By: Habiba Cooper Diallo
Lately, I have not been doing well. My mental health has taken a serious hit given the recent traumatic violence against black people in America and right at home, here in Canada.
OF COURSE, this is not the first time that black people have been killed in cold blood by police, or while in police custody, or by white supremacists on the streets. Though, this time it’s different. It’s different because now as black people, we face the double burden of the COVID-19 pandemic.
WHILE THE WHOLE WORLD has been forced to learn to live under new conditions of self-isolation and social distancing, black people have not for a second been spared from police brutality and anti-black racism. The protection of isolation and social-distancing has not been afforded to us.
IN APRIL, at the height of the pandemic, I began a new job. Excited as I was to take on the position, I also had serious fears regarding my own health and safety at a time when leaders everywhere and local health authorities were demanding that people stay home, wear masks and gloves when outside, and only leave their homes in cases of absolute necessity.
YET, despite the whole world supposedly being under lockdown due to coronavirus, the stories of murdered black men and women have not ceased to pour in. Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, Regis Paquet, George Floyd.
(A point of irony in all this is that Breonna Taylor, just like Botham Jean, was inside her home, distanced and isolated when she was murdered.)
NORMALLY, I AM RESILIENT in face of the everyday trauma and violence that I experience as a black person. LIKE ALL BLACK PEOPLE, I have developed COPING MECHANISMS that are vital to our survival in a world that expects us to perform and be productive, regardless of the incessant violence to which we are subjected day in and day out.
HOWEVER, this time, the murder of George Floyd triggered me in ways that I have never experienced before. I’ve found myself depressed and mentally-distressed. I have been numb and overwhelmed, easily provoked by the perpetual news reports on murdered black people and the wave of protests that have gripped the world in response. Even overhearing telephone conversations in my home about police brutality toward black people makes me irritated and I must dash to my room where I can find comfort in reading or listening to music.
I KNOW I AM NOT ALONE in my feelings of distress. Something about the murder of George Floyd has moved black people around the world in a profound way. There has been an outpouring of sentiment from my black friends and colleagues about how unwell they have been: “I have not been doing well. I am traumatized. Content being shared with me is triggering.”
TOO MANY OF OUR EMPLOYERS and non-black colleagues have turned a blind eye to our suffering. We carried on with life as usual after the murders of Tamir Rice, Andrew Loku, Mike Brown and Renisha McBride, just to name a few. However, the murder of George Floyd has led to a revolution. There have been protests globally demanding that the police be held accountable, 24/7 media coverage, and measures being taken that we thought we would never see before—defunding of police forces across America, reviews of racist policies in organizations like the RCMP (Royal Canadian Mountain Police), and powerful retail chains considering their relationships with black people and making an effort to correct historical disparities. BlackLivesMatter is on the radio, on TV, and posted on the windows of houses and apartment buildings everywhere. White people cannot escape the #FloydEffect and that is precisely why the silence of those who remain silent is BLARING.
OF ALL THE ORGANIZATIONS I am a part of whether as an employee, a volunteer, or member, only one has reached out to check-in on how I am managing during this deeply painful time for black people. Only one. This is unacceptable and tells me that white people see black people as subhuman and capable of bearing any burden that is inflicted upon us. And it is the lack of empathy, on the part of white people, the erasure and ignoring of black suffering, that hurts so badly. It is adding insult to injury. George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Rayshard Brooks were killed by white police, were allowed to be killed by a white supremacist system that has made black lives disposable. Therefore, silence from white people with whom we interact on a daily basis translates as: KEEP MOVING, KEEP WORKING BECAUSE THE WORLD MOVES ON. Not this time.
I KNOW FOR A FACT that I would feel more uplifted if there had been some kind of acknowledgement from my white colleagues of what I have been going through lately as a black person.
