I feel like there’s a lot of pressure to be “woke” nowadays. It’s understandable: we’re living in a modern day Civil Rights movement. Black Lives are Mattering, “privilege” is a concept so familiar that we’re checking it in our sleep, and by the time my niece graduates from high school, all bathrooms will be co-ed. I’m ok with all of this. As a black, gay woman, I have a lot riding on the world accepting me as I am. I think we’re all making great strides to make this country a place that we can all be comfortable in and proud to call home.
But I don’t think I’m alone when I say that sometimes I feel overwhelmed. I login to Facebook, and after I scroll past a picture of my high school sweetheart’s new dog and my college roommate’s new baby, I see that Milwaukee Police have released the body camera video showing Philando Castile’s murder. Scroll a little further and there’s footage of Philando’s toddler comforting her mother in the back of a police car, only moments after her father’s death. The caption on the latter video said “this is hard to watch…so of course we must!” That’s where we disagree, guy-I-met-at-a-party-8-years-ago-but-have-never-seen-again: I am under no obligation to watch things that damage me.
We are being slaughtered in alarming numbers. I feel like I can’t turn on the news without seeing a story about how someone has found a new way to harm or destroy a black body. Or a gay body. Or a trans body. Or all three. I don’t need to see body cameras or their mother weeping over their corpse to know that this needs to end. What I do need is to give my brain a break at times. I will recognize that I have the privilege of looking away and that (POUND ON WOOD) this hasn’t happened directly to me, or my family. But I still can’t absorb this information as often as the internet asks me to.
Even though it hasn’t happened to me, on some level it still feels like it has taken place in my own back yard. I’m sure a lot of us feel this way. It’s one of those deeply human things that connects us, good or bad. When I hear Philando’s then four-year-old displaying such maturity and wisdom, I can’t help but think of my 5 year old niece, who has blessed my own family with so many gems. “Where did she learn that?!” we all exclaim to each other, eagerly repeating her words to see if any among us could shed some light on how this tiny person got to be so deep. This inevitably leads to thoughts of, “what if my niece watched her father get gunned down before her eyes? How would this affect the rest of her life? How would she sleep at night? How does Philando’s daughter sleep at night?”
I’m ok with these thoughts. On some level, I do feel that these thoughts are necessary. But there’s still a limit to how much bad news we can ingest without it having an effect on our mental health. There’s a sadness that creeps in, looming over the rest of our lives if we’re not careful. Hats off to those of us that can see the videos and read the articles and watch hours upon hours of CNN without taking that on. I don’t know how you do it, but more power to you. But those of us who can’t, or haven’t figured out how to do that, know that it’s ok to take a break.
Now don’t go putting words in my mouth. I’m in no way implying that you should stop caring. I’m not saying, “throw in the towel, this mess is too damn hard!” I’m saying that if checking the internet has started to give you anxiety, or reading these stories fills you with a sense of despair that takes several hours to shake, then it may be time to go to sleep. Turn off the notifications for your news app. Take a social media hiatus so you can consume these stories at your own pace, not at the pace that other people deem appropriate. Watch a movie, take the kids out for ice cream, watch really really bad television that doesn’t require to use much of your brain and probably causes you to shout, “OH NO SHE DIDN’T!” Because this news is hard for us all to take in. You will still be woke tomorrow. The fight will not be over tomorrow, and we need all our warriors in tip-top shape.
The reason that we care so much about these evil stories, and what makes us want to rail and fight on is because human beings are empathetic and caring. We take on the emotions of others around us, which is one of the beautiful parts of being alive. But it also weighs us down if we’re not careful. Take a minute to breathe and lighten your own personal load before jumping back into the fight.
I can only hope that someone is reminding Philando’s daughter to breathe. I hope someone is taking her out for ice cream, making silly voices while reading her favorite bedtime stories, and letting her watch the same episode of Doc McStuffins over and over until she practically has the thing memorized so that maybe she can sleep at night.
Because we all need to sleep.
Just a little bit.
Tianna Glass-Tripp is a comedic writer, blogger and one half of Gripp Productions; a creative consulting team with a focus on community. She enjoys creating work that celebrates her blackness, her womanism, her queerness and everything in between. Follow her Twitter: @TiannaGripp