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Racism In America: Enough to Make Anyone Crazy

#BlackLivesMatter Protest

Yet again, it appears that my discussion this week will focus on gun violence, as we two more tragedies to our list for 2016. This time, however it’s not a mass shooting or a “terrorist threat” which is to blame. This time, it’s the police.

Philando Castile and Alton Sterling bring the death toll to 136 black people killed by police in 2016, 123 of whom were shot. According to The Guardian, a Black person was more than twice as likely to be shot by a police officer as a white person. This despite that Blacks were also twice as likely to be unarmed at the time of the incident.

How does that make you feel? I feel outraged. My heart literally begins beating faster as I am reading the various statistics from The Huffington Post, The Washington Post, The Guardian, etc. It makes me think – “That can’t be true. Really? Truly, young Black males between the ages of 15 – 34 make up less than 2% of the population and yet more than 15% of all reported deaths of use of deadly force by police so far in 2016?”. How could this be true?

I heard the newscast yesterday afternoon (that was Wednesday, the afternoon after Alton Sterling was shot while selling CD’s outside a convenience store) where the mother of his child was speaking at a press conference, while their son wept beside her. If you haven’t heard the audio, I recommend you listen to it. That boy is not just shedding tears, he is heaving and sobbing – deeply. If you’ve heard that sound before (either from yourself or another) you will recognize it – the pain and suffering which it conveys.

And then this afternoon (Thursday) at lunch, I sit down to check what’s trending on Twitter and now it’s about some person pulled over in Minnesota. A traffic stop which ended in a man being shot – five times – at point blank range in front of his girlfriend and her young daughter? Really? Is this some sick joke? Am I really reading this?

I was raised to stand up for my rights and to disobey unjust laws – I was told this was called civil disobedience and that it was noble. Even nobler was if I were to die for my Faith – then I’d be a martyr, like the many great men and women who came before me, who so loved Christ and the Church that they were willing to give their Earthly life in their fidelity. So if I die for a just cause or for my religion, I would be doing Good and would be in some sense a hero.

But what about for these two men and others like them who aren’t trying to change a political system or defend their creed? What about people who are just trying to make a living or going for a drive who are killed for no better reason than the color of their skin? What words of encouragement does that girl’s mother have to offer her daughter who sat frightened in the back seat while she witnessed a man get shot five times in the seat in front of her?

I honestly have no idea. I can’t begin to imagine what it feels like to see my father/brother/cousin/son/grandson killed because of the color of their skin. I’ve never been insecure about my safety because of the color of my skin, or when I have, it’s been because I was in a predominantly non-white (usually Black) area. And in those cases, I always thought “well if anything happens, the police can always save me”. And I truly believed that! As middle class, white suburbanite I believed that the police were good people, were there to protect me and would rescue me in a conflict. How many people of color (especially males) feel that way?

I frequently avoid reading bad news because it upsets me and tends to stay with me afterward. I will begin to obsess. But that’s my privilege. I insulate myself and allow myself to hear just enough to stay informed but not enough to make myself sick (which to a certain extent I think is healthy self-care). But my point is that not everyone has that privilege. People of color who live in some of these communities where they are routinely harassed, degraded and killed by police don’t have the option of tuning it out or exposing themselves to “just enough to stay informed”. This is their reality, or the reality of their friends, family, neighbors and community members. They can’t turn the radio, television and computer off and return to a more pleasant “reality” because this is their reality.

So what does all of this have to do with mental health? I wrote in previous posts – following the Orlando shooting at the Pulse nightclub about minority stress – how minorities, by virtue of their minority status and resulting exclusion from the political system, can be more apt to experience adverse health outcomes, both mentally and physically.

I am not a political scientist or a psychologist, but my layperson guess is that Black people in this country, with all that they see in the media regarding negative outcomes for people who look like them, must have a stronger constitution than I do, because just thinking about it enough to make me feel unwell. But how much trauma like this can any person, or in this case any community, take?

And as a mental health advocate (a young adult white, middle class, male mental health advocate) I can say that more needs to be done to train police in non-violent deescalation techniques so that black men my age don’t continue to die at such alarmingly high rates. This is especially important in the case of black men living with mental illness, who may be at an even higher risk for police violence a was the case with Jason Harrison, a black man living with bipolar disorder and schizophrenia who was shot to death (from multiple shots fired) when his mother called police to assist in transporting him to a hospital. These repeated killings spread trauma, depression and anxiety throughout our communities. As mental health advocates, I believe we need to work vigorously not only to eliminate all forms of racism and racial disparity but also to proactively promote restitution for racial injustice as a means to eventual racial reconciliation. As with any problem, pretending racism no longer exists isn’t a viable option for remediation, especially when the numbers show us it clearly still does.

5 Replies to “Racism In America: Enough to Make Anyone Crazy”

  1. RaiC says:

    I literally have been struggling all week with all of this, so to see you post about it really helped me to come to terms with it all. I want to thank you. I want to thank you for attempting to understand what I live through everyday. I want to thank you for seeing the lack of regard for the black human life and looking at these specific situations and sympathizing, or at least trying to. I want to thank you for being real and for acknowledging your whiteness, for sharing your difference in perspective, and writing those names and statistics so that no one can ever forget who they were & what they represent. A lot of people don’t get it and you do. For that, I am forever grateful.

