How I Cope With Black Paranoia
Updated: Jul 21, 2022
In 2005, Rap artist Beanie Sigel released the album title The B. Coming with his hit track, Feel It in the Air, peaking at number three on the charts. Personally, I am no fan of the artist, his label, or the music industry as a whole. What I appreciate about this song, however, is the tone of the lyrics and its description of the experience of living in a constant state of hypervigilance.
I Can Feel it in the Air
My entire childhood was spent in the Caribbean where I grew up under the watchful eyes of a police officer for a mother and a close-knit family of aunts, uncles and grandparents. I wanted little and received much.
When the time came for me to attend high school, my Godmother wisely recommended my attendance at boarding school on the U.S. mainland. The coming weeks began my slow immersion into the chilling waters of “mainstream” Black America.
I Can Hear it in Your Voice
When the Afro-American Student Union proposed for “Black Studies” to be an academic department, did they envision it to be a semester-long movie marathon featuring the horrors of Black American History? Because that is the education I received in my American high school.
African-American Studies / Black Studies is supposed to be the study of “history, culture, and politics of Black people from the United States.” From my African-American Studies class on the mainland, I experienced recurring episodes of mild and unresolved trauma from exposure to images and material depicting the torture, abuse, and mistreatment of persons who resembled me. What was I to learn from that?
When I Close My Eyes, I Still See Visions
The class covered a range of topics from the story and images of Emit Till to Abel Meeropol’s Strange Fruit. Over the span of six months we watched hours upon hours of graphic content from Roots to Murder in Mississippi.
I understand now, as I did then, the intent was to make me acutely aware of the injustice, cruelty, and torment Black Americans endured - both historically and currently - but why? What was I, a thirteen-year old, expected to do with this knowledge? Lord it over the next White person I encounter? Good luck doing that in Mississippi.
Nevertheless, whether intentional or not, the vividness of the course material had a lasting effect on me: I grew wary of my personal safety whenever I was on the mainland. John Oliver covered this topic on “Last Week Tonight”, on U.S. soil, my incarceration or death is always one “no-knock” raid away.
I Still Circling the Block Before I'm parking. Not b***hing, I'm just still cautious.
I still catch myself relapsing into my paranoia. Irrespective of my circumstances, I still feel the urge to keep a cache of money, water, weapons, and fuel close by to reassure myself. My instinctive, harsh reaction whenever someone asks, “What are you doing?” is in line with the vigilance-avoidance hypothesis. It is imperative for me that access to my home, car, and devices remain restricted and that my finances are perpetually revolving.
I hear this voice in the back of my mind like, “Mack, tighten up your circle before they hurt you.”
I’m wary of most people I don’t know. By default, I fear the worst from most situations and avoid dealing with law enforcement personnel. Ironically, if police departments are prone to targeting Black and Brown communities, then I should shun associations with members of the Black and Brown communities to further extinguish interaction with the police thus incentivizing isolation over solidarity.
Read they body language 85% communication non-verbal, 85% swear they know you
Not a Hikikomori, but my personal comfort vanishes when among strangers; I either overcompensate with artificial comfort or succumb to my genuine discomfort and leave. The focus is centered around myself and my own vulnerabilities rather than the situation at hand or the person standing before me. Ironically, I avoid social situations because of my unfamiliarity with them. Ultimately, my trust extends to only a few people, because fear does not permit me enough opportunity to earn another person’s trust.
Using Fear as Mindful Motivation
A Dutch University published an article with evidence linking social phobia and hypervigilance. The findings of the study also include evidence that social phobia treatments, such as task concentration, reduces social anxiety. Teaching social phobic patients to focus their attention on tasks at-hand improves the effects of cognitive and/or behavioral treatment of social phobia.
Mindfulness training teaches patients to become aware of their automatic tendency to self-focus and to regain control by disengaging the thought process which promotes anxiety. One technique I developed to regain control of my anxiety is to blatantly disclose my embarrassment when I feel embarrassed. By declaring my vulnerability, I deny myself the opportunity to internalize it beyond the situation. My untimely confessions have the added benefit of mimicking Dick Gregory-style comic relief.
By preemptively breaking my internal self-focus and concentrating on a task, I overcome my social phobia and reduce my hypervigilance. Since following this habit, I have been incredibly productive at home, work, and on side projects. I remain discontent with my paranoia, but I am learning to live with it in a sustainable way because "what is a Black man without his paranoia?"
About the Author
Born in Saint Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands, Chris Perry travels the world as he writes for and manages the Grey Point of View. His hobbies include mastering the art of web design, navigating global news, and studying weapons of mass destruction.
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