More of the Same

Over the last several weeks I have connected with other clinicians of color to process our feelings, thoughts, and frustrations regarding the deaths of members of the Asian American community by cowardly gunmen in California, as well as that of yet another unarmed Black person by those sworn to protect and serve.  With respect to the killing of Tyre Nichols in Tennessee, we also expressed our disgust at the media’s seemingly lack of decorum regarding the release of the video by the Memphis Police Department of the young man’s last conscious moments before his eventual death.  Most of us did not watch the video to protect our own mental health and to be intentional in our choice to focus on a young life cut way too short by a system that was never created or designed for our safety and welfare.  (I encourage you to do some research regarding the foundation of American policing, especially its evolution as a tool to uphold the institution of slavery and sabotage Reconstruction efforts.). 

We reflected on the pain of Mamie Till who decided to have an open casket funeral for her son, Emmett, who died at the hands of cowardly adult men whose manhood were so fragile they felt compelled to murder a child based on a bold-faced lie by a woman who has yet to face accountability for her admitted actions.  Mother Till wanted the world to see the horrors of regularly occurring hatred inflicted upon African-Americans, a hatred so putrid and vile that not even our children were spared.  There was an expected somberness and respect demonstrated by others for the images they viewed as well as the unimaginable grief Mother Till carried.  My peers and I noted the contrast between the coverage of Emmett Till’s funeral and what we observed this past weekend.  

Prior to the video release of Tyre Nichols’ killing, many news outlets seemed like they were almost excited about broadcasting yet another snuff film with a Black person in a starring role they did not ask for.  In fact, for many outlets, it was not enough to show the video once, but to truly grasp the gravity of the situation – so they say – they must have the video on repeat to show America what is really going on.  And so, they kept showing the video over and over again for the “education” of the public whilst inflicting continued trauma on the very community they claim they want to support. 

Perhaps my peers and I may be cynical regarding this behavior by some media outlets since literally several such videos have been released, often replayed over and over again for the public, and yet nothing has changed.  Folks thought with the justifiable outcry following the recorded murder of George Floyd (and Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery, and Tamir Rice, and Philando Castile, and…and…and…) there would finally be legislation and accountability for those who abuse their authority to harm marginalized persons.  Alas, the status quo is gonna status quo and, as of this writing, the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act still sits in Congress.  Also, given that the literal deaths and desecration of Black bodies have been used for entertainment (research ‘picnics and lynching’ if you think I am being dramatic), I guess no one should really be surprised that our deaths are on repeat on several news stations.

But I guess since Black people are so strong, we don’t feel emotional and mental pain when exposed to this material, huh?  As the elders would say, ‘the devil is a lie’.  The renowned resilience of the Black community is something that not only can be a source to potentially draw strength from when you need to replenish reserves, but also something that is often used to further delegitimize our humanity and further expose us to harm and trauma (see bias in health care).  I promise you no Black woman gives birth to their child and wants them to die a violent death just to prove a point.  Black people are tired of giving birth to martyrs.  We want our babies to grow up, live full lives, and outlive us.  And if our children are taken before us, then we hope that it was for a reason, part of a plan towards life and equity for us all.  After countless deaths of our babies, our parents, our siblings, our grandparents, and our friends, we are still waiting for the thoughts, prayers, and seemingly performative outrage to manifest into tangible outcomes.  Instead, the message we have consistently received is that members of our community, including our babies, are expendable assets for the thirst of racial supremacy mythology. 

There are those who claim that the death of Tyre Nicols was not racially motivated since his killing was at the hands of Black men serving as members of the Memphis Police Department.  *Sigh.*  There is much to educate folks on regarding the fallacy of this argument, but below is a succinct explanation I found on social media which I think gives a decent summary of why the color of the hands that killed Mr. Nichols does not change the fact that the events leading up to, during, and after his death were motivated by the social construct of race.

“Every colonial/oppressive system at some point requires some of the oppressed to participate at a certain level.  It gives the oppression the appearance of legitimacy.”

