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Racism is like 10,000 Paper Cuts

by Carol F. Burton, CEO, Jeweld Legacy Group

Today we welcome Guest Blogger, Carol F. Burton to the pursuit! She is the CEO of Jeweld Legacy Group, a consulting firm that focuses on building relationships that create equitable and transformative change in communities. She is also a wonderful travel companion, shoe diva, and my aunt! If you’d like to find out more about her, her contact information is at the end of the blog. Happy July!!

Last weekend, I celebrated my 60th birthday. Even with COVID19 looming in the air and social unrest all around, this was by far the best birthday that I have ever witnessed.   This special milestone could not conclude without the inescapable conversation about racism, inequality, and police brutality.  This year, it is more clearer to me than ever that racism is like 10,000 paper cuts and it is making us sick.  These paper cuts happen overtly and covertly, in two separate but related ways that contribute to the negative health outcomes for African Americans.

As we sheltered in place, our smartphones, televisions, computers, and social media outlets told a story of how different life is during COVID19 for black people.  We are more likely to die of COVID19, less likely to be able to work from home, and most likely work in jobs that are considered essential services. Also, we tend to live in inadequate housing and are less likely to have the tools to educate our children from home.  As I laid in bed one morning shortly after the Health Officer’s Order to Shelter in Place, a grim reality of what this virus would mean for our community gripped my body like a glove.  Within days, my upper arm was covered in sore, puffy, itchy welts.  I had internalized my fears and the external manifestation was a case of Urticaria or better known as hives.

As COVID laid bare the health and economic inequities, the newsreel and social media posts highlighted human injustices of black bodies being brutalized and killed by police and/or racist vigilantes.  I thought to myself this is too much. 

Every week a new story and the replay of dying bodies in the streets as if we are menacing animals killed for sport.  Seeing these images over and over again I tried to make sense of what I was seeing.  I would mouth “they did not have to kill him/her”, “that wouldn’t have happened if the person was white” or “why do we have to die in this way?”.

 It does something to your spirit to see people that look like you being treated unfairly and violently by a group of people that have historically enslaved and tortured your ancestors.   These awful, violent, and painful images flood our minds and bodies and if repeated can cause the production of cortisol at dangerous levels. Cortisol is a stress hormone or a built-in alarm system designed to help us deal with stressful situations, but when the levels are too high for too long it can wreak havoc physically and mentally. 

But there is another type of racism that also contributes to 10,000 paper cuts. These insidious injuries that happen every day and are ever so slight that it may go unnoticed. These daily microaggressions are frequently unconscious unthinking subtle indignities that hurt. You know them: Being passed over of a job that you are qualified for, the well-dressed white lady looks away or clutches her purse when you get on the elevator or the questions about where you are from indicating that you don’t belong here.

Whether it is overt or covert these insults can cause harm to our minds and bodies. The internalization of trauma, stress, and microaggressions can result in low self-esteem, feelings of alienation, depression, headaches, heart disease, asthma, diabetes, ulcers, and other stomach problems, just to name of few.

Here is my antidote to paper cuts and other racist assaults: a combination of these six practices will release these chemicals known as D.O.S.E., (dopamine, oxytocin, serotonin, and endorphin) into our bodies to build resilience and strength to carry us through until justice and equality are achieved.

  1. Prayer and Meditation

  2. Protest and Vote

  3. Celebrate and Embrace Our Rich Culture

  4. Eat Well and Exercise

  5. Laugh, Sing and Dance

  6. Remember to “Stay Woke”

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