Youth Perspectives | Taking Care During Times of Anti-Black Trauma
by Jhanelle Porter
YouthREX Digital Content and Communications Intern
"Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare." - Audre Lorde
The last couple weeks have been difficult to process – for me, individually, for black people, for our communities, and for society at large.
With the blatant anti-black racism that occurred at and in response to the Black Lives Matter protest at Toronto’s Pride parade, the murders of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile spread through the media via video, the violent attacks and unnecessary arrests on peaceful protesters, and the tragic deaths of the five police officers in Dallas, Texas, I have felt an overwhelming sense of loss and sadness these past weeks.
I realized that although these tragedies have not been directed at me personally, I am still being affected.
According to the Washington Post, in 2016 alone there have been 123 deaths of black people in the United States by police officers. This happens in Canada, too, even if not to the same degree. In 2015, Andrew Loku, a South Sudanese man was shot dead in Toronto, holding a hammer. In 2014, Jermaine Carby was also shot dead by police, who were later accused of tampering with evidence at the scene after questions were raised about the validity of their actions (The Toronto Star, August 16 2015).
Death at the hands of the police is one end of a spectrum of racist violence. On a regular basis, racialized people are surveilled and disproportionately stopped by police in a practice referred to as "carding", which is an offshoot of racial profiling. NOISE for Social Change youth fellows participated in a 2013 community-based research project on the issue of carding as it is experienced by residents of the Jane Finch Community and they continue to discuss and work to address this issue.
In times of anti-black trauma, it is critical that we understand how these stories and videos affect us mentally, physically, and emotionally.
There is research that suggests that racism leads to negative effects on an individual’s physical and psychological wellbeing. Working here at YouthREX at the Provincial Office based in Toronto, and also being very connected to the Toronto youth sector in other ways, I am very aware that there are so many frontline youth workers, youth, staff members and more, who might also be feeling overwhelmed, angry, demoralized... Being able to understand and combat these effects through self-care is of the utmost importance.
Secondary Trauma: According to The National Child Traumatic Stress Network, Secondary traumatic stress is the emotional duress that results when an individual hears about the firsthand trauma experiences of another. Its symptoms mimic those of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Vicarious Trauma: According to The Wendt Centre for Loss and Healing, vicarious trauma occurs when an individual who was not an immediate witness to the trauma absorbs and integrates disturbing aspects of the traumatic experience into his or her own functioning.
There are various terms that counselors, therapists, social and trauma workers worker are familiar with, however with the traumatic videos of black and brown bodies being brutalized by police officers, many of us are now more aware of, and are often victims of these types of trauma. These forms of trauma are shown in various ways depending on each individual person(s). View a chart outlining these forms of trauma from Living Well: Signs of Vicarious Trauma.
Here are a few self-care options that I recommend when dealing with secondary or vicarious trauma:
When you’re faced with negativity, bad news, Internet trolls and insensitive people it can become stressful and exhausting. Skip it. Social Media is often the first thing we check when we wake up and the last thing we do before bed. Take a day to step away from the constant noise of Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and any other social media site that delivers your daily dose of Internet news. If this is hard, you can also try signing out of social media on your phone/tablet. If the itch becomes too hard to ignore, try limiting your time on social media to 5 minutes every 6 hours. This will force you to glance over information without taking any of the really negative things on.
Exercise can be a great way to disconnect! If you’re in Toronto, check out Yoga in Dufferin Grove Park with Brown Girls Yoga (PWYC - $10)
2. GET SOME REST
We live in a time where a good night's sleep is becoming more of a luxury than a necessity. However, sleep is vital to not only relax and recharge us but there is significant proof that sleep aids in the healing of our body’s organs, including the heart and blood vessels. The benefits of sleep will allow you to decompress and let go of the negativity you see in the world and allow you to face the next day with strength and vigor. If you’re like me and have a hard time getting to bed, try to create a peaceful environment to sleep in: limit all unnatural noise and turn off the lights (if necessary, a nightlight or very dim lighting is fine). Try taking a warm bath or listening to calming music before bed. Most importantly, sleep when you feel the need to, don’t force it. Your body will alert you when it needs sleep – listen to it.
3. SPEND TIME DOING A HOBBY
Whether you like dancing, writing, watching movies, running or yoga do something that is solely for you. It is important to remember that you matter and doing things that make you smile or feel relaxed are just as important as the work you’re doing to support youth, to make change in our communities, to stand up against the oppression black and brown people face each day.
4. CONNECT WITH COMMUNITY
My mother always tells me, no one is an island – its okay to ask for help. Reaching out and connecting with community leaders and members is a great form of self-care. Finding folks who can relate and help you to work through the trauma that you’re experiencing is beneficial to your physical, mental and emotional health. Attending healing circles, community talks, spending time with or talking to a friend, mentor or community member are all ways of connecting with your community. In Ontario we are fortunate to have many youth leaders who are helping to provide safe and healing spaces for folks looking to connect – reach out.
Self-care is just one of the many dimensions of the action/work needed to challenge anti-black racism. YouthREX looks forward to continuing this conversation in future blog posts. If you would like to submit a blog on this or a related topic we would love to hear from you. Please email email@example.com.
For more information, please see our Learn More section, as well as Additional Resources at the end of this post.
Select Mental Health Organizations and Initiatives
Across Boundaries (specifically for racialized communities)
The New Mentality
Centre for Addiction and Mental Health
Ontario Distress Centres