Post Pandemic Mental Health Struggles

Post Pandemic Mental Health Struggles

Over the last year we have all been through collective trauma dealing with the global pandemic.

Many of us went through stressful moments with the lockdown bringing isolation for some, loss of income for others and increased anxiety, depression and substance use for others. Some of us have gotten sick or even worse, lost friends, family members or coworkers.

Now that there are vaccinations and restrictions are starting to lift in certain areas, you may think that everyone is feeling better, a sense of relief or hope, but that is simply not true for some individuals.

A lot of people are ecstatic about being able to gather with their family and friends without masks. Those who were working from home are excited about going back into the office and socializing face to face with their coworkers. Those who were feeling down or anxious are starting to feel their mood brighten, but for some , they are still struggling with the affects of this collective trauma. They may still be feeling down or anxious and some have reason to be. Just this weekend I was talking to a friend who had recently attended the funeral of his uncle who died from the virus a week prior. He, understandably still has some anxiety about the world reopening although he himself is vaccinated.

Healing from this collective trauma will take more time for some people and what will help is being in tune with ourselves and focusing on what we can control versus what we can’t. We have to find out what works for us to ease our anxiety and make us feel better.

For some people that may mean having a digital detox, limiting how much news they intake, exercising or focusing on better sleep hygiene.

It’s Okay to Say That You’re Not Okay

Over the weekend I had a long conservation with someone I go to the gym with about his struggles with mental illness, depression and even suicidal thoughts. We talked about how he joined the gym as soon as it reopened as a way to cope with some of the depression and negative thoughts he had been battling since before the pandemic, but had grown even more so during the pandemic.

Halfway through our conversation he told me that it felt good to have someone to talk to without feeling like he was being judged. Although I was glad to be there for him, I felt sad that he felt like he didn’t have anyone else he could open up to.

Nowadays there is so much assess to mental health help and actionable information through things like Google’s self-assessments, that it is my hope that everyone who needs help will assess it and realize that they are not alone.

A lot of people who were anxious, lonely or depressed before the pandemic, grew more anxious, lonely or depressed during the pandemic and will continue to have those uneasy feelings and thoughts even when the people and world around them returns to normalcy.

It’s important that we look out for our family members and friends who may not be as excited or comfortable with the transition out of the pandemic. For some of them, a return to normality is a return to battling their mental health issues.

Toxic Tendencies to Watch Out for in Your Relationships

Toxic Tendencies to Watch Out for in Your Relationships

Many of us have or will be in toxic relationships at some point in our lives. Some of us without even realizing it. I believe the key to avoiding allowing most relationships to disintegrate is through open communication and learning the recognize the little tendencies that can grow into habits that create a toxic environment.

What Is a Toxic Relationship?

A lot of people think a toxic relationship is only a relationship where there is physical and/or verbal abuse, and while those are often indeed the most toxic relationships, the average toxic relationship may not be filled with yelling, screaming or violence all. Some of the most toxic relationships involve emotional abuse and manipulation.

In a toxic relationship, the romance, passion and even friendship that once made you happy is pretty much all disappeared and replaced with negative feelings of anxiety, depression, anger, resentment and disappointment. Of course we all know that relationships have their ups and downs and aren’t usually filled with sunshine and rainbows all the time, but there is a difference between toxic tendencies and allowing those tendencies to fester and ruin the relationship.

Toxic Tendencies to Watch Out For

Mutual Avoidance

In relationships, it’s healthy to have your own space and even take breaks from each other from time to time. Those times a part allow you to be your own individual person and even have your own experiences to talk to your partner about when you are together. They help us grow as individuals and even as a couple, but if you and your partner both prefer to do things without each other, sigh in relief when the other one is not home or can’t come to an event you both were invited to, it may not be a good sign. There is nothing wrong with looking forward to and enjoying a night out with the girls or the guys, but when you are looking forward to not seeing your significant other, it may be a sign that the relationship is headed for trouble.

Lack of Autonomy

With that said about mutual avoidance, it’s just as important that you don’t lose who you are while in the relationship. Some people are so eager to be a part of a relationship that they almost willingly give up their autonomy and therefore, their identity as an individual. They no longer are an “I”, but a “we”. Many people think it’s supposed to be that way. They stop being Jane and become Steven’s girlfriend, Steven’s wife and if they have kids they become mom or Asher’s mom. If the relationship fails or when the kids grow up and have their own lives, Jane may become depressed and feel lost because she no longer knows who she is as an individual.

You Tell Half Truths

Okay, so maybe you don’t consider yourself a liar, but you find yourself telling little half truths because it’s easier than telling the whole truth. Like you may say you went to the bar with Jane and Erin, but purposely leave out that John was also there, maybe because you know that will become a fight between you and your partner or that he’ll start asking more questions you don’t feel like answering. It may seem relatively innocent, but telling little white lies is definitely a sign that there may be a bigger issue that needs addressing.

You Can’t Do Anything Right

Your partner is always nagging or criticizing you. It’s a sign that your partner doesn’t appreciate you and in-turn can lead you to develop little toxic tendencies of your own that will only add to the overall toxic level of the relationship.

