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A guide to managing race-related trauma as a black person

Ignore the trolls, watch TV all day if you feel like and seek comfort in the communities who truly understand why this hurts

There’s a familiar discomfort many black people lug while walking the tightrope of race and gender. Beyond the brutalisation we’ve grown accustomed to seeing at the hands of police officers, the psychological toll of institutional racism paired with everyday indignities can be akin to that of a soldier with PTSD. These collective traumas often render an almost immediate intimacy amongst each other. It’s the unspoken understanding of shared experiences, the achingly familiar exhaustion and helplessness, the deafening silence of our surroundings as injustice reigns. It’s the profound otherness causing you to wear who you are as some ill-fitting outfit thrown together in the dark. The few times I’ve attempted to verbalise these sentiments to a non-black friend, a dark cloud of dread consumed me. How do I casually explain countless sombre moments of hearing the message “not you” , treated as invisible or an afterthought? How do I explain structural racism and its effects on my life, when a basic understanding of white supremacy and anti-blackness is lacking? Where to begin with all the things so conveniently omitted from our school teachings and dinner table discussions?

This week saw the lives of Alton Sterling, a 37-year-old husband and father of four and and Philando Castile, a 32-year-old father and boyfriend callously gunned down by law enforcement. From the Civil Rights movement to 90s hip hop blazing “Fuck the police!”, this old cycle isn’t new, and certainly not if you’ve been listening to those suffering, so much as it’s arrived head-to-head with the virality and visual accessibility of the digital age. Various disenfranchised groups are forced to lament about racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, xenophobia, ableism every day as we bear the fruits of these intersecting identities every day.

We don’t derive some twisted joy from incessantly highlighting adversity, but rather, we exist in a world in which you’re reminded, in the cruellest of ways, a million times a day, that you are not white, not cis, not straight, not viewed as the default. And this deeply impacts every aspect of our quality of life. As we strive to unapologetically live, laugh, push forward, and claim space in a world that is ultimately not for us, there is no “right” way to deal with these sobering truths beyond basic humanity and civility. Building the fortitude to withstand living in a perpetual state of trauma shouldn’t be anyone’s reality. Below, we explore some ways to wooo-sah through the fuckery and exercise self-care during these especially difficult times.

IT’S OK TO DISENGAGE

Do what you need to do to preserve the sanctity of your mental space. While you can’t mute the world, you can filter out what you see on your personal social media platforms. Everything you process and subsequently internalise is capable of affecting you. Whether it’s the misguided tweeter offering null solutions and meaningless platitudes, the inevitable stream of insensitive hot takes, or someone flooding your stream with annoying selfies, there’s no time like the present to get better acquainted with the ‘unfollow’, ‘block’, and ‘mute’ buttons. Your space is your space, cleanse it as you see fit.

TROLLS

There’s a special place in hell for those who see other’s pain as a personal playground. Emboldened by anonymity, a post-tragedy internet is often the holy grail of awful. Be it the resident #AllLivesMatter crew, spectators who revel in demanding those on the receiving end of abuse educate them, or those who see fit justifying state-sanctioned violence against people of colour, it’s OK not to engage trolls. As tempting as entering into a verbal spar with the unknowns spewing virulent commentary may be, it often comes at the expense of your mental well being.

THERE’S NO SHAME IN NEEDING HELP

There was a time I felt as though I was unravelling...and I was. Swept into a fury of confusion, frustration, hurt, anger, feeling unsupported, fed up, numb, and incredibly tired, I’d reached a boiling point and out poured an array of emotions. Learning about the systemic racism and structural oppression upon which so many our societies’ function is hard. As much as knowledge is power and serves to validate our experiences, it’s also pretty emotionally depleting. For me, finding both a psychiatrist and therapist, particularly of the same gender and race as me, was non-negotiable. Seeking care from individuals who are able to view the world through the same lens of experience and who possess first-hand knowledge of the sexualised racism and racialized sexism I encounter has been instrumental. Be honest with yourself about whatever qualifiers you feel necessary to maximize your treatment plan. If you don’t have insurance, check the mental health offerings at your local hospitals and private practices. If you’d rather not trek into a doctor’s office, look into alternative treatments such as digital counselling and community meet ups.

“Find some things that alleviate stress and do them! Creating art, writing, meditating, a local happy hour, solo trip to the movies, visiting someone whose company you enjoy - do something therapeutic and give yourself a release”

FIND RESPITE IN SOMETHING YOU ENJOY

Plopping myself into bed sans make-up, decked in comfy, ugly PJs whilst binge watching The Office and Law and Order: SVU is peak solace. Find some things that alleviate stress and do them! Creating art, writing, meditating, a local happy hour, solo trip to the movies, visiting someone whose company you enjoy - do something therapeutic and give yourself a release. It’s easy to feel as though you’re drowning in sorrow in times of back-to-back tragedy. Inject some happiness into the grey days, however you can.

FIND A COMMUNITY

Bonds I’ve forged with other black women have been some of the most gratifying relationships in my life. Having a safe space wherein you can freely vent, express yourself and be met with understanding and support is something we all can benefit from. Find people who walk the same road and understand what you’re going through, at the bare minimum, people who empathise and respect the obstacles you face. Check out online communities on blogs, Tumblr, Twitter or local meetups through platforms like meetup.com. It can be a challenge to connect with others IRL, but support is out there.

GIVE YOURSELF PERMISSION TO CHECK OUT

It’s okay not to read every horrific news article or skip viewing the latest graphic video making its rounds. Etched into our minds are a plethora of black bodies drawing their last breaths, being brutalised or calling out for their loved ones in their final moments. The constant loop of black dehumanisation is devastating and absolutely traumatic, with many finding themselves triggered or growing increasingly desensitised. Knowing what you have the capacity to emotionally endure goes a long way and shouldn’t be a source of guilt. Take a breath, temporarily step away, recharge, and return when you’re ready.