    This ongoing battle over our blackness,with what seems like the world, seems to have no end. To continuously be beat, belittled, suppressed, oppressed, incriminated, stereotyped, misunderstood, and MURDERED is way too much for any one group to endure.However, I must say, it seems like it’s making us stronger, more aware and what we like to call, WOKE. It’s been yet another call to action to get our ish together and to remember that this system that protects everyone else, WILL NOT protect us. Our civil liberties have been violated in so many ways and animals get treated and respected far better in America than we could ever dream of.

    Our #BlackLivesMatter movement has been ridiculed, criticized and compared to racist groups that have used violence to promote, sustain and maintain their existence. It has been disrespected on a daily by people who don’t get that being pro black does not mean anti-white…by people who don’t get that by saying Black Lives Matter, we are not by any means taking away from the fact that All Lives matter too. It only means that right now, our black lives are endangered more and more and that we are focusing on our story.. on all of the insane tragedies that continue to make us all think that we don’t matter at all. It’s not about separation but about exposure, about highlighting the inequality, unjust treatment of black people in America.

    To know that 136 blacks were killed by the police in just 2016 alone (& we’re only half way through the year) should speak volumes… yet, a lot more people can’t seem to hear it. The media and it’s agenda setting has a lot of people seeing and hearing otherwise, holding on to these racist ideals and perpetuating the thoughts of it’s own staff who clearly have no real understanding of black culture, the importance of our lives and/or what we go through on a daily. I couldn’t agree with you more when you speak about the state of a black man’s mental health. Everyday is a new challenge. From the day that they’re born, this stigma is attached and they emerge into a world that certainly breeds self-hate upon them. No day is easy and for the people who are suppose to serve and protect to make it harder is something that I’m still trying to understand.

    Racism is rooted deep deep in history and as long as people continue to carry forth that hate, everything that we see will only get worse. A race war is brewing (and has been since I can remember) but as the officers continue to shed the blood of my brothers, sisters and children, and the government doesn’t do a damn thing about it, it will find it’s way to a point of no return. Pain and fear has nurtured our strength and has cultivated what will be considered monstrous. Something is on it’s way. This past week’s showcase of how the police and Americans feel about blacks was like no other. We get it. However, always remember that We do matter and that our existence is powerful. We were never counted in but believe me when I say, never count us out.

    America better consider itself lucky that black people only want equality & not revenge.

  2. Terri6902 says:

    Racist the biggest problem of the human being. We forget that we all are humans. This is so disgusting, you can tell only by the voice of this … “man” that he knew what he did. And it was wrong. Ignorance and racist is one of the main reasons of the wars, we have to move on and grow up.

  3. Kevin A. says:

    What is really sad is that we have to wait for something tragic to happen before racism is discussed.
    Today someone is killed, the next day its all over the news, the next day we protest, then a press conference that reveals that the video didn’t show the full story, no one is charged and then we forget about it.
    That’s not going to solve the problem!
    Law enforcement is not the enemy, a few racist cops doesn’t represent an entire police force, with men and women, black and white who dedicate their lives to keeping us safe. The enemy is systematic racism, and it doesn’t start in our streets.
    This is an everyday thing… black people are stigmatized and its playing out in every aspect of society: in schools, in jobs, in housing markets.
    If we can’t change the narrative of a black man living in ’21st century America’, from being a thug and a menace to having education and opportunity, then nothing is going to change.

  4. RaiC says:

    I agree Kevin but as long as they continue to show these murderers in their uniforms all over the media and continue to stress the fact that they are in fact officers of the law, the picture will continue to be painted that they are the enemy. I’d love to see them show those officers in plain clothing, show them in their everyday lifestyle but again, it’s a part of the image, the story and this idea that the officer was only “doing their job” and are here to “serve and protect.” Typically, officers are supposed to be the good guys so we’re naturally suppose to associate those badges with positivity and safety.

    The narrative of the black man is so distorted and bias that it actually hurts. It’s hard to change minds and perspective when almost everyone, including the government, wants to push you down and continue to label you. It’s a vicious cycle that seems to never end but my faith is there. My hope for everyone to start speaking out and pulling together is growing. As long as I have that, I think I’ll be in good shape… as long as we all have that, we should be ok.

  5. SeanHatcher says:

    I Completely agree with the black lives matter movement and its sad how long its taking for everyone to reach equality. As a white christian male in the SE-USA, I grew up in a middle-class family in a suburb of Nashville, TN. Even though I was introduced to the blatant racism and discrimination at a young age being raised in the South. I feel as if its extremely offensive to say we all start in the same place, while Ive seen first hand that that isn’t true, I volunteered at the Sudanese Refugee Center for 4 years multiple times a week and seeing how little others have and how much we have is astounding. The worst part is, is that you dont even have to see people of a different country to notice it. Even in the cities Ive lived in, I’ve seen such a blatant accepted form form of racism that just is not right. It’s sad how long this is taking, but progress is progress and one day we’ll see what true equality looks like.

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