National Healing: A Call to Action | Opinion

We are on the precipice of something our generation has never seen the likes of. In cities across the country and around the world, protesters both Black and white, old and young, able-bodied and in between, have converged together in this moment of abolition and social justice. For the first time in what feels like forever, liberation does not just feel like table stakes, but the essential outcome of the work at-hand. But something still threatens to potentially derail the momentum of this moment and movement: our inability to truthfully heal from the past trauma that sits in the roots and soil of these United States of America.

It is easy to look at the tearing down of a Confederate flag, the burning of a pharmacy or the dismantling of a statue, and question the motives—to see these as distractions from the "real" work of ending racism. However, America's yet to be fully processed and acknowledged trauma sits neatly in every falsified textbook, in every classroom lecture and segregated housing community, in every hospital room death where infant mortality rate disparities loom large and still unchecked, and in every murder of a Black or brown man, womxn, Trans or non-binary individual at the hands of those sworn to serve and protect.

There is a sordid history that we must discuss and dissect in order to transcend. Some want us to affirmative-action-away or welfare-away the trauma; some want to not-see-color-away the trauma. Some would rather believe the Civil War was about secession and not about cotton, capitalism and enslaved peoples as cattle. Some would rather believe racism died with the Klu Klux Klan (still around), lynching (still happening) and cross burnings (replace with "TIKI torches").

This healing moment may be new to some, but to many Black and other BIPOC communities, it is a part of the unpacking that has always been our work—sorting the mess that is America and bearing the brunt of the work while others get to sit in their comfortable bubbles of "hear no evil, see no evil." But the evil has always been here. Some of us have merely been too afraid to listen.

We cannot pray away oppression. We cannot empathy our way out of white supremacy. The inner and outer work required, the decolonizing and destruction of the systems in place, requires more than just love and kindness. Healing is all parts active and heavy. The work is not just meditative and kumbaya while holding hands and purging away white people's sins. That can be a part of the practice, but it is not THE practice. Instead, it is about holistically looking at how we, as a community, can reimagine and rebuild systems in a way where equity is not merely optional—it is mandatory.

Protesters in Los Angeles
Protesters in Los Angeles MARK RALSTON/AFP via Getty Images

We are not just demanding a better America; we are demanding Americans be better. We have been demanding the same things from this America since they brought us here on boats, in chains. Since they enslaved us, since they stole this land from indigenous peoples and named it other than what it already was. Long before the Japanese were put in internment camps. Long before Birth of a Nation became a propaganda tool.

Yes, it is about reading the books and learning the history of not just America, but also the international history of colonialism, of oppressive structures and how capitalism has laid to ruin much of which it stands on. Yes, it is about accountability and a reckoning of that account. It is about measures taken that may include reparations, but also a dialogue surrounding the history that has led us here. Yes, it is about Ferguson and George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, as much as it is about MOVE in Philadelphia, the Tulsa massacre, Sandra Bland, Emmett Till, Medgar Evers, Fred Hampton and the four Black girls in Mississippi. It is about all of those things. It is also about understanding our complicity, here and now, with the fires raging across our towns. Those fires are not by happenstance. They are all calls to action—calls for direct healing and acknowledgement of the past and present.

Our liberation is directly tied to the oppression that has kept us in bondage—the physical, mental and spiritual ways we have yet to confront the ugly truth of America. Our healing is a prerequisite to our freedom in this moment. There are countless external and internal struggles we've got to deal with: white supremacy, patriarchy, misogyny, rape culture, victim-shaming, racism, sexism, transphobia and homophobia. So much healing is needed. There are so many invisible and very visible wars. But until we acknowledge the healing needed for all of us, we as a society will never truly know freedom. So, we march. We fight. We disturb and disrupt.

Healing can be our protest, too.

Joel L. Daniels is the author of A Book About Things I Will Tell My Daughter. Follow him on Twitter: @JoelakaMaG.

The views expressed in this article are the writer's own.