One very popular word that has dominated 2022 is trauma. Let’s be honest, many of us have experienced so much trauma over the last couple of years due to the pandemic, the way in which our workplaces operate, and the state of our health. And because we have been experiencing a syndemic – multiple pandemics happening at once – many of us are walking around carrying trauma responses into most of the things we do from day to day.
As a Black woman, I have experienced trauma in the workplace and in my personal life. There are experiences that I have tried to normalize or rationalize away, but nothing can ever replace the lack of humanity that one experiences due to their race, gender or identity.
As an equity consultant, I have been hyper focused on providing women, women of color, and leaders with tools to help create a psychologically safe environment when someone experiences micro or macroaggressions, be it at work or at the store. More recently, I have had to implement my own strategies as I reside between both L.A. and New York City.
Before I made the move to Los Angeles last year, I was very intentional about where I chose to live. I had been living in Harlem and I loved the culture and diversity that I was able to experience daily. When I looked for places to live in Los Angeles, it was important for me to find a similar environment.
The neighborhood that I was excited about was diverse and I moved into a new development. When I signed my lease, I was maybe the 10th person to move in and I hadn’t seen my new neighbors. When I returned back a couple months later, the building was occupied prominently by white tenants.
Immediately, seeing that I was in the minority on the elevators, in the parking garage and in the lobby, I started to think about what I was going to do when one of my neighbors would inevitably mistake me for the delivery driver or cleaning staff.
It was part of my trauma response to the years of being mistaken at the grocery or department store as “the help” when I was shopping, just like the next person. And then it happened almost a year later in my building, as I was coming off the elevator with my dog, Boston, and food in my hand.
One of my neighbors who had been on the elevator with me multiple times and saw me in the mail room walked over and said, “Isn’t that cute, you are delivering food with your dog.” I was taken aback. I was shocked. I was flustered. I looked her directly in her eyes and said, “Girl, I live here!” She immediately backed away, apologized and ran into her apartment.
I walked to my door and put my stuff down and thought about my options. I could assign her ignorance to my mental health and try and dissect why she thought I was delivering food, or I could lean into my tools of healing from situations like this because unfortunately it probably won’t be the last time I experience something like this.
Last year, I wrote a book called “Right Within: How to Heal from Racial Trauma in the Workplace,” a successor to my first book, “The Memo.” It’s a self-help and career book about how to heal from racial trauma. When I shared this interaction with my neighbor on social media, many people of color chimed in with their similar experiences.
I don’t know what my neighbor did when she went back into her apartment, but I focused on the part of the equation that I could control. When met with micro and macroaggressions, these are the steps I took to continue healing and avoid regressing to an unhealthy mental state:
I chose not to sweep this experience under the rug. I leaned into how it made me feel and how I didn’t have to use any extra energy to critique how I might have been dressed or what about me made her think I was delivering food in a building that I have lived in for a year.
Her words made me feel like I was in the 1960’s Batman TV series. Boom! Pow! KaPow!
Once again I have been punched with a racial aggression (even if unintentionally) by some ignorant woman that lived on my floor.
The reality is some people will never get themselves together and do their equity work. I can acknowledge that it did not make me feel dignity and respect, but I refused to let my healing from racialized aggression regress due to someone who doesn’t even know me.
Make a decision.
Once I was able to name the ugliness that happened feet away from my apartment door, I had to make a decision if I was going to internalize this situation and let it take up space in my mind, which would only cause me chronic stress.
I also decided not to blame myself for her offense. In the end, the situation had nothing to do with me making a wrong decision or wearing the wrong shirt, and everything to do with her biases. I cannot control those.
When we decide to vibrate higher, it doesn’t mean these experiences no longer bother us, but it means in the words of Beyonce, “I won’t let this break my soul.” In this step, I took my agency back!
Vibrating higher is all about the ways we respond emotionally and mentally without completely breaking down. I am no longer allowing anyone’s ignorance to break my peace and my healing process. I am actively choosing to move forward.
When someone you know is met with racial aggression, remind them that they have a choice. Part of our healing is acknowledging that harm was caused, again even if my neighbor didn’t mean any harm, the impact was harmful to me. We can also decide if we are going to let this situation stop us from manifesting our own psychological safety. And lastly, we can always choose to vibrate higher, and by doing that, we get to pack a little bit lighter each day.
Minda Harts is the CEO of The Memo LLC and is the best-selling author of "The Memo: What Women of Color Need To Know To Secure A Seat At The Table," "Right Within" and "You Are More Than Magic." Minda is a Professor at NYU Wagner and hosts a live weekly podcast called Secure The Seat.