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Carolyn Hax: Feeling alone in grief and worry over police violence

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Adapted from an online discussion.

Hi Carolyn: I’m Black. Every time there is police violence in the news — which feels like daily — I wonder whether the next victim might be a relative. I moved from my hometown, which has a large Black population and a history of police violence, about 10 years ago and now live in an area that is almost entirely White.

I don’t know what to do about the overwhelming grief and worry I feel over the news. I don’t want to share it with family when their city is in the news a lot. (Per ring theory, I don’t want to “dump in.”) I’ve found solace in online communities, but it also increases exposure to every new update, so I have to limit my time and turn off the news. And friends here are supportive, but I feel as if I’m wearing out my welcome on this topic.

I have a therapist, but at some point this is fundamentally something I don’t have control over. Because of where I live, I have the “luxury” of pretending it’s not happening, but this feels like selling out or becoming part of the problem. How do I manage doing what I can and staying engaged while working through this grief and worry?

Overwhelmed: I am sorry you have to carry this psychic weight. It’s just so wrong.

You might be adding to it needlessly with your guilt, though; that’s a weight you can drop. You say about your friends, for example, “I feel as if I’m wearing out my welcome on this topic.” Is that even true? Have you asked your friends that? Maybe these otherwise heavily insulated people want to do something, don’t want to be part of the problem themselves and are happy to do this for you. Maybe they can do more than that, too.

And viewing your location as selling out: That seems overly self-critical, too. There is a role to be played by people close to the problem, yes, but as a Black person in an “almost entirely White” area, you are important. That there are still “almost entirely White” areas is depressing at this point, and helps both explain and perpetuate injustice. Just being there processing this where people can see you is the opposite of selling out. It’s brave.

As for the balance of staying engaged vs. the grief and worry, my only advice is to listen to and respect your own needs and the cumulative weight of this stress. Courage is not the same thing as responsibility. You do what you need to be well.

  • I am White, and 35 years ago I moved from a very diverse, urban location to a small city in a neighboring state, one that was/is hugely conservative and almost exclusively White. Only in the past few years have I begun seeing a small increase in racial diversity. Each and every non-White face I see gives my heart hope for the kind of world I want to live in.
  • You are NOT wearing out your welcome. I have come to realize that beyond marching and phone calls to politicians, the single biggest thing I do is simply listen to my Black and Brown friends, without inserting myself or making it about me. I feel enormously grateful when a friend trusts me enough to vent. And I know I’m not alone in that. Please find your friends who can listen, and know that you’re actually giving the gift of trust, not overdrawing some fake friendship bank account.

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