LET’S TALK TUESDAY | BREATHE, MY PEOPLE, BREATHE
Happy Tuesday, CHN Friends!
If you’re like me, your heart broke last week when you saw the video of Stevante Clark taking over the meeting of the Sacramento City Council, screaming the name of his brother Stephon. Maybe, like me, you shared the pain of his grandmother as she pleaded to know why the police had to use lethal force to stop Stephon — in her backyard.
Their anguish, and ours, is more than justified. But we can’t allow it to consume us.
We all know the problem. Over and over, in the face of the repeated killings of Black men, women, and children by police, we see the actions of the officers declared to be “reasonable” and “not prosecutable.” Of course we’re angry. More than half a century ago James Baldwin wrote that “to be Black and relatively conscious is to be in a constant state of rage.” As I watched Stephon’s family express their outrage, I had to find a way to express mine.
It was a small thing, but it helped me. I posted a photo of a t-shirt with the following message on my Facebook page: “I won’t keep calm. I have a Black son.” I added “And a Black daughter.” And then I wrote “Just for awhile though. I know that I have to calm down to think clearly and critically.”
According to the American Psychiatric Association, “Racism and racial discrimination create a unique environment of pervasive, additional stress for people of racial and ethnic minorities in the United States.”
That’s why we, Black people, have to be intentional about finding ways to calm down—to reduce our racial stress—especially in the face of the repeated, traumatic attacks on the lives of Black people.
Here are 7 points from our Care Toolkit that can help ground us:
“1. Know that our feelings are real and warranted.
2. Our feelings have emerged out of nearly 600 years of systemic racial oppression rooted in the lie that Black people are inferior to White people.
3. We cannot overcome this oppression overnight, but, as a community of elders and young people, we can work together to free ourselves emotionally and completely. None but ourselves can free our minds!
4. We need to respect and understand the psychological and emotional effects of racial oppression so that we do not fall into traps laid for us by the system and hurt ourselves and/or loved ones.
5. The first step toward healing is to acknowledge the systemic racial trauma, stress, anger, pain, frustration, and hurt that we are experiencing, and recognize how they might affect our feelings, our thinking, our actions, and our interactions.
6. If we understand how the system of racial oppression affects us, then we can strategically and collectively take the necessary steps to shortcircuit the system; taking full control of our hearts and our minds–acting instead of reacting.
7. One way to begin to do this is to honestly and sincerely ask ourselves with respect to everything we do, ‘is this good for me and is this good for Black people.’ If the answer is no, don’t do it.”
In the words of the theologian Howard Thurman, “The only … possibility of stability for the person, is to establish “an island of peace within one’s own soul.” He invited us to regularly observe periods of silence to find that island of peace.
We encourage all our sisters and brothers, in times of racial stress, to let off steam in the safest way possible. We believe that the best way to do this is to focus on taking time to breathe.
We like to say, “breathe, baby, breathe.”
Taking time, in silence, to take deep, slow breaths can make all the difference.
Breathing helps us connect with our life force. It calms us down. It reminds us of our value as human beings. It can help us lengthen the time between the actions coming at us and our individual responses–which gives us more time to tap into our self-confidence and to think more clearly–in order to maximize the chances that we will make good choices.
Bottom line: Let’s be more intent on turning our anguish into righteous anger–and much more effective action.
Breathe, Baby, Breathe.
What do you think? What steps would you suggest for channeling our anger in more productive ways?
–Enola G. Aird, CHN Founder and President
Please leave your comments below.