In between the news of more Black people murdered by police, I asked my timeline the following questions: “Black people, what does seeing so many Black people murdered by police do to you? How do you feel when you see there’s another hashtagged name? What happens in your body? How do you respond, both physically and emotionally?”
When Black people are murdered by police officers, the assaulted Black body is not the only one that suffers.
The tweet got lots more engagement than I expected. Replies came for two days straight and then I had to mute the thread and come up for air. The answers were familiar and heartbreaking but not at all surprising because I feel them too: helplessness, hopelessness, anxiety, panic. The emotions I saw most often were numbness, sadness, anger, and exhaustion. Especially exhaustion; heightened emotional states wear the body out physically. When the brain perceives a threat, it prepares us to defend ourselves by sending us into fight-or-flight mode, and it causes a lot of the physical symptoms that people shared in my mentions: increased heart rate, tense muscles, physical paralysis.
The physical reactions are what really arrested my attention. People commonly reported feeling nauseated, having migraines, shaky hands, chest pains, panic attacks. Many Black people who pay attention to the news are in some form of physical pain or discomfort all the time. For those of us who are somehow still alive—somehow, because sometimes it feels like we’re all just sitting waiting to be murdered by police and we can’t predict when it will happen—our brains are foggy. We have trouble concentrating. We get short of breath. We have night terrors. Our ears buzz. Our vision blurs. Our bodies react and our days, routines, and ways of existing in the world are interrupted, shaken. To cope with this, many of us dissociate, as many people said in replies to my tweet. One of those replies was from me.
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I don’t think people understand the depth of the havoc that the constant stream of viral murder videos really wreaks on us. It isn’t a momentary sadness; it causes us physical, lingering pain. It doesn’t just enrage us; it makes it difficult to concentrate and do our jobs and be present with our partners and families and in our bodies, so much so that we try to leave them altogether by dissociating. That’s a reality that grips and squeezes my gut and my heart and makes me feel so empty—the idea that so many people seek to separate themselves from their Black bodies in order to separate themselves from the pain of white supremacy. We disassociate to survive the news of murder after murder after murder.
When you live in a body that is perceived as a threat, you don’t feel safe anywhere. Black people came to this country as objects and we are still leaving that way, executed by police who see our skin as a weapon.
I tweeted my question to check in on my fellow Black people in a time when I don’t think many people think to ask us how we are doing. I wanted to ground us and connect us. In a world where we are expected to just brush ourselves off and “get over” our traumas, as if that is possible without grief and healing, I wanted to remind us that we are human.
And for white folks who can’t empathize with our anguish, our fear, our pain on display at every press conference, at every protest, who aren’t sick over this nightmarish reality: Maybe you have failed to realize that we are human too.
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