How Trevor Noah and Racial Profiling Broadened My Definition of Trauma

In July 2016, Minnesota police officer, Jeronimo Yanez fatally shot Philando Castile during a traffic stop. Officer Yanez believed Mr. Castile fit the description of a robbery suspect. Officer Yanez was acquitted of all charges last week. However, newly released footage of the shooting has raised additional questions about the officer’s behavior.

Until today, my definition of “traumatic” hinged largely on concrete, definable harm. Trauma connects to events, links to horrific situations that embed themselves within us. However, after listening to the host of The Daily Show, Trevor Noah, discuss his reaction to the newest video, I discovered an entirely new meaning of the word.
In the following clip, you can see the video as well as listen to Trevor Noah’s comments. Give attention to the words of Diamond Reynolds, Philando Castile’s girlfriend, immediately after the shooting:


Her response was emphasized by Trevor Noah: “‘You shot four bullets into him, sir,’“ Noah said, quoting Reynolds. “It’s fucking mind-blowing that Diamond Reynolds has just seen her boyfriend shot in front of her. She still has the presence of mind to be deferential to the policeman. In that moment, the cop has panicked, but clearly black people never forget their training.”
“Clearly black people never forget their training.” A statement that reflects how flawed our society remains. Now, before someone cautions me to check my privilege, I am not suggesting for one moment that I understand what it is to be a victim of racial profiling. However, I do understand what it is to be a victim. So, when I listen to people discuss how they respond to the threat of racial profiling, I find their statements eerily similar to those I make when I discuss living through ongoing trauma:

  • You live in fear of the very people who should be there to protect you. You do not know who to trust.
  • You repeatedly coach yourself on how to behave inconspicuously, to hide, to survive.
  • You exist knowing that at any time, something horrible can happen.
  • You avoid places and situations where you might be vulnerable and have less control.
  • You “never forget your training.”

This protective response to racial profiling does not stem from wild fear, but from what is an observable reality across the United States. People are living with an ever-present danger. When a threat crosses the line from possible, to probable, and continues on to become a repeated reality for those around you, it hurts. Having to live under that level of stress and concern is unquestionably traumatic, whether or not you have yet to encounter it.
Practicing how to live through a routine traffic stop should not be a necessary part of anyone’s survival.