Despite the 1960s Black Pride movement and James Brown’s 1968 hit song, “I’m Black and I’m Proud”, internal racism and its offspring, Colorism, are very much alive and well in 2023.  It is well-known that during the practice of chattel slavery in our country not all of the overseers were white.  The tradition of dividing our community, pitting us against each other to lap up meager spillage from the inherent table of humanity has always been by intentionally designed, (almost) flawlessly executed, and continues to this day.  Sadly, there are some persons who believe that tearing down others who look like them will not only protect themselves personally, but also garner more favor with those who knowingly gain from the harm and denigration of marginalized persons.  These persons appear to operate from the delusion that proximity to power is the same as having actual power.  These are likely the ‘friends’ bigoted persons are quick to give a shout-out to with the ever-popular “I got a Black friend” retort when they are held to account for prejudicial behavior (Though I do wonder if the Black ‘friend’ in question would be disturbed by the other’s behavior and quickly distance themselves.).  Or the happy-to-be-the-only Black ‘friend’ who told folks it was okay to say the n-word and that it was also okay to touch Black people’s hair without permission. The desire of some folks to say the n-word word without consequence or grab at people, disregarding the basic sense of agency of others is, ummm, fascinating. However, this is the type of advice provided by their ‘friend’ that will inevitably lead to hurt feelings, Jimmy Swaggart tears, and maybe a formal complaint when applied to persons who are very much not okay with the n-word or unclean, unfamiliar, or even unliked hands stroking their hair. This week’s swift arrest and charges by the criminal justice system against these men seems to suggest that they ‘messed around and found out’. 

While many within our community are satisfied (for now) that the system moved quickly to hold persons accountable for Tyre’s death, we are not really that surprised since the former officers are also Black men, and the system seems to move with an unbridled quickness when the accused have darker hue.  We are crystal clear that the true measure of change will be the fast apprehension and indictment of those who statistically commit more of these acts while in blue than others.  We also know that this is likely not the last time this year we will be having the same collective experience of another unarmed Black motorist dying at the hands of law enforcement, with video used to gaslight the nation instead of protecting the victim.    

My peers and I discussed these issues, as well as many other topics during our chat.  Some of us will be providing community healing circles.  Some will be offering additional support to our clients.  Some of us will inevitably be lovingly getting together some well-meaning colleagues who, operating from an ethnocentric view, will put the onus of what happened on Tyre Nichols and end up creating parallel processes within sessions with their Black clients seeking acknowledgement and validation regarding their basic humanity in systems intent on treating their trauma as grotesque entertainment. 

Of course, it is apparent that each person needs to ensure they take care of themselves during this period.  That is a given.  However, there also needs to be fundamental awareness on the part of mental health providers regarding the impact of an environment that sustains inequitable systems which knowingly contributes to the physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual pain of a community.  That said, if you do decide to seek out formal mental health support resulting from recent events and the clinician you are working with (regardless of how they look because not all persons who share your skin color will have the appropriate training or expertise working within our community, or they may be in a different placement than you regarding racial identity) seems to not have this insight, you are well within your rights to find a provider who is highly skilled in providing culturally-appropriate services.  In the year 2023, clinicians have ample access to resources to be fully immersed in the arena of impact versus swimming in the kiddie pool of intention.  And you very likely have more options and access to providers than ever before to just settle for less than standard practice of care for a racially diverse society.

My peers and I have agreed to continue to support each other as we provide safe spaces for people to process yet again another vicious attack on our community.  Though we hope this year will deliver substantive changes to protect our community via equity and accountability within law enforcement and the criminal justice system, like many of you we are also prepared for another year of thoughts, prayers, victim blaming, and continued disappointment.

In the meantime, I encourage each of you to protect your peace, make sure to nurture your spirit and relationships, seek out connection, utilize additional resources, and be as vigilant about your rest as you are about your grind. 

Be well and stay unapologetic,

Dr. Tonya