Calvin Stovell is an Independent Sexual Violence Advisor (ISVA) working with male victims of rape and sexual abuse for SurvivorsUK. Here, Calvin explores how we can better support black survivors in light of the brutal murders that have taken place in America in recent weeks.

My heart breaks as I have watched the brutal murders of Ahmaud Arbery in Georgia, and George Floyd in Minnesota, in recent weeks, leaving me to process a number of difficult emotions; grief, anger, frustration, exhaustion…

As an Independent Sexual Violence Advisor that supports male victims of sexual abuse and as a Black male it is impossible for me to ignore the global outcry for justice.

I have seen first-hand the struggles and despair in response to the continued prevalence and power of racism in our modern societies.

Black men are faced with a paradox of visibility and invisibility; on one hand we are more likely to be seen as a threat, yet on the other, as confirmed by these recent killings, denied our experiences of victimhood.

The collective pain of Black communities around the world and the graphic reminders on television and on social media of systems of oppression that value some lives over others adds to the trauma of Black men who courageously and vulnerably call themselves survivors, some of whom, for various reasons – often tied to violence – be it physical, domestic, sexual or psychological – may be seeking their own form of justice; highlighting the importance of the work I do on a daily basis.

The threat to Black lives has not been limited to these violent acts of injustice but as demonstrated by the recent COVID19 pandemic, systems of inequalities have left BAME communities vulnerable and disproportionately affected due to policies implemented by governments around the world, only to be compounded by a lack of resources.

The deaths of unarmed Black men and women, whether at the hands of police or tied to the coronavirus are rooted in the historic and systematic oppression and exclusion of Black people. For Black men, this murderous pattern is related to their dehumanisation; used to justify slavery, a practise instrumental in the development of many of today’s societies.

As a Black man I weep for the loss of my Black brothers and sisters, their loss made personal through a common and shared experience of racism.  Visual accounts of their deaths serve as a vivid reminder of the aggressions and micro-aggressions that we as Black people face on a daily basis that go unseen and unrealised.

These frequent indignities of hostility, degradation, and negative messages impact on the health, mental stability and prosperity of Black communities.  This environment along with the constraints masculinity imposes on Black men’s identities makes processing trauma difficult, often leaving no room for vulnerability, self-care or tenderness.

Racism, whether it be insidious or blatant, takes many forms. Be it personal, cultural, systemic and institutional. Racism is recognised as having a significant, negative impact on a person’s life chances and mental health.  Though it affects all minority communities it has a notable impact on Black communities.  We are more likely to experience poverty, poorer educational outcomes, higher negative interactions with the police and have less access to services.

For generations, Black people have tried to tell their truth only to be dismissed and then denied the reality of their lived experiences.  Perhaps, now this digital and visceral evidence will shed light on what we have known for so long.

Supporting Black male survivors means having to navigate a fraught system of oppression and dismantling multiple barriers to services and justice.

Safe spaces are necessary for the essential task of disassembling these systems; providing respite from oppression.  These spaces promote free expression and self-determination, a place to process trauma and strengthen the community.

BAM – our Black, Asian and Mixed-Race group at SurvivorsUK is such a space.  A safe harbour for men of colour who have experienced sexual violence to explore issues of race, masculinity and identity as it relates to their shared and individual traumas.  This collective healing is one of the many steps in moving forward and through the pain of trauma.

It feels important to take a stand for justice and equality, this may mean standing alongside Black people and standing against a system based on unearned privilege and unfairly distributed power.

Taking a stand will require going beyond rhetoric to make substantive changes, it will take individuals and organisations to stand up and show by their actions.

#BlackLivesMatter #WeSeeYou #WeHearYou

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