“All of these police brutality videos on my feed are making me sick,” a black male friend of mine from college posted on Facebook recently, after Sandra Bland’s disturbing encounter with officer Brian Encinia in Waller, Tex., was caught on camera. Three days later, Bland was dead. It made many of us sick.
Yet again, we have video of excessive police force being exacted on an unarmed black person.
We watch the footage because in America, for black people to have any hope that we might gain justice in the event of police brutality, we need to have video evidence of the violence. But within that hope for justice that a released video brings lies a poisonous pill buried inside that we are forced to consume — that pill of audible or visual black suffering. From Eric Garner in New York, to 15-year-old Dajerria Becton in McKinney, Tex., to now Sandra Bland, we absorb in our souls the cries of a black person in pain at the hands of white officer, the fact that heads are being smashed, that airways are being choked and that ribs are being broken. Sometimes, that poisonous pill of black pain comes with an extra barb embedded inside for good measure — when we hear white officers respond to black pain with malicious indifference. In the case of Eric Harris’s death, an officer responded with “F— your breath.” In the video, Sandra Bland screamed, “I have epilepsy!” Encinia responded, “Good, good.”
While cellphones, social media and the #BlackLivesMatter movement have certainly helped to raise national awareness of racism and police brutality, it can literally hurt to watch these violent encounters. Even further, when we go online, not only are we surrounded with footage of police violence and related commentary, but also we are exposed to the emotional pain of our friends, family and allies expressing grief, anxiety, anger and fear on our social media feeds. Of course, there are plenty of white and non-black people of color who are shocked, angered and disgusted by such incidents. But for many black people, it can feel isolating when non-black friends seem to remain silent on these issues too.
It can all be too much. This great video by @eveeeeezy for For Harriet explains why one would want to “call in black”:
Writer Luvvie Ajayi chimed in on the notion of self-care after Sandra Bland:
It’s time for a reminder about self-care in the age of #BlackLivesMatter. In an interview with the New York Times Magazine, psychologist Monnica Williams explains that there is such a thing as race-based trauma and stress, and that these conditions can be triggered by events in the news or on social media. She also speaks of vicarious trauma, where something that happens to one person miles away can affect us. Williams says that symptoms of trauma can be depression, an inability to sleep, apathy and avoidance.
In light of that, here are some self-care tips for black people who are starting to feel overwhelmed by the racism and violence in their digital feeds:
It’s okay not to watch the latest video of brutality against people of color. Just because you choose not to watch doesn’t mean you are ignoring what’s going on. It’s okay to turn off the news. It just means you know what you can and can’t emotionally handle. Removing yourself from a potential cause of trauma is just taking care of yourself by setting boundaries, and that’s healthy.
In fact, you can take a break from trying to educate everyone about race and racism and from engaging with racist trolls online. It’s perfectly fine to feel like you don’t want to explain *again* what white privilege is, why it’s dismissive and dehumanizing to respond to black people grieving over the latest racist incident with, “But #AllLivesMatter!” You can take a break from trying to explain the double standards in how whites and blacks are treated by police. Doing the emotional work of explaining your humanity and why you deserve to have equal rights is tiring. You don’t have to engage with the trolls on Twitter prowling around, looking to antagonize people who tweet about the latest #JusticeFor_____ hashtag. Block and mute away, my friend.
Get away from the computer altogether and get back into nature. Get outside, if you can. Get some sun. Walk in a park. If you live near the sea, a lake, a river or even just a creek, take a stroll by the water. Studies have shown the mental health benefits of just being around trees. Even if it means bringing flowers or plants home, that can help too. Nature is also a reminder that there is beauty in this world, and that we all equally deserve to share in it, no matter what race, skin color or ethnicity you have.
Create something. Produce beauty from the ashes. I’m not saying one needs to draw pictures of rainbows and unicorns in response to white supremacy, racism and violence. But if you like to write, write to express your feelings. If you like to paint, paint. If drawing is your thing, draw. If you like to make music, take to an instrument and play. If making wooden birdhouses helps you get your feelings out, then do it. When the world seems like it’s hell-bent on the destruction of black people — get out there and expend your creative energy.
It is okay to feel sad. It is okay to be angry. It is okay to cry. Don’t discount how you feel just because you saw something that triggered you on Instagram, Facebook or Twitter. No, you don’t have to “get over” racism or being impacted by racist violence. No one expected America to “just get over” 9/11, or for families to “just get over” Columbine, or Sandy Hook. Many people saw themselves in Sandra Bland. It’s terrifying to think what happened to her could have happened to any black person.
Watch funny movies or comedy skits. Find a way to laugh, however you can. Mirthful laughter is also a powerful stress reliever and can help with muscle relaxation. So go ahead, fire up the latest Netflix marathon of your favorite comedian.
Human touch reduces stress and anxiety. Find that friend, partner or family member you can hug. Offer hugs, and let yourself receive them too. Seriously, people who receive more hugs are more likely to ward off stress-induced sickness.
Physical and spiritual activity. Again, this is about expending energy. Go for a run, do yoga. Team sports are a great idea. Whatever it is, find healthy, safe ways to physically express your feelings. Mindful breathing can also help. On the spiritual side, if it’s your thing, pray or meditate.
Sleep well and eat well. Stress and anxiety can cause changes in appetite and sleeping habits. And eating and sleeping poorly can depress your immune system and lead to sickness.
Reach out for help if you need it. Surround yourself with support. Talk to your friends. Talk to family members. Talk to pastors, clergymen, anyone you think will lend an understanding, sympathetic ear about how you feel. On the flip side, reach out to others you think might be struggling. They may appreciate it more than you know. If you need to, talk with a professional counselor who understands the impacts of racism on mental health.
The fight for equality and justice will be long. In the age of #BlackLivesMatter, also remember that your emotional health matters too.