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'Your Black friends are tired': Mental health and civil unrest

September 10, 2020
<p>A young protester shows her mask during the Black Lives Matter protest at the Michigan State Capitol on June 29, 2020.</p>

A young protester shows her mask during the Black Lives Matter protest at the Michigan State Capitol on June 29, 2020.

Your Black friends are tired.

They don't have the privilege to turn a blind eye to the civil unrest that took over the country this summer because, for them, that simple action could result in a life or death situation.

For as long as many of them can remember, they've been having conversations regarding the color of their skin — what to do, what to wear, how to talk, how to walk — to protect themselves from being harmed by the four century old societal standards, spoken and unspoken, they were born into.

Human development and family studies junior and Spartan volleyball player Talia Edmonds felt that, even though her mental health had already dipped a significant amount at the start of the pandemic, the death of George Floyd continued to escalate her fear.

Regardless of the overwhelm, she said she found herself trying to get involved in multiple different groups, signing any petitions she found and calling those in power to have her voice and demands heard.

Her friends were her backbone as she found her balance.

Edmonds said that while she's glad her friends are trying their best to advocate for the movement, a lot of the time she's seeing things from other accounts that really only breach surface level — this is called performance activism, or activism done to increase one's social capital rather than because of one's devotion to a cause.

"It's encouraging to see more people talking about it and see how many people are involved. That's what social media is good for, getting different opinions and different perspectives," she said.

"But also it begs the question 'To what extent are people just posting because they don't want to be the only one who didn't.' ... The word allyship has been used a lot, which is hard because you can't deem yourself an ally. That has to be done by Black people, who are a part of and affected by the things we're calling for change about, through your actions."

According to a study conducted by Dr. Pam Ramsden from the faculty of social sciences at the University of Bradford, it's been proven that social media is a common trauma trigger for many.

Specific to the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement, Edmonds is conflicted on how she feels about some of the things that may circulate with virality. On one hand, she favors the awareness it raises, especially for the "I need to see it to believe it" type. On the other hand, she doesn't condone seeing Black people killed online a normal action and is worried these posts may become a trend or desensitize people down the road.

Professional and public writing junior Charlotte Bachelor has done everything she can behind the scenes — donating to funds, signing petitions and spreading awareness — as she finds that her health holds her back from physically attending protests.

Ultimately, Bachelor knows she is only one person.

"I'm twenty. I'm not the sole individual responsible for fixing all racism issues in the U.S., it doesn't all fall on me. Other people are there to carry the burden and move things along by my side," she said.

Similar to Edmonds, when it comes to social media avocation, Bachelor sees posts and questions the purpose behind them. Is it performance activism or is it putting money towards the victim's families in their time of grievance, she asks.

Bachelor wants people to realize that spreading certain things, especially traumatizing videos, is doing more harm than good. The death of another human being — skin color, sexual orientation and gender identification aside — isn't something to play with or capitalize on. She emphasized that this sort of activism isn't something to use in attempt to get reaction or a shock value out of.

"If a family died in a house fire, the news does not play video of the family burning alive," Bachelor said in example.

Bachelor runs a separate Instagram account from her main profile. She said there was once an older white gentleman, who she had interacted with before, that messaged her the date after Floyd's death to rant and rave about his opinions on the issue.

"He said Black people shouldn't identify as Black, but rather as African Americans because to him we're all Americans, we're all equal, and nobody should boil it down to the color of their skin," she explained.

"I had to remind him that not all Black people are American. There's Afro-Latino people, Caribbean people, mixed Black people, etc. There's more to Black than being American and this system has brutalized us for [400+] years."

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Bachelor wants allies to sit and listen and be willing to learn, rather than mask Black history. To close your mouth and open your ears is a key in her eyes; It's not our job, as non-Black people of color or white people, to tell Black people how to identify or how to express their pain and experience.

"That's the hard truth about being an ally; sometimes you have to examine yourself and the preconceived notions you have and come to terms with the fact that you don't have all the answers," she said.

Accounting senior and President of the National Association of Black Accountants (NABA) Meredith Sims, wasn't online during the start of the BLM movement, having decided to take a break for mental health recovery shortly beforehand.

As a Spartan with a diverse following, it gets hard for Sims to censor her feed. She thinks major historical events like this bring out people's true colors — you get to see what type of people you've been giving access to your life and that thought alone is scary.

"The thing that my family and close friends talked about was the whole idea of social media activism," she said, "It feels insincere, which is one of the reasons I stayed off of social media. I like the coverage and I like that this is starting a conversation, but I feel like it got to a point where people consider it a contribution, but... what does that actually do?"

Sims began to see activism be replaced with trends, but for her, Black Lives Matter isn't a trend. It is her community, her safety, her life.

"It also became very tied in with vanity," she added. "People started to post pictures of themselves, having fun at the beach or something, and the caption would read along the lines of 'Arrest the cops who killed Breonna Taylor.'. It became very self-serving, a trend, which was very disheartening to a lot of us in the Black community."

Actions speak louder than words, Sims explained, and being aware of your implicit biases and unintentional mannerisms is the first step to changing your mindset.

She encourages non-Black people of color and white people to put themselves in uncomfortable situations — for example, she encourages her white friends to come to NABA meetings and meet people outside of the majority with their similar interests.

Your Black friends are tired. Tired of explaining to closed ears, tired of seeing their movement turned to trends and tired of waking up worried for their life. It's more than speaking about your solidarity online; you need to be productive and authentic in the Black community when opportunities present themselves, Sims said.


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