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What is Race-Based Traumatic Stress? (An African American Horror Story)

RBTS

Hotep Family,

Race-Based Traumatic Stress (RBTS) feels like being trapped in a bad dream from which there’s no escape. The dream starts out to be a simple, harmless imagining of yourself engaged in some type of everyday, random activity: maybe taking a road trip with your family through a scenic landscape; or you’re at work discussing a new project with your coworkers during a staff meeting; or maybe you’re in bed making love to your soul mate. In your dream you are a part of a world that is safe, happy, beautiful, and full of wonderful and magical possibilities. You feel relaxed, peaceful, warm, content, and optimistic about the future. You feel connected with everyone and everything around you. In the beginning, everything seems right with the world.

But with RBTS the dream suddenly takes an unexpected and negative turn: someone becomes terribly, deathly ill on the road trip, or you turn into a roadside café where the shop owner and her friends rob you and your family; or during your staff meeting at work your supervisor begins to make personal, rude, insulting, and humiliating jokes and comments that questions your competency with veiled threats about your continued employment at the company. Or, the person you love begins to do things to you sexually without your consent, and you realize that your partner has transformed into a monster that is hurting you.

Now you realize that the dream has become a nightmare. You’re frozen in shock and terror. Surely, this cannot be happening; this can’t be real. There must be some mistake; some misunderstanding and all that needs to be done is to straighten things out.

First you try to reason your way out. You think that if you appeal to the other person’s sense of decency and talk things out respectfully, that together you’ll be able to resume the calm, peaceful story with which the dream began. Or, perhaps there are others around who can provide help and intervene to solve whatever miscommunication has taken place and come to a reasonable solution. But in this nightmare, everyone continues going on by their business as if you don’t exist. You’re screaming, and no one can hear you. You’re in pain and no one notices. You grab someone by the shoulders: shake her, to try to get her attention. For a moment, you seem to see some hint of recognition in her eyes that she notices you, but then she disengages from you tries to convince you that YOU are being unreasonable and acting out of control and returns to carry on the nightmare story.

You become increasingly fearful and distressed because you are in pain, but, on one hand everything around you still looks like that pleasant dream: the sunny day on the road, the hustle and bustle of a successful business, or the warm and familiar surroundings of your home. But, at the same time, everything is also an image of another world; almost like a superimposed image on top of “their” is world of a world of terror – where danger is all around you, like landmines, ready to explode at any minute if you make the wrong move, say the wrong thing, look the wrong way… think the wrong thought… if you do anything that gives them the idea that you aren’t happy; that you’re in pain, things could go badly for you.

You can’t get out of the nightmare. It starts over again with the happy, sunshiny day, the friendly co-workers around you, or the fun time at home. Your first thought is that it was your fault that the dream went sour; that subconsciously there’s something wrong with you that you would make a good dream go bad.  So, you determine in your mind to be happier, be satisfied, go along with the group so that the dream has a happy ending and you can wake up from this.

But, no matter how hard you try, the story twists into the nightmare. The frightening, violent plot might be a little different this time, but, essentially it ends up turning into the same freakish horror story with you as the victim while everyone around you carries on as if nothing is happening.

To exist in this world of double-existence, you try to cope with this nightmare by shoving your pain down deep inside you; self-medicating yourself with drugs, food, shopping, sex, or violence. But nothing ever makes that nightmare go away, so you medicate more, which leads you into another nightmare, called incarceration; that’s the jail inside of jail. Jail can disguise itself as chronic illness, life-long debt, assimilation (believing that you ARE one of the OTHER PEOPLE in the nightmare) or prison. But it’s all the same unending nightmare because you still have not learned any way to escape.

For people of color especially people of African descent, this is what Race-Based Traumatic Stress looks and feels like because we live in a society that created imaginary classifications of humans, called “races” that put “White” people at the top of a hierarchy of power, resources, and morality. Everyone else is “below” human, according to how close your skin color is from “White”. Race-Based Traumatic Stress refers to a set of reactions to a racially-motivated trauma that:

  • Causes emotional pain
  • Ambiguous (vague, unclear)
  • Creates repeated or increasing stress responses
  • Sudden or unexpected
  • Uncontrollable

Symptoms of RBTS

  • Intrusion (re-experiencing the event in your mind)
  • Avoidance (numbing) of stimuli associated with the trauma
  • Increased arousal or vigilance

Victims of RBTS can suffer many forms of racial violence, such as:

  • Racial discrimination
  • Racial harassment
  • Racial assault

Due to the systemic and pervasive nature of the violence, people who inflict the injury, the perpetrators, often are not conscious that they are doing it and thus will deny it. Consequently, the person who is the victim of the injury is made to look foolish or overly sensitive.

