Understanding Black Trauma

A couple of years back, and this pre-pandemic, I overheard these two guys in the gym locker room talking.

The first guy hadn’t seen the second guy in a while.

Long and short of it, the second guy explains that he hadn’t been at the gym because he lost his father.

You know how these kinds of exchanges go. One party goes through the sad details of what happened to the departed while the second party rightfully so offers condolences and sympathy.

The second guy goes on to say something like, “This is a pain you don’t wanna know.” I was quietly thinking, “I know that pain. Lost my father as a teenager a few weeks before I started college.”.

Where does this all fit today — this human element of identifying with one’s pain?

At one of my old jobs, one of the most interesting parts of our floor was a hallway that connected two different suites. I worked with some smart, interesting, well-rounded people and in that very hallway, I’ve had some of the best conversations in my work life.

Back in 2019, there was one conversation I had with a guy from another group. We would talk about movies, TV shows, and comic books a lot. I asked him if he was gonna see what would be the new Joker movie starring Joaquin Phoenix at that time.

The guy planted his fist beneath his chin for a good five seconds and said, “You know, I don’t understand why this movie had to be made.”

I think the conversation may have ended there. Him being a diehard movie fan, I knew where he was coming from. I assumed that this movie to him was being made for commercial purposes and there may have not been an artistic reason why this story needed to
be told.

This brings me to the “why” this piece had to be written.

Back in February of 2022 during Black history month, a young man named Amir Locke was shot to death by none other than the Minneapolis Police department — the SAME police department that employed the now-convicted Derek Chauvin and the other three officers who were sentenced for their role in the George Floyd murder.

As a side note, what’s interesting about when these things happens is the mix of BS reactions from the so-called Christians and patriots when there is clear injustice. It’s either straight-up silence when there should be disgust or demands for accountability.

There’s this shuffling of a figurative deck of cards of excuses they have to explain why this black person was responsible for their death. Excuses come in the form of, “Well, why was he/she there?”, “He/she must have done something”, and one of my least favorites, “It was justifiable force by the cops.”

I’m gonna break down African American trauma and our story in high-level detail so hopefully, people can experience what the collective minds and souls of black people have been through in this country.

When we’re talking about modern-day policing and these police shootings where unarmed or lawfully-armed black people are dying, one of the gaps there may be is that nobody has really walked white people through what that might feel like.

I’ve accepted that there are segments of white people who may never care or be sympathetic to the needless loss of life our people suffer — particularly where police interventions and police shootings are involved.

Before anybody goes there, I’m not defending the
bad actors from the black community. I’m not defending the bank robbers and the home invaders. I am talking about those instances where excessive and deadly force is being used.

Let’s take a walk back in time.

If education hasn’t failed you, you know about the transatlantic slave trade in which many of those kidnapped Africans wound up in North America. We’re talking well over ten million people kidnapped, tortured, mutilated, and terrorized for profit, sex, and recreation in a span of
four hundred years.

Then we have a period following the Civil War and reminder — black people served on the side of the Union Army to defeat the Confederate Army — a loss a lot of Americans are still unhappy about, even after that war, inhumane criminality and treatment against black people STILL

African Americans didn’t get their 40 acres and a mule as promised. Many were still working under inhumane conditions under white people. Life was still f****** up after slavery.

Our ancestors didn’t get severance packages, grief counseling, and timeshares post-Civil War. They got much of the same through a watered-down version of this inhumane treatment as time progressed.

Let’s jump through time to World War II.

African Americans enlist in the army AGAIN to fight another set of racist authoritarians in what was known as the Axis Powers led by a guy with one of the worst mustaches ever, second to Pillow Guy Mike Lindell in Adolf Hitler.

Some white soldiers didn’t want to fight alongside black soldiers because they didn’t think black soldiers were smart enough. Hell, some white pilots didn’t want the air support from black pilots including the Red Tails because again, they didn’t feel they were good enough to fight with them.

After the war, you think that the good faith effort of fighting for one’s country would engender respect and loyalty of committing the ultimate sacrifice but nope. African American soldiers come back home to the same racist s***.

Then we move on to the 1950s when the civil rights era starts. Black people are told they can’t share water fountains, restrooms, schools, and dining establishments with white people. Why? Because dumb racist s***. That’s why.

But that’s not enough to feed the insecure, inhumane appetite of the racists especially when black people protested and stood up to be treated humanely.

These so-called “Christians” don Klan outfits then intimidated, assaulted, and in some cases murdered black people. Politicians incited violence against black people and as a result, black people were arrested, beaten, and attacked by dogs. This happened while crosses burned in front of their homes.

Meanwhile, these so-called Christians bombed African American churches. They bombed Christian churches. So-called Christian men BOMBED CHRISTIAN CHURCHES.

The Vietnam war had already started in the 50s and ended in the mid-70s. Again, black people serve their country.

Wondering how black soldiers were treated when they came back to the U.S.? It was much of the same reception they got after World War II.

