I know that people don’t really want to talk about trauma. Trauma in whatever form can be disheartening, scary and sometimes just plain sad. Lately it’s been different, though. These days, I find myself talking more and more about sociocultural trauma - trauma caused by implicit and explicit bias (e.g. racism, sexism, ableism). This topic is even harder to talk about, because it requires each of us to examine, acknowledge and actively address our own implicit and explicit biases.
Although I regularly tell participants that research shows that trauma happens to people across all kinds of socioeconomic/racial/gender boundaries, it still happens, I think, that people in my trainings start to believe that we are talking about “those people over there” with trauma. Not because they are bad people, but probably because it is easier to think of it that way, a little bit removed from one’s self. Then when I start talking about common implicit biases, people often become uncomfortable. No one wants to think of themselves inadvertently harming other people! And yet we do. All of us.
In one of my schools there is a blind educator. Early on in my work with the school, I said something like, “Look at this diagram,” then realized that she wouldn’t be able to do so, and that me not having made it available to her and then referencing it was a microaggression. As soon as I realized it, I started noticing other things that I say which show the same bias (examine). The English language is SO biased towards people with sight! There are many terms and phrases that I use all the time.
I eventually had a conversation with her about it, and apologized (acknowledge). Eventually because at first, I was too embarrassed to even bring it up. She was gracious and accepted my apology and was helpful, too. She let me know that there are some phrases and figures of speech that she can laugh about, and that there are others that really do bother her. She even took part in a planned role play for handling a microaggression. I like this person. I really, really do not want to harm her.
And yet, months later, I still catch myself doing it. When I wrote her to ask for her permission for this post, I wrote, “Looking forward to meeting with you” because I knew it wouldn’t be appropriate to write “See you next week.” But guess what? Looking forward is still sight-centric! (actively address)
The educator in question is actually able to hold this topic lightly – but that does not mean that I need not try. Because I know that sociocultural trauma impacts people, not only in the thinking/learning part of their brains, but also at the feeling part of the brain (which I wrote about here). That means that maybe, on a day when I’m stressed out, a minor comment that I could laugh off on other days might push my rider right off my horse.
We don’t need to be perfect, and we still need to do our work: examine our way of being in the world to uncover our biases, acknowledge them, and then actively work to address them.