You can pick any one of these feelings to aptly describe just about every black person living in today’s America. On a Facebook timeline generally full of wonderful posts about vacations, happy families, children’s successes, and the occasional pic of disgusting foods (sorry, y’all. But it’s true), I’ve been seeing nothing but sullen, angry, and fearful posts. And for good reason. The nation has been rocked time and time again with stories of civilians – black, white, women, men – getting gunned down by police. But things really came to boiling point this week when back-to-back police shootings took the lives of two black men. Another black man was found hung in Georgia. Things culminated (at least, one can hope) with a mass shooting in Dallas, taking the lives of several police officers and injuring several others. I’m composing this piece on the heels of all of that bloodshed.
Naturally, people are up in arms. We’re angry. We’re sad. We feel hopeless. We feel fearful.
I won’t presume to tell anybody how they should be feeling right now. I wouldn’t want to be preached to about how I should be feeling, so I won’t dare do that to anyone else. It’s also not my intention to be paternalistic or passive about the severity of the times. I will, however, use my voice to do whatever I can to encourage others (and myself in the meantime) during this difficult period. That said, I have a few suggestions on how to cope with the stress and sorrow you may be feeling right now.
(1) Get away from social media. Make no mistake. For all of its faults, social media has been a key informational tool. Facts not fully or correctly reported by mainstream media have been introduced on social media. Twitter and Reddit have been far more useful than CNN and Fox News. So there’s no denying its impact. However, social media has also exacerbated a lot of the social conflicts we’re dealing with. “Keyboard warriors” (people who talk smack from behind the safety and anonymity of their computers) are lurking around every corner, seemingly waiting for the next story to surface so they can antagonize folk. While they definitely provide a truer snapshot of America, they also fan the flames. My advice is: don’t get baited in, even if your intentions are to enlighten. One thing I’ve learned during my many pointless 140-character battles on Twitter is that you will not…you CAN NOT…win, even if you actually do win. Take a break from it all. Trying to educate people about white privilege, micro-aggressions like #AllLivesMatter, and police brutality represents the ultimate bout with futility. If you’re dealing with heartache, that last thing you need to worry about is your head aching too.
(2) Don’t watch the videos. In fact, if you feel tempted to do so, unplug your mouse. If that doesn’t work, turn off and unplug your TV and/or smartphone. Disconnecting yourself from the visuals doesn’t make you any less of a concerned, caring human being. It also doesn’t mean that you’re somehow ignoring the situation. It simply means that you realize one of the best temporary fixes to emotional trauma is by removing yourself from one of the viewable conduits of said trauma. Watching these videos may provide context for your anger and even give you a better sense of what happened, but it also feeds into a sort of twisted electronic voyeurism. Which leads me to my next suggestion…
(3) Shut your computer completely down and walk away. Do something healthy and productive with your time, be it mental or physical. One of the things we note about kids these days is how wired they are into electronics without being in-tune with the outside world. Whether we want to admit it or not, we adults are the same way. We think that just because we put in long work days and pay bills that we don’t engage in some of the same behavior for which we chide our young people. We’re just as plugged in to our computers, tablets, and phones as they are. Read a book. Go outside. Visit a park. Talk a walk. Enjoy nature. It’s free, therapeutic, and doesn’t discriminate based on race, gender, sexual identity, or economic status. But do it, well, after you get your fix on my blog.
(4) Let it out. Pent up anger, sorrow, and aggression is the worst. Release it. Let out a good yell, a good cry. Anything to release some of that tension. I admit, this one is a bit harder for me. I absolutely hate crying in public for others to see. But I’m also human, so I will invariably get emotional from time to time. But it’s important – critical, even – to find an outlet for release. When I first heard all the news, I admittedly engaged in all the activities I’m now telling you not to do. True to form, all it did was make me more upset, not helping my cause at all. But what I hadn’t done yet was to let my emotions go. Unable to keep myself composed anymore, and right before I composed this piece, I sat in my home office and cried. I thought about my brother. What if he was shot and killed in front of his wife and son like Philando Castille? I thought about my dad and my father-in-law. What if they were pinned down and shot point blank like Alton Sterling? I thought about my wife. What if she was apprehended and victimized like Sandra Bland? I thought about my son and daughter. What if one of them was shot dead like Tamir Rice? I thought about the endless acquittals and the parenthetic messages society sends indicating that black lives are worthless enough to be taken by police with no punishment. So, yes, I cried. But you know what? I’m not ashamed of that.
(5) Laugh. I’m a huge fan of Pete Davidson. For the benefit of you who have never heard of him, Pete Davidson is a current cast member of Saturday Night Live. More notably about him though, is that his father (a firefighter for the New York fire department) died on 9/11. What makes Pete cool to me was that he took an otherwise horrific situation and found humor in it. It was a sort of catharsis that many people didn’t appreciate, were offended by, but was still evidently effective for him. Now, I’m not the kind of person to find anything comical about black people being killed by police. But that doesn’t mean I can’t laugh at something. Anything. Maybe a Crash Cut video. Maybe re-watching the first season of the Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt. Maybe watching Sinbad’s “Afros and Bellbottoms” stand-up special. Whatever the outlet, the vastly-held sentiment is true: laughter really is the best medicine.
(6) Spirituality. Religion (or spirituality. Whatever floats your boat) not only offers up guidelines on how live a good and decent life, but it can also be a source of strength when you need it. Some studies have even suggested that religious people are generally happier. This doesn’t necessarily mean you have to attend a certain church (or any church at all), subscribe to a certain kind of religion, or engage in certain practices. Any belief system that emphasizes ideals like peace, forgiveness, and optimism can’t be bad.
(7) Connect with other people. I sincerely believe the people in your life – friends and family – are the ties that bond. It goes without saying how important it is connect (and stay connected) with them. But remember that it’s also OK to feel connected to the victims. This is perhaps the most important thing we can do as shared citizens of this planet. Staying connected to each other helps to keep our humanity intact and theirs. But it also prevents us from being numb to other people’s suffering. It’s the same collective feeling we all had during 9/11, the Sandy Hook shooting, the Orlando nightclub massacre, and any number of national and international tragedies. No matter what happens, never lose sight of the fact that we’re all people.
To be sure, none of this will stop the madness of the world from carrying on. There will be more police killings. There will be more mass shootings. There will be more wars. There will be more horrific assaults on one another. There will be more innocent blood spilled. As long as certain people draw breath, a certain level of fear, hatred, bigotry, and evil will reside in them. And you can bet on somebody – somewhere – at sometime creating more chaos and hysteria. But that doesn’t mean we have to succumb to the inevitability of it all. I’m not saying coping with be easy. But it will be helpful.