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Fireworks and Freedom

Estimated reading time ~ 3 min
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July 4th celebrations bring the excitement of parades, fireworks, food, and family. Words like “freedom” and “independence” flood news feed notifications as American flags fly, tugging at notions of solidarity. Leading up to July 4th, quotes like “taxation without representation” or “give me freedom or give me death” are given new meaning within a contemporary context. Indeed, the explosions of 1776 are now the fireworks of 2022. They link the freedoms a nation was willing to die for with those we enjoy. However, for many, July 4th is also a post-traumatic trigger.** The July 4th narrative that assumes a collective “we” omits the experiences of Black, Latinx, and Native people and also speaks to their experience of exclusion. Currently, the way we celebrate July 4th validates racial exclusion.

July 4th presents a universal experience of freedom that has never existed for non-white people. While there are always pictures and speeches of and by people of color, nothing speaks to the collective experience of gaslighting on a national stage. The term gaslighting comes from the 1944 film “Gaslight” where one of the characters intentionally manipulates the other character, psychologically, pushing said character to question their own sanity. Every July 4th, the presentation of a ‘universal truth of freedom’ overshadows, minimizes, and silences the impact of racism on Americans of color, subsequently gaslighting them. The fabric of American independence is woven with the blood, sweat, and tears of Black, Latinx, and Native people fighting against racism for freedoms never fully experienced. Without centering their story, July 4th is still a segregated holiday in practice.

The exclusionary ‘we’ that obtained freedom in 1776 enslaved Black Americans and later colonized land in Mexico and parts of Latin America, while actively committing genocide against Natives. “We The People” was initially imagined as a racially exclusive white possession. After American independence, lynching enslaved Black Americans was a sustainable practice of social control. Today, mass incarceration, the enforcement of child separation in migrant detention facilities, extrajudicial murders by law enforcement agents, alongside a race and gender wage gaps and corporate apartheids all work to “maintain the established racial order”. With all of this, people remain triggered by the linkage of past and present events that continue to reproduce and uphold race and disparity.

On July 5th, 1852, Frederick Douglass described July 4th as a reminder of “the gross injustice and cruelty” that defined Black existence. Douglass’ words alluded to future freedom being fraught with conflict, struggle, and a need to heal. Constitutionally-bound racial exclusion has shaped generations of trauma and has provided validation for trauma-inducing ideologies and behaviors. For example, equal access to education means that racial disparities in education are more openly accepted and reproduced in employment. A right to a fair trial means that many will not question the disparate rejection of Black, Latinx, and Native jurors alongside sentencing disparities. The trauma these experiences cause become sustainable across generations where racial trauma is minimized, reduced to nothingness, or discussed without intentions to act.

July 4th celebrations are also reflected within workplace cultures that do not validate the traumatic experiences that Black, Latinx, and Native employees have. Work can be a traumatic place for many people and a post-traumatic trigger is fused each time a Black, Latinx, or Native professional’s experience of being lonely, overwhelmed, unsupported, or undervalued is dismissed. The absence of that narrative within companies and industries also helps corporate cultures maintain white supremacy.

Here are 5 actionable steps companies can use to defuse post-traumatic triggers in the workplace:

  1. Dedicate time and space to mindfulness practices around workplace race and gender-based trauma
  2. Host listening tours for underrepresented employees to develop actionable solutions for shared experiences that fuse post-trauma triggers
  3. Develop content from listening tours and intentional community spaces into training tools that build a corporate strategy
  4. Allocate funding for food, travel, and supportive resources to develop community spaces (ERGs, retreats, community action plans, etc.)
  5. Invest time, relationships, and resources into projects that advance self-defined interests of historically underserved communities

Let’s imagine a world where suffering and intergenerational racial trauma are less sustainable. National independence removes the experiences of Black, Latinx, and Native people. Performance within these categories is an indication of corporate health and organizational performance. This indication must drive initiatives to support the professional and mental health of Black, Latinx, and Native employees.

**This article uses a post-traumatic trigger to describe a physical and emotional apprehension toward ideas and behaviors that reproduce race and gender disparity.

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