I once date someone who complained about how I washed the dishes, cleaned the kitchen or made the bed. It got to the point that I just stopped doing those things out of rebellion. What was the point of me doing it if it was never right. Eventually part of her argument became that I never washed the dishes, cleaned the bathroom or made the bed.

You Feel Malcontent

When you’re around your partner you feel unhappy, uncomfortable, anxious or like you’re walking on eggshells, then it’s a sign that you’re in a toxic relationship or one that is on a clear path to being one. Your partner should bring joy and happiness to your life, and like I said, there may be times when you two aren’t happy with each other, but that should be the exception and not the rule. You should never feel in a constant state of unhappiness or anxiousness around the person you’re supposed to be in a loving relationship with.

Jealousy and Envy

Your partner is jealous of your achievements instead of celebrating them with you, Instead of making you feel good, they try to bring you down. In one of my last relationships, I got promoted three times during our relationship nearly doubling my income whereas she didn’t. She would bring that up, not as a means to celebrate me, but in a way of throwing a pity party for herself in which instead of feeling good about my professional growth, I had to turn my attention to her and try to reassure her of her career.

Constant Drama

He or she is constantly finding something to fight or be upset about. If you’re at the beach he or she complains that the sun is too bright, the water is too rough and the waves are too noisy. Some people can’t be happy for too long or they get bored so they constantly stir up drama. It may look like they’re upset, but it’s what makes them feel alive while it drives you crazy.

Living in the Past

Your partner is always bringing up the past. Past mistakes you made, past hurts you may have caused them. They never let you forget that one time you messed up. In a relationship where one partner sees themselves as a victim and wants to hold on to that title, it’s hard to see a promising future because no matter what great things you do in the present, they will always bring up the times you weren’t so great in the past.

Disrespect

I once dated someone who when we fought cursed me out like she hated me. I always always amazed and hurt at the level of filth that came spewing out of her mouth. On top of that, even when we weren’t fighting, we’d go out and she’d start drinking and openly flirt with other people. It was something I tried to ignore, but when it was brought to my attention by other people I realized just how disrespectful she was. If your partner disrespects you often and you have any respect for yourself, then those two realities will constantly clash and you definitely deserve to be with someone who respects you.

You’re Probably Part of the Problem

I have been in a few toxic relationships and eventually learned that I was part of the problem. I eventually learned that I was choosing partners who had certain character flaws and I myself, had a big character flaw called codependency. If I didn’t take time away for myself to address that issue, then I would continue choosing the same toxic people and having the same toxic relationships over and over again. It took a lot of self-discipline, introspection and learning about codependency for me to start trusting myself when it comes to dating again. I know what I am attracted to and I know what I am attracted to is not good for me. I had to learn to trust that I was good enough for healthy partners, not partners who needed saving or that I thought I could fix, help or change.

And that’s the thing, if we don’t find out what it is about us that chooses the type of people that we end up in these toxic relationships with, we’ll just recreate the same mess with someone else. There’s a saying that goes, “Wherever you go, there you are”, which to me means, you can change people, jobs, cities and even states, but if you don’t change what you need to change about yourself, you’ll just recreate the same environment over and over again.

Letting the Dead Die this Easter (2021)

Nine years ago, I wrote a post entitled Letting the Dead Die this Easter and since it was so long ago, I thought I’d rewrite and expand on it since a lot has happened over those nine years.

Holding on to Dead Stuff

One of the reasons we get cheated out of living our best lives is that we tend to hold on to too much dead stuff. Dead relationships, dead jobs and dead dreams for example.

This Easter, the resurrection, no matter what religion (or no religion) you believe in, can have significant meaning for all of us. Perhaps you are married to something that is dead or holding on to a dream that is dead. Too many of us are holding on to death while trying to live.

Letting Dreams Die

Many of us have dreams that need to die. It’s not the most pleasant thought, but holding on to a dream that will never come to fruition holds us back from realizing the dreams that can and have already come true. It can’t happen until you let that dream die. I’m not saying you shouldn’t have dreams or fight for those dreams, even when they seem impossible, but sometimes we have to readjust the way expect that dream to come true.

For example, I have a client in his early fifties who has always dreamed of living in foreign exotic countries. He thinks about it pretty much every day and gets depressed when he realizes he’s not currently living that dream. At this moment, for him living that dream isn’t really practical. He has family obligations that are keeping him anchored in one place. My advice to him was to stop dwelling on the fact that he wasn’t currently living his dream because he was missing out on the beautiful life he has right in front of him. I told him he could still travel to and take vacations to those places and even study the languages of the places he wants to live. This particular dream doesn’t to die, but he does have to let go of the idea that it’s going to happen today or exactly how he had imagined it.

Another example is that some people say that they want to be doctors or lawyers, but they don’t like to read and they hate school so they are currently doing other jobs that don’t require much education and are still saying that they want to be doctors and lawyers. Of course if they decided they really wanted to apply themselves, thy could be whatever they wanted to be, but the reality is, they don’t want to be doctors and lawyers bad enough to make the sacrifices. They need to let those dreams go and create more realistic dreams based on the things that they enjoy doing, value and are willing to work hard to make come true. Otherwise they’re going to continue to be stuck doing menial, unsatisfying jobs while telling everyone around them they want they plan on being a doctor or lawyers.