The key to healing from RBTS is to first admit that you are experiencing it, on one level or another, then you can begin to wake up. It’s staying asleep and trying to escape a nightmare that keeps you ill. Recovery begins with believing that you can be a free human being.

Many people do not recover from RBTS because there are benefits to staying asleep. Anger, violence, drugs, validation from the “Whites” can provide emotional “highs” that become addictive. Most importantly, if you stay asleep, you don’t have to take responsibility for your own life and work to build a world where you are free and can determine your own future. RBTS has kept most of us asleep for so long that we don’t even think about being free anymore. We tell ourselves that the idea of freedom as an illusion and we should learn to accept and survive the world as it is now. If that’s how you feel, then you should stay asleep and stop reading or listening to these blogs.

If you want to continue to explore the idea that perhaps there can be life outside of the horror story illusion in which we now exist, begin by identifying one thing today that you do that is designed to support the illusion and don’t do it; just for today. See how it makes you feel; does it make you anxious, afraid, empty, lost? Or do you feel a little excited, defiant, or more real, grounded, and more fully alive than ever before?

Hotep

Discovering Your Sacred Purpose

To listen to narrated audio of this post, click here:

Discovering Your Sacred Purpose

Hotep family.

Nia is Kiswahili for “Purpose”. In the Nguzo Saba, this principle encourages Africans to “make as our collective vocation the building and developing of our community in order to restore our people to their traditional greatness.” A vocation is defined as a strong calling to a particular work.

As an educator and a scientist of the mind, I want to talk about what Nia means for our people and the responsibility that each one of us has to fulfilling this principle because in order to fulfill our collective vocation; to restore our people to greatness, each one of us must fulfill our purpose, our “Nia”.

The ancient African civilization, Kemet, was one the greatest and longest civilizations in human history and it is here that I will discuss what it means to restore our people to our historical greatness. The key to the success of our ancient civilization was its understanding of the technology of our connection as divine beings with the Neter, the Lord of All, and how, through this relationship, we co-create our world.

Since the greatness of our people, our civilization, was interrupted by the slave trade and imperialism, our people have lost our collective divine consciousness and have been struggling for thousands of incarnations to understand how to put our minds in order to so that we can regain control of our enlightened spiritual awareness.

Our holocaust, the Mafaa, resulted in a collective trauma to our people which continues to impact our lives generationally and epigenetically. However, this presentation is not the place or time to discuss our trauma and how it affects our people. I want to talk about how we can heal from the trauma by fulfilling our individual and collective Nia.
The old song says free your mind and everything else will follow in line. But did you know that there really is no mind? Even our memories are not in our brain. Everything that we think we know about ourselves all comes back to realizing that all knowledge, past, present, and future, is in the field of infinite possibilities that our ancestors in Kemet called the waters of Nun and through raising our spiritual consciousness, we can have access to this infinite knowledge once again. “As above, so below”. Europeans have told us that psychological studies is the science of understanding the mind. But that was the biggest lie of all that has kept us from fulfilling our Nia. The great expert in war, Sun Tzu, stated in The Art of War, that to defeat your enemy, you first must defeat the enemy in the mind before you strike the first blow, and perhaps then you don’t even have to strike a blow at all. Through the media, the education system, and Western European religions, our minds and spirits have been kept confused and defeated.

The true study of the mind can be found in the ancient Kemetic wisdoms of science and spirit. The word “psyche” is the part of spirit that Kemets called the “Sahu”. Our liberation lies in reclaiming our spiritual balance. You are not a drop of water in the ocean. You are the entire ocean in a single drop.

Until we understand the science of the spirit, we cannot understand why we behave the way we do. In our conscious mind, we have goals and desires and make plans, but our subconscious is what actually decides what happens, decides if we’re really going to follow through with our plans, without our consent or control. Without an understanding and mastery of the technology of the spirit, our enemies are programing our subconscious through their systems designed to maintain their supremacy. Our ancestors were the masters of understanding the consciousness and the technology of reaching into the subconsciousness to understand who we are because we were dedicated to creating the best human being.

