For those of us who watched the video (of George Floyd) - we watched a man die on film. Take that in. We watched a man die in minutes at the hands of police officers, people we pay to “protect and serve.” Police officers who didn’t even flench as (George) died underneath them. I can’t unsee that. I can’t forget that. The constant trauma of being Black in America is unbearable. It’s intolerable.
- Reflections I shared on May 27th.
Within a week George Floyd's death sparked outrage across the world and prompted protests demanding racial justice and equality. Civil unrest has ensued as a reaction to the continued acts of violence against Black bodies - killing of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, weaponizing the police against a Black man in Central Park (and nameless other examples) occurred among the backdrop of COVID-19 disproportionately affecting Black people and further disrupting an already fragile economic system and increasing income inequality.
The cumulative effects of recent events and the long term history of racial injustice and violence against Black people all culminated these past weeks. Perhaps with so many of us locked in doors to shelter from corona virus we had no choice but to pay attention. The usual demands on our attention were taken away by the shut down and we couldn't look away. With 40 million people unemployed because of COVID-19, a homelessness crisis that is years in the making, and many lacking adequate healthcare - the emotional toll is quite burdensome. It created a perfect storm for people sick and tired of being sick and tired.
Although some of the media attention immediately turned to rioting and looting, I caution us not to diminish the unrest in this way. As MLK once said "...rioting is the language of the unheard." People and their needs have been silenced for way to long and that type of trauma and emotion only builds. Furthermore, the unrest is so much more than riots. Protests and acts of civil disobedience have a long history of sparking change, especially in this country. And they work to bring attention to issues and people that have long been over looked. Protest is empowerment. And it is a fundamental American right.
Some people choose to be on the front lines protesting, some choose other means to support social change (e.g., donating money and other resources, educating others). The most important thing is that you choose. Choose a way that you will embrace, live, and work for racial, social, and economic justice in this country.
Some may ask why I as a psychologist am speaking about this? Psychology without social justice is another form of oppression because it focusing on the what - what is wrong with this person instead of they why - what happened to you, what happened to your people/community? Problems do not exist solely in the individual, identifying the context by which problems exists is imperative for healing. Therefore, mental health cannot be unlinked from social justice. And importantly, taking care of your mental health (especially for Black people in this current day) is an act of justice.
It goes without saying but I will, #BlackLivesMatter