After his deadly encounter with police officer Darren Wilson in Ferguson, Mo., on Aug. 9, 2014, 18-year-old Michael Brown’s bullet-riddled body lay in the sun on Canfield Drive for hours.
That and subsequent moments of barbarism were then circulated and revisited ad nauseam via newspaper coverage, nightly news broadcasts and across social media for months. Avoiding that image, the fiery debates and hateful rhetoric its aftermath inspired was nearly impossible.
If you witnessed or experienced a similar tragedy, had a personal connection to the case or were triggered by horrific imagery, this incessant rehashing and casual sharing of that moment could prove to be a source of daily trauma.
Although we cannot always control what information and images we are exposed to, we can decide how we engage with such stimuli. We can also take steps to manage our reactions to the inequalities and tragedies rebroadcast each day.
We people of color want to make it home alive like everyone else, and it is maddening to be constantly reminded how easily a simple misunderstanding or harmless movement can deprive us of that right. The hesitant hopefulness and suffocating frustration that greet us when a murderous officer or gun-slinging “good Samaritan” avoids prosecution or persecution are dispiriting and draining. We feel powerless in the face of what feels like an onslaught of terribleness.
Investing emotionally in injustices and being hypersensitive to tragedies is taxing. In this age of hyperawareness, managing one’s mental wellness amid “wokeness” and activism can be a lifesaving undertaking. Here are a few suggestions for keeping the peace (of mind):
Contribute to the cause in your own way. Maybe you’re not the shotgun-on-the-protest-front-lines type. Perhaps you’re more of a lover (or an educator) than a fighter. If you feel compelled to act and can’t (or decide not to) take to the streets to protest in trying times, whatever abilities, resources or knowledge you have to offer in the name of collective progress has value. Whether your gift is fundraising, writing, speaking or organizing, identifying a way to get involved can help soothe feelings of hopelessness.
Unfollow and block your way to wellness. On social media nowadays, it is disturbingly common to encounter images or looping footage of someone’s final moments interspersed with dancing-baby videos and a certain tea-sipping amphibian. A combination of desensitization to gore and the instantaneous availability of information means there’s no way to predict what you will wade through while consuming media. You can curate your sources. Hiding troubling posts or unfollowing inflammatory accounts or pages won’t make you less informed, less “woke” or a bad person or friend, however. It’s not shade. It shows you value your well-being.
Fellowship helps. Whether via technology or face to face, don’t underestimate the power of forming and maintaining connections with people who challenge, motivate and calm you.
Focus on self-care. This would include all the things you do to ensure your physical, mental and emotional health. Before you get on Facebook and put on your armor to go save the world, consider this: Have you eaten today? Are you drinking enough water? Are you taking your vitamins and/or medications? Are you managing stress well and eating enough cheese grits? And so forth.
Refuse to engage. You, person being Black, wonderful, informed and out in the world, do not have to submit to every demand for an explanation, clarification, affirmation or pacification. You do not have to entertain enabling mental gymnastics or tackle All Lives Matter-backed scoundrelhood at every turn. Feel free to stand down in the name of self-preservation when the ignorance is enough.
Find an outlet for your frustration. Don’t let aggravation and anger fester and consume you as you react, process and cope. Channel that angst into a painting, awareness campaign, screenplay or community group. Vent to a friend or beat a drum. Write a letter. Bake a cake. Whatever you do, don’t bottle up what you’re feeling. Dance it out if you must.
Resign as racial spokesperson. Be proud of your melanin. Love your kinks and revel in your magic. But spending time, brainpower and unlimited data battling passionate keyboard warriors online in an attempt to educate or enlighten the fact-averse on why your Black life matters is frequently futile. If wearing suits for a living while co-parenting his two well-behaved children with his college-educated, drug-free wife can’t help President Barack Obama escape monkey memes and slurs, your impassioned, truth-bearing tweets may not do much to warm Molly’s dumpster heart or help her somehow acknowledge your humanity.
Your time is better spent loving on and building up yourself and your folks than defending your Blackness to a miserable troll. Being Black while the circus aims to make America great “again” is stressful enough. Ban all unnecessary strife from your life. A person who feels attacked by your expressions of racial pride has already lost. You’re Black; you’ve already won. Disengage, and let your soul glow.
Alexander Hardy is a New York-based educator, mental health advocate and writer. Follow him at @chrisalexander_.
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