On September 16, the Black community mourned another hashtag.
Terence Crutcher was gunned down in the middle of the highway in Tulsa, Oklahoma. He was on his way from class when his van stalled on the road. His story was actually one of a few regarding the deaths of innocent Black people.
Like many others, I expressed outrage over his unfortunate death and that of other innocent Black men on Facebook and Twitter. Just as a few friends began commenting on my post, an acquaintance of mine named Kelli—a White woman—responded that the dispatchers and helicopter reporters told an entire different story.
The first thought that crossed my mind was not now…not today. For one, the dispatchers and the pilots involved constructed the false narrative of Crutcher “exhibiting strange behavior.” Not only did the father of four acted completely rational, he also cooperated (his hands were raised nearly the entire time as shown in the video). And did I mention that he was unarmed? Even if he wasn’t, that alone didn’t warrant the cop’s response considering the many instances when armed White people were spared.
Despite me and other commentators pointing out these facts (and posting compelling evidence), Kelli continued to justify the cop’s violent actions towards Crutcher. That and the lack of proof angered those who grieved over the man and the other Black lives that perished. What broke the camel’s back for me, though, was her blaming Crutcher for his own death. In a roundabout fashion, she used the dispatcher’s misleading assessment to maintain that Officer Betty Shelby had a legitimate reason to shoot him.
The online altercation ended when I unfriended Kelli for being completely out of pocket.
Though inappropriate, her response to attempted race-based genocide is nothing new. Regardless of the collection of videos of Black people (and other people of color) being targeted by law enforcement, many White folks remain unconvinced. They claim we overreact, mocking us online and in the break room at our jobs, telling us that those killed by cops initiated the response. This continuous exposure to unconcealed disregard for Black lives—and our assessment—resembles an abusive relationship from which we can’t escape.
The willful ignorance many White people display is deliberate. In fact, it contributes to a much larger issue affecting the Black community: race baiting.
According to the Merrien-Webster dictionary, race baiting “is the unfair use of statements about race to try to influence the actions or attitudes of a particular group of people or “the makings of verbal attacks against members of a racial group.” An example is a White internet troll’s comments supporting law enforcement for ridding society of a “thug.” Another is InfoWars creator and conspiracy theorist Alex Jones publishing false propaganda about the Black Lives Matter movement. Or a supposed ally posting racist content on your page justifying the government sanctioned murder of Black people. Shit, race baiting is the foundation of Trump’s entire presidential campaign. Whatever the case, this tactic always results in us reacting negatively to racist statements—which awards these bigots the undeserved attention they already receive.
Because they don’t have the physical ability to traumatize all Black folks simultaneously, many of these fine American patriots do so through the “Comments” section of various social media sites. While news coverage pertaining to the racism often encourages sympathy or infuriation, it also attracts bigoted White people who thrive off the sorrow of Black folks. They deliberately center themselves in the discussion by posting some All Lives Matter-type statements or playing “Devil’s Advocate. Both conjure unnecessary what-if scenarios that place the onus on those victimized by law enforcement. So instead of having thought-provoking dialogue about systematic oppression or paying their respects to lives lost, commentators are now cussing out an internet troll hiding behind a Pikachu photo.
This nonsense is one of the many reasons why self-care for Black folks is so vital. Actually, here are a few ways we can protect ourselves against race baiting.
- Know Thyself
Knowing yourself is byfar the most important step of practicing self-care. Self-knowledge keeps you aware of your own threshold: your level of patience, acceptance, tolerance, and temperament. During my 12-Step program days, I learned about an acronym called HALT, which stands for Hungry, Angry, Lonely, Tired. I know that if I haven’t eaten in five hours, been awake for longer than that last night, and angry about an innocent Black student being physically assaulted by White counterparts, please believe that I’m emotionally vulnerable. Therefore, that’s an indication that I need to disengage from reality until I get myself situated. I only know that much because I’m familiar with my own limits.
