Black Pain: A Valid Experience
Today, stories are being brought to light about the injustice that is happening on Meredith’s campus, and some “progress” is now starting to occur. Throughout history — from experimenting on Black slaves, the injustice of Jim Crow, white supremacy and being denied medical attention — Black pain has been seen as an invalid experience. Countless Black women, like Mamie Till, have sacrificed themselves for social causes or for others, pushing them beyond their breaking point. Now, at Meredith, students are being asked to share their experiences about the racial climate and what can be improved, and each question is more draining than the last. Not considering the position Black students are being placed in by having to relive the trauma of injustice is dangerous to their mental health.
We’ve all heard the saying that stress kills, but to what extent? The stress of racism can be toxic to the brain as it develops. According to April Thames, an Associate Professor of Psychology at the University of Southern California who studies discrimination heath outcomes, “racial discrimination appears to trigger an inflammatory response among [Black] Americans at the cellular level.” This can increase the likelihood of stress-related disease and cognitive function failure. More research has been found that indicates the stress of racial discrimination against Black women increases their chances of giving birth prematurely. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in 2018, for every 1,000 live births, 10.9 Black infants die in the first year, compared to 4.6 white babies. Pain can even be transferred through generations. Epigenetics is an emerging field of study that analyzes how lifestyles and experiences can change the way that genes are expressed. There has not been a point in American history where the pain of racism didn’t affect the Black community, and epigenetics shows that this pain may be passed down through generations biologically. Additionally, within the Black community, there is a stigma when it comes to therapy and mental health troubles, which if addressed could possibly aid in the generational healing needed. Stigmas around mental health come from how the older Black community prioritizes surviving than living.
Talking about injustice needs to happen, but not at the expense of individuals. As a Black woman, I have found myself to be a spokesperson for the Black community many times on campus. There are times when I don’t mind, and I have time to mentally prepare myself for the conversation that needs to be had. However, I don’t appreciate the abrupt nature of allies, mostly white, that try to be “woke” at my mental expense. There are times when I might not be in the best headspace to have those conversations; it’s nice not to think about institutional or systemic racism sometimes. The most recent experience I’ve encountered on campus was during my time leading Cornhuskin’ 101 sessions for freshmen and other students who wanted to know more about the tradition. I remember it being one of my first fun activities as MRA Cornhuskin' Co-Chair. At the end of the lecture, a student asked if we weren’t going to discuss Cornhuskin' being racist. The happiness that I had was stripped away from me, and I felt used. Instead of being the MRA Cornhuskin’ Chair, I was — yet again — a Black woman having to conceal her pain. Having to explain my experience to someone who will never understand the pain I go through every single moment I breathe is debilitating. Nevertheless, it was a conversation that needed to be had about our traditions. We should always project our voices when we see something wrong on campus; I’ve even written about the lack of diversity within the very same tradition I am now trying to lead.
Even though it is painful to share our experiences, we need to if we intend to heal. However, Black students are not obligated to share anything they don’t feel comfortable sharing. The change we need on campus is a group effort in which everyone does their research to make everyone feel comfortable on campus.
By Jeanine Carryl, Staff Writer