The emotional toll BIPOC face having to watch police brutality, anti-Black racism, and 24/7 news and shocking viral videos
Jacob Blake is a 29-year-old father of three, and the latest victim of police brutality in the United States.
Friends told reporters Blake stopped to break up a fight. Police say they were called to a domestic.
Looking at the video, for reasons still unknown, police tackled Blake to the ground on the passenger side of his SUV, he somehow got away, and then began walking to the driver’s side. Police were allegedly tasering him as he made his way to front of his SUV, but he did not fall. As Blake began walking to the front of his truck, and as he began to reach in the door, a police officer, who had plenty of time between he and the other four officers present to tackle Blake to the ground – instead one of the police officers shot him the back seven times while his three children watched from the back seat.
Jacob Blake’s name is now added to the long list of Black men and women like Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, Elijah McClain and closer to home D’Andre Campbell, Jamal Francique and Regis Korchinski-Paquet (a woman who fell 24 floors to her death while allegedly trying to get away from police officers in her apartment) – the others listed here, shot by police.
While Jacob Blake remains in I.C.U., others have died before their time, and unnecessarily.
I spoke with psychotherapist Roxanne Francis about the mental strain many people of colour and others are feeling as our news feeds are constantly filled with stories of injustice and cell phone footage recording every moment. Francis says self-awareness is key in emotionally processing what is happening in the news, here is our conversation.
MJ: Why do you think so many people feel overwhelmed by the discussions that are happening around race?
RF: Discussions around race have been taboo in North America for a very long time. Even if it was talked about in the home, or among close friends of the same race, it was otherwise swept under the rug… What is happening now, is that there is the concept of “flooding.” So instead of the slow trickle of bringing it up gradually, the proverbial hose has been turned on with the widely viewed and disturbing deaths of Mr. Floyd and Mr. Aubrey, they Amy Cooper altercation, and others.
Suddenly what the Black community has been trying to get others to hear, has been validated, and can no longer be ignored.
As a result, these discussions are now being had everywhere and at every turn.
Unfortunately, we are not all ready to have these discussions, we are not all emotionally prepared to have them, and it can seem to individuals that putting boundaries in place and limiting these discussions can seem dismissive, disrespectful or even worse – racist. Not to be forgotten is the fact that these events/crimes continue to make the news every day, so we do not have the luxury of healing completely from one incident before the next one makes the news.
Also, many white individuals are trying to ensure that they are not on the wrong side of this discussion and are unsure if their behaviours have the unintended impact of covert racism. This can result in feeling overwhelmed – not having the answers and not knowing where to turn. For many Black individuals, they feel like they need to have the answers for all the white people who come to them with questions, and that in itself is overwhelming as they are trying to deal with the deep emotions that have been unearthed during this time.
MJ: How do we engage in conversations without growing weary or getting frustrated?
RF: Self-Awareness is really important here. You will need to be aware of what you have the emotional bandwidth for before you participate in certain conversations.
- Is your emotional cup already full? If so, then you will grow weary very quickly. You may need to decline engagement right now.
- Are you suffering from Compassion Fatigue? This is the emotional phenomenon where you have been empathizing with individuals and situations for so long that you no longer have room to do so. This may cause you to become weary, impatient or callous when others are discussing their difficulties with you.
- Engage in these conversations only when you can do so.
- Boundaries are also crucial here. This means you don’t have to participate in every conversation that comes your way. Also, if the conversation is demanding more of you than you have to give at the time feel free to step away and ask to revisit it later. It is ok to say, “I’m not in the space to talk about that right now,” or, “I feel like I need to change the topic.” Permit yourself to opt-out.
Also related to boundaries, absorbing negative news on race and other things can reduce your emotional bandwidth for these conversations. You may need to turn the television off or choose to watch something lighter. Consider turning off the notifications on your phone, go to bed early, or another healthy choice going for a walk, or doing some stretching. These activities (and others) can hit the “reset” button in your mind, allowing you to re-engage feeling refreshed and less weary.
MJ: Some POC feel that they are expected to have all the answers concerning anti-Black racism, what do you think of this? Is it fair?
RF: Realize that this isn’t your problem to solve and that you don’t have all the answers, nor should you. Stop expecting yourself to. Many of us are grappling with issues around race ourselves. We are reeling from the trauma and grief of what is happening. Give yourself time to mentally heal. Feel free to share your experiences and what you have learned as you see fit. But it is NOT your responsibility to educate your family, friends, colleagues and dare I say, strangers. It is ok to say “I don’t know,” or, “I’m still trying to figure that out myself.” There are multiple resources available on the Internet, online certificate programs on Anti-Black Racism. Understand that your experiences and thoughts about racism are deeply personal and should not be mined for the benefit of others so that they can “understand” or be absolved of “guilt.”
MJ: Is there a proper way to cope with the onslaught of social media content on the issue of anti-black racism and injustice?
RJ: In my opinion, this goes back to creating healthy boundaries for yourself and self-awareness. While some of the posts, opinions and videos are helpful and eye-opening, many can bring extremely difficult emotions to the surface. First, limit your exposure to the content. Do you need to be on social media as often as you are? Allow yourself to step away from it. Turn your notifications off or remove the apps for a day or two. If not, skip past the posts that seem to be race-related. Everything will still be there in a couple of days. Many people use social media to express their anger, trauma, sadness and grief. Are you in a place to hold/absorb that? If you are grappling with some of these feelings yourself, it will be important to step away.
Also, allow yourself to feel your feelings. Often individuals will just say they feel “funny” or “uncomfortable”. If you can find a quiet place, sit with yourself and think about what the actual emotion might be and just let it be. You may feel anger, or sadness and may even cry. Releasing emotion is very healthy. Also consider journaling your thoughts with pen and paper, vlogging, or recording your voice, to express yourself.
MJ: I find that it’s easy, as a Black person, to sometimes lose hope as you listen to the news on the issue of racism, as a person of faith and professional psychotherapist where do you find hope?
I find hope in remembering that none of this catches God by surprise. I am not immune to the collective grief and trauma of seeing death and injustice in my community, however, I am reminded of all the wonderful people I the world who are doing amazing things. Despite the individual and systemic oppression, I was able to access and education and a career and I have to believe that the same can be true for my children. There were wonderful people who have helped me along my way and there are still wonderful people in our governments and neighbourhoods. I find hope in my friends who are teaching their children to be good citizens who love God and love others. There are dark moments, but God is still in control and that helps me put one foot in front of the other.
In the book of Jeremiah when the Children of Israel were in captivity, God’s word reminds them to build houses, settle down, plant crops and eat, marry and have children. These are all instructions that are rooted in hope. Despite the chaos, live your lives and invest in the future. I believe that those instructions are relevant today. There are multiple things that we have no control over, but that does not take away from the things that we do have control over. I choose to focus (as much as I can) on those things, and I remind myself of God’s promises to me.
And I find hope in ice cream. When all else fails me – there’s always ice cream!
As seen on a Sussex Directories Inc site
Roxanne Francis, MWS, RWS