Sadness, Anger, and Self-Care in the Early Days of the Trump Era

From late October to the last days of December, I found it increasingly difficult to quiet my mind enough to fall asleep and stay asleep.  I’d wake up in the middle of the night sweaty, with my heart racing as if startled by a terrible nightmare. Sleeplessness left me on edge and exhausted throughout the day.  I had chest pains and a persistent cold and upset stomach and became fearful not only of these symptoms but of the world around me.  It became difficult to focus on work and to relax when I got home.

Then, on a cold and dusky evening December evening, I began to feel anxious on a crowded Metro platform on my way home.  Suddenly, the trains were too loud, and there were too many people around me.  A woman next to me kept complaining about her delayed train, and it took everything I had to respond to her cordially and commiserate with her.  But it was all too much.  I couldn’t figure out what was terrifying me, as I never had that kind of seemingly unprovoked reaction to crowds before.  I told myself to breathe, to count to ten, to force myself to control whatever was happening to me, and I couldn’t.

I was able to keep myself together all the way home, and I made sure that no one I met or worked with during those weeks knew what I was feeling.  But inside I felt out of control and powerless, especially at night, right before I went to sleep.  I never mentioned what I was going through to anyone, but one night, I called my mother, telling her the unease I felt when I woke up from sleep in the middle of the night and how that feeling haunted me on and off throughout the day.  My mother, amateur psychologist that she is, responded with her diagnosis matter-of-factly,

“It’s the election.”

According to her, Trump, President Trump, my fixation on the election, his victory, and the realities of his Presidency weighed on my mind so much that it was making me sick.

I laughed it off at first, explaining that other things were on my mind, but I slowly contemplated the idea that she was right.  And that was terrifying because I never thought that my feelings or my state of mind would have such a detrimental effect on my physical health or that politics would have such an effect on physical and emotional wellbeing.

I realized that I needed to take care of my emotional and physical health, because, in this case, they may have been interconnected.  The election left me completely bewildered and with an overwhelming feeling of loss, as it did for millions of people.  My addiction to news and social media during the last few months didn’t help.  While I had no desire to fight with strangers on twitter, I believed I was finding catharsis in hearing voices that expressed those feelings of fear and anger that I had.  However, sometimes those sentiments were coupled with apocalyptic declarations about life in the United States under President Trump, and all those worries and feelings of impending doom can lead to stress.  There will most likely be a surplus of political fights on the horizon that will leave me and others in a constant state of anger.  But if sustained rage supposedly leads to activism and resistance, what does that do to our health?

This acknowledgment of rage and need for self-care is addressed in this week’s Black-ish, “Good Dre Hunting,” which explores this issue of sustained outrage and its unsustainability and unproductivity.  But the episode also clearly affirms that sometimes righteous anger is absolutely necessary, and sometimes therapy can be absolutely essential.

The Atlantic‘s Julie Beck explores how some are looking to save themselves from election-related anger, stress or  what Jack Saul, director of the International Trauma Studies Program, calls collective trauma, “a shared experience of threat and anxiety in response to sudden or ongoing events that lead to some threat to a basic sense of belonging in society.” In order to relieve this stress or trauma, Saul and others advocate that people focus more on building connections to others to create a support system and community dedicated to volunteerism and activism than self-care, which, according to Saul, leads to isolation and vulnerability.

However, executive editor of Girls for Gender Equality Joanne Smith explains that self-care can involve deepening connections to other people:

“As a black woman organizer and movement leader, I will need to love me harder than I ever have before so that this toxic masculinity and white supremacy does not snatch my light or the light of my community. It also means that I must be vulnerable and connected to the people in cross movement spaces who love me and recognize my humanity the most.”

Numerous blogs, like Just Jasmineblackgirlmentalhealth.tumblr.com, and noirecare.com, are dedicated to addressing the importance of black women practicing self-care by themselves and within their communities because self-care is as important to social movements as collective protest.

Balancing self-care and social consciousness are not new concerns.  In “The Negro in American Culture,” in 1961, James Baldwin explains that “To be a Negro in this country and to be relatively conscious is to be in a rage almost all the time. So that first problem is how to control that rage so that it won’t destroy you.”

