Written by Lara Ashley
Racism is the oppression that is killing the Black community mentally and physically.
The Black community is dealing with two viruses: COVID-19 and racism. Both are killing us. Black people have reportedly been dying at a rapidly higher rate with COVID-19, with 75% of the frontline workers being people of color. A frontline worker, a Black EMT, was killed in her home while resting from working tirelessly caring for the ones who contracted the virus.
The community was shocked over her death. We tried to cope with it, as well as trying to deal with the looming disease in our hometowns. We listened to experts and health officials who reported that while quarantining, it would be best for our mental and physical health to exercise and jog outside. A simple jog became a fearful act for the Black community, feeling that they would be targeted and shot in their own neighborhoods. Soon, any everyday action became a fearful one, not even feeling safe stopping at the store. Even that could lead to death at the police officer's knee, while the other officers watch you die in the street with cameras in your face.
An organization called the ADAA has done studies on how racism affects mental health. In ADAA’s racism studies, they have found that Black people suffer from anxiety, depression, psychological distress, and trauma distress from seeing and experiencing racism. Because of this racial trauma, people of the Black community struggle with fear, hypervigilance, confusion, shame, or guilt following the experience, blaming themselves for the person projecting racism towards them.
Racial trauma can be triggered by the cumulative effects of experiences of racism or by one specific experience. Hashtags like #imtired, #whatsnext, and #stopkillingus on social media platforms have indicated this, with people expressing their reactions to killings and mistreatments of Black people. Another way racial trauma comes into effect is through the transmission of historical context across generations. Black people have heard the stories of their grandparents fighting in wars that they were forced into, and they have seen pictures of their parents, uncles, and aunts marching during the Civil Rights Movement. For the Black community of today, they are thinking, "When is it enough?".
Chelsea Walton, Psy.D says that the senseless murder of George Floyd spurred a call for change in a system that allows disproportionate and unjustified violence against Black people.
It is a never-ending cycle that too many community members have experienced and have to cope with on a day-to-day basis. A Black mother posted on Facebook, "I sometimes can't handle my emotions and have to protect my mental health, but over the last few days, I've found myself fighting back the tears and not trying to become angry." Dr. Walton said that the effects of racism are insidious when they are not overt. She comments, “Those who have an awareness of this, it can create feelings of lack of control and agency.” She continues to say that there's a mental and emotional exhaustion of constantly being aware of the environment one lives in, which is necessary for survival. “Racism has deleterious effects on the mental health of Black people. It’s important to highlight that despite challenges, the Black community faces systemic and systematic racism, we continue to see the resilience needed to change the status quo,” she says.
Black people are struggling with finding their ability to influence the environment. The Black community has been told to "get in line" with society's expectations (like having a legal gun and announcing to the officer that it is in our possession), to show respect (similarly to the Black woman who called police to help a dispute in her neighborhood and Yvette Smith being the one shot at by police.) and to value the ones who are here to protect us (Gilbert Flores raised his hands in surrender to police and remained motionless as the officers shot and killed him.). If we comply, then incidents like these will not happen. However, we see countless and countless times again that this alone will not stop the killings. If a white man can kill nine Black people in a church and come out of it wearing a bulletproof police vest, Black people should be able to breathe again.
Racism requires many moments of metanoia; we bring forth a new worldview on the issue. The protests and social media posts are all ways for the Black community's concerns and fears to be heard. It is not about changing anyone's mind; Black people's bodies and minds have burned from the trauma of racist people. We understand that no matter how many marks are left on our bodies, some people's ideals will never change. Right now, we want our criminal justice to change, and we want justice to be served.
Thankfully, the You Are Not Alone Project has dedicated its time and resources to provide a haven for individuals to discuss their mental health openly. Numerous therapists conduct virtual therapy sessions to help Black people cope with their reality. These resources are here to help cope with what is present in today’s society. The real cure, though, is for the Black community to feel that they are valued in this world.
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