How to Practice Self-Preservation in the Midst of Violence Against Black People
How do you internalize and cope with the onslaught of violence against black bodies? This month, the BM Team discusses the various strategies we use to stay sane and care for ourselves in the midst of oppression.
It’s very emotionally taxing to witness violence, exploitation, and oppression against my people, especially with the advent of social media. We have always known these things were occurring, but our oppression did not make the news as frequently and others’ comments about us were relegated to their private conversations and occasional slip ups at the water cooler.
Now violence and oppression against us is on 24 hours a day via the internet and news cycles. First we are traumatized by the act itself, then we are re-traumatized repeatedly by our timelines via images, instant play videos, and racist and insensitive comments.
First of all, I don’t click links or read comments. I can deduce what happened from the multitude of statuses and think pieces. I don’t need to know or see all of the gory details. I’m not desensitized to it, but I do not give much time or energy to news in the moment. If I do read a think piece, it’s often weeks later and only from trusted sources.
To maintain my sanity and keep my blood pressure stable, I must move past the sensationalism. When i hear about oppression, it encourages me to focus on my dreams and goals even more. It also drives me to live authentically and unapologetically.
If all else fails, sleep is a restorative practice. Being an introvert and engaging with the violence of the world can be draining in an already exhaustive world. Rest, self-care, and knowing my purpose is how I protect myself and preserve my spirit in times of injustice.
Let me say that I am committed to freedom and the work required to obtain it. We are living in time where experiencing violence against black and brown bodies is common place. You can log into social media and see another video of another person dying in the hands of police. It is not a new phenomenon. When speaking with my grandmother and mother they can recall stories of violence in their community and stories of people going missing. The difference is we have a nonstop news cycle and many of us are divorced from care practice.
I do not take this trauma and vicarious trauma lightly. Trauma can impact every area of our lives. One of my favorite articles How to Prevent Trauma from Becoming PTSD by Michelle Lozano and Dr. Dr. Debra Kissen states “Studies have shown a correlation with the development of PTSD and avoidance behaviors. In other words, the more one tries not to think about a traumatic event, resists revisiting a traumatic place, and avoids contact with any potential triggers of the traumatic event, the more likely one is to develop PTSD.” This does not mean you can not take a break. It means that we have to connect with our minds, bodies and souls to listen to our reactions and needs. I encourage people to work through their trauma. I think we have to name our experiences, our emotions, and our thoughts about trauma.
I think it is also important to find modalities of healing and release. I am a dancer and singer. I am not classically trained nor I am good by most folks standards, but I know my release is in a two-step. I know my peace in the humming and belting of hymns and funk classics. When there is a trouble or trauma, I often sing things that express my emotions. I lament. I dance to sad music.
I also lean into community. I ask for help. I eat dinner at a table with people I Iove and admire. I invite people to dance with me. I count dancing, singing, and time with my community as joy cultivation. Joy is resistance. Joy is a crucial ingredient to live, self care, and self preservation.
Before I got pregnant, I did nothing for self care or self preservation when it came to seeing violence against black folk. I felt that I had to watch the videos, read the articles, and argue with “all lives matter” idiots online in order to honor the lives being taken senselessly. Never mind the fact that graphic images of our pain and suffering are publicized and shared on a non stop loop to almost desensitize us to violence. When I got pregnant though, I switched gears.
I had a black life growing in me and the fact that this was the reality I was going to birth them into was terrifying. So, I checked out, I scrolled past, I didn’t engage and I’ve found some peace. It physically made me sick while I was pregnant. I wanted to protect the fetus and myself from the violent images. I even took complete breaks from social media, especially after Eric Garner. I remember being paranoid and terrified. Scared to go out at night and scared for my husband and brother-in-law every time they left the house.
Now that my daughter is earth-side, I still stay away. Vicarious trauma is real and I don’t want it to numb our reality. Instead, I focus on being black and unapologetic as fuck. I work hard to make sure my environment and friend groups celebrate me and my heritage. I asked my white friends to stop trying to talk to me about injustices toward black folks and instead to discuss it with their white friends. I buy black and support black businesses. I create things with my hands and visit spaces that celebrate us, like this one. I still go to protests and engage when I feel willing and able, but I’ve definitely stopped living in a cycle of trauma that social media helps perpetuate.
Like many of you, for me it is very difficult to continuously hear of heinous crimes against people of color. Especially, when it’s by the hands of those whose duty by law it is to protect us. When the media becomes inundated with news of such incidents, hearing it over and over can be emotionally draining for me. So I’ve realized that as much as it is important to stay abreast of the news, it also important to know when to unplug. Choosing what I lend my ear to is a major act of self-preservation for me. Overtime, I have slowly unfollowed many news outlets on my social media accounts. I also tune into the news just once a week to stay updated with what’s going on in the world, as opposed to watching the nightly news (an old pastime).
As far as self-care goes, I am an emotional venter. Being able to release the heavy emotions off my chest through talking about these events with my peers or relatives makes a difference for me. I guess it’s all about having the space to express what we are going through as a people. Luckily, I am surrounded by family and friends (of all races) who aren’t afraid or too uncomfortable to have these talks.