I’m very interested exploring the area of healing rituals. I think there are many new age applications of the words self-care, ranging from benign experiences like face masks on a Monday night, to more formal aid and support like therapy.
Lately I’ve been following along with a movement around crowd-sourcing massive lists of black therapists in an attempt to create a resource for black people who are seeking treatment to unpack and disseminate their traumatic racists encounters. This article discusses the common experience of seeking cognitive therapy from a non-black practitioner and the struggle that unfolds when that therapist cannot provide meaningful discourse or acknowledgment.
This is extremely interesting to me because, not only does it prove a shift in the cultural norm in a community that has not traditionally been open to mental health issues, but it further raises my concerns about the social and civic boiling point that we are in. Some cultural writers and theorists, like Shaun King and Ta Nehisi Coates have made arguments touting the mid 2010’s – present as one of the most traumatic eras in modern history for overt and subtle racism.
This may be because of obvious social misconduct by representatives in power but it’s also likely that they internet creates a greater exposure to potentially traumatic content. I’ve been grappling with this subject as it pertains to social media silos. Let’s take gun violence and black victims as an example. As a woman of colour it is extremely traumatic to see black bodies in documented forms of harm. They resemble my family, my father, my brother and myself. It’s very traumatizing. On the other hand, well intentioned people share videos and articles like the story of Eric Garner and his last words, “I can’t breathe”, to inform people of the policing crisis that grips North America.
So how do you deal with it so that you can protect yourself and stay informed? How can self-care be applied in a meaningful way? How can an electronic ritual, perhaps, aid in the decompression when faced with small traumas in the digital and physical space.
I asked 6 black people on the floor how they dealt with the emotional labour that they experience when they, for instance, see a racist comment on Instagram or see yet another article on algorithmic bias that strategically targets people of colour. Unanimously, the response was that they could it with positive content that helps feels as though the world isn’t completely bleak. A couple of them said that talking about it helps as well.
I started thinking about the ritual of digital decompression. One friend has a folder of bookmarked positive articles about empowering black stories that she turns to in those moments. I found this super interesting. What if there was an app or system on your phone that you could launch that would provide you with a crowd-sourced resource of positive black imagery, news, and stories?
So this became the basis of my ritual, being that whenever you come across racially traumatic content, you open this app and seek temporary mental refuge in positive black imagery. I see it akin to the ritual of eating ice cream when you’re sad or watching a sad movie to feel empathetically connected to people. It’s a personal ritual that helps with the maintenance of mental self-care, building positive affirmation before negative thoughts get a chance to ruminate.
Using p5, I made a local app called an irie place. It’s a play on words. When I experience digital racial trauma, I often feel as though I’m in a dystopian world, like I’ve peek into the eery underbelly of the true nature of society. It makes me feel anxious and nauseous, the same way I feel when I’m in a place that gives me the creeps. The word irie, pronounced the same way, actually means “it’s going to be alright” or “it’s all good” in Patois. Patois is a dialect spoken in the West Indies (Jamaica, Trinidad, etc). The app meets the user where the are, with a dark and serious colour pallet – there’s nothing I hate more than seeking comfort in a space that is TOO cheery.
It makes me feel bad for feeling unhappy. In the app, you have the option to input your experience into the text field and send it into the ether. This might help folks get things out of their system. Last and most importantly, you can click the button to be connected to a positive affirmation. This button is linked to a crowd sourced array of links that feature everything from positive news about blackness, uplifting stories of bravery, cool representations of success to alternative methods of coping with racial trauma. It’s a random pull from the array every time you press the button. I got these articles by asking my black Instagram and Facebook friends which articles have helped them cope in a racially difficult time.
I added the sketch to a home screen icon on my phone so that I can launch it quickly. I’ve been using it all week. It’s a little hard to document since some of usages of the rituals have been in response to in person events. Here’s a screen recorded video of me using the app to reconcile with Gucci’s stupidity in releasing a gollywog inspired turtle neck.
Listed are a couple other instances of using the app this week are documented below:
- Monday, 4pm – a friend recommended a podcast about career driven success. Clearly this friend did not pick up on the classist and subtly racist undertones. I used an irie place and was linked to this article about black judges who have recently been sworn into office.
- Monday 6pm – an Instagrammer that I follow posted a Black History Month photo with the caption “Black Girl Magic” (a common hashtag that is intended to uplift young women of colour). She was met with a bunch of subtly racist comments around the need for a month dedicated to our culture. Used an irie place and was linked to an article about Marian Croak, the black technologist behind the GPS.
- Tuesday 9am – I came across a bunch of racial slurs written in sharpie at a subway station near campus. I used an irie place and was linked to a video about Black Panther.
- Wednesday 4am – A non-black man sitting on my subway car was watching a video of young black children screaming as they were being shot at. He did this with the audio on. an irie place linked me to this empowering Barack Obama speech.
All in all, the app was an interesting experience. Since it felt good to read these articles and watch these videos, it was simple to build a habit out of reaching for an irie place when things felt eerie. I think it helped lessen the blow of some the experiences I encountered this week.
What impact might this have on the world? Well, I can a lot of positive gain from a reality where black people are more exposed to positive black content than negative. I wonder if this would help build a more resilient population or, at the very least, a population that are governing more of the media that they are exposed to.