Healing Racial Trauma

Leslieann Hobayan
5 min readJun 28, 2021

The Summer of 2002 was the first time I entered a space exclusively for people of color. This was the intent of the space: to bring folks of color-specifically writers of color-together WITHOUT worrying about the white gaze. I was dumbfounded. To be able to be authentically ME without measuring my words, without explaining what I was trying to do with my writing? To be SEEN? I mean REALLY seen?? And LOVED?? I was bewildered and awe-struck. I had never known the kind of beauty and love that came out of that experience. It was life-changing. When folks of color get together? There’s no other magical love like that.

I remember walking into the gathering space-the lounge of a dormitory on a college campus-and seeing color, rich abundant color. Deep hues of black and brown skin. Hair in all kinds of ways. Clothing full of brilliance and patterns: yellows, reds, blues. A tall Black man, the director, walked softly towards me and greeted me, welcomed me to the space. I was already smitten.

ONLY people of color were here? This was an entirely new experience. I had no idea how to be fully me. I’ve always been around white people most of my life that it felt wonderfully strange to drop my hunched shoulders and my emotional armor and finally breathe.

I didn’t realize how much I wasn’t breathing until I took my first deep breath here. I didn’t realize how much I was hunching my shoulders, how much my muscles were in permanent contraction until this gathering.

I also felt safe.

There, I connected with other Filipino writers and we talked about our shared experiences with having immigrant parents. We wrote about our strict childhoods and rebellious acts. I saw the vast difference between growing up on the East Coast versus the West Coast. Filipino culture was more prevalent, more accessible in the Bay area compared to suburban Jersey. I was just astonished to find other writers like me, writers who could relate!

I connected with writers of color from all kinds of cultures and backgrounds. We swapped stories and experimented with different forms and traditions of writing. We laughed and we cried. But most importantly, we danced. Ohhh did we dance!

The power when folks of color come together is astounding.

On this campus, at the same time we were in community, there was a summer ballet school. Young white girls populated the cafeteria during lunch in their tight hair buns, pink leotards, and filly tutus. One day, I was hanging out past the lunch period, talking with a few friends, our messy trays on the table before us. Three ballerinas, around the age of twelve, approached us and asked me, “Do you work here?”

I was stunned. What was a loud, laugh-filled conversation suddenly dropped into dead-weight silence.

“What?” I asked, wanting to make sure that I heard them right.

“Do you work here? Because-” The girl speaking started to turn towards the kitchen, pointing at something. She wasn’t going to bother waiting for my response.

“NO.” I said. I might have said it strongly. There might have been an edge in my voice. Maybe.

The ballerinas jumped, startled.

“Oh,” she said. And then they scurried away.

I don’t know if I would have responded to this incident in such a definitive way if not for this community.

The feeling that this community created was amazing. Addicting, even. Who knew it was possible to feel this way? For a brown girl like me to feel affirmed and validated, loved and cared for?

I went back for two more summers. Then a third after I had my first child.

It was beautiful. The community, the support, the love.

Inevitably, time moves on and change shifts the things we want to freeze in place. The community evolved… while also, in some ways, stayed the same.

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A few years ago, some shit went down with one of the community organizers. It wasn’t pretty. It was mad difficult. Painful. Heart-wrenching. It fractured the community. Folks on opposite sides. It felt like someone set our place on fire. In a big and public way.

This event showed me some truths about us. Truths I can’t quite articulate but feel quite palpably. There were things I had assumed that turned out to be wrong. This love was not impenetrable. This love was not unconditional.

After that, I wasn’t sure if I could still be part of this community. Folks showed their true colors. And unhealed traumas showed up big time.

I had to take a closer look at my role in this community and ask if this community was serving my highest good and the highest good of all others.

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Recently, something went down behind the scenes in the governance of this community. While it’s not clear what actually happened, it’s become another scenario of folks choosing sides. There’s finger pointing and blame. Public tear-downs and protests. It’s a mess. And the community is fracturing once again, not having really healed from the previous fire. And there is collateral damage. Folks newly invited to the community were getting burned.

I am watching it all unfold. More unhealed trauma is coming out to play.

And I am asking myself these questions: why is this happening? Why are we so quick to take each other down? How does white sup3macy play a role in this? Because, inevitably, it does. Consider its insidiousness and how our subconscious minds-which have been living inside racist systems since we were born-operates 95% of the show. What’s really at play here? Is the system so successful that we are doing the work for it by fighting among ourselves in this deeply hurtful and damaging way?

It breaks my heart to witness all of this. And I know this isn’t a singular experience. It’s not something unique to this community. It happens in plenty of communities of color. Within each community and across color.

We need to work on healing. To take a look at the wounds of trauma created by racism and do the work to remember love. To heal these wounds and open up to love-to both give and receive love. Unconditionally.

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If you’re looking to start the work of healing racial trauma, join me for Write In Ritual, a 4-day retreat for women and femme identifying writers of color in the mountains of Upstate NY, July 29-Aug 1st at Millay Colony for the Arts. Deadline to register: July 15th. More info and to sign up: https://suryagian.com/write-in-ritual

This is part of the Maverick Monday series, where I talk about healing trauma (micro and macro) through the lens of a woman writer of color (that’s me!). Each week, I’ll share a personal story from my healing journey in the hopes that others will find comfort in knowing that they are not alone. I hope that by doing this, you can see that YES! healing-true, lasting, deep healing — — IS possible and that you can thrive in your life, living as your most authentic self without shrinking from the world. If you’re interested learning how to do that, check my offerings, from memberships to retreats to coaching, and find what’s right for you! https://suryagian.com/

Originally published at https://www.suryagian.com on June 28, 2021.

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Leslieann Hobayan

Poet. Activist. Healer. Professor. Author of DIVORCE PAPERS: A SLOW BURN (Finishing Line Press, 2023)