Racial equity requires a trauma-informed approach
For most of my life, trauma was almost exclusively associated with horrific injuries or the sudden, unexpected loss of loved ones. More recently, we've expanded the collective discussion to concussions and repeated blows to the head. As Lake Oswego begins to embrace equity work, we must recognize that racial trauma works in a similar way.
This town repeatedly tells people of color that we're second class citizens. Constant awkward stares, casual questions about whether we "belong here," and police harassment, to name a few, create a reality where we must simultaneously worry about our physical safety while navigating a continuous assault on our psyches. This is traumatic to say the least.
Thus, if we want to seriously tackle these issues, we must do it with a trauma-informed approach, which is a strategy that incorporates knowledge of trauma into policy, procedures and practices. According to the Center for Disease Control, a trauma-informed approach has six guiding principles: 1) safety, 2) trustworthiness and transparency, 3) peer support, 4) collaboration and mutuality, 5) empowerment voice and choice, and 6) cultural, historical and gender issues.
How do we apply these principles to LO? First, we must understand that good intentions aren't good enough. For example, one thing I often hear from community members of color who are hesitant to participate in RtR events is that they heard we were just "therapy sessions for white people." While disheartening, it doesn't make me any less accountable for addressing their very real safety and emotional labor concerns. If we know people of color are dealing with isolation and powerlessness in the face of indifferent institutions, then we must create environments and programming that intentionally build community and empower us to organize for what we need, not just what politicians and administrators think we should accept.
However, it can't just be us. If LO institutions want to be taken seriously in their anti-racism efforts, they need to match their carefully crafted equity statements with purposeful and effective actions and a real investment of resources.
There are no shortage of trauma-informed approach trainings available in the Portland Metro Area. They should be a requirement for all LO institutions.
Residents of color have decried the isolation and lack of community for decades, so it should be a no-brainer to support culturally specific affinity groups. This doesn't mean just mean allowing the creation of Black and Arab Student Unions in schools. It also means investing in exclusive people of color networking and community building activities for adults and/or professionals, even if you can't attend or directly benefit. Likewise, it should be a no-brainer to invest in making therapy more accessible.
On an individual level, a trauma-informed approach requires being proactive. Commit to studying culturally specific needs and issues on your own time instead of adding to people of color's burden by demanding we teach and/or validate you. Review the CDC's six guiding principles, ask yourself how you are positively or negatively contributing to each, and adjust your approach accordingly.
At the end of the day, navigating racial trauma is a non-negotiable aspect of equity work. If that requires some personal reprogramming or sitting in some discomfort, so be it. Just remember, for some members of this community, constantly wrestling with that discomfort has never been a choice.
Bruce Poinsette is the media action team leader for Respond to Racism and a 2007 graduate of Lake Oswego High School. He currently works as a freelance writer.
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