In the wake of trauma

Dear President Biden,

Have you had a chance to talk with any of the Congress people who were inside the Capitol on January 6th during the attempted self-coup? I’m guessing you’ve made a point to touch base with at least some of them since you seem like the kind of person who would want to give folks some comfort. I hope so. They need you.

It’s really hard to imagine how scary that must have been for everyone present, but especially for the Black and Brown women lawmakers, all of whom knew they were especially vulnerable. Just now reading the WP’s article with several other women’s first person accounts I’m left feeling raw and so, so sad for them. Here they were, many if not all of them having defied the odds to hold the positions they hold, only to have to barricade themselves into their offices and hide under their desks for hours on end in the dark, desperately hoping they weren’t discovered by a vengeful mob of misogynistic White supremacists.

The article’s author, Sarah Fowler, notes that the experience that day in the Capitol was profoundly different for the White male lawmakers than it was for the BIPOC women lawmakers and that the latter will likely feel the effects of the trauma the rest of their lives. And it isn’t because there’s something wrong with the BIPOC women or that they’re weak or more sensitive – this is what happens when one knows that one is especially likely to be grievously harmed by another human being.

There are very old data (from the mid-1990’s) that showed that when someone is mugged, if that someone is a woman, she is substantially more likely to develop PTSD than if that someone is a man. Generally people have tried to explain women’s (mostly) higher rates of PTSD than men’s in the face of similar traumas in terms of hormones or information processing differences, but I think it’s simpler than that, at least in the context of a mugging – when a woman is being mugged she would reasonably fear the mugger (who is likely a man) might also rape her while a man would almost certainly not have this concern. The exception to the gender differences in PTSD rates in the aftermath of similar traumas is that men who are raped are actually more likely to develop PTSD than women who are raped.

I know there’ve not been reports of sexual assaults on January 6th, I’m just offering this information on PTSD following muggings and rapes to highlight that who someone is, what their position in the world is, has bearing on how traumas affect them.

The last thing I want to highlight on this topic is what a good job it seems like Speaker Pelosi is doing simultaneously managing a full House agenda complete with preparing for an impeachment trial and attempting to get covid-19 relief to Americans while also dealing with enemies of the nation who are members of Congress and helping those traumatized by the events of January 6th cope with the emotional fallout. I think it’s brilliant that she’s asked her members to write out what they experienced that day in as much detail as they can remember both for themselves and to preserve the stories for history. She’s also asked them to write it out again in a month or two. Someone terrific is coaching her – writing out such trauma narratives shortly after an awful thing happens is one of the things that helps people avoid developing PTSD (here’s a review paper that shows this: https://doi.org/10.1080/20008198.2019.1695486).

I also love that Pelosi said that healing comes with justice and that this is not a ‘forgive and move on’ situation. Damn right, it’s not – no way. As Wynta-Amor Rogers so forcefully told the world this past summer “No Justice, No Peace.” We must hold the insurrectionists and everyone, absolutely everyone, who incited the violence accountable if there is to be true healing for the people who were in the Capitol that day and for all of US.

May we all be safe.
May we all find our ways to happiness.
May we all be strong and healthy even when we feel weak and vulnerable.
May we accept that without justice, there can be no peace.

Sincerely,
Tracy Simpson

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