Current and former foster youth weigh in on racism and police brutality.
One of the most impactful experiences with police brutality for me is intertwined in generational trauma. My mother, who suffers from bipolar and schizophrenia, was in her late teens or early twenties and having a manic episode. The police were called. Their response included repeatedly clubbing her face with their batons, resulting in her two front teeth being viciously knocked out. I have never seen my mother with her natural smile because of this. And although I have seen and felt the sunshine that is her smile, there is something about someone taking away pieces of Black and brown bodies that is incredibly egregious. This occurred before I was born. Considering epigenetics and my lifelong deep connection to my ancestors, I suppose I have never known life without police brutality.
I have heard incessantly that rioting is the language of the unheard. Though this may be true, I am torn about its efficacy in racial equity. On one hand, the United States and its oppressive nature of capitalism, systemic oppression, and all subsequent supportive -isms (racism, classism, sexism, etc.) were founded on violence and inequity. Destruction, domination and disservice are innately ascribed to American identities – whether Americans realize this harsh reality or not, it is, in fact, data-driven information. And while rioting may wake some people up, it will not be the driving force behind racial equity. Rioting is immensely performative, in measure, one of many grand tactics being employed widely now. True, sustainable change is action based on the ways in which we live our everyday lives, not symbolic in one- or two-act plays of riots that cater to a fair-weather audience who leaves once the fires die down. Still, sometimes, to get at systemic and systematic oppression, we need to use the same tactics through which they are employed.
Protest can manifest itself in varying ways. If you are an educator, your protest can look like teaching Black and brown kids the truth so that they can be empowered to live their best lives. If you are a health care worker, it can look like taking care of and listening to the pain of Black and brown bodies and repairing them so that they can go back to the frontlines and do that work that they are doing. If you are a social worker, that looks like giving the resources to people who need them so that they can live their best lives and move toward some form of equity. At the end of the day, there is more than one way to get to racial equity. There is more than one way to disassemble all the oppressive systems through which we exist in America and throughout the world. All you have to do is choose one.
Being mindful of police brutality and racial inequity – their connectedness, especially – triggers anxiety and stress, consciously, unconsciously and subconsciously. For example, when I was pulled over in Texas, the state where Sandra Bland was mistreated and likely murdered, I was instantly afraid. I am a very safe driver, no marks on my record, and yet I am, in broad daylight, fearful of harm, injury and even death. I had an anxiety attack that lasted roughly an hour after that experience. Visions of violence, death and destruction flooded my psyche in ways that will never leave me. Being Black or brown in America is to never be or feel safe.
The murders of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor are recent nationally known names on a long list of victims of police brutality and racial bias; this does not include the naming of explicit hate crimes. Institutional murder is sickening, disheartening and disgusting, but it’s not new or surprising. The difference in 2020 is that there is technology to capture the injustices and social media to spread awareness of the atrocities. Black and brown death has become an American commodity and is a part of its obsession with trauma porn – killings shared for clickbait with no warning – desensitizing folks and retraumatizing victims.
When officers who are responsible for misuse of excessive force resulting in death are found not guilty, the sense of frustration and deep grieving is simultaneously present with disappointment but are no surprise to Black and brown people. I cannot help but wonder about all of the police officers who have not necessarily killed people but who irreparably damaged them in mind, body and soul; officers who patrol the streets with no remorse for their immoral doings. And what about all the names we have never known? All of the people who have not just been killed but who have also been raped, abused, beaten, manipulated and damaged?
The most helpful ways to cope with the raw emotions of these unfortunately reoccurring events are a sum of a radical self-care. Knowing when to name, when to feel and when to release allows for healthy processing to take place. Rest is a radical act of revolution in a society that pushes productivity and exploitation. You must recharge and allow your body to regenerate.
Be mindful of all the things you engage and consume; sometimes, that looks like unplugging from social media and the news. At the very least, shield yourself from social media and the news when the cycles are pushing only negative things. Hydrate and eat nutritiously so that your health (which is your wealth) remains intact. Find moments of joy and love and lean on your support systems.
Find healthy coping mechanisms that allow you to safely move through and process your feelings and your traumas. Try therapy – there are a lot of personal and private entities offering free therapy services for Black and brown people, currently. Give yourself permission to grieve. Give yourself permission to cry … tears of both joy and sorrow because life is complex and there is a time for all things. Black and brown people, your existence is resistance – I implore you to exist in the most joyful and most fulfilling ways possible; that alone is enough.
Lauren Lynch-Novakovic contributed to this story.