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MenToHeal: Creating Spaces to Process Black Trauma

Harris photo
James Harris of Men To Heal. Photo courtesy

*VPM News intern Joi Bass reported this story.

Communities across Virginia and the country are grappling with trauma from police brutality. Joi Bass interviewed psychologist James Harris, from Men to Heal, about ways interracial friend groups can create inclusive spaces to talk about racism. Harris began their conversation with the emotions he and others felt after former Minneapolis Police officer Derek Chauvin was convicted of murdering George Floyd.

Transcript :

Harris: A bunch of mixed emotions, it was so much anxiety surrounding this, and for some, it was really traumatizing, because we have to understand that he was a human and he should have been validated. So I think a lot of people were relieved with the outcome. But they also, like me personally, I hope is not just a form of tokenism. 

Bass: So how would you approach creating a safe space or an inclusive space to talk about these feelings of grief and retraumatization? 

Harris: A couple of different ways, but one, we have to re-educate, we have to inform people on what trauma is and what grief is because a lot of people now specifically in those communities are becoming numb and desensitized to it. And so of course, we need those white people in those circles to advocate for us, in those same manners. You know,  talk to their colleagues, talk to their family members and coworkers about how they view race. Because you know, Black to Black having a conversation about it, it’s gonna be the same shared experience, but the opposite ethnicity, culture, age group having those conversations, it can be a learned experience. 

Bass: Speaking of allyship,  we saw major corporations and white allies stand in solidarity with the Black community, how can white people be good allies?

Harris: Allyship is important. Hopefully, it’s an actual reference point. And the actual change that they want to see opposed to something being just trendy. Communication, of course is twofold. They can write a message and receive that message. But you got to ensure that you guys are comprehending each other. So it’s definitely important that you make sure that you don’t have these unconscious biases or these prejudice tendencies that are going to affect people beyond your specific situation. 

Bass: Speaking of unconscious biases, the issue of gaslighting has become the topic of conversation during the protests last summer as well. To define gaslighting, it’s basically when someone makes another person question their own perception of reality or memories. So how can Black people make themselves aware of the signs that they are potentially being gaslighted when talking about this trauma? And how can they address those feelings to their friends who aren’t Black? 

Harris: That's a part of the difficult conversations,  like we got to have these conversations, we got to have these inclusive spaces to where we can voice our opinions without being gaslighting or without being chastised. Validation is important, but it's also on us to make sure that we articulate in a way that they do understand. So for so long is of course, checking your boundaries is of course, being firm and enforcing your boundaries but also, you know, helping them to understand so whether there's you getting the research and guys on it together, you know, some people approach that conversation differently because when you're met with resistance, people tend to shut down if they don't know how to properly communicate. So it can go both ways, but it's definitely important that you ensure that you get your point across.


VPM News is the staff byline for articles and podcasts written and produced by multiple reporters and editors.
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