Letting Relationships Die

A new great romantic relationship can’t happen until you let your old relationship die. You’re tied to something dead. Since I wrote this in 2012, I’ve had to let several relationships die. One was with someone I’d dated in high school and into my early adult years. After we broke up we remained friends, but it wasn’t a healthy friendship, it was almost parasitic on her part and it damaged and threatened any new relationship I tried to have with another woman. As much as it hurt, I had to let that relationship die if I wanted to have the chance of building something with someone more compatible.

A year later I did meet someone great, but that relationship also turned toxic and as much as I wanted it to work out eventually things go so bad that I knew I had to let that relationship go and force it to die. It was hard, just like letting any relationship or dream die because I saw so much good potential in it, but the reality was the bad outweighed the good and I would just get dragged through the mood trying to hold on to that potential.

More recently, I had to let a friendship go. I was friends with someone and we were just growing in totally different directions. I try to be healthy and workout and he likes to smoke and drink all day while partying all night. We started to have less and less in common and it got to the point were I dreaded hanging out with him. I found myself canceling plans we made or if I didn’t cancel I was glancing at my watch the whole time waiting for our evening to be over. He isn’t a bad guy, or even a bad friend, but in my opinion, he brought no added value or joy to my life. I could think of a dozen things I’d rather to doing then hanging out with him including doing nothing at all. I was forcing myself to be in a friendship I should just let die and by letting it die, I felt like a weight was lifted off of my shoulder and like I had got back just a little more time to do the things I enjoy doing.

Letting Jobs Die

I know a lot of people who waste years at dead end jobs. Jobs that they hate, jobs that don’t utilize their talent, creativity or intelligence. They just show up, some for decades and they’re not happy, but they’re not miserable enough to leave. Working in a correctional setting I have met guards who hate their jobs, feel like they’re basically baby sitting adults and yet they will come show up for the next 20 years so they can retire and they will complain about it for the next 20 years. I personally can’t leave like that. i’ve definitely been in jobs I should have left long before I did and there’s many reasons behind that, but for me, the biggest reason is fear of the unknown. Your current dead end job may be comfortable, even if it’s not stimulating or making you happy. Your dream job may require taking more of a risk, learning something new, putting yourself out there where you don’t know if you’ll fail or not. So it’s safe to stay at your dead end job, even if it’s slowly killing you inside.

Your dream job might be right around the corner, but it’s hard if not impossible to get to it if you are holding on to your dead job.

What’s in Your Life that Needs to Die?

This Easter, and periodically afterwards, I want you to examine what is it in your life that needs to die. Perhaps you need to let some guilt die, fear die or something from your past you’re still holding on to… let it die.

Maybe it’s a fantasy. Maybe you’re holding out for the perfect person and you’re missing so many other terrific people because you won’t let that fantasy die. This Easter is all about resurrection. Let what is dead go so that you can make room in your life for everything that is waiting to be raised.

Easter represents the the new life we all can find by living in the truth. Let what needs to die die so that this Easter Sunday, and everyday forward, you can be free to be all you were meant and born to be.

Confessions of an Emotional Fluffer

Confessions of an Emotional Fluffer

For many years I was an emotional fluffer without realizing It.

What’s an emotional fluffer? Well loosely defined, an emotional fluffer is someone who basically is there for another person in the same role a romantic partner would be, but without the benefits of romance, sex or physical affection. I believe this happens most when the other person is in a relationship with an emotionally unavailable partner, but still wants to be with them and they us the emotional fluffer to satisfy their emotional needs of talking, venting sharing feelings, etc. Basically, the emotional fluffer sustains them and gives them the emotional energy they need. The term is bored from the porn industry, when back in the day before Viagra and penile implants, there would often be a person who performed fellatio or hand jobs on the male actor to get or keep them aroused between scenes.

My Story

When I was in my late twenties I was really interested in a young woman who was in a toxic relationship. She was beautiful, and sweet and being treated poorly by her boyfriend. For the life of me I couldn’t understand why she stayed with him, but I did understand attachment and later I started to feel like she had become financially dependent on him.

Her and I became friends and I wish I could say I only wanted to be her friend, but the truth was I was hoping that when she ended things with her boyfriend she would see me as more than a friend. Her and I became really close. She told me things about herself she hadn’t told anyone. She was open and genuine. She shared her fears, her hopes and her dreams. She was funny and not afraid to be vulnerable.

She had her flaws which she didn’t try to hide and all that made me even more attracted to her, both physically and emotionally. We talked all the time, sometimes every day, multiple times a day. We even hung out ocassionally, not as often as I would like, but about as much as I could expect since she was in a relationship. However, when we did hangout it felt good. It felt right. It almost felt like we were dating.

We went out for dinner, out for drinks, out dancing or just hanging out. There were multiple times we stayed out until the sun came up. We laughed together. We cried together. The bond I felt between us felt impenetrable and natural. I never wanted our time together to end. I felt like it was an escape from reality.

