In a house where there is no cable television we often find our news through trending topics on Facebook. After we read post after post about the video release, my husband, 15-year-old son, 17-year-old daughter and I sat on the couch leaning towards my laptop and watched the video. And just like a scene from a “cops and robbers” movie, we watched the police officer drive up to the “bad guy” with a gun, jump out the car and shoot him. Except this was not a movie, and the “bad guy” was 12-year-old Tamir Rice, the gun was a fake gun and he, like thousands of boys for generations before him may have been playing a pretend version of “cops and robbers”. But his version didn’t end in him getting the bad guy before he was called in for dinner. Tamir Rice’s shooting affected us differently because of his age. The idea that there is no age in which black boys are safe to even play in a park was particularly a hard blow.
Immediately recognizing the impact watching this can have, I looked at my son’s body language and in retrospect it was almost like a dance of tragedy: his face dropped, followed by his head then his shoulders slumped and he walked away, almost swaying his body as his head shook left to right. This has been a dance repeated over and and over again in my house, now theater. My African-American theater that stages the bodies of black men and boys. The backstage that hosts black women who worry daily for them. And over and over we all participate in this dance as a procession of unarmed black men and boys are killed in America. One after another, carried across the stage view of our TVs and computers.
Last week Jayson Negron, a young man my son’s age was killed in Bridgeport CT, just 40 minutes away from our city and the dance began again. The conviction or exoneration of the officer that shot him does not change the initial trauma of the news of the death. You can’t un-see the video of his body laying on the street handcuffed and bleeding with a white police officer standing over him. The recent circulation of a video of a young black girl being hung by white teens has begun a debate of its authenticity but the argument of it being real or fake is inconsequential to the trauma it causes when someone views it. You cannot un-see those images and once they are seen, your brain processes them in irreversible ways that causes mental and physiological damage.
I am acutely aware of the effect that visual images have on the minds and brains of black people in America. The brainwashing that occurs rarely seeing yourself reflected in the joy displayed in TV ads and in magazines. The siphon that drains hope, drop by drop, when seeing different shades of your melanin as criminals, vixens and perpetrators. We made a conscious decision four years ago get rid of cable TV for this reason. But the internet has all but undone the good that came from removing the constant stream of bad news on repeat. In some ways the internet has streamlined and visualized the worse of those images, with no filter - and it has been traumatic.
Recently my now 16-year-old son recognized this and wrote a Facebook post to express both his frustration and his need for self-care.
And it read in part…
“...Facebook needs a better filter, I'm scrolling passed people getting shot on Facebook live, people committing suicide, and girl now a girl getting hanged by the KKK; and in the caption it says people "hope" authorities take notice.
People are (normalizing) suicide through memes 60 percent of the time, 39 percent of the time something is disturbing or crazy offensive, and 1 percent of the time something is actually funny. I know comedy goes in ways of how you see things and your perspective, and some people might get offended, but I'm sure people can agree school shooter, and suicide memes aren’t funny once you realize lives were lost and will be lost because of it.
...after seeing a girl get hanged by some white guy with the confederate flag behind him, and her struggling to survive while it's recorded is f*cking enough. That video was beyond awful and it's proof that everything over 398 years have (an effect) today. I don't know why anyone is getting hanged in 2017, it could even be a white person and I would have the same reaction. Maybe called an N word, maybe even put in the hospital for being black, but hanged...no.
...I just want to say to anyone who cares, think about what's acceptable on social media cause now stuff is out of hand. I'm gonna delete this app for a few weeks or a few months or maybe forever. So if anyone messages me or tags me in anything I won't see it.
I just can't help to see a girl holding her neck as she's raised from a rope around her neck from every corner in my own house.
May everyone have peace, and happiness to the oppressed and to the oppressors, to the confused and the informed, and to the killed and even to the people who initiated the violence.💚 Much love, bye.”
Reading this as his mother gave me both immense sadness and comfort. I felt helpless knowing that there is little I can do to protect my child from his own melanin, how American society looks at my son walking down the street, how his employment application will be viewed, or his guilt will be determined. Despite our effort to give our children a two parent household, fill the shelves with hundreds of books, emphasize education, facilitate ethnically diverse social circles, provide an upper middle class socioeconomic environment, pray with them, sit down to family dinners and be present in their daily lives, we still cannot protect them from being black, and the guilt assumed because of their abundance of melanin.
But I am comforted by the fact, that I raised a thoughtful, introspective child who’s conscious enough to know that self-care is critical to his survival. And that a method of self-care is choosing his environment, including his internet environment. Trying to strike a balance between staying informed and staying sane is a struggle we have all had in the last few years, and my son showed me that self-care is not just possible but necessary. His decision to take a break from Facebook was a radical act of self-care.
My husband and I have four children between the ages of 16 and 23 and have made intentional effort to maintain an open line of communication about current issues with them. We talk openly and honestly about what’s happening, why, and allow them to express their concerns, fears and ways they are coping with it all. We try to always leave time in the conversation to discuss solutions both as a society and on a personal level.
As parents deeply concerned about the America we are creating for our future grandchildren, who will be black in America no matter who our children choose to marry, we impress on our young people that they should think about how they will impact the world and look for ways they can make the world a better place. But that starts with taking care of your own physical, mental and spiritual wellness. You can not give from an empty cup.