These last few weeks, I’ve focused on my own health and emotional quality of life so that I can be better equipped to helping others.  Sometimes that involves stepping away from social media more and more.  I will still keep myself aware of what’s going on since vigilance is essential, but so is abstaining from social media when righteous anger turns into feelings of fear and rage that are paralyzing and toxic and leave you feeling utterly powerless.

Focusing on my quality of life involves allowing myself to pursue what I enjoy in life, dancing, painting, being optimistic, eating delicious food and planning good things for the future because all of these things are necessary for emotional and spiritual survival as well.

And improving my quality of life has also meant getting involved in issues that are important to me: going to a local rally on saving the Affordable Care Act, attending the Women’s March on Washington, and exploring ways to get involved in my community, possibly through my local Democratic Committee or other groups and organizations.

The first step for me was in admitting that I was feeling powerless and angry and that I was surrounding myself online voices that were preoccupied with everything horrible that can and might happen and that I believed remained beyond my control.  It’s possible that a lot of people feel this way, and in identifying these feelings, I began to feel better.

Control freak that I am, I’m not ready to give up what little power I do have.  If you feel powerless and overwhelmed by your own anger, think about how that is affecting your daily life and your health.  Know that taking care of yourself is the most important thing you can do so that you can help others who will need you these next four years.  It’s not selfish or delusional to find some joy in your life; it’s absolutely necessary so that you can give that joy to others who will need it.  And I hope to remind myself of this when that feeling of powerlessness and defeat creep up on me again, leaving me terrified in the middle of the night.  I’ll have to remind myself that it’s possible to get a good night’s sleep and still be woke.

Sources:

Beck, Julie. “How to Cope with Post-Election Stress.” 10 Nov. 2016. http://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2016/11/how-to-cope-with-post-election-stress/507296/. Accessed 20 Jan. 2016.
Blay, Zeba. “11 Ways Black People Can Practice Self-Care in the Wake of Trump.” The Huffington Post. 11 Nov. 2016, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/11-ways-black-people-can-practice-self-care-in-the-wake-of-trumps-win_us_5824a420e4b07751c390db8a. Accessed 20 Jan. 2017.
Zinzi, Janna A. “Surviving Trump: Black Woman Strengthen Coalitions, Practice Revolutionary Self-Care.” The Root, 16 Dec. 2016, http://www.theroot.com/surviving-trump-black-women-strengthen-coalitions-pra-1790858050. Accessed 20 Jan. 2017.

Is it Possible to Unite a Nation Divided?

As I get older, I am realizing that I will save myself a lot of time – and ultimately save a bit of my sanity – if I accept that fact that human beings are irrational by nature. I’ve spent a lot of mental energy trying to figure out why people do the things they do. Why do they sometimes act against their own interests? Why do they appear to cling to choices that have and continue to be “bad” for them and a lot of other people, too?

I’ve been asking myself these questions possibly from a place of judgment. I like to think of myself as rational and can tend to judge others as irrational if they do things I cannot always understand. I elevate myself in my own mind when I do this. That is my emotional payoff. I can’t understand other people, and then deem them not worth understanding.

I’m speaking abstractly here, as this is something I think about and have done most of my life. But I’m really writing this in response to something more specific: the election and the political realities that we will face with this new incoming President. Full disclosure: I am an Obamanista in my heart of hearts. I volunteered for his campaigns during his elections, and most recently, since July, I volunteered at my local Democratic Coordinated Committee Campaign office to help Virginia elect Hillary Clinton as President. Virginia came through, but other important states did not. There’s a lot to blame for this result, and I’ve spent a lot of time placing blame almost everywhere in private conversations with friends and family because I cannot understand how this all happened.  Electing Donald Trump as the President of the United States seems completely irrational to me, as he disqualified himself more times than I can count. I’ve thought of reasons why this election happened the way it did: sexism, racism, nativisim, and an uninformed electorate. I’ve read why this happened: economic anxieties; the negative effects of globalization; a continual, institutionalized suspicion of the Clintons because of their political baggage/failings; and a populace fearful of the social, global, technological changes that we’ve experienced these last few years. All of these reasons are legitimate.

