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When Not Breathing is an Empathic Response to what’s going on in the World

I don’t know about you, but when I watched the scenes of George Floyd on the ground, taking his last breaths as a result of the violence that was being inflicted upon him by Derek Chauvin… my body responded. I felt like

I

COULD

NOT

BREATHE.

Somehow in the process of taking in what was going on in my telephone screen, I started to feel what he was feeling. And not just for that moment, but as I started to process the grief and trauma over the next few days. Even as I went back to work on the Monday following the Friday viewing, it was evident to my colleagues that something was wrong. Thankfully, my boss had the discernment to pick it up and gave me space to talk about it with them.

This incident triggered, not just an indignation for what has been happening in the States for too long, but also for what has been placed upon me and my children in the past because of the colour of our skin.

Being a POC in New Zealand growing up never really presented itself as an issue, so when I moved to Australia as a six-year-old, I was horrified by the different treatment my sisters and I experienced because of our colour. Words like “Blackie” or “Darth Vader”, and torturous bullying that I was exposed to because of facial features that come as a part of my cultural difference, (ie. my big lips), made me feel less-than my Australian counterparts.

As we migrated back to New Zealand, I still felt safe in my skin. In my world, I felt like being brown was the cool thing. We were exposed to stories of Apartheid in South Africa and the Civil Rights movement in America, and somehow I became acquainted with their anguish. Nelson Mandela and Martin Luther King Jr were heroes to me. The injustice done to whole people groups because of the colour of their skin, confused and outraged me to no end.

When I was in High School, I did a “cultural exchange” to South Auckland as the demographics of their school was highly populated with a distinctly different cultural make up to what I had known. Within a short period of time, I was confronted with the discrimination that existed within my own city. One of the teachers (who was also a local council politician) came late to a class one day, gave a very vague lesson plan on the board then started to walk around the class. As he approached me, I asked him in my very curious teenage way “Why don’t you teach these kids properly?” to which he replied, “because they’re not to pass anyway!” Shock Horror, he was a white man and the class was full of actually highly intelligent Pacific Island and Maori students living in South Auckland. I had the priviledge of having this three month experience captured for a documentary called “How the other half lives” and was able to be a voice for the discrimination I experienced.

The best talk I have listened to regarding the tragedy surrounding George Floyds death and the systemic racism was this interview with Christine Caine and Dr Anita Williams. In it, Dr Anita talks about the dehumanisation, that underlies racial discrimination. The language that she has given to what has been going on for too long, not just in the States, but also in Australia and around the world, is mind blowing. It explains a lot about how people can justify their inhuman treatment of other human beings when they are not fully convinced that the other person is human.

When I look at this situation through the framework of B4A which is based on Isaiah 61 and Gods desire for us to be holistically restored, I understand WHY my body responded in the way that it did. Although I didn’t delve into all the different racist incidences that have affected me and my family, suffice to say that being brown, has not gone unnoticed to all- and sometimes that has been a good thing, and other times, not so good.

As my therapist would say, trauma is felt in the body first. Triggers would not make their way directly to our cognitive processes, until they had first responded in our body. Our BODIES speak a language (as Christine so aptly named their interview “Body Language”) that invites us into a space of healing and restoration. We HAVE TO BE self-aware so that we can feel, hear and respond to the signals that our bodies are sending out.

Real restoration can not take place if we are not self-aware, because how can you repair something that you don’t recognise as broken. Trauma, whether it is racial, physical, mental, spiritual, social, or even financial, cannot be healed until it is named.

And so, as your body may have sent YOU an invitation lately, to do the deep, hard work of restoration, I want to champion you to go there. Exposing your past trauma, is best done in the company of someone who has the capacity to help you heal your pain. Find a good therapist, a safe friend or family member, and allow empathy and love to take the place of shame and grief.

Or maybe it’s not about you- Maybe, your body is inviting you to be a part of the restoration of the people group in your land, that has been treated less than human. The Body of Christ has an obligation in this season to respond; to stand up against the injustice and usher in a new level of solidarity for the African American, Indigenous and People of Colour. If our bodies collectively respond by doing something (in a manner of peace and love), then we actually prepare a place for God to do His work of restoration.

“Righteousness and justice are the foundation of his throne.”
‭‭Psalms‬ ‭97:2‬ ‭NLT‬‬