Of the Great White Awakening & the Mental Health of People of Color
In the past 2 years I facilitated many resilience workshops to help people cope with the pandemic. From fear of the virus and media-induced stress, to dealing with isolation and uncertainty at work, or even experiencing downright frustration and anger, people came to these sessions with various different mindsets and needs, yet they all had one thing in common: their shared experience of this global pandemic which brought collective attention to the topic of mental health and caused many organisations to take steps to actively support the mental wellbeing of their employees.
We’d be remiss if we didn’t acknowledge the role race has also played in this collective human experience, and how people of color have navigated these unprecedented times, with the murder of George Floyd acting as a catalyst for a global reckoning that ignited a tidal wave of anti-racism protests.
Don’t get me wrong, of course no person of color woke up mid 2020 suddenly discovering racism exists. Traumatic events and negative race experiences happen all the time for people of color, sometimes making the news and opening a small window of opportunity during which the topic of racial justice garners renewed public attention, nourishing hopes for positive change. Yet, this window invariably closes after a while, causing many of us to eventually feel resigned and choose to remain silent, for fear of being disappointed or, worse, for fear of potential backlash and reprisals.
What changed in 2020? The massive worldwide race awakening was something we’d never seen before.Not on that scale. Maybe it was due to the pandemic and the fact that people were at home with no distractions and they had no choice but to pay attention to the horrible images they were seeing on TV, but the point is that, suddenly, people were paying attention. White people around the globe wanted to educate themselves and were willing to have meaningful conversations about privilege as well as their individual and collective responsibility in perpetuating systemic racism.
Where we had been invisible all our lives, suddenly we felt seen. It ignited an extraordinary wave of hope in racialized communities. Maybe real change was possible after all…
With this fresh perspective, many of us opened up publicly about our life experiences in an effort to further raise awareness and educate, not just society, but our organisations, our colleagues and our friends about racism, bias and everyday micro-aggressions. It is important to acknowledge the courage and fortitude required here. Speaking up and baring your heart and soul for the benefit of educating others, while navigating deep trauma yourself, requires extraordinary amounts of resilience. It is emotionally very draining and incredibly triggering.
So then what?
As months passed, between the emotional roller-coaster of the global race awakening and the underwhelming transition to actual structural change, between extreme trauma exposure and increased awareness of internalized systems of oppression, many of us were brought to a place they’d never been before and probably can never return from...
So where does that leave us? How do we navigate our individual and collective journey from that point forward? These are questions many of us are still asking ourselves.
(Check out Part 2 of this article: “Lessons from the Ukraine media coverage”)