Physically we never kissed or became intimate. The closest contact we ever had was occasional hugs and even times when we cuddled briefly, her putting her head on my shoulders and in those moments, it felt as if everything in the world was right.

There were a couple of nights out after we had been drinking where we became flirtatious and I was tempted to make a move, but I didn’t out of both fear of rejection and fear of ruining our friendship. As much as I hoped she felt for me the way I felt for her, I wasn’t really sure. In the very early stages of our friendship when I mentioned us dating she always said she made a better friend than a girlfriend, but I always thought she was just being self-deprecating. As beautiful as she was, I knew she suffered from bouts of low self-esteem.

When we were together we talked a lot about her frustrations with her boyfriend, about how she couldn’t talk to him or express herself openly. According to her he wasn’t sensitive to her needs and reeked of narcistic personality disorder. It always seemed like she was on the verge of leaving him and each time they would get into a fight, I was there for her and slightly hoping this would be the end of their relationship, but she never left him. Instead just more and more time passed by with me feeling like her boyfriend without actually being her boyfriend.

Whenever she needed me I would drop whatever I was doing. I would listen to her vent and cry about her relationship and tried to cheer her up whenever she was down. I tried to treat her the way she deserved to be treated and I hoped she would see the difference between my love for her and the way her boyfriend claimed to love her. Still, she never left.

Years went by like this and the longer it continued, the more attached I became, but also disheartened that our friendship never developed into anything more. I felt like I was doing all the things her boyfriend wasn’t doing for her and at times it was exhausting, but I did it because I cared about her and yes, I was probably a bit selfish as well. I really wanted her to wake up one day and see me as someone other than her friend, but that never happened.

Eventually, I had to detach for my sanity. I hadn’t put my life on hold waiting for her, but I had compared ever woman I met to her which wasn’t fair. I was never angry with her nor do I think she purposely used me emotionally. I was a willing participate and sometimes there is a fine line between being a good friend and being an emotional fluffer. The main difference as far as I can tell is that being an emotional fluffer gets exhausting and frustrating where a friendship shouldn’t be that way. It’s like you’re satisfying someone’s needs without getting your needs fully satisfied.

Today her and I are still friends. I imagine we’ll be friends for life. We don’t talk or hangout as much as we used to which is a good thing for me. I still have feelings for her, but I no longer sit back and expect one day she’s going to leave her boyfriend. Yes, they are still together and she’s still unhappy, but she’s still with him.

World Suicide Prevention Day

Today is World Suicide Prevention Day.

Around the world, about every 40 seconds, someone takes their own life. That’s at least 800,000 people per year. Here, in the United States, the rate of suicides is up 35% from 1999 to 2018. The U.S. Centers for Disease control has identified suicide as a growing public health problem. It is the second leading cause of death in teens and young adults in the U.S.

As a psychotherapist, I have dealt with hundreds of suicidal individuals and have lost several people I knew to suicide including two popular high school students and a beloved nurse and mother.  Losing one life to suicide is one too many. 

On World Suicide Prevention Day, I didn’t want to just write another post about suicide. I want to encourage anyone who is having suicidal thoughts or knows someone struggling with suicidal thoughts, to seek help. Talk to a friend, a teacher, a pastor or a mental health professional.

If you feel like you don’t have anyone you can talk to or prefer to talk to someone anonymously, here are some other options:

If you live in the United States, you can call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-873-8255 24 hours a day, seven days a week. If you need help in Spanish, call 888-628-9454.

Trevor Lifeline offers suicide prevention counseling for the LGBTQ community: 866-488-7386.

You can also TEXT a crisis counselor in the U.S. or Canada at 741741, 85258 in the U.K and 50808 in Ireland

No matter how you reach out and seek help, the most important thing is that you do.

I Stopped Explaining Myself When I Realized People Only Understand From Their Level of Perceptions. – Unknown

Sometimes I find myself online getting into debates with people over things that mean a lot to me. Like, Black lives matter, not the organization, but the slogan. I have no interest in the group, Black Lives Matter. I’ve never been to their website, participated in any of their protests or donated money to them, but as a Black man, I firmly believe that Black lives matter. Does that Mean I think Black lives matter more than White lives? Hell no. It means that Black lives should matter just as much as White lives and therefore, when Black lives and all lives matter equally, then we can say with honesty, all lives matter.

It’s not just about the recent controversial police shootings and killings of George Floyd, Breyonna Taylor, Tamir Rice, Philando Castile, Freddie Gray, Walter Scott, Eric Gardner or Oscar Grant. It goes back beyond the police brutality of Abner Louima and Rodney King. It goes back to the Civil Rights and Jim Crow era, Slavery and Colonialism.

Black and Brown people have been treated differently in America since the beginning when Native Americans were ran from their homes and slaughtered. Many people are quick to say that we have to move beyond slavery, but Black and Brown people are treated differently than their White counterparts even in the eyes of the law, in getting loans, housing, medical treatment and education.

Saying the words “Black lives matter” means that everyone should get equal and fair treatment, especially when it comes to Law Enforcement who have the powerful and often ridiculously difficult job of upholding the law.