Here’s the difficult question I ask myself now: does it matter why people voted for Donald Trump, or Jill Stein, or Gary Johnson or Harambe or whoever wasn’t Hillary Clinton, if they even showed up to vote at all? What do we learn from this? There may be a lot to learn from the answers to these questions. However, as a results-oriented person, I also wonder what net benefits come from blaming and shaming others for their choices? It can be a great way of shining a light on questionable if not downright immoral behavior, and that can be instructive. But it is the best way to reach people?

I have no answers to these questions yet, but I also want to figure out if there are other ways of reaching people, too. For example, what if we just accept that people are irrational? That we all have biases and emotional reasons for doing things that other people can’t understand and cannot be explained rationally?  This country itself is irrational in the ways it defines itself.  The United States is as aspirational in its elevation of freedom and equality as it is forever characterized by its original sins of slavery, genocide, and racial and economic equality. We, as Americans, are irrational as well.  Our desires for freedom and autonomy were and still are determined by oppressing others.  We have internalized that.  We see that as a sign of power, and as a result, at times, we celebrate and elevate those who oppress others because we have romanticized that as an ultimate sign of self-determination and heroism.  I don’t want and never want to whitewash what has happened or what may come. However, I think we have to also realized that we are just as likely to listen to our better angels as we are to  double down on our worst, most bigoted impulses, even if that hurts us in the long run.  That’s a condition, that on some level, we all share. We are intertwined by these irrationalities.

In an attempt to tie this back into the original premise of this blog: what happens if we see those we disagree with not as caricatures or irrational creatures but as actual complex people with their own inner lives, biases and desires, their own complicated interiority?  How do you reach them? How do we encourage empathy with others instead of indulge in dehumanization, and what could be the results of that?  Can empathy become message powerful enough so that people can’t help but hear it? These questions weigh heavily in my mind, and I hope to come back to them as this year progresses.

The Persistence of Black Invisibility: Darren Wilson and the Invisible Man

I was on Tumblr today and saw someone post an article from Popular Science by Rafi Letzter, “What Science Tells Us About Darren Wilson and Michael Brown: What Does It Mean for a Black Teen to be a Demon” that discusses Darren Wilson’s depiction of Michael Brown moments before deciding to shoot him.  It briefly analyzed the persistent history of seeing black people or in this case the black body as superhuman or as a superhuman threat.

According to excerpts from Wilson’s account posted in the article and heard in various ways in mainstream media recently, Wilson believed Brown “was almost bulking up to run through the shots.”  A few months ago, I ended a post asking, “What was the threat in this situation and what was this officer Darren Wilson fearful of?  When and why does it appear that fear itself is justification enough killing someone else?  Fear is at the root of these very broad questions, but I start with fear because it is that emotion that allows us to determine how and to what lengths we protect ourselves and who we believe is worth protecting, especially within our national borders or local communities.”

I suppose Wilson’s comments are my answer.  Brown stopped being human in Wilson’s eyes, whether he knew it or not.  Wilson protected himself against not a man but a powerful villain who could somehow run through bullets and would get madder and more powerful the more Wilson shot at him.  Wilson felt like a five-year old child despite being 6′ 4″ and 210 lbs. Despite the fact that Brown, at 300 lbs, was the same height.  What Wilson describes sounds like a nightmare.  In this narrative, Wilson is allowed to express his fear and while Brown is an unfeeling, unafraid, Hulk.  Wilson is a person with feelings and interiority who can only continue to live only if Brown does not.  We do not get to hear if, no matter how terrifying Brown was to Wilson, Brown, too, showed any fear in his last moments, only that he was terrifying, unstoppable, and then subdued only by lethal force.

This article concludes that Wilson might not even know that he has attributed superhuman traits to Brown and, as Letzter reminds us, “the insidious truth of prejudice…is that it can emerge unbidden in an instant, and vanish moments later without ever bubbling to the surface of conscious intent.”

Two nights ago, I was skimming the Prologue to Invisible Man since I taught excerpts from that novel this semester, and I think these last few lines say more on this subject, not from a traditional scientific standpoint, but a literary one.  I want to conclude this brief post with what in 1945 Ralph Ellison writes about being what it means for a black man to be seen as a demon 70 years ago and what it might still mean today:

“I am an invisible man…I am invisible, understand, simply because people refuse to see me…When they approach me they see only my surroundings, themselves, or figments of their imagination – indeed, everything except me.  Nor is my invisibility exactly a matter of a bio-chemical accident to my epidermis.  That invisibility to which I refer occurs because of a peculiar disposition in the eyes of those with whom I come in contact.  A matter of the construction of their inner eyes, those eyes with which they look through their physical eyes upon reality…You wonder whether you aren’t simply a phantom in other people’s minds.  Say, a figure in a nightmare which the sleeper tries with all his strength to destroy.” 

