How to Cope With Black Racial Injustice

A power nap is just what I need

 

Delmaine Donson / Getty Images

Hardly a day passes without some form of racial injustice making news headlines. It may be a deadly police shooting of an unarmed African American, a public figure mired in controversy for making an anti-Black remark, or the disproportionate impact COVID-19 has had on communities of color.

Absorbing this information can take a toll on the mental health of Black Americans, who often wonder how to cope amid a steady stream of bad news about Black people specifically. You don’t have to be a news junkie or an avid social media user to encounter these distressing headlines. Such topics can come up as one surfs the net, flips through the TV channels, or talks with friends.

Due to ongoing societal inequities, Black Americans may be uniquely vulnerable to systemic oppression in the form of racial profiling, segregated schools, environmental racism, and employment discrimination. But that doesn’t mean they want to constantly ponder racial injustice or know exactly how to deal with it. 

Although weathering the effects of systemic racism will never be easy, Black Americans can use coping strategies to help them manage their mental health and practice self care. Seeking the help of a licensed therapist, logging off social media, and taking action against injustice are just a few of the ways people of color can cope. 

Talk to Trusted Friends

Did watching a video of an African American man being racially profiled upset you? How about the news report that a school suspended a Black student from wearing her hair in a natural hairstyle?

If hearing about such incidents leaves you feeling angry, frustrated, or sad, you might want to reach out to a trusted friend who can empathize with you. Particularly, a socially conscious Black American is likely to share your upset feelings. 

One reason hearing about acts of anti-Black discrimination is so distressing to Black Americans is that they know they could very easily be involved in such a situation themselves, if they haven’t been already. That’s why it can feel therapeutic to discuss these occurrences with others who’ve experienced discrimination or have loved ones who have.

On the other hand, reaching out to someone who questions your perception of reality or waves away your concerns about racial injustice is likely to leave you feeling worse instead of better.

Find comfort in friends who share your experiences and are just as concerned about the prevalence of anti-Blackness in society as you are.

If you’re not fortunate enough to have a friend to confide in about these issues, try journaling. It’s a good way to get out your unfiltered feelings with no fear that you’ll be judged later. Research indicates that journaling benefits mental health. But if it doesn’t make a difference in your mood, consider reaching out to a licensed therapist.

Take a Social Media Break

After a police shooting of a Black person, it can be tempting to log onto social media and click on all of the hashtags related to the incident. Doing so might direct you to footage of the shooting, police and news reports about it, and social media users who are either outraged by the killing or outraged by anyone critical of the authorities.

Before you know it, you’ve consumed highly graphic footage and found yourself debating why Black lives matter with complete strangers. 

Not only isn’t this a good use of your time, but social media is not good for your mental health. You’re likely to feel hurt, angry, and saddened, and you might even be traumatized by watching footage of a killing. That’s why it’s important to limit your time on social media. You can be an informed and concerned citizen without spending hours on these networks after every police killing, trial, or political protest. 

Turn Off the TV

Reconsider watching cable news, which often covers the latest headlines from a biased and sensationalistic perspective to garner ratings. Filled with talking heads who drum up drama, cable news outlets also play videos of police killings over and over again.

You don’t have to take in these images of Black death on a loop or watch commentators who earn their multimillion dollar salaries by stirring up their fan base and infuriating their detractors.

Seek out news programs, such as those on public television, that take a more objective approach and warn viewers before airing graphic content. 

The news, however, isn’t the only form of programming that may be triggering to Black Americans. These days, dramas on TV and streaming services are increasingly taking their cues from real life trauma. This means that much of the content aimed at Black audiences concerns slavery, Jim Crow, police brutality, or systemic racism in general.

While some Black Americans have no problem watching this content, others don’t want to absorb news about oppression and then consume “entertainment” about it as well.

Highly sensitive viewers might want to check out comedies, sitcoms, family fare, or an escapist drama rather than watch Black people be brutalized in films and TV shows. 

Have Fun and Decompress

During an age when being “woke” has become a trend, one can feel tremendous pressure to discuss, fight, and consume news about injustice nonstop.

Unfortunately, racial oppression is a historic and current problem; it is not going away. But that doesn’t mean oppressed peoples need to have the subject foremost on their minds day in and day out. It’s important to decompress and have fun. 

Busy people may find they can decompress while engaged in mundane chores such as sweeping, washing dishes, folding laundry, or polishing shoes or jewelry. Completing these tasks can be a way to take one’s mind off the pressing issues of the day. 

Some Black Americans want to do more than decompress. They want to experience joy and practice self-care. Black joy is a form of resistance to the oppression that would have Black Americans constantly be demoralized, dehumanized, and devalued.

Take some time to have fun. This could be catching up on a favorite show, making a delicious meal, playing with children or pets, or revisiting a hobby such as rollerskating, long popular among Black Americans

While self-care can be defined broadly, it is more significant than treating oneself to a manicure or shopping spree. It is scheduling appointments with therapists or healthcare providers, listening to guided meditations, or taking the time to exercise.

It can simply be inhaling or exhaling to reduce anxiety or sitting in the sun to reap the mental and physical health benefits of such exposure. It can be leaving toxic relationships, workplaces, or other environments, if one is privileged enough to have the resources to do so.

Historically, Black Americans have found refuge in their faith, and that remains the case today—whether one is a practicing Christian or Muslim or is exploring African-based religious traditions.

Take Action

It’s easy to feel helpless as you take in news about racial oppression. That’s why it’s important to figure out what you can do to make a difference.

Consider taking part in a protest, writing letters to elected officials, or joining an activist group. You can also donate to a fund to bail out protesters from jail, contribute to a civil liberties group, or send a check to an organization that works to empower communities of color. 

What’s going on in your neighborhood specifically? Perhaps there are issues of particular concern there that need to be addressed, such as food insecurity, lack of parks and green space, or delays in trash pickup and other city services.

Fighting injustice starts at home. Identify ways that you can make a difference in your community, whether it be delivering fresh fruits and vegetables, starting a community garden, or holding city officials accountable for neglect. It’s time to get to work. 

Was this page helpful?
Article Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Smyth JM, Johnson JA, Auer BJ, Lehman E, Talamo G, Sciamanna CN. Online positive affect journaling in the improvement of mental distress and well-being in general medical patients with elevated anxiety symptoms: a preliminary randomized controlled trial. JMIR Ment Health. 2018;5(4):e11290. doi:10.2196/11290