We All Have Different Perspectives That Shape Our Reality

When I was debating with people online on different boards and some of them were people I knew that I also know are good people in real life, their views were completely opposite and often disregarding of mine. It took me a minute to understand that they couldn’t see from my perspective. My reality was not their reality.

Like a lot of Black boys who grew up in the inner-city, my neighborhood was routinely over patrolled by police. They weren’t usually there to be friendly, but they were there to harass us, question what we were doing and where we were going as if we didn’t have the right to simply exist in our own neighborhood. We often saw them arresting our neighbors for small offenses, taking our friends, brothers, and fathers away from us. Seeing the police became something we feared, not something that made us feel safer.

Once I started driving, Driving While Black became a real fear. I would get pulled over regularly for minor offenses like a tag light out, window tint too dark, speeding when I knew I wasn’t speeding. I once got stopped for not stopping at a yield sign when there was no other cars coming. The most honest response I got from an officer was, “I just wanted to see what was going on”.

When I was younger it didn’t bother me much, but when I became older, had a professional job, a master’s degree and was still getting pulled over when I went to visit my mother in the old neighborhood, it became annoying and frustrating. I never got a ticket during those random stops, nor did I ever fear for my life, but I definitely felt harassed.

I’m a very mild mannered person. Not everyone is like that and while I know how to conduct myself when stopped by Law Enforcement, there are others who have been harassed and annoyed to the point that every stop feels like disrespect and provocation. Those are the encounters that immediately become more dangerous, especially when you mix testosterone, suspicion and fear on both sides.

However, me trying to explain why so many Black and Brown people are weary of the police to my White coworker who has never been harassed on a regular basis by Law Enforcement or grew up in a neighborhood overly policed, is pointless. They haven’t lived or experienced what I have. They were happy and smiled and waved when they saw the police. They felt safe, not scared. And yes, you can be harassed and stopped by the police even when you haven’t broken the law, I have been dozens of times and I have never been arrested.

Some people were fortunate enough to grow up in a totally different reality where the people who are paid with our tax dollars and have sworn to serve and protect, actually do that instead of hassle, abuse and kill their loved ones.

 I can never get them to see the world through my lenses and the lenses of many other Black and Brown men and women. To them, my view is distorted, so I am trying to no longer argue or debate with them, especially when it’s obvious that they refuse to even try to see things through my perception.

I believe every life is equally important, but Black lives are the lives that need saving at the moment from those who are supposed to protect us. I support good, fair and well trained Law Enforcement all day everyday, but I stand against racism, prejudice, untrained and bad policing equally as strong.  

I want our country to come together and at least attempt to see each other’s perspective before we let the media and politicians tear us apart.  

Seven Ways We Can Combat Racial Bias In Society and Law Enforcement

Seven Ways We Can Combat Racial Bias In Society and Law Enforcement

In my last post we discussed racial bias and it’s influence on deathly police shootings of unarmed Black males. In this post, we’re going to descuss seven ways to possibly correct this racial bias and hopefully create a society that’s less racist and law enforcement that protects and serves it’s Black citizens better.

Address Racial Prejudice At A Young Age

Let’s face it, we live in a racist society. It’s hard to grow up today and not have some form of prejudice implanted in you by society. Even many of us who think we aren’t prejudice have shown our true colors during the Black Lives Matter protests by the things we say in comment sections when we think we’re safe behind our keyboards and smart phones.

The good thing is, children are much more accepting and responsive to racial bias reduction strategies compared to adults. The earlier we introduce them to racial bias and stereotypes, the more likely they are to recognize them and therefore not engage in them when they get older. Introducing programs that address racial bias reduction in elementary schools could lead to a whole new generation of adults that are less prejudice compared to trying to integrate racial bias reduction programs later in life.

Increase Interracial Engagement

If we mainly surround ourselves by others who look and think like us, it’s easy to develop intergroup bias. Cross racial engagement helps alleviate that bias. When people engage with others from different races, it gives them a chance to know them on a deeper level, therefore when they hear broad assumptions such as “All Black people are criminals”, they have a frame of reference that allows them to say “that is not true”. Cross-racial engagement not only leads to better understanding of other groups, but it can lead to better relationships as well. White college students for example, with cross-race roommates tend to have more diverse friendship bases, experience less interracial anxiety, and are more likely to value diversity after only a few months (Gaither & Sommers, 2013). When people from opposite races, personally know people from that race , they are less likely to engage in stereotypes and more likely to support systemic reform that helps make the lives of those who may look different from them better.

Increase Community Policing

Ideally, community policing means that the police are engaged with the civilians who live in that community. They take the time and effort to build relationships. They show that they are there to protect and serve, not just to enforce the law. As a Black male who grew up in a Black neighborhood, as a kid I was always afraid when the police came to my street because I never saw them show up to do anything other than harass and arrest people. They weren’t usually nice. I didn’t see them as allies. I saw them as someone to be afraid of, to run from. That’s how the police are viewed in a lot of inner-city neighborhoods because of the lack of relationships they have within the community. It doesn’t help that in my neighborhood, most of the time the police who patrolled it were White, they didn’t live anywhere near where I lived. They got to come to our lower income neighborhood, harass us for being in our neighborhood and then leave and go to better neighborhoods. We resented them and that’s not how it should have been, but that’s how it was when I was growing up and it hasn’t changed. In community policing, law enforcement and the citizens have mutual respect for each other and work together to keep the community safe. The citizens and police develop trust between each other which is something that is lacking in most inner-city neighborhoods. When police officers are seen only as coming around to harass citizens and over patrol a neighborhood, the citizens not only develop a fear towards the officers, but also a distrust and resentment that makes it hard for both the officers to do their jobs and for the citizens to feel as if they are being protected and served by those officers fairly.