Updates on New Postings for September

It’s that time of year again.  The semester starts next week for me, and during the fall, I’ll be trying to balance teaching with dissertation writing and research.  In the spirit of keeping myself on task when it comes to this blog, there are at least two posts I’m planning to make during the month of September. One will be in response to the film Belle (2013), which I mentioned in my last post, and the second will be a brief discussion on Juan Francisco Manzano (1797-1854) and his The Autobiography of a Slave/Autobiografia de un Escalvo.

Finally, for the past couple of weeks, my thoughts have also been on Michael Brown, his family, the Ferguson community, and the handling and media coverage of protests about Ferguson.  It’s a topic I have a lot of opinions about both in terms of my research on race, interiority and personhood as well as how it continues to shape my personal experience and understanding of race and citizenship as a black woman in the United States.  While I do believe in waiting to hear all of the facts surrounding the killing of Michael Brown, his death feels too closely linked to a tradition in the U.S. where lethal force is used against black citizens who may seem threatening, even if they are unarmed.

What was the threat in this situation and what was this officer Darren Wilson fearful of?  When and why does it appear that fear itself is justification enough killing someone else?  Fear is at the root of these very broad questions, but I start with fear because it is that emotion that allows us to determine how and to what lengths we protect ourselves and who we believe is worth protecting, especially within our national borders or local communities.

 

 

Race, Space and Standing Your Ground: Interiority and the George Zimmerman Trial and Trayvon Martin Case

A few days ago, I ended my last post with a link to Defining the Question of Interiority, which discussed interiority, partially in terms of architecture but also in terms of blurring the lines between interiority and exteriority. This link quotes from another interesting source, The Body Within: Art, Medicine and Visualization (2009), which talks about the problematic nature of the interior and imagining one’s interiority as both material and invisible and intangible

Interiority is always based on something exterior, something with extension, something that cannot be internalized or appropriated. Things with extension are spatial (119).

In trying to resolve this relationship between interiority and exteriority, the inner self and the actual flesh and blood that surrounds, Jenny Slatman writes in Chapter 6 of The Body Within, “Transparent Bodies: Revealing the Myth of Interiority,” that “At first glance, we might be inclined to say that interiority is the space beneath the skin” (108). What is this “space”? Is it psychological? Is this interior traceable by brain activity? Seen by x-ray? Perhaps it’s at least a spatial and psychological concept and both visible and invisible. Visible because we do have an interior beneath the skin: our flesh, bones, internal organs, but also visible in psychological terms as well through actions and the motivations that seem to be behind one’s behavior. If, as Slatman continues, “Psychological and spatial interiority converge in this so-called phenomenon of bodily subjectivity,” then interiority is based on both one’s bodily experience and also one’s individual perspective and experiences in relationship to how one’s body interacts with cultural and national spaces (110).

I was thinking about these themes after finishing Suspicion Nation last week, Lisa Bloom’s analysis of the 2013 George Zimmerman trial. She brings up some of these themes implicitly in her critique of the legal argument the prosecutors presented to the jury and in her concerns about the cultural baggage and biases that led to Zimmerman’s acquittal and that continue to lead to a general suspicion of black men and racial others in the United States. How we understand or make assumptions about a person’s inner thoughts must be put in context of how we view his or her relationship to his or her body and the outer world. If interiority is the space beneath the skin or product of experiencing bodily subjectivity, then skin, or one’s skin color and the ethnic/racial meaning that skin connotes, influences how we understand a person’s inner thoughts, desires, fears, and motivations. Interiority is relevant to how we view a person’s relationship to the world and his or her right to protect and own space and have a place in this world.

