Every February, Black Americans gear up for a month of solidarity and celebrating our Blackness. For some, the cultural appreciation is centered on art, while others might focus on food. As an educator of young Black students from a wide range of backgrounds, my Black History Month includes the cultural smorgasbord that is the African diaspora and the many facets of Blackness, such as Afro-Caribbean food, Black American music, and the fashion of first generation African immigrants. Still, despite being an Afro-Latino myself and having spent time as a high school history teacher, overall I lack knowledge of the history behind this month and the people it celebrates. However, I’m not alone in needing to learn more.
One of the main cultural connections Black people in the African Diaspora around the world have with each other is a shared lack of history. Despite landing in Jamestown in 1619 and having a hand in building the original White House, Black accomplishments continue to be overlooked throughout American history. As Black culture becomes more prevalent, and some might even say dominant, it’s important to remember, appreciate, and honor those who have laid down the path to give Black Americans a historical culture worthy of pride and to make grand advancements in the achievements of humanity at large. And while I do love Black History Month, it’s important to note Black History is happening every day. We are often shown black and white photos of the Civil Rights Movement, appearing as if they’ve come from an impossibly distant past. The truth is Martin Luther King Junior, Malcolm, X, Fred Hampton, and other Black American heroes were all assassinated within my parents’ lifetime, not that long ago.
One Black American making history right now is Robin Divine. Divine is a Black, queer woman who founded a platform and collective called Black People Trip. The goal is to create space for Black people within the psychedelic community. After a lifetime of depression and dealing with doctors who were not only failing to help her, but further harming her well-being, Divine began looking into psychedelics as a different kind of treatment.
“Western medicine wasn’t created for Black people,” she says. “It only included us if we were being used as test subjects. However, the majority of us currently rely on Western medicine for our health. What choice do we have? Psychedelics offer us another path to healing. An alternative to a system that has not prioritized our health and wellness. This can historically change how the Black community chooses to heal going forward.” From this perspective, the road to healing racial trauma seems almost possible. But still there are factors that will play a major role in how that trip could go.
After Divine’s first experience tripping on shrooms with a trip guide who was white, she says she felt “very unsafe and vulnerable.” As a result of this experience, she began thinking of how to connect with other Black people who were interested in psychedelics. “I knew I wanted a Black guide for my next trip, but I was like, ‘How do you find a guide, much less a Black guide?’” But she couldn’t find anybody and came to the conclusion that there needed to be a place where Black people could come together and connect over psychedelics. So she created it.
Black people are always the last to access opportunities in this country. Whether it is equal education or employment, or even media coverage of community issues, Black people must continually come together and demand space for ourselves. When we decide to instead build our own spaces, culture, and opportunities, white America seemingly attempts to engulf and commodify our creations. There is a healing that the Black community needs from the trauma of white supremacy; however, against the backdrop of continued violence against Black people it is hard to know from where that joy and therapeutic relief should come from. The rise of social media and internet communities, however, has given Black people an opportunity to connect with each other about different healing modalities—in forums concealed and protected from the imaginative constraints and judgemental eye of white people. One such modality we’ve been exploring is psychedelics.
Despite being a psychonaut for just short of a decade, most of my intimate psychedelic experiences have been with white people. Just a handful have been with Black and Latinx people, people who look like me. During the summer of 2020, as the COVID-19 pandemic raged on and America came together to protest the murders of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, I found myself online looking for like minded educators and people interested in ending racial injustice and building a more equitable world. That’s when I began to discover that there are Black people just like me who are not only vocal about the healing and restorative aspects of psychedelics, but also looking to establish a community for us, by us.
In the past six months, Black People Trip has gained more than 1,000 new followers, including me. Like the advocates and activists of the Civil Rights leaders before us, Divine’s decision has allowed Black people to organize and to feel at home in the world of psychedelics, a place where it is easy to feel like an “other.” “Activists create space and bring about change. Advocates stand up for our right to continue to take up that space,” says Divine. “I see myself as opening a door for Black people in the psychedelic world and then holding that door open for others.”
In chatting with Divine about Black People Trip, we also caught up about Blackness, what constitutes a trip guide, the meaning of Black History Month, and more. Check it out:
You’ve been open about your struggle with depression. What first made you want to try mushrooms? Just a matter of trying anything to work through the depression?
Robin: I was super sad and I was on a lot of medication and it wasn’t really helping. I felt like what I was taking was poison and I wanted a more holistic way to treat my mind without killing my body at the same time. I felt like I was destroying my insides and my brain with that stuff. I looked online and found an article about psychedelics. That seemed like a way more gentle approach to healing. I was in from day one. In the article the author said he felt like one MDMA session was like twenty years of therapy, so I was like wow.
Read: MDMA for Racial Trauma
That’s actually how I found my guide, too. I emailed the author of the article and he sent me the name of the guide that he had used. It wasn’t a good fit, but it was a good way into the community. For me, taking the psychiatric drugs felt like putting poison in my body and it wasn’t making enough of a difference for me to put my physical health at risk. It was two things, I wanted a gentler approach to healing my mind and I was open to trying anything (on an alternative path) at that point. I felt desperate.
