Healing After Hate Crimes


Recent hate crimes perpetuated against people on the bases of race, religion, gender, or sexuality - namely the recent church shooting in Charleston and the other attacks that have occurred on Black churches - have me thinking deeply about healing - What does it mean to heal? Is healing from such moments of injustice even a possibility? Is it the right thing to hope for?

See, healing is typically defined as "the process of making or becoming healthy again" and is associated with synonyms like assuage, palliate, relieve, mitigate, and lessen. And while all of these seem to offer help in times of pain and struggle, they also bring to mind a sense of numbness, of acceptance, of pacification; and furthermore, a sense of a need to return to something that once existed.

But what is "becoming healthy again" to the Black person in America whose life has consistently been deemed as less important? Where is the possibility of relieving pain to the transgender person whose existence has been questioned and abused? Why should we heal when our anger and pain are what drive us to seek change? Is it so wrong to be resilient enough to survive while remaining determined not to heal? Determined not to be pacified? Determined to not have my pain assuaged? But in a time when I am also concerned about our mental health and stability as members of oppressed communities, I ask what we can look forward to if it is not healing?

I am reminded of scripture that states: "He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds," "Your faith has healed you. Go in peace and be freed from your suffering," and "He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning, or crying, or pain for the old order of things has passed away." But thinking of scripture also reminds me that it was in a place of worship where members of Emanuel AME church were murdered while they likely prayed for some form of healing.

In my many thoughts and my reflection on my faith, I have decided for now that - while I do hope for my communities to be healed and for the wounds that have resulted from the transgressions against my people to be bound - I know these cannot fully happen until "the old order of things has passed away." In this sense, I do not believe it is oppressed people in need of traditional definitions of healing. Instead it is those carrying such hate, it is a system of injustice, it is a world filled with dehumanization that requires mitigation and palliation. So what kind of healing does that leave for us, the victims of such hate, those who carry with us the weight of pain centuries in the making? Our healing is one of strength and resilience; one of doing whatever is necessary to survive.

I asked others to contribute their thoughts on the matter, and I heard beautiful words of wisdom: "Healing is contested for me. On one hand, I admire my people's ability to heal from trauma and pain. I also understand how our ability for collective healing is used against us in the devaluing of our own bodies." Another shared: "Healing is important for the necessary endurance to keep going in life. The issue is that people tell us what acceptable forms of healing are (hugs, meditation) and what aren't (protests, yelling) [but] I've never seen our community broken from not being healed. On the contrary, I've seen it fueled to fight." "What is the point of waiting to heal if we live in a society that continually rips the scabs off, cuts deeper, and then requests patience before stabbing again?" Finally, "I have to be intentional about what I feel and 'allow myself to feel.' If I even attempt to heal fully I might lose the motivation necessary to fight for systemic change, so I do enough to help me survive. Often that means memorializing and honoring the lives lost, the legacies left...it's healing and fighting simultaneously."

For those of us who are the recipients of the hatred propelling crimes based on discrimination, our healing is one of healing and resisting simultaneously. Knowing that we are not given the same opportunity to ever fully rest, we must keep faith and hope in an ultimate peace. We must keep faith and hope that things can change. We must lean on each other for temporary moments of relief; we must find enough in one another to help each other survive. But I don't believe we can ever fully heal until justice is served and I think the expectance for us to do so without the latter is something that needs to be changed as well as the rhetoric around healing and pacification. Furthermore, we should be allowed to heal in whatever way we deem appropriate - so yell, cry, let your voice be heard. Do not allow others to make you think you should just forget the pain of deep wounds or become complacent, continue to heal, resist simultaneously, and survive.