People often ask me whether teaching people to thrive in adversity is undermining efforts to reduce or eliminate the causes of trauma and chronic stress. If the focus is only on individual resilience, then the answer is yes. For example, expecting Black people to maintain their resilience in a culture that perpetuates systemic and institutionalized racism is unrealistic and harmful.
If we are silent about the violence and threats to the lives and well-being of Black people, our communities will suffer. The coronavirus highlighted how America is marginalizing Black and brown people. If you’re Black, watching police murder George Floyd is a reminder that this could easily have been you or someone you love. The anger we are seeing is a normal response to centuries of oppression and injustice.
To be truly resilient, we need to promote equality and justice in our communities. The first step in overcoming systemic racism and injustice is to understand and admit that there is a problem. In 1967, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. reminded America that “a riot is the language of the unheard.” If you are white, ask African American friends, neighbors, and colleagues about their life experiences. Listen without ego and defensiveness. Ask yourself, what are you failing to hear? Try to understand how institutionalized racism impacts Black people. Recognize your privilege and what you take for granted because you are white.
Unfortunately, not much has changed since 1967. A Black woman recently described how U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers persistently targeted her when she crossed the U.S. border while working at the U.S. Consulate in Ciudad Juarez. Institutional racism and the lack of a meaningful response shattered her dream of being a U.S. diplomat. How many other Black people lost their dreams due to racism and injustice? How many Black people lost their lives due to police brutality?
With understanding comes action. We all need to have an intentional mindset that racism is everyone’s problem. White people need to commit to actively opposing racism and injustice. Participate in collective actions against racism. Challenge the “color-blind” ideology, which contributes to racism. Call out racist jokes or statements. Expand opportunities in the workplace for people of color. Donate to organizations promoting racial equality. Vote for politicians who are committed to racial justice and anti-racist policies. Oppose policies that perpetuate structural racism. Hold police and other government officials accountable for civil rights violations. This hand-out by Anneliese A. Singh lists several actions you can take to combat racism. Corinne Shutack published a list on Medium of 75 things white people can do for racial justice.
Resilience is about healthy and equitable communities that offer social, physical, and mental well-being to all of its residents. It’s about cultures that promote fairness and inclusion for all its members. We cannot have resilience without social justice.
What are you doing to combat racism and injustice?