed often from love, hurt, but rarely is it birthed from things unknown; and we must begin to dissect that rage and cruelty are not the same thing.

When I look at what is happening in Ferguson, I see a group of American citizens who are hurt; hurt because we were told if we exist in the structure of colonization we at least will be able to live even if not thrive. That if we work hard we will be able to see another day.

Yet I see people weary of pretending as if there is no systematic form of oppression attempting to erase black life all the while sucking it dry. I see American citizens standing up for themselves and their brothers and sisters.

We as an American society must begin to understand that “The Peace” does not mean the same thing to everyone. For me and many of my sisters and brothers of color, it does not mean living in fear, or simply skating by because those few Americans with the money and access to resources choose to attempt a manipulation of the resources we have.

It means to thrive, to be able to exist without constant threat of extinction. But this is not what that means to colonization.

Systematically ingrained in this “American culture” from its inception is an idea that black people are aggressive.

Where does this come from? Slavery. It comes from the sense that Law enforcement is not about protecting colored people, but that its purpose is to keep us from being too “wild”, because for a black man and a black woman to be “wild” in the eyes of “European colonist culture” is directly tied to freedom. Our freedom is criminalized so much so that even our laughter or the loud timber of our voices is seen as an act of aggression.

What they saw as wild- being able to own our own bodies, being able to love freely, being a part of societies of colored people; being able to laugh, sing,dance not for their amusement but for the simple act of being connected to our own sense of Oneness with Divinity and community; what they see as wild- the simple act of existing, is actually the deepest desire that each being on this planet has ingrained in them which is to not merely exist but to be free.

Until we deal with the traumas of our past we will continue to repeat the horrors in our histories.

What does the trauma of genocide say to African Americans? What is the legacy left in the unspoken signals parents give their children? What does this legacy say to White Americans and in particular those with legislative jurisdiction?

These are the horrors of history we must confront. These are the stories they do not teach us in school for a reason. If we are to heal as a nation; we cannot ignore the blood stained walls in our halls of American History. I do not ask for guilt, I want new solutions because the ones we have been trying ain’t working for alot of people…

Written in love, rage, sorrow, and most of all clarity


Dane Figueroa Edidi

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