I’ve never had a professional guide I guess, just more experienced trippers.
She wasn’t professional, like she hadn’t been trained or anything. But she had done trips to Peru and done a lot of her own trips, probably over a hundred on her own and with people. So she was pretty experienced in that respect, but no formal training.
You talk about harm reduction a lot. Can you walk through the educational ideas you have planned to create an awareness and understanding of these drugs for POC?
Harm reduction is about education. That education involves teaching POC about:
- finding safe sources
- drug testing their substances
- learning about the importance of set and setting
- how to safely trip alone or how to find a guide they feel safe with
- how to find their own personal dose
- how to build their own psychedelic communities so they can support each other
- how to grow mushrooms so they don’t have to rely on outside sourcesWestern medicine wasn’t created for Black people,” she says. “It only included us if we were being used as test subjects. However, the majority of us currently rely on Western medicine for our health. What choice do we have? Psychedelics offer us another path to healing.
“Western medicine wasn’t created for Black people,” she says. “It only included us if we were being used as test subjects. However, the majority of us currently rely on Western medicine for our health. What choice do we have? Psychedelics offer us another path to healing.”
I grew up in a biracial home, Puerto Rican and Black, and I attended PWIs (predominantly white institutions) for my educational experiences. For many reasons, I was not in touch with my Blackness until my adult life. What does Blackness mean to you? How has your relationship with your Black identity changed over time?
Blackness to me is our culture, our history, our richness that they’ve tried to erase. But they can’t because it’s in our DNA, it’s in our blood, in our bones, it’s who we are. For me, Blackness means community and connection. It means belonging to a group of people that lift each other when others attempt to tear us down. It’s knowing that I always have a space where I’m loved, nurtured and cared for. It is what has sustained me. Over time, my relationship to my Black identity has deepened as I’ve learned more about myself and my lineage.
What does Black History Month mean to you? How do you celebrate it personally?
You know I didn’t really think about it before you asked the question, but I don’t really celebrate it because for me it’s all the time. It’s every day. I’m learning Black history when I’m able, whenever I have time, wherever I can. With Black voices being centered more than ever last year and this year, it feels like it’s been a straight year of Black History Month which I have loved. I loved seeing more Black voices, hearing more Black stories. I don’t see it as just this one month, I see it as an ongoing thing for me personally. 28 days? Nah…
Black History Month is my everyday experience, one that I celebrate each day. I subscribe to a newsletter called “Because of Them We Can” which celebrates Black history and Black excellence. I make it a point to read it every morning and celebrate my community and how we show up for ourselves and each other.
Black people have struggled to adjust and heal from the ever present and still traumatizing oppression that is a white supremacist society. How can psychedelics support someone in working through racial trauma?
Well trauma causes anxiety, it causes stress, it causes depression, just all these things that come with it. Side effects. I think there was a study done by Ohio State where they studied people with racial trauma specifically and participants showed less stress, depression, and anxiety after what they called a “memorable” psychedelic experience. So I think it has the opportunity for us to really unpack some of that trauma that’s been locked in our bodies and that we carry around everyday.
Do you think psychedelics alone can bridge that gap or do you recommend they be taken in tandem with a guide or trained therapist?
I think it varies. Some people when it comes to guides feel safety and comfort with them and Dr. Carl Hart in his book said he feels like they’re creepy. So I think it depends person to person.
When it comes to racial trauma, I think having a guide is helpful because you’re dealing with actual experiences of trauma that may need to be processed and talked through. In my own personal use, I prefer to have a guide if I have the intention of working on specific trauma. If I’m taking a psychedelic to explore and enjoy my own inner landscape, then I’m comfortable on my own. With that said, I also think it depends on the individual and their own emotional needs.
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One of my favorite rappers called psychedelics “white people drugs.” How do you respond to that and what’s your elevator pitch to a POC who is turned off by the idea of psychedelics because of its connotation to whiteness?
I’d respond to that by saying, I hear you. The face of psychedelic use has typically been seen as white hippies from the Sixties and Seventies. My elevator pitch would be simple, I’d say, “This is for you. You have space here.” We’ve been so crowded out in this community. There’s no place for us, it’s all white people, white faces. But we have a space here too.
Black Americans have seen their history erased and written by a white perspective. What kind of research are you putting into the book you are working on to get at the heart of where POC fall in the history of psychedelics?
Until recently, I wasn’t aware about the history of psychedelics and their roots in Africa. I’ve been studying the work done by Kilindi Iyi, Darren Springer and my own research on sites such as Cultural Survival.
Besides getting involved in psychedelics, how have you been taking care of yourself during the COVID-19 pandemic?
I continued to see my therapist virtually which has been supportive. I’m very isolated where I live and having that consistent weekly connection has kept me grounded. I’ve also slowed down the pace that I live at. I find myself resting more and taking time for myself when I need it.
Currently, Robin is looking to relocate to the Bay Area, California to be in a more accepting and open place for developing the Black People Trip community. Follow along her journey and know that for Black people out there we are here and ready to restore our health and heal the trauma that began many centuries ago and is still ongoing.