Afrika Afeni Mills • August 29, 2023
What comes to mind for you when you think of healing? For me, I immediately think of wounds, and when I think of wounds, I think about the many I experienced as a child while playing outside. One incident comes to mind in particular.
When I was around five years old, I was playing outside with one of my pre-school friends (I’ll call him Zion). I grew up in Brooklyn, and playing in the water looked more like someone opening a fire hydrant on the block, or playing in the cement splash areas at a local park. Zion and I were playing around in one of those neighborhood parks. The water wasn’t really running . . . it was drizzling lightly from the faucet, but Zion was undeterred.
With his little five-year-old hands, he did his best to get water into the very thick Tropicana orange juice 32-ounce glass bottle he had found in the park. He called my name, I turned around and he attempted to splash me with the water in the bottle. Unfortunately, water had drizzled onto the side of the bottle while he was filling it, making it slippery. I’ll leave out the gory details, but suffice it to say that I sustained a blow to my forehead, and the bottle that was 12” before it hit me was about 6-7” and jagged afterward.
Zion wasn’t trying to hurt me. His hands were small, and the bottle was slippery. Not so with racialization. Racial categories are a lie. Subjugating people is malevolent. The wound was intentional. The cut is deep. The weapons that caused the wound were fashioned by deception and in shadows – cloaked and seductive.
It seems that just as the skin begins to knit itself back together, the wound is forced open.
Trail of tears.
When I came home from preschool that day, I had a bandaid on my forehead, and it was clear to my parents that it was insufficient for the injury I had sustained. Thankfully our next-door neighbor was a nurse, and she gave me stitches. You can’t really see the scar that remains unless you look at me really closely, and at a certain angle.
We, as a society, don’t tend to respond well to the wounds our human family has sustained. We often turn away – pretending that we don’t see them or that there’s nothing we can do. Sometimes we begin the process of healing but seem to keep putting bandaids on wounds that need stitches, and mistakenly think we’ve done enough. Sadly, we even fail to see that racialization is an indiscriminate monster that lacerates us all in different ways. Racial healing requires that we understand the nature of the wounds – when, why, and how they happened – that we sanitize our hands so we don’t do additional damage, invest in the first-aid supplies we need, and get about the business of rehabilitation.
We can be a balm.
We can be salve.
We can be sutures.
We can be gauze.
We can be a cast.
What is wounded and broken, we have the capacity to mend.
Will we rupture or repair?
The choice is ours.
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Afrika Afeni Mills is an author, an Education Consultant, and Adjunct Instructor. In addition to authoring Open Windows, Open Minds: Developing Antiracist, Pro-Human Students (Corwin, June 2022), she works with colleagues, teachers, coaches, and administrators to develop and sustain student-centered learning experiences that are diverse, inclusive, and equitable. Afrika has been featured on podcasts, blogs, delivered keynote addresses, and facilitated sessions at conferences across the United States. She will also be publishing a book with Corwin Press in 2022.
Afrika believes that all educators can be motivated, engaged, dynamic practitioners and leaders when provided with the support needed to create student-centered, antibias, antiracist, pro-human, culturally responsive learning environments that inspire wonder and creativity and nurture authentic diversity, belonging, equity, and inclusion.