Before we can liberate ourselves as a people, we have to understand ourselves. Europeans are just now beginning to discuss what African people have known for thousands of years to mathematical and astronomical specificity that Europeans now describe as metaphysics. Restoring our traditional greatness means solving the problems of our mind by controlling our subconscious and our spirit.

To reclaim our historical greatness, we must reach back to Kemetic science that has a way for analyzing human behavior. Through our ancient Kemetic wisdom, we can define our common-unity that teaches us that everything flows from a power within each of us. It is said that when we look outside ourselves, we dream, but when we look inside, we awaken. The sleeper must awaken. YOU are the ancient people who have come back to restore our greatness. The key to fulfilling our collective purpose is knowing that our spirit knows what to do and how to survive. Unlocking our power is embracing our ancient system designed to keep our spirit vibrating at a higher frequency that can access higher dimensions of reality.

When we are living at a higher frequency, our behaviors are inline with the principles of Maat; truth, balance order, harmony, and justice. For each of us, our goal is to obtain the status of god-man or god-woman by being judged as Maa Kheru, “true of word”; this means that every word you speak is true; who you are, the world, what is going on.
To obtain Maa Kheru each of us has to seek to understand and fulfil our sacred purpose; our individual Nia. Each of us has a sacred contract with the universe. Each of us chose to enter the world in this lifetime, in this form in order to fulfill a set of assignments our soul was meant to complete to fulfill our divine potential in life.
To fulfill your divine potential, identify 5 things:
1. Who you are

2. What you love to do

3. Who you did it for

4. What those people want or need

5. How they change because of what you do

Only 2 of those things are about yourself because the happiest people are the ones who focus on serving others.

When you can answer these five questions, you can formulate a mission statement that represents who you are and what your about. Your purpose is what you are called to and committed to work towards fulfilling for the world.

You will know that you are on your sacred path to fulfilling your Nia and healing from the historical trauma that we all suffer when we are leading a life where we

● feel respected

● can express yourself like never before

● your health improves

● what you’re doing excites you so much that it pushes you to do more

● you’re open to new experiences instead of repeating the same things over and over again

Each of us can begin to pursue by doing 3 things to activate our pineal gland that awakens us to our cosmic, multidimensional being:

1. Meditate

2. Eat a plant-based diet

3. Study the Tree of Life; the blueprint that teaches us the anatomy of God within us

Pursuing Nia, your sacred purpose, will free you and will help to free us all as a people.

Hotep

 

Suggested Reading:

The Kemetic Tree of Life Ancient Egyptian Metaphysics and Cosmology for Higher Consciousness

Feeling Helpless to Change (or “It’s the little things that count.”)

Hotep Family,

Frequent and subtle acts of racial violence that individual people of African descent (Black) experience on a daily basis can have profound effects. I was reading a study on the consequences of perceived racial discrimination by Broman, Mavaddat, and Hsu (2000). The study was important for two reasons: 1) it focused on what Black people perceived; and 2) its goal was to measure the experience of helplessness that accumulates over time into a set pattern of learned behavior, “learned helplessness”. It is important to understand this occurrence because we, Africans, experience this phenomenon on a daily basis, it is unsupported by the wider society and often goes unspoken within our own community with no psychological support or healing.

 

The authors of the study hypothesized that individual acts of racial violence, defined as “isolate discrimination”, reduces a person’s confidence in his or her ability to gain mastery over events in their lives and increases psychological distress. There are few studies that examine what happens when someone perceives that they are targets of racial violence. Over the last few decades, there have been numerous studies that use hard science and psychometric instruments to show the relationship between racism and physiological factors (such as the instances of high blood pressure among people of African descent in low socioeconomic environments), as a way to provide “legitimate” evidence to the non-melaninated (or “White”) society that institutional racial violence does, indeed, harm the quality of our lives. But perception is a far more elusive concept to debate because to value a person’s perception, that person’s humanity must be valued. Since, that has never been the case for African people ever since the human designation of “White” was invented in order to create chattel slavery and a middle class of workers to maintain the elite rulers control, social science has inadvertently supported faulty research by failing to address the inhumanity of systemic racial violence.