Diversify Police Departments

A diverse police department not only helps officers from different races, genders and backgrounds develop better gender and interracial engagement among each other, but it would greatly help with community policing. As I said before, most of the officers that patrolled the Black neighborhood I grew up in were White. Because there often is a distrust between the Black community and police in general and White police officers particularly, it fosters an “us versus them” mentality in both the community and with the police officers. This “us versus them” mentality in law enforcement I believe is one of the cancers that a diversified police department can cut out by inhibiting prototypicality and less homogeneity while increasing more positive attitudes towards the communities these officers patrol.

Rotational Assignments For Officers

Many officers are assigned to high crime areas where their only interactions with minorities may be dealing with the worst of the worst. They may be in gang units or “street crime units” where they are more likely to encounter minorities who fit the cultural stereotype of being criminals. If this is what the officers see on a regular basis, it’s easy for them to start assuming that most minorities, especially Black males, are suspicious or involved in some type of criminal activity. It would be helpful to have officers rotate assignments in minority communities so that they can see that race isn’t a diagnostic cue for determining a threat. For example, an officer who was in the gang unit can also be assigned to work where he or she will have a wider range of interactions with minorities such as school aged children, the elderly, business owners and just regular citizens who care about their community. This exposure will likely help the officer be less stereotypical and not relate race so much to crime or a threat. This goes for officers of all races.

Diveristy Training

It should be required that all law enforcement officers go through continual diversity training. Studies have shown that diversity training can have immediate, positive impacts on the way officers view other races, especially when that training is combined with both awareness (self awareness of stereotyping) and skill development (practice resolving conflict). Most people do not intend to be racist, bias or even stereotype, but it is subsconcious and that’s why diversity training is so important. It helps bring those subconscious biases and stereotypes to the conscious where they can be addressed.

Increase Accountability

Lastly, to equalize status differences between law enforcement officers and civilians as well as to address racial bias, body cams and dash cams should be mandatory during each officers-civilian encounter. This will help hold officers accountable for their on-duty conduct. It is a good idea for both the protection of the officer and the civilian as well as can be used as a training and appraisal tool. It also equalizes status differences between the officer and civilian so that the officers account of an incident doesn’t automatically outweigh the account of the civilians. Law enforcement officers should not be afraid to do their jobs, but like all professionals, they should be held accountable, trained properly and disciplined when they do their jobs poorly.

 

Changes don’t happen over night, but none of these suggestions are hard to put into place. We have to tackle racial bias if we hope to reduce the number of shootings of unarmed Black men, the over patrolling and arresting of minorities as well as creating a police force that is welcomed and not feared in minority communities.

Sources:

Hall, A. V.< Hall, E. V., & Perry, J. L. (2016) Black and blue: Exploring racial bias and law enforcement in the killings of unarmed black male civilians {Electronic version].

Racial Bias And It’s Influence On Law Enforcement Killings Of Black Males

Racial Bias And It’s Influence On Law Enforcement Killings Of Black Males

I wrote a long time ago about cognitive bias and confirmation bias and its effects on the Trayvon Martin Situation

After painfully watching the killing of George Floyd by the Minneapolis police department in the shadow of other killings of unarmed Black men, it’s time to revisit why this keeps happening. 

In the case of George Floyd, we need to explore why a police officer (Derek Chauvin) kneeling on a restrained persons neck who is complaining of not being able to breath and literally begging for his life, showed no restraint, empathy or mercy as he continued to block off the man’s air and blood flow until he died. Or why his fellow officers ( Thomas Lane, Tou Thao and J. Alexander Kueng)  would stand by and allow it to happen without question. 

I don’t believe that all of these officers and people involved in other shootings of unarmed Black people are racist, but I do believe that they were indeed highly influenced by racial bias

Racial Bias

Black male citizens are 21 more times likely to be killed by law enforcement compared to White male citizens according to a ProPublica analysis of federal data on police shootings. This suggest that in these deadly encounters, some sort of racial bias is present and this racial bias extends beyond law enforcement and into the community in general. Meaning, that even civilians seem to believe that Black lives matter less than White lives and it’s not due to outright racism in most cases, but subconscious prejudices. 

Implicit bias occurs when a discriminator is not consciously aware of his or her own bias, whereas explicit bias occurs when a discriminator is able to introspectively self-report these biased behaviors or attitudes (Greenwald & Banaji, 1995). 

In Black and blue: Exploring racial bias and law enforcement in the killings of unarmed black male civilians, Hall, Hall & Perry discuss three stereotypes that make Black males especially more at risk of becoming victims of police shootings.

