As fun as I like to think that I am, no one sees a psychologist if their life is going along smoothly. People come to me when they’re uncomfortable – too uncomfortable to go on with the “status quo.” That’s how changes are made, too. What we are currently doing is more uncomfortable than the discomfort of doing something different, so we change.
I once had a colleague explain that, because making changes is hard, part of the work psychologists do is maintain the discomfort, to help people sit with, and remember why change is necessary. The same thing is happening in our nation right now, and though it might be uncomfortable to talk about it, see it on the news and social media, or sit with the discomfort of our current situation (like a client in therapy), it’s something we must do to get better.
What the Protests Are About
You might be thinking, “Listen, I already know that these protests are about George Floyd.” However, that isn’t the case. The most recent tragedy concerning Floyd’s death was the tipping point – the point where people stood up en masse to say, “Stop! No more!”
These protests are also about:
- A young Black man who was killed by fellow citizens while jogging.
- A White reality TV star who used a racial slur while rapping on Instagram.
- A young Black woman who was killed while sleeping in her own home.
- A White woman who called 9-1-1 on a Black birdwatcher and claimed to have had her life threatened after being asked to leash her dog. A claim later disproven.
All of these incidents are connected because they demonstrate a lack of dignity, regard, respect, and safety for Black people in our country. Though tragedies like the death of George Floyd get our attention, having a fellow citizen threaten you with police while you’re out doing something as innocent as birdwatching is no less significant.
Why They’re Happening
The protests are about the pain, hatred, and brutality that have been heaped on people of color, and in this instance, Black people specifically, for decades. There have been times in our nation’s history when hatred has been vocalized loudly and times when it was silent, but still there.
Just because hatred is silent doesn’t mean that it causes less harm. When hatred is silent, it shows up as digs to your personhood that are exhausting and demoralizing to live with. It’s also important to note that, even if this isn’t part of your reality (if you never see or hear about these experiences) it doesn’t make them any less real.
Why Being Heard Matters
So, why are people taking to the streets? Can’t they talk about it at home or on TV to change things? How I wish this were so, but no. Unfortunately, that’s not how it’s worked. There have been attempts in the past to speak about the challenges of race-based oppression in the arts, sports, and news conferences, just to name a few, but nothing changed.
Think about it like this: when we’re in danger or need something but help is unavailable, we don’t whisper or use an “inside voice.” We have to raise our voices or even shout to be heard! That’s what these protests are.
Participants are shouting to say, “Please see us! Please be involved in making changes!” Remember the role that discomfort plays in change? These protests are serving to keep the discomfort of racial inequality at the forefront, reminding us that changing our systems and attitudes is far better than the turmoil of maintaining the status quo.
The Importance of Listening to Others
I have a new colleague who said, “Most people don’t get a good listening to, so I give that to them.” I love that statement because it’s true, and it is one of the most wonderful things I get to do as a psychologist! Listening to people who might never have been really heard before. Being truly heard is essential to our mental health.
Imagine living in a society where, based on your race, you aren’t heard and, if you do want to be heard, that desire is met with criticism. Many people live that way, myself included. We aren’t all lawmakers and we may not consider ourselves activists, but what if you were able to truly listen to your friends and neighbors who’re hurting?
It could go a long way to say, “I see you, I hear you, and I’m willing to stand with you in this discomfort, in this pain.” What if you went even further and took what you heard and learned from these conversations to speak out publicly or to challenge hurtful assumptions and language used in passing? Remember, bias, bigotry, and racism are fought in big and small ways.
My Own Experience
I recently saw a group of White police officers gathered at a fire station and had the irresistible urge to speak with them. I nearly talked myself out of it after thinking, “What if tensions are too high? What are they going to think of a Black woman driving up to talk to them?”
I did it anyway and felt nervous turning in. I rolled down my window as I approached and one of them waved me in to come closer. When I rolled down my other window and began speaking. They all came close to see and hear me.
We didn’t speak long, but we talked about how difficult things are right now. I saw tired faces, sad smiles, and I became emotional enough to cry. I thanked them and they thanked me for stopping to speak to them with kindness.
I stopped, in part, so that they could see and hear a Black person speaking her thoughts and feelings. Hopefully, that will enable them to see and hear other people of color they encounter in the future. I also stopped to let those White officers know that I see and hear them, too. If we can continually speak up, even for small things, well, that can change the world.
We’re Ready to Talk
If recent events in our country are leaving you feeling hopeless, confused, or even scared, then we want to hear from you. Listening is one of the most important things we can do for each other, especially now. Don’t be afraid to talk about what’s bothering you. Our licensed psychologists and therapists in Tampa are ready to help. Contact us today to set up your online appointment.