I’M A BLACK PSYCHIATRIST. I’M NEVER PREPARED FOR THE EMPTINESS AND GRIEF I FEEL WHEN POLICE SHOOT A BLACK PERSON.
By CHASE T.M. ANDERSON
OCTOBER 23, 2020
“It’s a beautiful dream, stopping the wheel. You’re not the first person who’s ever dreamt it.”
“I’m not going to stop the wheel. I’m going to break the wheel.”
— “Game of Thrones”
Another day. Another Black person in America shot by police.
I should be well-equipped to deal with the emotions that arise in me every time such an event occurs. As a child and adolescent psychiatrist, I hold the emotions of others every day. I sit with patients in their darkest moments. I support them after they’ve attempted suicide. I work with others to safeguard our patient’s seemingly shattered dreams and reassure them that they aren’t alone. I deploy my expertise with words and medications to help heal their minds.
I’m also African American and gay. All of the skills forged over seven years of medical training aren’t enough to stop what happens to me every time a Black individual is shot in America. A lifetime of being Black and gay in America hasn’t made me “tougher” — it has made me more susceptible to racial pain.
So even as I internally rush to prepare my mind when I learn that the wheel to which minorities are bound turns again, I go through the dangerous emotional stages of what it means to be a minority in America who hears the chilling news about unabated racial violence.
I flatline first. It’s as if someone’s reached into my chest and pulled out my heart, leaving only an empty cavity. Society’s perpetual violence against the minoritized hollows me out time after time. I want to be able to feel something, but that wish is counterbalanced by not wanting to feel anything ever again.
The rest of the day is a wash. Most of the time I don’t fully remember the day, or the ones that follow, because they don’t seem to matter much. I become an automaton: Do this task, click this button, prescribe this medication, say these words. Run the scripts I’ve perfected. I am on-point clinically; after all, minoritized physicians must forever be perfect. Even when we are continually told by America and sometimes by the hospitals in which we work that our lives and minds do not matter in the way they should, we must still be model minorities.
The smile I plaster on hides the soul of a young man who wants nothing more than to scream powerfully enough to shatter the bigoted reality we live within.
The feeling of being flatlined is probably protective, because once I propel myself through the numbness, rage roars to life. The wrath I feel that such horrors occur over and over — and over — again replenishes the venom that had subsided since the last shooting. At times it feels like it is eating me alive as I hone and transmute my anger because to be an enraged Black man in America can be lethal — we’re killed even when we aren’t upset.