By Kayla White, M.A. Clinical Mental Health Counseling, Resident in Counseling
Unless you’ve been living under a rock the past few years, you’re likely well aware of the rising tensions concerning the topic of race. It’s in large part due to the hateful and even violent statements/acts we’ve witnessed on the parts of white authoritative and non-authoritative civilians against black and brown civilians.
Now, you might’ve been shocked to discover that there are so many people out there who hold negative and quite often dangerous feelings towards people whose major defining difference lies only in their levels of melanin; and as a result it may have created some new dynamics in your relationships that are tricky to maneuver or appropriately address.
No worries though, as I’m here to offer some tips to help you wade through this storm.
1. Passive reaction is equally if not more dangerous than the outright acts of hate.
I believe it was the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King who said, “The ultimate tragedy is not the oppression and cruelty by the bad people, but the silence over that by the good people.”
And if we look back in history, we can clearly see that the egregious crimes committed against humanity didn’t just all of sudden halt because people got bored. It was because good people got fed up.
It is each of our responsibility to stop evil when we see it happening.
None of us is absolved because we didn’t “personally” take part in the actions that took place. You’re going to play a role in history one way or the other, so it’s important for you to decide how you would like your part to be remembered.
2. Speak up.
Not addressing the elephant in the room gives the impression that you either don’t know or don’t care, neither of which is comforting.
Will it be awkward? Likely. Will it be uncomfortable? Hella yes. Will it be difficult? No more than dealing with the reality of all this, and it’s happening now.
Please note that no one is expecting you to make some grand speech. But an acknowledgement of what is going on, how it is NOT okay, and expressing your solidarity with her/him, could mean the world to them. It also lets the world know where you stand. And now more than ever, that choice needs to be made loud and clear.
3. Be the change you wish to see.
I know it sounds cliché, but the sentiment is valid. The one comment I dreaded the most after I lost my nephew was “Let me know if there’s anything I can do to help.”
And it’s not because it wasn’t well intended.
I truly believe they meant it and I appreciated the thought. But in that moment, I didn’t know what I needed, so there was no way I was going to be able to articulate what I needed from them. Doing so would have left me to try and sort out my own thoughts and feelings about the experience itself, on top of trying to figure out what they could do; but in that moment, I wanted to get out of my head as much as possible.
What did end up being helpful during that time was having people see things that needed to be done, and go to work without having to be asked. When it was time to eat, they helped serve the food. When it was time to leave, they helped clean up the mess. They helped by assessing areas for improvement, and stepping in to do what they could, which in turn reduced my burden by relieving me of one less thing to even contemplate given my mental state.
And make no mistake, many of your black and brown friends are battling the stages of grief, and definitely dealing with the effects of trauma from witnessing and/or experiencing the events that are taking place.
Whether by watching the unwarranted acts of aggression towards someone who looks like them, or at the possibility that they or someone they love could just as easily find themselves in the same predicament. So give them one less thing to juggle by stepping up when action is required.
4. Consistency is key.
This isn’t gonna be a one and done type of situation.
Unfortunately, the American system is flooded with racist, prejudice, and discriminatory policies, procedures and figures – all of which work to reinforce the “status quo”.
They weren’t made overnight, and they won’t be dismantled in a day.
That means you’ve got to be intentional about waking up every morning ready to face and resist the powers at play. Some days may be harder than others, but the harvest is plenty and the workers are few.
If at this point, you’re overwhelmed or looming at the gravity of what I’ve suggested so far (and this is the brief version), I want to recommend that you try to imagine how exhausting it must be for your friends of color, who face these challenges daily and ad nauseam.
There is no “break” – just as there’s no way to hide behind our skin.
Nor is there any pause button that I’ve been put on to.
There are many days I have to avoid the news and social media entirely to prevent a bout with anxiety completely taking over, and preventing me from performing my day-to-day functions.
I’m inclined to believe there may be few things worse than feeling unsafe and uncertain about your future, particularly at the hands of someone who’s already deemed you a threat regardless of what you do or don’t do, wear or don’t wear, and say or don’t say. It can feel like a game of Russian roulette, where of course, no one is the winner.
So be kind.
There is likely a story behind that face that from the outside appears glum, angry, or bothered; one that’s worthy of being heard and deserving of your understanding.
About Kayla White:
Kayla is a graduate from the University of Virginia, with a B.S. degree in Psychology, and a recent graduate from Marymount University with a M.A. in Clinical Mental Health Counseling.
Many individuals, children and adults, struggle with depression, anxiety, adjusting to change, or simply the desire to understand themselves more thoroughly. Whether to improve mood and functioning, or glean insight into personality, therapy can be reparative, strengthening, and play a role in maximizing enjoyment of life! Kayla’s expertise is working with children/adolescents, teens, young adults, and adults managing issues of: loneliness, depression, anxiety, behavioral issues, eating disorders, trauma, loss & grief, relationship issues, substance use issues and family conflict. To learn more about Kayla, visit HERE.