Our most prominent leaders including, MLK, Malcolm X, and others are imprisoned, executed, infiltrated, and murdered by the FBI and CIA.

Now stick with me. Gonna bring this home soon.

In the 1980s — the CIA helps to facilitate the influx of crack cocaine into the black community. Hearing this for the first time? Then-president Ronald Reagan has the nerve to declare a “war on drugs” in the very situation that his government helped facilitate. Read more.

At a local level, especially here in L.A., you had local law enforcement going to work on drug dealers with a tank vehicle called the “battering ram”, which was used to crash drug houses. They created special drug units and other narcotic details. It almost sounds like some weird Ponzi scheme when you think about it. The government creates a war based on lies and deception and then profits off of it through funding and incarceration.

For the record, I’m not a pro-cocaine advocate. I just find this very ironic and evil given the government’s role in the illegal drug trade.

In the early 1990s, one of the first videos of black people being beaten as in the case of Rodney King was captured. The world is seeing for the first time video representing the inhumane and mistreatment black people have been complaining about for generations.

Have you seen the beating he got as an unarmed man? Conversely, how many videos have we seen with white murderers wielding guns, knives, and hatchets that were taken into custody without being beaten by a group of cops?

So here we are in 2022. In the last ten years, we’ve had the murders of Trayvon Martin, Breonna Taylor, Tamir Rice, Philando Castile, Amir Locke, and others on camera.

We are seeing this while white people continue to get the biggest benefit of the doubt — people acting out in public in retail and grocery stores because they don’t wanna wear a mask to prevent the spread of a deadly virus.

We’ve seen people like Dylan Roof, the young man that murdered people in a church and then lives to see a criminal trial. Oh and this was after the arresting officers took him to Burger King for a quick meal.

Interesting because if he were black and had executed a group of white people, he wouldn’t have gotten Burger King. Those cops would have given him “Bullet King”.

Same thing with the Parkland shooter — Nicholas Cruz. The guy lives to see a trial after committing a school shooting where seventeen people were murdered.

We as African Americans are comparing the treatment of white suspects with what we are seeing and experiencing as black people.

So when you as a white person are seeing and/or hearing our outrage at the racial, economic, and societal injustice, what you are seeing from us is not a reaction to these singular incidents. You are seeing our collective reaction to more than four hundred years of continued trauma and denialism through politicians, conspiracy theorists, and media outlets that are trying to tell us that this is not what we are experiencing!

When you are looking at our outrage, you are not just seeing an angry reaction to what happened to Amir Locke. We’re not just upset that he wasn’t the target of the no-knock warrant. We’re not just upset about him dying despite lawfully owning a firearm. We’re not just upset because this is yet another young black man that's’ been wrongfully executed. It is the collective trauma.

And out of curiosity, where was the NRA in defending Amir Locke’s lawful right to bear arms? Wrong color, Wayne LaPierre and the rest of NRA leadership?

This is why we feel the need to remind you that Black Lives Matter because the collective response to this country’s treatment of Black people tells us loud and clear that our lives don’t matter.

We don’t enjoy having to make slogans like “Black Lives Matter” and “We Shall Overcome”?

Understand something and listen carefully — we may be bruised as a race of people that have been mistreated, discriminated against, and terrorized, but we ARE NOT, nor will we ever be broken.

We’re not backing down during these public confrontations with those trying to harass and antagonize us. We are not backing down with our activism. We most certainly are not backing down in our endless pursuits of justice and overall excellence.

If by chance you are asking the question, “Hey, I’m a white person. What can I do to help?”. There are simple solutions.

1) Challenge any people who have these racist mindsets and practices and let them know why. I would not knowingly associate myself with bigoted or prejudiced minds. They’re mental midgets. This could be family, romantic acquaintances, college friends — whatever.

2) For those white people who are willing to learn differently, help them. educate them. Fill in the gaps for them. This is part of the problem when you’re dealing with these racist pockets of America. You don’t have enough rational-minded people to offset some of this flawed thinking for those who are willing to accept that they may have been thinking wrongly.

I suspect this is the case for white people who’ve never really had any interaction with black people yet they’re letting political hate speech and media shape the opinions of people for interactions they’ve never had. It would be like me claiming that I hate people from Tonga when I can’t say I’ve honestly met any people from that island.

So now you’ve been told. If you’re reading this, you can no longer act like you don’t know more about our continued outrage and ongoing trauma as a result of the racial injustice in this country.

Imani Kaliid is a Los Angeles native, host of “Survivor Stories: From Pain to Power” (Roku TV, Amazon Fire), author of “There Was Violence” and advocate of victims of violent trauma. Follow him on Twitter: @SurvivorImaniK



Author of “There Was Violence”, Host of “Survivor Stories: From Pain to Power”, survivor and advocate for victims of violent trauma.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store
Imani Kaliid

Author of “There Was Violence”, Host of “Survivor Stories: From Pain to Power”, survivor and advocate for victims of violent trauma.