“Yes, we all share the experience of grief, but people of color can grieve differently,” grief resource expert Alica Forneret wrote in The Huffington Post. Forneret offers services that directly speak to the needs of Black people and people of color experiencing grief. Given the level of shared grief among Americans amid the coronavirus pandemic, ongoing racial injustice, and loss of beloved figures, Forneret talked to several experts who specified the ways Black people grieve.
Even though everyone grieves, it “does not mean that the reasons we grieve, our access to mourning, is shared,” Michelle Williams, co-founder and director of Being Here, Human, told the outlet. “And this is where marginalized communities are impacted differently.”
Here’s what experts say makes grieving different for Black people and other people of color.
Grieving Someone’s Life Often Means Grieving The Loss Of Safety Or Hope
Feeling unsafe is detrimental to one’s health and for many, mourning a loss can intensify that feeling.
“The realization that no place is safe –– not on the street, not in your car, not in your yard, not even in your own home –– is taking a significant toll on the emotional and physical well-being of Black folks. When Black people can’t even find a sense of security in the warmth of their own beds, something immeasurable has been lost,” Williams told HuffPost.
Grief Is A Shared Experience For Black Communities and Communities Of Color
For many Black Indigenous, Latino and other communities of color, being in contact with other humans is a huge part of their survival, according to Sarah Chavez, a founding member of the Collective For Radical Death Studies.
“Shared traditions, cultural practices, language, and especially death and mourning rituals all serve to reinforce and define both the identity of self and community, culture and beliefs outside of whiteness,” Chavez told the outlet.
Mental health advocate Taryn Thrasher said for Black people, our shared experience brings us together, especially when someone is lost as a result of racial injustice.
“Black people everywhere are unified through our shared struggle against the forces of oppression and racism. This shared experience deepens the pain we feel when we learn of the murder of another Black person,” Thrasher said. “We grieve for the community, for the family, which includes the countless lives that were touched by the individual who was robbed of their life.”
Grief Brings Out Other Traumas For Black People, Especially At Various Intersections Of Our Existence
The number of Black transgender people killed in the US each year is staggering. Many times their deaths go unreported or misreported. Naomi Edmonson, a grief-focused death doula and artist told HuffPost, “Queer, trans, and intersex Black people are barely given space to process our own personal trauma before a new tragic, violent death hoisted upon us as a collective.”
Additionally, mourning a loss can touch other areas of trauma in a Black person’s life, even that which is inherited across generations.
“What is unique to the African American experience of grieving is that whatever it is that we are grieving is happening on top of the trauma residing in our bodies from the daily lived experience of existing within a system that has historically and continues currently to assault us in a myriad of ways,” end-of-life doula Oceana Sawyer told The HuffPost. Sawyer works to help people navigate grief and death.
The Frequency Of Loss Black People Experience Collectively Is Often Publicized
The world and nation watched as multiple Black people were killed because of racial violence last year. The deaths of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, Elijah McClain, Rayshard Brooks, and so many others made international headlines. Body cam footage is often replayed online and in news, deepening the impact of that person’s loss and underlying traumas.
“The sheer volume of grief, loss and emotional trauma we are having to navigate and process is, in some ways, unprecedented,” actor-advocate-author Tembi Locke told the outlet. Locke is the author of From Scratch. “The scale, frequency and way we are inundated with images of Black pain is relentless. That near-constant threat of loss and the activation of grief, public and private, is inescapable.”
Processing traumatic events is made complicated by the coronavirus pandemic as COVID-19 disproportionately impacts Black communities and funerals are required to be held virtually, or have restricted attendance.
A number of resources are available to give ideas about what can be done to affirm cultural practices while processing grief throughout the pandemic.
Experts say reaching out and tapping in to available help, including therapy, can help develop connections in meaningful ways.
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