Changing Our Thought Patterns to Help with Social Change

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio from Pexels

What if I told you that there was an unprovoked shooting on a group of Black people in Clinton, Mississippi, today?

Would you be upset, desensitized? Would you ask more questions, attempting to find the silver lining in the situation?

This event occurred on September 4, 1875 — after the slaves were supposedly emancipated, and ten years after the American Civil War.

And yet, headlines like this continue to dominate our media today, because sadly, it is still such a prominent phenomenon.

Reversing the insanity in our communities

It is possible to do the same thing over and over again and get different results.

But how?

You have been at your workplace, at the organization, doing your chosen skill for a while now, and you still do not seem to get the results you want.

A simple way to affect the narrative is to change the things you are doing. Once. When you find that your circumstances have shifted, continue to do that new change from now on.

This technique is a way you can do something over and over again and get different results — embrace change, but be patient enough to persevere. You do not need to announce your change. The outcome will speak for itself.

Fighting against evolving perspectives

Many citizens in American society are stuck in some negative psychological feedback loop where a traumatic event or many occurrences begin to color one’s worldview and decision making overall.

While this is part of normal neural development and in some cases protective — it facilitates learning about the world and its dangers through a process that researchers call heuristics — it can hinder personal growth a person does not consider other facts.  

This process is part of what fosters racism, classism, and whatever “ism” there is out there.

Changing the changes around you

Because of these “isms,” is critical to do several things:

Understand that you are the author of your own story. While you may not pick where you are born, the class you are, sex, parents, or anything else external to you, it is up to you to remain lucid enough to shape and tell your own story, with your words, in your way.

Stop and think before you agree to anything. What are the effects of the agreement? Sometimes we align ourselves with causes, people, and places that do not have our best interests at heart.

Do not get stuck in presentism. Presentism is the idea or behavior of assuming that historical or future events will be, can be, or have been affected by the present. An example of this is the assumption that people had cellular phones widely accessible to them in 1994, or that TikTok is going to be very important in 2030.

Taking Steps to Prevent Sexual Assault

In recent months, reports regarding sexual assault allegations involving Ghislaine Maxwell, Jeffrey Epstein, Donald Trump, Harvey Weinstein, and others have surfaced. While all of the names mentioned are relatively high-profile, the tactics these individuals used to corner their targets are deployable by anyone. It is critical to not live in a state of fear but in a state of awareness. As we delve further into the topic of sexual assault, let’s look at some strategies to avoid being a mark.

Follow your intuition

“Practice listening to your intuition, your inner voice…These intuitive powers were given to your soul at birth.” 

― Clarissa Pinkola Estés, Women Who Run With the Wolves: Myths and Stories of the Wild Woman Archetype

We are often erroneously encouraged to put ourselves in danger to prove that we are capable of handling crises. This approach is often akin to drinking cyanide to prove that it can kill you. You already have the information that the circumstances are dangerous; there is no need to prove anything else. Trust that you are smart enough to know the answers.

Survey your circles

Maybe you have friends that promise a dream life in exchange for a job or a favor. Some of us have acquaintances that request help, insisting that you are the only person that can help them. Then, there is the family member that withdraws financial and other support unless they have your compliance. These contacts are often grooming you for something much direr down the line. If an assault happened before, a targeted individual is more likely to experience something similar in the future: 47.9% of sexual assault victims have repeated assaults by the offender or by multiple offenders. 

Create a lifestyle and culture of prevention

Hold spaces for yourself and your loved ones to share their thoughts and experiences. Talk to trusted friends about what almost happened to you. Go for a walk or exercise — then indulge on chocolate later. Hug yourself. Get your feelings out through your chosen medium. Listen to music that you love. Go for a massage to unwind. Take a nap. All of these activities will help you remain centered by balancing the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems. 

Do not fight fire with fire

Lastly, while it is tempting to tell a would-be attacker to get lost, sometimes that is not feasible. Sometimes it is better to deflect. Realize your safety by flanking yourself with others you trust or in a crowd. Try to remain calm and understand that your get-away may not look perfect. Getting to safety is all that matters.

Supporting Survivors in the Black Community

So this horrible event happened to you, and your world has been flipped upside down. You don’t know who to turn to, and in some cases, if you were to speak up, the person “supporting” you would just make you interact with your perpetrator or dismiss you altogether.

Reporting sexual assault requires a strength that many survivors don’t have. This is usually due to the experience and the stigmas that are applied to the survivor. These stigmas make it that much harder to speak up, and those that speak up carry a considerable burden. For many, this expectation is a deterrent, and for every Black woman that reports what happened to her, 15 Black women do not.

Here are some facts concerning sexual assault as it manifests in the Black community:

For those that live in low-income communities, the correlation between assaults — particularly assaults with a weapon — increases. These attacks have historically been a way to silence and suppress Black women, and by extension, Black men. While Hollywood tends to portray these transgressions in a sensational manner, such as the stranger who breaks into your home, the truth is a bit more mundane. Often, assailants are people that the victim knows, such as a parent, sibling, or a romantic partner. 

Sometimes, drugs and alcohol are introduced as a way to relax the target’s boundaries. Assailants are often adept at assessing whether the mark exhibits traits of anxiety or people-pleasing, and will often use gaps in power as a way to gain control of the interaction. This includes promises of food, money, popularity, protection, preferential treatment, or some other perceived need.   

A small toolkit for survivors and supporters

Listen. If you are a supporter, center the survivor, and if the event happened to you, listen to your feelings. Our justice system is ill-equipped to handle these cases. Please keep that in mind as you ask the survivor why they didn’t report. Reach out to programs that assist survivors in their healing. Understand that healing is not a straight line, but cyclical — be gentle and don’t push. Exercise, counseling, art and crying are all very helpful.

The Intersection Between Racism and Ableism

Racism causes and exacerbates anxiety and other mental health concerns. One in four Black Americans are diagnosed with an anxiety disorder, aggravated by racism. The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) acknowledges that racism also complicates challenges in receiving help for other ailments. This relationship creates an intersection between ableism and racism, two challenges that need solutions. 

Racism and Psychological Ableism

Psychiatry has a long history of being used to control those who present or behave in a way opposite to what is expected in mainstream society. Today, we have the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) 5, which helps counselors and therapists identify psychological maladies. One of the main criticisms of this instrument is that its existence is based on eurocentric, patriarchal cultural norms and therefore, pathologizes any behaviors or beliefs that exist outside of those outlined in the manual.

This is harmful because it erases and marginalizes all patients that are children, female, do not present as “left-brained,” have social mores that are more communal than individual, and have intense emotional and physical sensations. This is compounded when those who have these traits are melanated and are treated as if they have a disability due to their genetic makeup. The use of medication such as Ritalin and Adderall to “control” children, more specifically Black children, is harmful if it doesn’t address actual brain imbalances.

Checking Ableism

It takes everyday work to be an ally and not lean on privilege. Here are a few ways you can help those who need it:

  1. Do authentic work when providing services that were not asked for.
  2. Remember that just because you can not see a person’s ailment, doesn’t mean it’s not there.
  3. Understand that an event or proclivity may not be distressing to you but it might be to another person due to culture, upbringing, and expectations. 
  4. Encourage and allow those who need assistance to speak for themselves, while honoring their concerns and requests. Do not change or influence what they want for your own benefit.
  5. Provide adequate resources to allow those you are assisting to help themselves.