Recharging is Just as Radical: Using Self-Care to Heal from Race Baiting

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.

The Politics Behind #ICanBeBoth

Hey all.  Because I’m working on the B.L.A.C.K. newsletter this week, I won’t have time to write a new piece.  However, I still have something for you for this coming Wednesday. This is a piece I published in one my other blogs, The Possible World called “The Politics Behind #ICanBeBoth.”  It’s about the online campaign that celebrated both the professional and informal personalities of Black women.  

Enjoy.

 

“Pride…If you haven’t got it, you can’t show it.  If you got, you can’t hide it.”

–Zora Neale Hurston, Author

 

Recently, I’ve been noticing the hashtag #icanbeboth popping up in my newfeed.

For those who don’t know, #icanbeboth refers to the fact that women of color can be sexual, sexy and fun loving one day and professional in every way, shape and form the next.  Those who participate in the online campaign post comparison photos: one of themselves in the club, at a party or wearing a cocktail dress with heels and the other of them in casual or professional attire while on the job.

Hence “I can be both.”

I’m going to tell y’all right now that I love every minute of this campaign, Dear Readers.  For one, women are coming together to celebrate everything about their individual personalities and interests without throwing shade.  This can’t make me any prouder because we know how much the media loves featuring Black women slapping the shit out of each other or feuding on Instagram.  Major networks and social media sites stay making us look outrageous in the negative fashion, so I stan for anything that show us celebrating our magic.

But I also immediately recognize the politics behind the hashtag and how it can encourage us to have a much needed conversation about why #Icanbeboth exists to begin with.  There’s so much I can touch on so much here, but I’m going to focus on three main issues that:  White supremacy, respectability politics, and Black male privilege.

White supremacy is the idea that people of European descent are superior to people of color—Black people especially.  It’s the reason why all the negative “isms” exist: racism, sexism, ableism, lookism, ageism and so forth. It is also created the male privilege and systematic oppression that Black women endure in the labor force, the education system, the religious community and other environments that shape the individualism of Black women.  Furthermore, White supremacy perpetuates their ideologies pertaining to European standards of beauty and social etiquette.  So while White women are deemed beautiful and pure (even to this day), Black women are seen as ugly, classless, uneducated and promiscuous.

Now keep that in mind as we move on to respectability politics. There’s this notion that Black people are to present themselves a certain way in order to be accepted by mainstream society.  In many cases, it is the Black woman who is spoon fed this message by both the media and her community.  Unlike our White female counterparts, Black women are not given the liberty to disclose their entire self without the risk of criticism or losing a necessary resource such as employment.

But the main focus is often the sexuality and sexual expression of the Black woman. Even in 2016, women are placed in the position to explain themselves when they promote and profit from their sexuality or sex positivity in general.  Celebrities like Amber Rose is a prime example.  Though she’s known for her Instagram presence and relationship with rapper Kanye West, Amber Rose is known for her sex politics (In 2015, she has organized Slut Walk LA and campaigns for sexual consent).  But she begins to pique my attention when bluntly explains consent to entertainers Rev Run and Tyrese Gibson on their show It’s Not You, It’s Men.  Yes, ladies and gentlecats.  Amber Rose has to explain to these two grown ass men that not only is it ok for us to be sexually provocative, but that we have the right to say “No.”  This is the same woman who is criticized by both the media and members of the Black community for being comfortable in her own body.   And like many Black women, I notice that our biggest detractors are Black men.  Case in point: Louis Farrakhan.

Which brings me to my last point about the politics of #icanbeboth:  the hashtag and the women who take part are pushing back against Black male patriarchy—and rightfully so.  Most Black men tend to erroneously assume that Black women should somehow fit into some vision of what we should be—whatever that may be.  And when we don’t meet their standard of whatever the hell, then they claim that that’s the MAIN reason why they started dating White women (no shade towards interracial relationships, but there are so many Black men who have only date outside their race because they’ve internalized the negative Black woman stereotypes). But what these men don’t realize is that this type of nonsense feeds into the very negativity that #icanbeboth is rallying against.

Why am I writing about this, Readers?  Because as a Black Pansexual woman, I am growing very tired of women of color having their intelligence, integrity and very existence questioned and their whole entire selves compartmentalized just so someone else can be comfortable. It’s this type of pigeon holing that contributes to mental health issues such as depression and anxiety.  It can furthermore play into the Impostor Syndrome, the belief that they don’t belong in an academic and/or professional setting.

But most of all, it’s a full-on attack on the human spirit.  When society and members of the very community that supposedly promotes unity and safety criticizes the Black woman’s individuality, it is she who feels every word piercing through her.  And when we can’t find refuge within our own environment or negatively affected by the people in it, it can lead to issues such PTSD or Complex PTSD as well as this sense of disappointment.  And due to the current political climate, feeling displaced due to simply celebrating every part of ourselves is the last issue we need.

So, yes!  I’m extremely stoked about the very existence of #icandbeboth because 1) it brings together a tribe of women who embrace (or wish to embrace) their individuality and 2) it challenges and claps back at respectability politics and patriarchy by showing that women of all ethnicities and ages can be both ratchet and classy.  At the same time, I do hope that the hashtag generates a discussion about White supremacy and how it’s being used against women of color in the forms of respectability politics and Black male privilege and how we can all work together to cut the monster off at the head.