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Black & Burnt Out Presents: Mental Unrest During Civil Unrest

I have been trying to write this blog post for the last two weeks now. It has been difficult due to the waves of emotions I have been experiencing since the recent deaths of George Floyd, Sean Reed, Breona Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery. I wake up some mornings with this sadness that I just can't shake, other times I am angry, and yet I still have to be present for my clients which have not been easy. As a black person, first and foremost, I knew that this would affect me, but I wasn't prepared for how emotional I would become. This time around, it just feels different. I am experiencing mental unrest during civil unrest.

White privilege affects every aspect of a black person's life. I remember the first time I realized I was different or "other." I was six years old and in the first grade at a predominantly white school. A white male student, also in the first grade, asked me to push the merry-go-round, but instead of using my name, he called me the N-word. After that incident, my view of the world changed. Unfortunately, my experience is not unique, many black people remember the first time they were called a racial slur or were made to feel less than or "othered" by a white person. Navigating a white world as a black person can be mentally, emotionally, physically, and even spiritually exhausting. During my first year of college, I had a white female roommate who had expressed to me that I was the first black person that she had ever interacted with. She asked me questions as if I was a new species that she had just found. Once again, I was "othered." As a mental health professional, many of my black clients talk about how they are treated differently in their work environment by white people. How they have to work twice as hard just to earn some type of respect and how it has impacted them mentally. At a previous job, I had a white female supervisor who was quick to claim mine and my black colleague's ideas as her own when she would receive praise from her white female supervisor, but if the feedback was negative she was just as quick to throw me and my co-worker under the bus and act as if she had no clue about the project. This same supervisor questioned my hairstyle when I showed up to work one-day wearing Bantu knots. I moved into another position in the company and my new supervisor (white and female) gave me a negative work evaluation one time because I was not smiling enough at work. I was told I had low morale. Even though I loved that job, I could no longer take the microaggressions. At one point I had hoped to move up in the company but upward mobility was not an option with the "good old girl" system they had going on, it was time to go. So yes, these last two weeks have been a roller coaster of emotions for me recalling the trauma I have experienced just because I am black.

The system was never created for black people. Innocent until proven guilty, that wasn't written with us in mind. When I was in graduate school for counseling, I took a group counseling class. The class was majority white with only a handful of people of color. I don't recall what the exercise was, but I remember everyone was sharing something personal that had a deep impact on their life. I brought up how a few months earlier, my 20-year-old brother was stopped by the police because he "fit the profile" and how he was thrown to the ground with a gun in his face. I was in tears recalling the effect this had on me and my family. This was before the tragedy of Trayvon Martin and the national outcry that occurred, but for many black and brown individuals unlawful traffic stops and police brutality are something that we have been all too familiar with for quite some time now. Luckily the encounter ended with my brother still having his life but he was never the same, we were never the same. It didn't matter that our parents had the "what to do when the police pull you over" conversation or the fact that my father was an active police officer at the time, all that mattered was that my brother was black.

I don't want to end this by saying I just feel angry and sad. I also feel happy and proud that we have come together to continue the fight that was started so long ago regarding racial injustice. As I said earlier, this time it just feels different. Our pain is real but our hope, faith, and strength demonstrate our resilience to overcome and bring about change.

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