Trauma, Disparities, & the Exercise of Needed Distrust

I’m thinking about Dr. Susan Moore, a Black physician who recently died after battling for her own quality medical care and against Covid 19. And I’m thinking about a mother named Mary from a long time ago who was unmarried and who spoke sonnets about her experience of getting impregnated and carrying a baby whose existence was misunderstood from mystical beginnings.

Trauma, a word coming out of an early surgical model for discussing injury, has come to encompass a full set of pains. Trauma is an injury, a bewildering injury or set of injuries.

A trauma can occur to a person or a people. A lot of people from many disciplines are talking about trauma these days, how it happens, what it means to be trauma-informed, etc. From anthropologists to neuro-scientists, chaplains and therapists, and social workers and teachers, lots of folk are discussing and working to respond to traumas in people.

There is language in these discourses about how a trauma is a discrete event in many cases. It happens; it ends. There is a healthy discussion on when and if that’s always true. Some traumas do end. Some are protracted and are, in a real sense, unending. I won’t get so much into that but I want to write a little about the way trauma can return.

After occurring and “ending,” it/they can revisit persons in seen and unseen ways, through known and recognized forms, as well as through insidious and unacknowledged means. Sometimes we see the re-visitation coming. We anticipate it. When we do, we can prepare and draw upon resources to help through the revisited pains. When we don’t see them coming, we are likely more reactive, doing anything in response to the unexpected-but-somehow-still-known.

Disparities in healthcare and medical treatment can be a means of trauma recurrence. Unfairness and mistreatment become a mechanism whereby trauma returns. Now, you’d have to accept a cultural transmission of trauma to appreciate this reality where earlier experiences are translated and handed over to subsequent persons related to those who have experienced trauma. In other words, what happened in prior times affects these times. There is another post somewhere in this direction that combines cultural trauma (at least that type of trauma) with attachment theory to explain this transmission and the patterns and connections making this possible.

Still, interacting with a disparity in the emotional neighborhood of a prior trauma is an uneasy psychological experience. I’m thinking about healthcare but this is true in other places. Whenever a person meets the reminders of prior pain, the body recalls and sends all its resources to preserve life. Emotional life. Spiritual life. Physical life. You don’t want to be hurt. You never do. So if you’ve been hurt, if your people have been hurt, you consciously or unconsciously respond to the disparity, the trauma, at least because of deep memory.

This is evidence of what, in The Inward Journey, Howard Thurman called a “strange quality of renewal.” The response to the disparity is to, in some way, resist it as a means of death. Resistance is a sign, a strange one perhaps, of life. Thurman says, “this is the way of life.” When you’ve experienced traumas and bruising pains, and when those are revisited among you, your reactions are little signs that life is present.

The exercise of distrust by Black people, then, is a needed one. It is needed because that distrust is evidentiary of a different trust, a trust in life. I call it everlasting life. Black distrust of the traumatic opens the world to the actual agitating presence of the God of life, the Source of life. Distrust of one system illuminates abiding trust in another. Distrust of medical science or research practices, say, points toward the life bonds elsewhere. Isn’t the question, “how do I find the life here?” Or “What does trust look like then?”

Take it from there. Look for the next sign of life. But name that life force. Relish the presence of Spirit. Moving against the brokenness and the flagrant disregard of life is a spiritual resistance that itself is being visited in the world through your own act of resistance.

Listen to the Spirit. Act with the Spirit to preserve life, to vanquish non-life. Do what will counter the forces of death and what will make right – or righter – what was wrong the first place.

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