- Unfriend and unfollow
Blogger and hip-hop producer Johnny Silvercloud writes that a form of self-care is calling people out on their racism. You know what, though? So is unfriending and/or unfollowing someone who’s sloppy like that. Listen. Kelli had somehow deemed it kosher to post a bullshit “news” publication in a thread where folks are grieving Crutcher’s death. She then has the audacity to not only dispute factual evidence presented, but uncaringly centers herself to shine attention on her lowkey racist ideologies and White tears. The irony is that’s she’s trans and wearing a pride pen in her profile picture. And since I’m aware of my level of patience (which is significantly low these days), she is soon removed from my friends list. I say that because we, the Black people, are not obligated to educate/debate with White folks who should already know what’s good (Google exists to get folks together). Nor should we not be automatically assigned to fight that one “friend” who only materializes when we post a police brutality video on our Facebook page. I don’t need the aggravation and neither do you.
- Reach out to fellow comrades
Please know that, in this campaign for justice, you’re never alone. So reach out to your squad. Let me say that one more time: Reach. Out. To. Your. Squad. Race baiters utilize a plethora of tactics to get at us–private messages, micro-aggressions, verbal intimidation and so forth. They also tend to initiate the last two at a moment when we are at our most vulnerable–at our place of employment. I’ve heard many stories about Black folks enduring racism on the clock, but couldn’t retaliate because they needed their bread and butter. Therefore, when they come at you like that, reach out to your people in every way, shape, and form. Having a squad is especially important if you’re working in a hostile work environment.
- Stay away from the damn “Comments” section
Cyber racism, a phrase coined by Les Back in 2002, refers to the racism prevalent in the “Comments” sections throughout the interwebs. It’s basically an online abyss for those who bask in the glow of trauma porn—especially that involving Black folks. Enter that horror show if so desire, but you will never leave mentally/spiritually/emotionally unscathed. And because the race baiter’s assessment of Black people is solidified, you’re literally wasting your energy, time, and words, y’all. You can’t argue sympathy and understanding out of racist trolls who ridicule the deaths of our innocent. So do yourself a favor: don’t go down into the basement because we all know what happens to the Black folks who do.
- Disconnect from social media
This is one of the reasons why self-awareness is paramount—especially if you’ve been diagnosed with mental/emotional health issues. Inundated with news coverage featuring the deaths of Black people, we (those struggling with mental/emotional issues) are more likely to develop symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). I myself struggle with depression, anxiety, and PTSD. Whenever I watch a video of Black people being murdered in cold blood, it’s as if I’m standing at the crime scene witnessing a death. I can’t intervene because the victim is completely unreachable. Now imagine this sense of helplessness, infuriation, anguish, and fear replaying in your brain repeatedly and there’s no “Stop” button. Imagine yourself reacting as if the scene in the video is happening to you. Imagine yourself being silenced by constant race baiting and All Lives Matter rhetoric. All this is the why I don’t view the footage. So as important as it is to stay current politically, you’re also allowed to shut off your device of choice and decompress.
- Allow yourself to grieve
We deserve to grieve the loss of our people, to weep on a comrade’s shoulder, express an array of emotions. We’re allowed to construct a safe space for ourselves without having to deal with the hostility of racist White people. A few nights after Crutcher’s murder and a few other victims, members of Building Leadership and Community Knowledge (B.L.A.C.K.) hold a candlelight vigil at the Rochester Liberty Pole. As our White allies guard the area, we gather in a circle and verbalize our pain, fears, anger, and overall confusion about why Black folks are continuously walking targets in 2016. People of color needed that moment to support other Black people and each other. For us, the candlelight vigil is a mental, emotional, and spiritual respite from the deceitful, yet hurtful message that Black lives are disposable.
Blogger Jasmine is right when they declare: “I love Black people. I love us so much…I worry for our wellbeing when we are inundated with racism. Continuing to engage in confronting racism in the online space can mean taking a risk with your brain and psychological wellbeing. All of the interactions and conversations in the online space, can be received as micro-aggressions and race-based traumas.” Like her, I love my people and everything about us. We are an elite group of lit individuals that continue to contribute to this society. Race baiters attempt to erase our history with over-generalizations and racist ideologies instigated by false propaganda. Granted, those who acknowledge our worth can combat the comments, but it’s also discouraging and exhausting. So please take care of yourself because recharging is just as radical as fighting for equity.