Black Youth as Adult-Like

Racial bias starts at a very young for Black children. In studies conducted by Goff, Jackson, Di Leone, Culotta and DiTomaso (2014) where undergraduate students and law enforcement officers were instructed to evaluate and estimate the age and culpability for their actions of Black, White and Latino children, participates consistently judged Black boys to be older by an average of 4.53 and 4.59 years compared to their same aged White counterparts. Therefore, those Black children were seen to be more adult-like and thus the severity of their punishment should be harsher. This translates to the participants even agreeing that those Black children deserved more use of force by the police than same aged White children.

Think about this. If these participants saw a 14 year old as 18 or 19, they agreed that they deserved punishment legally and physically usually reserved for adults. 

This comes into play when we think back to the killing of Tamir Rice, a 12-year-old black boy playing with a toy gun in the park. When the police responded and killed him nearly immediately, the officer who killed him reported that he thought Tamir was around 20 years of age. Again, if an officer was responding correctly to a 12 year old with a potential real gun he might have responded differently, but the fact that he imagined Tamir to be 8 years older, an adult with a gun, probably caused him to respond more aggressively. The color of Tamir’s skin, subconsciously to the officer, made him older, therefore more of a threat and more deserving of swift lethal force. 

Blacks as Sub- and Superhuman

There is a lot of research that shows that Blacks have been dehumanized in American culture for centuries. Black people are often implicitly associated with apes. They are seen as subhuman, as anamalistic and therefore deserving of stricter legal and physical punishment and less empathy. 

Blacks are also often implicitly seen as superhuman, having extraordinarily strength and able to endure more pain more compared to Whites. If law enforcement officers see Blacks, specifically young Black males as superhuman, it’s easy for them to justify uses of force and even to start developing a narrative where the Black male suspect is the villain and the officer is the superhero. Darren Wilson in his 2014 grand jury testimony about the killing of Michael Brown described Brown as if he had supernatural strength, stating that he “felt like a five-year-old holding onto Hulk Hogan”  (Calamur, 2014). 

When approaching a Black male subject, even if he is unarmed, many officers may already be anticipating a fight for their life.

Blacks as Violent and Criminal Threats

Pervasive at an implicit level is the stereotype that Blacks are criminals. People who are not racist by nature, often are brainwashed by society to believe that Blacks are dangerous and cannot be trusted. 

In a classic study, Duncan (1976) showed participants a scene in which one student shoved another student. The participants reported that the student shoving the other student was more violent when the shoving student was Black, compared to when he was White. Blacks as criminals also comes into play whenever a Black male is the victim of a police shooting or other unarmed attack and the media and others quickly attempt to brand the victim as a “thug” as seen in the Trayvon Martin, Jordan Davis and Ahmaud Arbery cases just to name a few.

When the police already see Black males as violent and criminals, it’s easy to make the leap to excessive use of force and deadly force. This is before (and if they ever make it to) the legal system which dishes out punishment harsher to Black males for the same reasons we’re discussing here.

Stereotypes in the Context of Shooter Bias

Stereotypes about Black males influence “shooter bias” (Cornell et al., 2007). What this means is that in shooter bias experiments where participants are asked to make quick decisions on whether to shoot or not shoot a Black or White target in a computer simulation holding a gun, a wallet, a cell phone or another non-gun object, participants were more likely to shoot a Black target holding a non-gun object than a White target holding a non-gun object. They were even more likely to hesitant (which could mean life or death) when it came to shooting White targets holding guns compared to Black targets. This is not entirely about race, but knowledge of cultural stereotypes as other studies have shown that Black participants and Black officers are just as likely to have the same shooter bias’ as White participants and White officers. 

This shows that stereotypes associated with Black culture (i.e., Black men being violent, criminals, sub- or superhuman) are independent of explicit racial or prejudicial beliefs. Someone who may not be considered a racist may subconsciously respond differently to Black people in stressful situations without intentionally having ill will or bad intentions. This is one reason they will be quick to tell you that they are not racist and how many Black friends they have.

This extends beyond Law Enforcement and to society which means that if we want to change Law Enforcement’s attitudes when encountering Black civilians, Black males specifically, we also need to change the way society sees and the media portrays Black people. Simply, Black people need to be seen in a more positive light if we hope to change anything.

In the next post, we’ll discuss some possible solutions.  

A Quick Observation During The Coronavirus Pandemic

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As most of the country and the world is slowly returning to normal, I have noticed that there seems to be an even deeper divide in society between those who believe we most continue to stay safe and those who believe that the pandemic has been largely blown out of proportion or even made up.

For example, at my local grocery store all employees are required to wear masks. Protective shields have been put in place to protect the cashiers and directional arrows on the floor to increase social distancing.

For the most part, the customers are also wearing masks and following the directional arrows, but I’ve also noticed many shoppers who aren’t wearing masks and those shoppers tend to be the ones who also aren’t obeying the directional arrows.

The more I noticed this pattern, the more it intrigued me. I surmised that those individuals who weren’t wearing masks although it has been highly recommended by our local government, are individuals who believe that the pandemic has been exaggerated and that the measurements taken to reduce the spread are unnecessary.  They believe themselves to be rebels and everyone else who are following the guidelines to be sheep who obey without question. This explains why these people also tend to be the ones not following the directional arrows as they probably believe it’s ridiculous.

