International attention is focused on the ways in which racism kills Black people; at the hands of police or as a result of the disproportionate impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, has an impact beyond the individual experiences of tragedy for Black people. Here sexual violence adviser, Calvin Stovell, reflects on the impact he has already seen in his work with Black men
In late February, Ahmaud Arbery was chased down by perpetrators claiming that they suspected the innocent jogger of burglary. Two weeks later, plainclothes police broke into Breonna Taylor’s apartment in pursuit of a suspected criminal and shot her dead in a case of ‘mistaken identity’. Then, most infamously, last month Minnesota Police Officer was filmed restraining and suffocating George Floyd, ignoring his cries for help while kneeling on his neck for 8min 46 seconds. Less reported, Tallahassee police shot and killed Trans man Tony McDade last week and, at time of writing, were yet to bring any disciplinary charges
I have watched from London aghast, left to process a number of difficult emotions; grief, anger, frustration, exhaustion…
As an Independent Sexual Violence Advisor that supports male victims of sexual abuse and as a Black male it is impossible for me to ignore the global outcry for justice or the impact of this series of murders, along with the disproportionate impact of the coronavirus pandemic, on Black people .
I have seen first-hand the struggles and despair in response to the continued prevalence and power of racism in our society.
Black men are faced with a paradox of visibility and invisibility; on one hand we are more likely to be seen as a threat, yet on the other, as confirmed by these recent killings, denied our experiences of victimhood.
The collective pain of Black communities around the world and the graphic reminders on television and on social media of systems of oppression that value some lives over others adds to the trauma of Black men who courageously and vulnerably call themselves survivors, some of whom, for various reasons – often tied to violence – be it physical, domestic, sexual or psychological – may be seeking their own form of justice; highlighting the importance of the work I do on a daily basis.
The threat to Black lives has not been limited to these violent acts of injustice but as demonstrated by the recent COVID19 pandemic, systemic inequalities have left Black, and other minority ethnic communities at greater risk, and disproportionately affected by policies implemented by governments in the US and UK; compounded by a lack of necessary resources, such as personal protective equipment, being available in a timely manner .
The deaths of unarmed, innocent Black men and women, whether at the hands of police or tied to the coronavirus, have their roots in the historic and systematic oppression and exclusion of Black people. For Black men, this murderous pattern is related to their dehumanisation; used to justify slavery, a practice instrumental in enabling the development of both the US and UK.
As a Black man I weep for the loss of my Black brothers and sisters, their loss made personal through a common and shared experience of racism. Visual accounts of their deaths service as vivid reminder of the aggressions and micro-aggressions that we as Black people face on a daily basis that go unseen and unrealised.
These frequent indignities of hostility, degradation, and negative messages impact on the health, mental stability and prosperity of Black communities. This environment along with the constraints masculinity imposes on Black men’s identities makes processing trauma difficult, often leaving no room for vulnerability, self-care or tenderness.
Racism, whether it be insidious or blatant takes many forms personal, cultural, systemic and institutional and is recognised as having a significant, negative impact on a person’s life chances and mental health. Though it effects all minority communities there is a notable specific impact on Black communities. We are more likely to experience poverty, poorer educational outcomes, higher negative interactions with the police and have less access to services.
For generations, Black people have tried to tell their truth only to be dismissed and have the reality of their lived experiences doubted or denied. Perhaps now this visceral and disturbing evidence will shed light on what we have known for so long.
For generations, Black people have tried to tell their truth only to be dismissed and have the reality of their lived experiences doubted or denied.
Supporting Black male survivors means having to navigate a fraught system of oppression, including dismantling multiple barriers to services and justice.
Safe spaces are necessary in the essential task of disassembling these systems; providing respite from oppression. These spaces promote free expression and self-determination, a place to process trauma and strengthen the community.
BAM – our Black, Asian and Mixed-Race group at SurvivorsUK is such a space. A safe harbour for men of colour who have experienced sexual violence to explore issues of race, masculinity and identity as it relates to their shared and individual traumas. This collective healing is one of the many steps in moving forward and through the pain of trauma.
It feels important to take a stand for justice and equality, this may mean standing alongside Black people and standing against a system based on unearned privilege and unfairly distributed power.
Taking a stand will require going beyond rhetoric to make substantive changes, it will take individuals and organisations to stand up and show by their actions #WeSeeYou because #BlackLivesMatter.
Many of the events of recent months have been traumatising and have left many of us feeling disoriented, angry or feeling unable to process the mix of emotions raised. It is okay to ask for support. As an initial step visit Good Thinking UK to access digital tools to support well-being