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WNIJ Perspectives
Perspectives are commentaries produced by and for WNIJ listeners, from a panel of regular contributors and guests. You're invited to comment on or respond to any Perspective on our Facebook page or through Twitter (@wnijnews), in keeping with our Discussion Policy. If you would like to submit your own Perspective for consideration, send us a script that will run about 90 seconds when read -- that's about 250 words -- and email it to NPR@niu.edu, with "Perspectives" in the subject line.

Perspective: Cultural Trauma

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Priscilla Gyamfi
/
Unsplash

The Derek Chauvin trial for the murder of George Floyd has gone to jury and I'm numb.

When the killing happened, I decided to only watch the footage of the killing once out of respect. Now I have watched this chronicle of depravity hundreds of times and it doesn't get any easier. And it's not sadness, nor anger -- it's trauma.

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Yale sociologist Jeffrey Alexander says cultural trauma occurs when members of a group feel they have been subjected to a horrendous event that leaves indelible marks upon their group consciousness. That trauma becomes a part of the collective memory and identity of a group. Think the Jews in the Holocaust, or Asian Americans and Japanese internment. Now, what's angering is the dismissal of that trauma by people who try to legitimize Mr. Floyd's murder, and others by saying he must have done something. The history of criminalizing and rendering blacks as hyper violent has happened since slavery. Real public policies restricted economic opportunities and housing for blacks, creating segregation, poverty and desperation, and criminalizing us at alarming rates for infractions like not having a job or loitering, cementing the stereotype of the black criminal that reduces, let alone dismisses, our humanity.

That history plays into our calculus. I do not believe the average American has a clue to the depths of depravity Black folks have had to navigate. And then some have the audacity to ask, why do we say Black lives matter? So the logical question is, what if Mr. Floyd, Miss Taylor, Mr. Garner, Mr. Castile, Mr. Wright, and hundreds of others were white, would that change our responses? Would the trauma make sense then? Would those victims be humanized?

I'm Joseph Flynn, and that is my perspective.

And please, folks, be safe --  and be careful.

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