 

The theory of learned helplessness states that humans and animals who learn that outcomes are uncontrollable suffer motivational, cognitive, and emotional deficits. After repeatedly lacking control over racial violence, people give up trying to defend themselves because they believe that nothing they do will have any effect (this is loss of motivation). When people stop trying to prevent acts of racial of violence, they no longer try to learn about the origins, causes, and outcomes of the behavior because they have accepted it as “just the way things are” (this is loss of cognition, or thinking about it). This acceptance leads to the third, emotional deficit or loss; which is depression. Africans express depression in very different ways from the typical type of sadness evident in Western psychological models. African people sometimes express their depression externally, in the form of anger, or they express their depression internally, in the form of self-destructive behaviors (like drug use).

 

The authors of the study explained that African (Black) people viewing themselves as victims of uncontrollable racial violence (be it racial bias, microaggressions, discrimination, or assault) can unconsciously engage in an inferiorization process – adopting a sense of inferiority that leads to a sapping of confidence and ability, inhibiting political organization and resulting in a host of personal and collective social problems. Because subtle forms of racial violence usually are not addressed by the wider society, over time African people can develop a sense of helplessness and inferiorization, it is critical that we reclaim our humanity by valuing our own perceptions of all forms of racial violence against us so that we can heal from these injuries.

 

The study involved conducting phone interviews with 495 African American adults (18 years of age or older) living in Detroit. The subjects were asked if they believed they had been targets of racial violence by:

  • experiencing discrimination
  • been prevented from doing something
  • been hassled, or
  • made to feel inferior because of their color.

They were asked to rate the degree to which they experienced these acts of violence in:

  • getting a job,
  • being at work,
  • shopping in a store, and
  • in interactions with the police.

The respondents’ reports of these experiences were then compared to their responses as to what degree in their lives they felt they experienced signs of helplessness. They were asked how these acts of racial violence impacted their ability to:

(a) solve their problems,

(b) be pushed around in life,

(c) be in control of their lives,

(d) to accomplish things,

(e) be in control of their future,

(f) their sense of helpless in dealing with life’s problems, and

(g) doing things in life.

 

Finally, the subjects’ emotional distress was measured by asking them to respond to how often they felt

  • depressed,
  • jumpy,
  • restless,
  • like crying,
  • like they couldn’t get motivated to do anything, and
  • had a poor appetite.

 

The results of the study supported the authors theory that when Black people perceive that they have been victims of racial violence, they feel less capable of directing their own lives and experience more psychological distress. This is consistent with what Robert T. Carter identifies as part of the experience of Race-Based Traumatic Stress (RBTS). RBTS is emotional distress due to the continuous, pervasive, and multi-generational systematic oppression of people of color that results in devastating impairment to healthy emotional and psychological functioning. RBTS causes many Black people to develop distorted perceptions of themselves and their abilities to engage effectively in the world (or learned helplessness) which, in turn, leads to Africans internalizing racism (believing about themselves all of the racists ideas that have been promoted in the media, education, religious, and political systems). This racist self-identification produces in us the inability to engage in self-determination.

 

One variable that I believe also contributes to individual’s distress, which was not directly addressed in the study is that in isolated cases of racial violence, the target experiences an escalated sense of vulnerability. Imagine being the only female among a military unit of males, or only being able to speak English in a Hispanic community. When we experience “isolate discrimination” our distress can be more severe because we feel more exposed to sudden and continued injury. These injuries may not appear obvious to the naked eye (like when a person has broken arm), or can be measured with a scientific instrument (like a blood pressure cuff), but the battering is just as damaging and needs just as much care, support, and healing for us all to survive and thrive.

 

It is important that African people take responsibility for our mental health in order to inoculate, prevent, and recover from the daily and often unconscious racially violent assaults on our psyche. We have to admit that what we think or feel is happening is real and it’s hurting us. We need to become vigilant about not allowing our thought processes to slowly sink into complacency, acceptance, denial, and hopelessness. And we need to seek emotional, spiritual, and psychological support from friends, family, and professionals who won’t try to make you feel like something’s wrong with you because you feel the way you do. You might feel depressed, angry, and insecure, but it’s because you are a victim of an injury. If a woman has nightmares and difficulty with intimacy because she was raped, we don’t call her crazy; we call her hurt and we give her the care and support she needs. After generations of abuse, don’t you deserve at least the same respect and compassion as any other victim?

 

Hotep

 

Broman, C.L., Mavaddat, R., Hsu,S. (2000). The Experience and Consequences of Perceived Racial Discrimination: A Study of African Americans. Journal of Black Psychology, 26:2, 165-180.

 

Additional Reading:

Handbook of Racial-Cultural Psychology and Counseling, Theory and Research