How can we do more to support people of color?
By Matt Berman, MA, LPC Assistant Director
There is a powerful quote by the great black author James Baldwin. “Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced.”
Learned helplessness is a mental state and learned response to the idea that you can’t make a difference no matter what you do. This is a common feeling throughout depression, that no matter what you do or how hard you try, the depression won’t lift.
I’ve been moved and inspired by clients I have worked with who proved to themselves that this wasn’t true. I have also seen this in our current political climate where people think that the things that make us Americans such as voting and protesting won’t matter.
Here’s the good news. Helplessness in depression is a feeling, not a fact. Developing the right coping skills, strengthening relationships, and making lifestyle changes can quiet and eliminate that voice in your head telling you nothing will matter. And we have seen just in the last couple weeks since the murder of George Floyd, that protest and speaking out CAN and DOES create real change.
However, much like how people who struggle with depression need to maintain and continue to work to keep the symptoms at bay, systemic racism is an ongoing battle that doesn’t end after a few days, months or even years of taking action.
There are two messages that I have had running through my head since the murder of George Floyd. This first message was a quote by statesman and philosopher, Edmund Burke. That name might not sound familiar but you certainly know one of his most famous quotes. “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”
This rang true, especially for me as a person of Jewish descent, learning about the ways in which many chose to risk their lives during the Holocaust and WWII and about the many who chose to remain silent in the face of genocide. One of those men who chose to take action was my grandfather, who served in WWII, a man who still lives in my mind as a source of inspiration and what is right. I talk a lot about staying away from absolutes and generalities when I work
with my clients. However, it’s impossible to argue that this wasn’t a war fought to defeat a great evil that was taking place. Similarly, it’s impossible to argue that the murder of George Floyd wasn’t also an act of evil. These are the kinds of evil that require action.
The other quote, which outs me as a comic book/superhero geek, is by Ben Parker, Spider-Man’s uncle. “With great power comes great responsibility.” When I think about this quote, I’m reminded about my own power and privilege of being a white man. It’s no coincidence that this message, spoken by Spidey’s uncle, was written by a Jewish writer, who dealt with Anti-Semitism. This person was the late Stan Lee, the famous Marvel comic book writer. Stan Lee often used stories, usually reserved for crime fighters in spandex, to address more socially and culturally aware issues such as writing the X-Men as an allegory for racism.
There is no possible way for me to feel the anger, fear, and sense of helplessness a person of color must have felt when learning about the murder of George Floyd. However, I shared the feelings of anger and sadness with family, friends, and clients I work with, who are white. I also felt guilt. Guilt that we haven’t been doing enough. Guilt that we even felt a sense of shock and surprise that this can still happen. This is the epitome of privilege.
The murder of George Floyd SHOULD not result in a feeling of shock or surprise. This isn’t a new issue or an uncommon issue. This is a pervasive and unfortunately ongoing issue that has been a part of America’s past and present due to systemic racism. This is an issue perpetuated by people in power not having enough accountability and being enabled to continuously abuse that power. The enablers are the ones who aren’t directly impacted and who choose to be quiet. Or as Edmund Burke would say, due to other people with power and privilege choosing to do nothing.
What Can You Do To Not Feel Helpless in the Face of Racism??
If you are feeling helpless, just look at some of the things that have come out of the recent protests and increased discussion from the Black Lives Matter movement.
- The official name of the road leading to the White House is now known as Black Lives Matter Plaza.
- Breonna’s law, a law that regulates “no-knock warrants” was passed in Louisville, Kentucky.
- New Jersey is taking steps to reform law enforcement and look at how to better implement mental health professionals for matters that do not require the police.
- Many Confederate statues and monuments, that have been symbols of racism, are being taken down.
- The first black mayor in Ferguson, Missouri, Ella Jones, was elected.
- The 3 men responsible for the death of Ahmad Arbery are being tried for murder.
- The Minneapolis Police are no longer allowed to use pepper spray, flash bombs, or respiratory restraints on protestors.
- New York lawmakers have passed the anti-chokehold bill due to the Eric Garner case.
There is so much more that needs to be done but these are just some of the positives that have been coming out of the past couple weeks.
If you are feeling angry, and how can you not be, don’t let that anger turn into pessimism. Optimism mixed with anger can be a powerful combination. This is optimism that the actions we take and the things we say are important and will create change. So what can you do if you are feeling angry and not sure where to direct that anger? I have had some close friends and some clients who have attended protests. All of which have felt empowered by attending and described the protests as overwhelmingly peaceful and positive.
What Else Can You Do About Racism?
If you are worried about attending a protest due to COVID-19, safety concerns, or just simply want to contribute in other ways, donating to a good cause can be another option.
Some examples are:
These and others are great organizations focused on fighting injustices and lifting up black voices.
Another way is to educate yourself. The worst thing we can do during this time and to perpetuate helplessness is to choose ignorance. There are several great books to better understand what POC have been living through.
Some of these are:
- How to Be an Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi
- So You Want to Talk About Race by Ijeoma Oluo
- White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism by Robin DiAgenlo
Having a good base of knowledge, especially for white people who have not had the same experiences as POC in this country, is one way to have a better understanding to engage in the conversation that needs to be constantly happening.
If you are feeling like you could use some extra help with feelings of helplessness, symptoms of depression, or just needing a safe place to talk, don’t hesitate to reach out. A licensed mental health professional will work through these distressing thoughts and feelings, and help you take action in ways to strengthen your mental health.
Matt Berman is a dad to a two-year-old son. He is also a husband and proud dad to his adorable dog, Gambit (aka “Puppy,” according to Matt’s son). He loves to cook and play guitar. Matt is passionate about being a psychotherapist and the Assistant Director of Exceptional Wellness Counseling (EWC). EWC has locations in Manalapan and Shrewsbury, NJ and accepts a variety of insurances.
Check out Matt’s professional bio here!
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Next Steps & Resources
- Are you ready to take your first step? Reach out to us.
- Do you feel that you or your child or teen may benefit from counseling during this time? Take the first step.
- Interested in online counseling? Learn more.
- Resources on ways to support Black Lives Matter
- Other ways to help support Black Lives Matter, Protestors, and Equality Initiatives.
- Buy the books listed in this article and support black-owned bookstores.