Psychologists have known for quite some time that racism negatively affects mental and physical health. We have long known that racial bias and aggression increases the risk of anxiety, depression, fertility concerns, obesity, hypertension, certain cancers and more. For the most part, because racism hid itself in the cloak of culture and institutions, the health consequences of racism lurked beneath the surface, like a silent killer. It was there but it was a part of life, a reality. However, with more research, we recognize that our responses to racism are more acute.
As an early career psychologist and millennial, 2014 was the start of racist provocation impacting my everyday consciousness in a visceral way. In 2014, we were coming out of 2013 already shaken from the verdict that George Zimmerman was found “Not Guilty.” The murder of an unarmed Black boy, Trayvon Benjamin Martin, had no consequence.
I had refused to read news of this trial and avoided as much commentary as possible. Partly because I was in graduate school and working hard like an indentured servant and partly because the last 400 years told me what to expect. Though it was hard, I was still emotionally well.
Summer 2014 hit and then there was the image of Eric Garner with his hands out, head pulled back. Then there was Michael Brown’s face, a promise that would not be lived out. With social media at my fingertips, I affixed to information as though it were a lifeline. Considering I saw Garner and Brown as an extension of myself, my community and my family, I felt attacked, too.
First, there were the nightmares. Then, there was…