EVERY BLACK PERSON globally has felt the impact of George Floyd’s murder and very simply for the reason that it could have been any one of us. It is 2020. We are supposedly in a modern era. Yet, black people have not been allowed to enter modernity given the socioeconomic and political structure of our world. Our modernity is tied to the extent of our material possessions. Our bodies are policed, our movement is policed, our language is policed. Our very existence is viewed with suspicion—guilty until proven innocent.
FORTUNATELY, THE TIME HAS COME. We can wait no longer. The world is experiencing a rebalancing act. It is natural law that crimes against humanity will be accounted for, the tears of the innocent avenged, their payers heard. George Floyd was a catalyst for change—however late… I can’t help but repeating: IT’S 2020! May he rest peacefully.
AS MANY ORGANIZATIONS seek to correct their wrongs and IMPROVE RELATIONSHIPS WITH BLACK PEOPLE, I will offer some tips below:
⭐⭐NO, YOU DO NOT NEED PERMISSION TO CHECK-IN WITH BLACK STAFF OR STUDENTS TO SEE HOW THEY ARE DOING—WE ARE HUMAN LIKE ANYONE ELSE. IF YOU HEAR OF SOMEONE YOU KNOW BREAKING A LEG, DEVELOPING CANCER OR LOSING A LOVED ONE, WOULD YOU NOT CHECK IN?
⭐⭐YOU DO NOT NEED TO BECOME AN EXPERT IN BLACK HISTORY OR IN ANTI-BLACK RACISM THEORY TO PROVIDE SUPPORT TO BLACK PEOPLE.
⭐⭐STOP ASKING BLACK STAFF TO NOW DO THE WORK IN MAKING YOUR ORGANIZATION ANTI-RACIST. ENGAGE A QUALIFIED, REPUTABLE LOCAL BLACK CONSULTANT WHO WORKS IN ANTI-RACISM AND PAY THIS PERSON WHAT THEY DESERVE IN THE SAME WAY YOU WOULD PAY AN ORGANIZATIONAL BEHAVIOUR CONSULTANT OR OPERATIONS STRATEGIST.
⭐⭐RACISM IS NOT AN ISSUE OF “GOOD OR BAD.” MANY GOOD PEOPLE ARE RACIST.
⭐⭐GOOGLE IS YOUR BEST FRIEND. BLACK PEOPLE HAVE BEEN EXPLAINING RACISM AND ITS EFFECTS FOR OVER 400 YEARS. SOJOURNER TRUTH, FREDERICK DOUGLAS, HENRY BIBB, MARTIN LUTHER KING, IDA B. WELLS, JAMES BALDWIN ALL EXPLAINED, GAVE SPEECHES, WROTE ARTICLES AND BOOKS. BLACK INTELLECTUALS ARE STILL EXPLAINING. HOW LONG MUST WE EXPLAIN? COMMIT TO READING AT LEAST ONE ARTICLE PER DAY ON ANTI-BLACK RACISM... AND ACT.
⭐⭐STOP SAYING CONVERSATIONS ABOUT RACE ARE UNCOMFORTABLE. ALL YOU NEED TO DO IS LISTEN. IS LISTENING UNCOMFORTABLE? 🤷🏾♀️🤷🏾♀️🤷🏾♀️UNCOMFORTABLE IS NOW A CLICHÉ. WE BLACK PEOPLE ARE UNCOMFORTABLE BEING MURDERED, BRUTALIZED AND MISTREATED. WHY ARE YOU UNCOMFORTABLE IN SIMPLY LISTENING TO OUR EXPERIENCES? YOUR “DISCOMFORT” IS A PRIVILEGE IN ITSELF.
Habiba Cooper Diallo
I am a Canadian end fistula advocate and blogger, and the founder of the Women’s Health Organization International, WHOI. I have been doing fistula awareness-building in Canada for the past 12 years. My work on fistula has led me to Ghana, Senegal, Guinea, Ethiopia, and Sierra Leone. I have been featured in Forbes, the HuffPost, and UNFPA