In the last couple of weeks, I’ve watched what feels like the beginnings of a civil war unfold across America.
Much like anyone else who has been subjected to racial slurs and discrimination, seeing rounds and rounds of racially fuelled violence, perpetrated by people who are supposed to serve and protect, has been one of the most triggering and emotionally testing experiences that I’ve had to endure. Especially as it comes in the middle of a global pandemic.
In the past, I’ve spoken publicly about my experiences of being hypersexualised as a black woman in Ireland. And I have openly addressed the online trolling that I got after.
You might think, then, that after seeing footage of the heinous killing of yet another black person in America, I would immediately take to my Instagram, Twitter and Facebook page to express my outrage, my hurt and my pain.
But not this time.
The unravelling of this story hit me differently. It hit me in a more personal way than any of the other unjust killings of black people. It has invited an undesirable cloud of gloom and despair into my life, and it has evoked negative feelings that I’m struggling to shake off.
My youngest brother lives in America.
He was racially profiled by someone in his suburban neighbourhood and police were called. When I first caught wind of the killing of George Floyd, I thought of that. I thought about how my brother was targeted for simply existing. It’s a reality faced by black people worldwide.
My brother’s situation might have gone differently if the policeman had not clocked a hint of an Irish accent. There’s no telling where he would be now.
We talk about fight or flight. When I first tried to process my feelings about the killing of George Floyd, I found myself doing the latter. Fighting during an ongoing global pandemic was more than I could bear. I felt that it was an attack on the black race, an attack on the black community, an attack on my personhood.
For that reason, I wanted to touch on the importance of looking after your mental health during this very worrying time. In my view, mental health is not spoken about enough in the black community, yet it’s something we as humans can all universally relate to.
With the heated discussions happening at the moment, I also wanted to remind people from the black community and as well as everyone else hurting at the moment to also engage in the right conversations.
Looking After Health
I remember when I first told people that I was a volunteer for Save Our Sons and Daughters(SOSAD) an organisation that provides free services to those who are bereaved or in need of mental-health support.
Some black people questioned why I would get involved with what they regard as a “white” issue. Suicide is something that black people don’t do, they said. It’s a sentiment that I’ve heard repeated all too many times.
Much like racism, just because it isn’t visible to everyone, it doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. There are black people who suffer from depression and anxiety. Bipolar disorder is not confined to people who are white. White people do not hold a monopoly on mental health issues.
Looking after your mental health is more important than ever when the world is reminding you that the scales have always been imbalanced for people like you.
It will give you the strength to fight for what’s right so you don’t burn out.
Remember to get a breath of fresh air. Remember to eat a good meal. Remember to take a break and log off.
Of course, logging out of social media isn’t conducive to online activism. But for those who have decided to embark on that journey, then managing screen time might be helpful.
Also, remember to talk to someone. Someone whose experiences resonate with yours, or a professional – there is no shame in it.
Whatever you decide, do not neglect your emotional well-being.
And if you are not black, but want to be an ally, in addition to sending that eight-tweet thread about racial injustice, take the time to check in on your black friends to make sure they’re okay.
Grieving the Same Way
Part of looking after ourselves – and each other – means creating the space for us to express our anger and react in different ways.
I have battled against the idea that black people are a monolithic group.
In the current climate, I’ve noticed more pressure being put on black people – mostly from within the black community – to express their anger and hurt in the same way.
I struggled to write this because of a rollercoaster of emotions. I just couldn’t think rationally. The safest thing, I decided, was to stay off social media, to give myself time to grapple with it all.
Remember that we are all individuals. No two people grieve the same way. Try to understand someone before judging them for grieving in a way that looks different to yours.
Not everyone feels the immediate need to take to social media to express their outrage. Some of us are signing petitions, donating, and having painstaking conversations with friends and family in order to learn, inform and educate.
Actions that aren’t advertised online are also part of that change. There’s more than one way to make a difference.
Ireland Is with Us
Personally, I have hope for Ireland. As I said earlier, my youngest brother lives in America.
Given the systemic racism ingrained within their society, I think the encounter he had with the policeman would have unfolded differently if he didn’t have the privilege of the hint of an Irish accent, the privilege to be seen as an international student and the privilege of not being seen as one of them.
But just because we are privileged to be African-Irish and not from a country where the people who are supposed to protect you don’t, it doesn’t mean we should stay comfortable in our privilege.
Recognising privilege of any sort and using it to educate and inform is key to ensuring we see positive changes in society.
I read about the Dublin protest earlier this week. I was overwhelmed by the turnout and the support – the staggering numbers of people who came out and risked their lives in the midst of a pandemic.
I attended the Black Lives Matter protest in Drogheda. It was peaceful and there was a mixed crowd of people from various backgrounds and ethnicities. Not everyone is against us. It is clear that our generation is a generation of radical change.
Thank you to those walking the streets and protesting for an issue they might never have to face.
Thank you to those who are having real conversations about racism and oppression.
And thank you to the people online who are using their voice in a time when some of us are still finding the strength to do so.