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The Paradox of Taking Care of Yourself as a Black Man in America

I just finished dicing strawberries for my daughter as my wife grabs a bib and wipes down the high chair. This could be a typical morning, but it’s not. News of George Floyd’s murder is streaming from my iPhone atop our cherry oak wood table. Since the COVID-19 quarantine began, we’ve sat and listened to a five-minute summary of current events during meals.

Still, it’s unsettling to hear: “and the officer held his knee on Floyd’s neck for eight minutes.” 

We don’t stop eating. We’re used to this. Used to making decisions that help us survive, while the ache of grief coils around our chest and makes it difficult to breathe. 

I tell my wife: “Listening to his story, and the story of every single other Black person brutalized by police never feels old.” We’ve never had much time in between these omniscient and filmed killings. I’m convinced they won’t end in my lifetime. 

It’s no different when I scroll on social media. The most draining and angering content these days is seeing friends and influencers share their support for #AllLivesMatter. Not only does it miss the point of the Black Lives Matter movement, but seeing these sentiments causes distrust to bubble up within me. If they can’t take a moment to center a group of people who’ve been marginalized, enslaved and disenfranchised since they were brought to this country, how can they truly care about me? 

At some point I stop holding silent debates in my head and log off.

I never speak for all Black people, no one does, but it’s evident that many of us are tired, upset and angry. Taking care of ourselves feels like a paradox. How do we seek refuge and restoration in the very system we’re working to dismantle? How do we seek rest when there’s unrest everywhere we look? And why is it up to us to make others feel comfortable enough to fight for us? Using words like racism seems to push away the very same people we need as allies — the kind that stand with us, fight with us and use their privilege to affect change on all levels. Still, let’s call it what it is: racism. It’s systemic, it’s here, and it’s taken its toll on my physical and mental health. 

I’m no longer living for myself. I have a wife and child who need me to show up as healthy as I can. Alas, this is my charge. As a Black man, I’m called to discover a way to beat the statistics. To manage diabetes passed down to me from my grandmother’s grandma. To continue to utilize mental health services like therapy and psychiatry so that I can process the trauma and heartache. I refuse to quit. Not now when I recognize how much of a hole I’d leave in the lives of those who love me. 

And so, that’s my why. That’s what prompts me to remove myself from the conversation and from the activism for long enough to breathe, heal what I can and sleep.

If you’re looking for ways to practice better self-care in a time when everything is burning down, here’s are a few tips: 

1. Be purposeful with social media.

This means asking yourself: “How can I be intentional with the next 20 minutes I spend online?” It’s helped me to set restraints for myself. For example, I’ve muted words like “shooting” and “murdered” on Twitter. I’ve shut off video auto-play on Facebook. And I quickly mute or block accounts that are just out to upset or be blatantly hateful. I’ll admit, I’ve taken time to report users who’ve violated community standards, but even this has been a drain on my resources. So, now when I’m online, I’m more intentional about being informed, laughing at the hilarity that is Black Twitter and connecting with friends who are standing with me. 

2. Designate news hours.

 We only listen to news during meals, and typically in five minute to 20 minute chunks. We have narrowed our subscription down to one media source so that we’re not induated. Taking in news as a family allows it to be a conversational tool. This way we’re not hit with something heavy and then going on with the rest of our day without processing it. 

3. Lean on your affinity group.

 I’m a member of a few Facebook groups for Black people (one’s for education professionals and the other is for lovers of Black film). We need time to rest, because racial battle fatigue can exhaust us. It’s easy to get caught up in constantly performing, or defending one’s Blackness. We get to put ourselves in places where we’re nurtured, where we can breathe easy and where we can be ourselves without having to constantly explain ourselves. 

Each of us has the personal responsibility of choosing to do what’s healthy, but this isn’t always the most evident or even attractive option. So if you’re drowning right now, if you don’t know which way is up, I want you to know that you’re not alone, and that asking for help doesn’t make you weak or less than. Taking care of yourself isn’t an easy thing, but it’s a necessary thing

Writer, womanist and civil rights activist Audre Lorde said, “Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.”

Getty image via bernardbodo

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