Bloom mentions Stand Your Ground Laws, though not explicitly part of Zimmerman’s defense, to explain U.S. preoccupations with crime, race, and space. These laws “expanded traditional self-defense doctrine to allow those who felt threatened in virtually any location to use deadly force even if they could have escaped without violence” (Bloom 12). Such a belief in one’s right to claim space and protect one’s turf by any means necessary shaped Zimmerman’s defense and belief that he was reasonable in his fears of Trayvon Martin. Bloom argues that while Zimmerman was deemed reasonable in his fear and eventual killing of Trayvon Martin, neither the defense nor more importantly the prosecution gave a voice to Trayvon Martin’s inner feelings the night he died or gave any value to who he was as a human being, all of which influenced how the jury viewed these two men and what motivated their actions. 

And much of that comes back to how we view interiority and what we believe lies beneath the skin. George Zimmerman saw Trayvon Martin as suspicious because of a combination of factors dealing with his anxieties about race, space, interiority as they figure in the “black-as-criminal image” that according to Bloom “has been with us at least since the nineteenth century, when explicit racism portrayed African-American slaves’ essential nature as ignorant and savage and in need of the ‘civilizing’ influence of the white man” (232). Zimmerman was allowed to feel afraid for his life, to defend his body and his turf. Acknowledgement of these inner feelings and respect for his bodily subjectivity allowed him to claim physical space and do so with lethal force. His innermost feelings or more accurately, his race-based paranoia, had a voice. His feelings, his anxieties, his desire to feel safe in his gated community were privileged above Travyon’s interiority and bodily subjectivity in court of law.

Charles Taylor writes in Sources of the Self that, based on a tradition in the West of respecting human dignity and one’s individual rights, “we [in the West] believe it would be utterly wrong and unfounded to draw the boundaries any narrower than around the whole human race” (6-7).   But boundaries are drawn among members of the human race depending on whether or not we recognize one’s interiority. To have the law and society recognize these interior experiences as well as protect one’s bodily subjectivity allows one to claim rights and protect one’s space as sacred, untouchable. How do such rights emerge from this recognition of bodily integrity and subjectivity? How does it correspond to how we engage in our society and nation at large? These are questions I hope to touch upon in my next post.

 

 

Possible Digital Humanities Projects about Race, Space and Interiority

It’s been two months and six days since my last confession…I mean my last post. It has been awhile since I’ve written and I hope to rectify this, at least for my own sake, by posting more often this summer.  In the time that’s passed, I have continued learning to code through codecademy.com.  I’ve finished HTML and am slowly working my way through CSS.  I must confess that I never knew coding could be fun, but it is and I hope to finish those lessons by September.

I began this blog not only to keep track of my progress in acquiring new skills but also as part of a desire to link a burgeoning curiosity in digital humanities to my academic research interests. Since my interests and even the title of this blog are dedicated to topic of race, space and interiority, I hope in future posts to discuss interiority, subjectivity and selfhood and how we articulate and aestheticize these concepts.

While I connect “interiority” to words like “subjectivity or “selfhood” in the paragraph above, “interiority” in particular interests me because it links selfhood and subjectivity to a location. In the simplest definition(s) of the word, “interiority” refers to being within or inside something, a house or a room or some inhabitable space. It might also refer to somewhere inland from the coast or border or something that pertains to domestic, national issues.  The Department of the Interior may have been named with such a focus on territorial and U.S. internal/domestic issues. Finally, interiority can also indicate something’s inner nature or someone’s internal spiritual and psychological disposition.

So, what happens when we view ourselves as having an interior or an inner self that is private and hidden by its very nature of being internal while also being important to how we deal with the world outside of that internal self? What are the implications of understanding subjectivity and selfhood as founded upon a spatial existence within the body? How does this reflect how we understand ourselves and others in relationship to the spaces we can and cannot inhabit? How do we represent and discuss this interiorized self in novels, TV and film?  How do we reveal and even confess these interiorized selves and why do we do this? What rights does interiority grant us and what rights and/or privileges are denied when this sense of interiority isn’t recognized culturally or legally?

In the next weeks and months I hope to discuss ways these questions are answered and post such findings here.

I end this week’s entry with a link to a post I stumbled upon recently that discusses interiority and space as it relates to architecture, culture and identity and how we define our interior and exterior spaces. Defining The Question of Interiority brings up interesting questions I hope to discuss next week.