Invitation to Conversation Pt. 1

by Roberto Rivera

“I can’t breathe.” These words continue to echo in my mind ever since I read about the horrific tragedy of Eric Garner being strangled to death by NY police officers. Last week I saw these words written on a shirt of a young man while I attended a Bulls basketball game, and again I am overcome by the same emotions I felt when I heard about this tragedy. Many tragedies have surmounted in the news media lately with traumatic accounts of Trayvon Martin, Mike Brown, and others. As we all know trauma can take many forms and in some instances can be passed down from generation to generation (hereditary trauma), and in some instances can become invoked by images being played in YouTube. But what is less heard about is post traumatic growth; to this we focus our attention in this article.

Post traumatic growth is different from resilience. Resilience occurs when someone goes through a challenging event and they are able to get back to the stage they were before the challenge. Post-Traumatic Growth  (PTG) is when someone faces a challenging event or trauma and they experience the outcome of growth after the event. The literature talks about PTG occurring mainly in soldiers or people in war torn countries like Rwanda, Palestine, or Afghanistan. The results of PTG are people expressing a greater sense of purpose in their lives, they report feeling closer to family, and note a heightened sense of spirituality. However very seldom is this occurrence discussed in the context of civilians living in the US.

46 people alone were shot on the Fourth of July weekend in Chicago. Once while facilitating a high school class in Chicago, I asked who in the room had seen someone shot or nearly beaten to death and every hand went up. There is no doubt that many of the students we work with in Chicago and in other cities like LA are dealing with some of the same symptoms that war veterans are dealing with that return with PTSD. Then why aren’t we reporting any cases of PTG here in the states? Looking through the literature I see that most countries that experience PTG have cultures where narratives of growth that results from trauma is interwoven into the everyday music and culture of the people. Some may call this the gospel impulse, an impulse that was prominent in hip-hop during the golden age lasting between the late 80s and early 90s.

Can the co-optation of hip-hop and the proliferation of industry rap be hindering the experiences of PTG for a generation? I would argue that it is at least a contributing factor. Back in the day you would hear NWA rapping about ‘fuck the police,’ but then you would hear Public Enemy rapping about ‘Fear of A Black Planet,’ next you would hear KRS-Ones ‘love is gonna get you,’ and you would have a variety of messages about corruption and police brutality. Now with the industry promoting the like of Chief Keef and Lil Wayne and others, it seems to be promoting getting high or revenge as the only option.

It is not that I am advocating for there to be one kind of hip-hop on the airwaves but we can at least advocate for more balance. This is especially true given the traumatic events taking place lately and so many youth trying to make sense of this. Music and media has long been a place where youth learn how to cope, so why is it that a majority of the entertainment that is most easily available glorifies materialism, a rugged individualism, hyper consumption, and revenge? As people who consider themselves somewhat mature, we have to demand better for our youth and for ourselves. This is why I am advocating for a ban on stations that promote a majority of industry regurgitated hip-hop. This is not only causing our youth to develop maladaptive ways of coping but also influencing white professionals to see youth of color in a negative light. Consider the statistic that says that youth crime has decreased since the crack epidemic in the 90s yet the portrayal of youth in the media as criminals has increased over 600%!

Young people swimming in the mass oceans of the media can’t breathe. The majority of white women serving as teachers in inner city communities, and the majority of white men serving as officers in urban areas can’t breathe when they feel the fear that comes from being in the presence of someone they have been literally programmed their entire lives to fear. People are drowning in fear of each other all because fear is what drives consumption, and this is what marketers want- uncertainty in the masses that will ease with the consumption of more products. The point in all of this is, beyond November 4th, we vote with our dollars and we vote with our time. If we continue to watch trashy television shows and support radio stations and companies that feed off of peoples’ dehumanizations and fear we are part of the problem. Dr. King Jr. said, “We are either going to be part of the problem or part of the solution.” So here are a few suggestions on how we can be part of the solutions:

1. Don’t watch television shows that portray people of color as stereotypes. In fact ask your friends to stop watching them as well.
2. Ban also radio stations that play the same garbage messages, and better yet let these local stations know why.
3. Create and share playlists on Soundcloud and Spotify of your favorite music that has an uplifting message.
4. Blast on Facebook any show or movie that frames people of color as stereotypical.
5. Support black owned businesses.
6. Support businesses that have strong ethics from where they get their goods to how they pay their employees.
7. Create a list of your favorite movies that demonstrate PTG and share them with your friends and on social network sites you frequent.
8. Challenge people who make racist jokes or comments, and do so in love. Who knows- they may be open to growth themselves.
9. Keep in mind that Paulo Freire once said that “only the oppressed can truly liberate the oppressors.” By challenging those in privilege we actually help them to regain their humanity, but this must be done with great humility, wisdom, and love.
10. Share books, and have book clubs that allow you to take powerful ideas and integrate them into your lives. As Margaret Meade once said: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed people can change the world; indeed it is the only thing that really has!”

This is our time to be proactive, not reactive, take the call of Eric Garner and others seriously, and share some fresh air! As Sam Cooke, the great gospel impulse singer, once said once said: “A change is gonna come.” I say that with this historic moment presenting itself and our decision to be intentional- a change is here!

We invite you to join in this conversation in the comments section of this post to share your thoughts and ideas. Also, the conversation continues in Part 2 of “Invitation to Conversation” and on our facebook page.