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Coping with Race-Based Trauma

When the news of Ahmaud Arbery’s death became widespread and public, I can’t say that I was surprised. I was shocked that a video of this man’s last moments on earth was circulating widely on the internet. As a Black man I was stunned. As a therapist, I was immediately concerned.

Coping in the Age of Technology

We’ve made incredible ground in the past few decades with technology. Folks around the globe have immediate access to information and news on the ground whenever they want it. But, it has a insidious side too. This means that the darker sides of existance are that much harder to gain distance from. This includes the ongoing violence against Black people in the United States.

Recently someone asked, “can we heal if this is always going on?” I don’t feel like I can offer a reassuring answer to that question. All I know is that we can do what we can to heal on our scale – with ourselves and the people around us that we can touch. But, healing is hard. Maybe coping is a helpful, and functional goal right now.

Seeing videos like Arbery’s killing or reading the news of Breonna Taylor’s death is exposure to trauma for us. Nina Pop’s recent death is a reminder of the ever-present transphobia and misogynoir against Black women.

When we can’t seemingly have sustained peace, we have to find our own ways to cope.

Coping Looks Different on Everyone

As a mental health professional, I can’t help but think how harmful it is to continue to witness and read about the deaths of those who are like you. Racism is not good for our mental health. Thankfully, we now have research to support this. Yes, videos create awareness. There’s no argument against that. However, we have to be mindful about the negative mental health impact of seeing a senseless killing play out right in front of our eyes.

Coping after these events can vary a great deal. Maybe you need to sleep more. Perhaps you drink more than you normally do or you have to debrief with people in your inner circle or community. I’m not here to tell you the “right way” to cope. There is no such thing. Obviously every choice has consequences and implications and it is important to be mindful of those. Not paying attention to those consequences could be dangerous.

The key is to watch for the potential negative consequences of your coping. When that drinking, or complete avoidance, or activism, etc. starts to create other negative consequences then it’s likely time to develop more tools to help you manage your thoughts and feelings more responsibly.

There’s so much that many of us can do to help make it a reality that the next generations do not have to experience the same senseless deaths that we are experiencing right now. If you feel OK enough to do that work, please do. It can look like grassroots organizing, letter-writing, educating friends and family or even working in silence to become anti-racist yourself. Action can certainly help us cope.

However, coping sometimes is also about not allowing yourself to be sensitized to needless death. Coping, as painful as it is, requires an acknowledgment of how deep the fear, anxiety, and anger runs in your body when you think about Arbery, Breonna or Nina’s deaths.

We (the collective US) have a lot of work to do. Just don’t forget to take care of you too.

Author: Jor-El

Jor-El is Co-founder of Viva Wellness and a foodie and film buff. He most often writes about mental health, relationships, food and mindfulness. When he’s not busy working, he typically can be found lounging or walking around NYC with his pup Nomi.

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