People with disabilities have always had a voice. We’re just teaching the world different ways to listen.
A disability victim services agency

Deaf woman with short hair signing

I Can’t Breathe . . .

June 4, 2020

By Guest Writer Sharmane Delgado-Payne, MSW, LISW-S

Sharmane Delgado-Payne

“I can’t breathe…”

Those words keep ringing in my head. I have witnessed two men die on camera, in broad daylight, uttering those words. At the same time, their life is drained from their bodies by police officers cutting their airflow with very real and symbolic and oppression. The elimination of oxygen cripples while making one weak, leading to death. The silencing of the all too many voices and the repetitive harvesting of “strange fruit.” Signaling the perpetuation of white supremacy and the devaluing of Black lives has me sick and scared. The hatred of Black men is palpable, while those who benefit from white privilege and the unjust racism within our justice system go free.

Webster’s dictionary defines intersectionality as “the interconnected nature of social categorizations, such as race, class and gender as they apply to a given individual or group, regarded as creating overlapping and interdependent systems of discrimination or disadvantage.”

Differences and categories in which we are stereotyped and or belong to have implications, with the majority resulting in indiscriminate racism. To be clear, the lives of African Americans should be considered the ultimate intersection, but wait, add another layer of categorization with having a disability, and honestly watch the inequality and brutality treatment as a victim of crime. Not too long ago, we witnessed police officers shooting Charles Kinsley and his autistic client in Florida. This was after law enforcement was informed that they were not armed, and his hands were up! Why is fear and profiling so rampant that the police would shoot an unarmed black man and a person with an identified disability? Does my skin color scream “shoot me”? What is it about my person that triggers white fragility to the point of my extermination? This is the million-dollar question we must ask the preverbal “woke” individuals throwing around the nouveau buzz words of tolerance, respect, and equal rights. Where did this irrational fear come from?

Historic trauma has many lessons to teach us. America has convenient amnesia when it comes to remembering how and who built this country. The Native Americans and imported African slaves are invisible when listing their seminal contributions to the amassed privilege in which they do not have a share. Black folks have been taught to turn the other cheek, seek peace, take it to Jesus, and do not protest. We have gone to church to sing songs of peace and freedom to end our people’s struggle. We have seen Civil Rights giants fall and give of themselves, yet we still can’t breathe…

I have PTSD from the trauma of having to survive and thrive in an environment that systematically seeks to destroy my very existence. My children are at risk, and I must educate them by having real-life conversations that could be lifesaving. Training your child for the worst is the daily reality for many Black families. Why must my children bear the burden of emotional distress and the loss of their innocence? Black children’s mental health matters, too.

The conversation that must take place is not about the looting after Mr. George Floyd’s murder. The direct and systemic reformation of the justice system and police department arrest protocol, where people of color are disproportionately targeted and killed, must be reviewed. Those who are in power must be at a place where they do not fear sharing their ill-gotten privilege if change is really going to occur. I have heard people ask several times this past week why African Americans are so angry. Why am I mad? The injustice that I witness and the lawlessness in law enforcement, supported by the highest office in our land, that consequently dismisses Black Americans’ humanity, pisses me off. Acknowledgment of the pain and division that has been inflicted upon our country remains critical to unpacking and understanding the American experience of Black Americans. The growing list of names triggers my trauma every time another victim of color dies. Can transparency beget trust? Are we ready to try to trust? Addressing the generational wrongs endured by African Americans is the first step in recovery. We have to try for the sake of our children. We must learn to coexist.

The burning of the buildings is symbolic of purification and intense anger. The fire destroys while consuming, making all things new. Could a new beginning that examines and changes the current political intersectionality of America be the outcome of the tragic loss of life, of Mr. George Floyd, Ms. Breonna Taylor, and Mr. Ahmaud Arbery? Let us fight for justice and take a breath to heal and erase the blight of racism. Let us reflect on our ancestors’ hope while moving towards the right solutions that shatter white fragility and free African Americans. Let us breathe…

About Sharmane Delgado-Payne

My motto is, “Taking care of the Service Member and Family equals mission readiness!” I have found working in the field of social work for 16 plus years, this observation is fact. Strengthening communities by empowering and supporting Service Members and Families has been my motivation for practice in this great field of social work, both in the private sector and he military.

During my career, I have been trained in a range of treatment modalities, including Gestalt Therapy, Cognitive, Dialectical Behavioral Therapy, and Trauma-Focused Therapy. I am an advocate of Systems Theory. It has been an honor to work in all branches of the Department of Defense in OCONUS (Korea, Japan, Bahrain, Germany Alaska) and CONUS environments with Adults and Children in the Family Advocacy capacity, as Clinical Director and Family Advocacy Program Manager. My most recent unique assignment as the IMCOM Family Advocacy Program Director at U.S. Army Camp Humphreys in South Korea has proven to be an exciting adventure.

My educational background includes a Master’s of Social Work, with a concentration in Social Administration, from The Ohio State University, and a Bachelor Degree in Social Work from the Mountain State University. I am currently a doctoral student in Education at the University of Southern California. I have received specialized training in the areas of PTSD diagnosis and treatment, Child Abuse and Neglect treatment, Critical Incident Response, Casualty, and Sexual Assault/Victim Advocacy. In addition to my clinical work, I hold an Independent License with a Supervisory designation and Community Organization Certification. During my assignments I have gained extensive supervisory experience within the Health and Human Service and Service Delivery arenas. I am a John Glenn Institute Fellow, and a member of various community organizations.

When asked what I believe is my greatest contribution to this world, my response is, “It’s my foundation, which is my family.” I am blessed to be a wife, and mother of two awesome children.