Coping with Black Trauma as an Expat
I spent the majority of 2016 in a place of uncertainty. I won't say "fear", because I honestly haven't reached that part of the process. Seriously, though: I'm tired. I'm tired of constantly watching my news feeds filling up with news that another black man or woman has been killed for no reason, and their murderers receive little to no punishment. I'm tired of being exposed to another video of a black man or woman being attacked or beaten by a member of law enforcement. And I am CERTAINLY tired of watching others try to explain away, or rationalize, the reasons these people have lost their lives.
It is simply exhausting to be bombarded with the images and videos of death, especially when I'm abroad and can do absolutely nothing about it. Every day I'm surrounded by people who don't exactly understand what is happening back home. They're all curious to know my opinion on all the shootings, all the violence, and I find myself re-living, re-watching, and re-examining the details. I have to explain, yet again, what has happened. Who has died this time, how they died, and why. I can't even log off and take a breath, because it's live. These are my co-workers, my students, my new friends. They all have questions, and I'm really the only person around who can answer them. So that's what I do, even though it leaves me completely drained.
I also get to sit in from of a screen, and watch as the people I call friends tear apart the victim's personal lives, arrest records (or lack thereof), actions during the incident, and make decisions about whether or not the shooting was justified. Or say they won't shed any tears over the loss of a life because 'x,y, and z'. It takes such a toll on mental health, and on my soul in general. Since I'm abroad, the rifts that come up as a result are not easily repaired. At home I could cool off, meet them for a cup of coffee, and talk it out. Maybe I could fix things and save my friendship (if I wanted to). But since I'm only able to talk online, I find myself accepting the fact that this person is gone from my life, and most likely I will never see them again.
As the year has passed, I noticed myself withdrawing from old friends and family. I'm usually a very social person, but as time goes by I find myself spending more and more time gathering my thoughts, and working past the feelings of resignation I get when I hear about read that yet another unarmed person was killed. I believe in justice for those without a voice, but the more I post about these crimes, the more it seems others want to shout me down. I'm called names, insulted, and my intelligence is insulted because I want the truth to be brought to light and for the officers who commit these crimes (and they are crimes) to pay for their actions.
A few people believe that to question these shootings, and demand justice for the dead, mean that you're anti-law enforcement. "Black Lives Matter" is met with "All Lives Matter", followed by "Blue Lives Matter" and another argument begins. Let me make something clear: By saying that black lives matter: I am not diminishing the lives of other races, I am not attacking police officers, and I do not hate law enforcement. I am from a military/law enforcement family, and I have many friends who are officers as well. I love and respect them, and they will always have my support. To demand justice is not an automatic condemnation of the other side, and making the assumption that it IS does nothing more than shut down any possibility of discourse. There are some who make the argument that constantly posting about this only works to divide people, but what is unifying about ignoring the deaths of unarmed citizens?
This year has been a roller coaster for me, emotionally. I have had too many arguments to count, shed too many tears at the loss of life I read about almost every day, and even lost friends as a result of my involvement with social justice groups like Black Lives Matter. So many times I have seen a new story, a new shooting, and just for a second... I've thought about just scrolling up. I've been tempted to be silent, and let someone else be the one to share the story. I've thought: "Maybe someone else should post that link. Do I want another fight on my page? Do I want another friend to get angry and delete me?" But you know what: One less post is one voice. One less person reached. One less mind opened to the horrors happening back home every day. If everyone keeps scrolling, then all of this just goes away and then what? So I will continue doing what I can to spread the word, and I will endure the insults and name-calling from those who simply wish I would shut up and go away.
I will keep on keepin' on and do the best I can, no matter how far from home I am. However, I will think more about stopping a debate when it gets to be too much. I will try to educate others to the best of my ability, but realize that it is not always my responsibility to do so. Most importantly: I WILL make time to step away from the keys and take a mental health break. For as long as it takes to get back to myself. Because I'm tired, y'all. I am SO. Tired.
Khephra is a New Orleans native, who re-located to Madrid, Spain at the absolute end of 2013. Some of her favorite things are: food, Theatre, yoga, tinto de verano, and traveling through the country she's only seen in dreams. She can usually be found wandering through the streets of Madrid [because she's lost... again], or at an intercambio. When she's not accidentally cursing at old ladies in Castellano, or wading neck-deep into the dreaded dating pool, she spends her free time working to be a better writer, teacher, and dancer.