On Ahmaud Arbery: Now Is Not The Time To Feel Better
Updated: May 11
As a psychiatrist, my work is dedicated to helping people feel better. By far, the most rewarding part of my job is when a person who was once struggling under the weight of difficult emotions comes in for a follow up visit, looking brighter and telling me about the progress they are making. I credit each person’s success to their own hard work, but I am grateful to play a small role in their journey to a more fulfilling life.
I have also dedicated this blog space, At Home With Dr. Jeannie, to helping people get unstuck from unwanted thoughts and emotions that keep them from living the lives they desire. To be honest, writing these posts is a part of maintaining my personal mental health too, as writing is one of my favorite coping strategies, and I try to practice the concepts that I teach.
As an African-American woman living in the United States, I am traumatized anew, every time I personally endure or indirectly witness racism and its ugly effects. It leaves an open, seeping emotional wound that never heals because it is so regularly re-injured by the racist acts and attitudes that abound.
I will admit reluctantly, that when the video of Ahmaud Arbery’s execution surfaced, I intentionally avoided watching it. Seeing the headlines was sickening enough, and reading the news stories was even more traumatic. I had grown weary of hearing countless stories of Black people being murdered for the color of their skin in so-called “post-racial” America. I felt in my bones that watching the video of Ahmaud’s death would be too much to bear. I selfishly wanted to protect myself from another emotional hit, reasoning that I had enough on my plate to worry about. So, I did what many people do to cope with emotional pain; I closed the door on that pain, turned away from any reminders of the ugly truth, and tried to distract myself to keep from breaking under the weight of it all.
Eventually my resolve to avoid Ahmaud’s tragedy broke, and I pressed play on a video clip of the last seconds of this young man’s life. As I watched in horror, my breath stopped, my chest twinged with sharp pain, and I reflexively buried my face in my hands sobbing, unable to watch to the end.
That same night, I fretted over whether I should go outside with my husband and check out the new landscape lighting he installed in our yard earlier that day. I wanted to see the final result of his project, but worried intensely that someone in our mostly white neighborhood would try to hurt us, claiming my husband with his tall frame and dark skin didn’t belong and posed a “threat”. Was I overreacting? Unfortunately no; Stephon Clark and Botham Jean are examples of black, unarmed men murdered in their own yards and homes by the police. And just months earlier, my own husband had Security called on him by a White neighbor who claimed he looked “suspicious” as he innocently took a walk in our neighborhood one bright weekend morning. That night I made my husband hold my hand as we ventured to our yard, hoping my presence as a woman might somehow make him look less "suspicious" and protect him. But Sandra Bland and others prove that even being a woman won’t protect you from racist brutality, when you are Black.
I love to share and practice evidence-based ways to improve mental and emotional health. I write a lot about the tenets of cognitive behavioral psychology and positive psychology, and things we can do to feel better about difficult situations that life throws our way.
But not today.
Today, when a young, unarmed man taking a jog, can be chased down a street by two men in a pickup truck brandishing guns, and then shot to death in cold blood, and his killers go uncharged for months while people sworn to protect the law cover up this horrific crime…then no, it is not time to feel better.
It is not time to look away, or protect our peace.
Now is the time to watch that horrifying video, read the disturbing news articles, and look into the eyes of a beautiful soul who could have easily been my your son, or my brother, or a friend to any of us, and then Feel. Those. Feelings.
Let the shock and hurt come, the pain, the fear, the grief, the anxiety, all of it.
Feel those feelings, and when you’re tempted to look away, and bury your face in some other mindless distraction so you feel better, don't.
Instead, look again, feel them again. Those feelings point to the light in you. They show that you value things that are good - at a minimum, that you value the life of another human being.
Then let those uncomfortable feelings MOVE you to ACTION. Shine that light brightly.
Racism thrives on distraction,
It depends on denial,
In spreads in the dark.
Change starts when we turn on the lights, stare this ugly systemic hatred in the face, feel all of the pain and discomfort, then decide to work hard to force positive change.
Demand justice, raise your voice, share this article, write your own. Do what you would do if your son or brother or friend had been hunted and executed at the whims of people who chose to hate and kill.
Remember that “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny”. And most of all, remember that
“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that” --Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
We’ve Got This,