These are likely the same people who are protesting for everything to open and to the end of our county wide curfew. One friend of mine who doesn’t wear a mask and is protesting for the reopening of everything is single with no loved ones to worry about. He lives alone and spends a lot of his time out in bars and restaurants. I’m sure at the height of this pandemic, the social distancing and quarantine must have felt like torture to him.

He doesn’t know anyone who has been affected by COVID-19 outside of it’s impact on employees and businesses. He, like many of the people protesting, not wearing masks, not obeying government and medical recommendations, is only worried about how this pandemic has affected him personally. He has a very myopic view, even if he hides it under the pretense of being worried about local businesses. At the end of the day he is more upset that this is making him temporarily change his lifestyle than he is about how this is impacting the health and safety of others.

Some people just aren’t very empathetic. It’s hard for them to sympathize with or even put themselves in the shoes of others if they are directly impacted.

I know people who have not only battled and survived the Coronavirus, but I also know people who have lost family members to the virus.

One of my coworkers who barely got sick when she contracted the virus ended up losing an uncle to it and her mother is still in intensive care several weeks after contracting the virus.

Another friend is currently planning the funeral for her grandmother who died from the Coronavirus. People are still getting infected and dying despite the good news that the spread is on the decline.

I have friends in healthcare who are treating patients with the virus, many who have died and these friends think that the people who are protesting for reopening and not wearing mask are ignorant and are risking others lives out of selfishness.

There are always going to be opposing views to any situation, but I can’t help but to think that if my friend and others who are protesting had friends or family who battled this virus, that if it hit home and wasn’t just something they heard about through the media, then maybe they would think differently. Maybe they would be more patient, cautious and less selfish.

I do think things need to slowly start going back to normal, but safely with social distancing and safe practices in place. We are all in this together and we have to come out of it together.

Tips To Fighting Depression While Social Isolating

Tips To Fighting Depression While Social Isolating

This morning I was speaking with a coworker who shared how she was starting to feel depressed with the quarantine and social distancing most of us are experiencing. She stated, “There’s only so much texting and talking on the phone you can do.” A lot of us are feeling that way and as this crisis goes on for (hopefully only) a few more weeks, it can become more and more depressing and anxiety provoking.

To combat becoming depressed and anxious during this time, here are seven of my favorite tips.

Take Care of Your Body

It’s easy to lose focus of our bodies with all the gyms closed and us being forced to stay inside, but working out, eating healthy and getting rest is one of the best ways to keep us both mentally and physically healthy. Your workout can be a simple walk around the block or taking advantage of a multitude of easy workout apps just to keep your body moving and endorphins flowing.

Limit News Intake

We all want to stay informed, but it’s too easy to become overwhelmed with the 24/7 news coverage and nearly hourly breaking news interruptions. I even find myself watching hours of local and national news and have to remind myself to take a break. For people who are prone to depression and anxiety, too much media intake will only make it worse. Stay informed, but limit yourself to how much coverage you follow.

 Create a Routine

Many of us are working from home or perhaps even laid off. It’s easy to stay in bed all day or sit in front of the television for hours. Having a routine helps to break us out of that. We can even create a to-do list of all the things we’d like to accomplish that day. For some us struggling with anxiety and depression, it may be as simple as waking up before noon, taking a shower and eating something healthy.

Don’t Work Too Hard

For those of us who are working from home, it may become easier to just focus on work and even work more than we would if we were actually in a physical building. This can lead to burnout. Try to keep the same schedule and hours you wold have at work, even if you’re at home. Take your lunch breaks and start and stop work as you usually would.

Reach Out To Others

We may not be able to visit friends or go to Starbucks with our best friend right now, but we can still take advantage of the various ways we can still communicate such as the telephone, text, Skype, Zoom, and Face Time. The list goes on and on. Reaching out to others helps us remember that we’re not alone in this even if we may feel like it.

Fight Boredom

Being bored can make everything feel worse than it is. Now is the time to catch up on a series on Netflix you’ve always wanted to watch, finish that 1,000 piece puzzle or challenge yourself in any other way you can think of. I personally am using this time to catch up on some reading and a little bit of Netflix too.

Be Positive

Tony Robbins, one of my favorite motivational speakers often says, “Trade your expectations, for appreciation”. No one wants to go through what we are going through, but we can still find something positive in this moment. It could be getting closer through messaging with a friend we hadn’t spoken to in years or spending more time with our family.

A friend of mine who was laid off used his newly found free time to fix up a boat that had been neglected and sent me a photo of him and his dog out on the lake enjoying the sunset! He could be really sad right now focusing on being laid off, but instead he’s being positive and embracing the insanity. It’s easy to focus on the negative, but finding small things to appreciate will help us get through this.

Remember This Is Temporary

Thankful, like all crisis and disasters, this will come to an end. If we focus on how long it’s been or how much longer it will be, each day will drag by. Take it one day at a time. Focus on today and what’s good about today. We’ll worry about tomorrow when it comes.