A Montgomery County group dedicated to discussing race relations in the New River Valley and beyond held its summer meeting — centered around understanding racial trauma Black people in the U.S. have and continue to face — via Zoom Saturday afternoon.
The Dialogue on Race is a group comprising a variety of stakeholders within the county who hold different events throughout the year to discuss race relations, which has been one of the most discussed topics in the country since George Floyd was killed on May 25 by a Minneapolis police officer.
The meeting — held virtually due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic — saw more than 300 virtual attendees and featured a variety of speakers including, Montgomery County School Board member Penny Franklin, Virginia Tech professor and clinical psychologist Russell Jones and clinical psychologist Alexa Casey.
LaTonya Bolden, the event’s moderator and a licensed clinical social worker, said Black people have faced trauma stemming from racism since the first slaves were brought to this country and that the problem is still far from being solved in the U.S. today.
She started the meeting with a video clip of an interview of former Assistant United States Attorney General Roger Wilkins — a Black man — in which he discussed a time when he was accosted and assaulted by police officers while jogging as a 37-year-old man.
Wilkins said he would have been taken to jail that night if he had not had his government credentials in his pocket.
“If that happened to someone like me, imagine what they would’ve done to a 17-year-old kid,” he said of the officers who were suspended over the assault.
Franklin also talked about times she has been discriminated against for the color of her skin. She said she has often been described as the “angry Black woman” for simply wanting to be treated equally to white people.
“I have felt this. My kids have had to feel this and I don’t want my grandkids to have to go through this,” she said.
Jones said that micro- and macroaggressions stemming from racism can have a lasting effect on people that is similar to PTSD individuals often experience after living through traumatic events. The trauma from dealing with racism, systemic and otherwise, can take an individual’s identity and sense of worth away from them, he said.
Examples of microaggressions are as simple as saying something like “you don’t act Black,” or making comments on an individual’s appearance and wanting to touch a Black person’s hair.
Macroaggressions are as severe as someone being targeted and killed by the police for the color of their skin, Jones said.
Casey said white people oftentimes have a hard time listening to these types of stories and that it is not enough to “just be on the right side of the issues.”
She noted that as many as 50% of white conservative voters don’t believe that systemic racism exists, according to a poll she cited.
Casey said that people who believe in the fight against racism should get out and help by voting on legislation that helps eliminate inequalities and to be vocal about equality.
When audience members asked what people can do to help and be more proactive on a local level, some panel members provided some suggestions.
Franklin told audience members that sometimes it’s not even necessary to be vocal.
“Just show up. When you sit in silence that doesn’t help,” she said. “Actions speak louder than words.”