by Melva Graham
If my path to racial healing is any indication, we have a long way to go as a country. In March, Pact Press published my debut essay collection Your Black Friend Has Something to Say. In June—within two days of one another—as I mourned the loss of George Floyd and Black Lives Matter protests swept the nation, I received an email from a friend from high school and a text from a friend from college who had both read my book and found themselves in it. One was a bystander to a microaggression I wrote about in my book, the other the perpetrator of a microaggression I wrote about in my book. I didn’t know I needed to hear from friends I went to high school and college with in the aftermath of my book coming out, but turns out I did. They wanted to take responsibility for the role they had played in the microaggressions I had suffered. Their words were thoughtful, considerate, and kind. I started crying and couldn’t stop. It wasn’t the apology that did it, I don’t think; it was the recognition that what had happened to me was wrong. That visibility, that validation, was enough. I thought the path to racial healing was one I’d have to walk alone. I was wrong. It’s imperative that my white friends walk it with me.
This is a tender time for Black people. We are mourning and marching at the same time. Our emotional labor is at an all-time high. Our personal trauma, our generational trauma is being triggered. Over the years I’ve come to know my own racial trauma rather well. It’s like I broke my leg but it didn’t heal correctly. Now the bones need to be reset so they can mend properly, and it hurts like hell—it’s a very painful process—but it’s what’s needed, it’s what’s necessary, in order for me to walk again. In fact, I don’t know which is worse: the initial breaking of the bones when the trauma first took place or the re-breaking of the bones when the trauma is treated. I realize, in writing my book, I gave my friends a tool to treat my trauma and they’re using it. Our country needs to do the same. Black people know what needs to be done. We have the tools. It’s up to white people to use them. But in order to heal we have to be heard—which is why healing hasn’t happened yet. Not everyone wants to hear what we have to say. Too many white people dismiss or deny our trauma—the acts of horror committed against us every day. They don’t want to take responsibility for their role in it. Then there are those who are too complacent to care. I’m grateful I have friends who do care, because when it comes to racial healing, the truth is, my trauma is their trauma too; my healing is their healing too. If more people knew that, understood that, then maybe we as a country could do the work we need to do, and we could all be set free.
Melva Graham is a writer, actress, and part-time activist. Your Black Friend Has Something To Say, published by Pact Press in the spring of 2020, is her debut essay collection.