Several events this week remind us of the pervasive trauma we collectively endure each day. Just last week, my post focused on how violence in Gaza triggers trauma in that region which has been experienced over generations. Now, one week later and our attention turns to home-grown trauma here in the US prompted by a relentless string of hate crimes (against Asians and Jews), historic commemorations (George Floyd’s murder and the Tulsa massacre), random acts of violence (road rage) and new mass shootings.
The latest mass shooting, this time in San Jose, California, saw nine people gunned down at a light rail transit yard, prompting Governor Gavin Newsome to respond with uncharacteristic bluntness: “What the hell is going on in the United States of America? What the hell is wrong with us? When are we going to come to grips with this? When are we going to put down our arms, literally and figuratively, our politics, the stale rhetoric, finger-pointing, all the hand-wringing, consternation that produces nothing except more fury and frustration, more scenes like this repeated over and over and over again?”
Governor Newsome spared no one in his anger, proclaiming: it is time to “take a little damn responsibility, all of us,” and “move beyond the platitudes and usual rhetoric” that come after a mass shooting.
As a society, we become frustrated, saddened and outraged after these mass murders. Words like Columbine, Newtown and Parkland become part of the national lexicon. Digging deeper, the cumulative effects of these events create within us a collective sense of trauma that can endure for generations.
Unfolding developments this week in San Jose have prompted Charles Blow to comment in the New York Times, “We need to recognize the trauma and stress that we as a society have endured because of Covid-19, the collapse of our social structure, the crippling of an economy and the way the racial justice protests have unsettled some people. You add that to an already violent society, one saturated with guns and becoming even more saturated every day, and violence — including mass shootings — is a natural, horrific, inevitable outgrowth.”
People of color and marginalized communities are especially vulnerable to this trauma, shaping all of life—from education to health care to employment opportunities to relations with law enforcement. And, of course, it is the mass shootings that capture the headlines. The often unreported but relentless fear of daily violence has an insidious, cumulative impact on marginalized communities over generations.
This week marked the one year anniversary of the murder of George Floyd as well as the 100th anniversary of the massacre in the Greenwood District in North Tulsa, Oklahoma where up to 300 African Americans were murdered as the authorities not only looked on, but aided and abetted the slaughter. Greenwood, the most prosperous Black community in America at the time, and known as Black Wall Street, was set ablaze, bombed, and looted during a racially motivated violent attack against the thriving Black community. Yet, until recently, there was an officially sanctioned collective amnesia as the event was rarely taught in public schools-even in Tulsa. A new documentary, Descended from the Promised Land: The Legacy of Black Wall Street, produced by Odyssey Impact, speaks to both the trauma and the resilience of the Black community in Tulsa (full disclosure: I am a member of the Odyssey Impact Board of Directors).
As we approach this Memorial Day weekend, when we pay special tribute to those who have served in our armed forces and have given their lives so that we might enjoy the abundant life in this country, it is also important to reflect upon those who have undergone stress and trauma by either systemic or random violence in a society so awash in guns that we cannot find a sensible solution for the future.