Dr. La Keita D. Carter, owner and CEO of the Institute for HEALing in Owings Mills, Md. (Courtesy photo)
By Jessica Dortch
AFRO News Editor
It did not take long for 2021 to go off track. On Jan. 6, while our lawmakers were officiating the presidential election, Trump supporters, now deemed the “MAGA mob,” stormed the Capitol and breached security. The Capitol, along with the District of Columbia was placed on an emergency lockdown until order could be restored. A week later, those same senators and representatives are voted to impeach President Trump for inciting an insurrection.
These events, coupled with the weight of racial injustice and COVID-19, had many Americans specifically people of color feeling emotionally overwhelmed. Dr. La Keita Carter, owner and CEO of the Institute for HEALing in Owings Mills, Md., specializes in trauma and spoke with the AFRO about how people of color can protect their mental health in a crisis.
AFRO: Can you describe some of the thought patterns of an extremist?
Dr. La Keita Carter: Many extremists have thoughts like feeling powerless, hopeless, helpless, frustrated, angered and extreme irritation with whatever the status is. Their thoughts and feelings, if they are an extremist, go beyond internal processes. Our thoughts and feelings are internal which is why it is hard to measure them. Your behavior, actually, is very easy to measure because it can be seen, and so what happens many times is that your thoughts and feelings turn into plans, actions and behaviors. That can be an unhealthy cocktail.
AFRO: Why is White privilege a threat to our democracy?
Dr. Carter: There are a number of ways to answer that question, but one of them is that the basis of White privilege is unearned. That is what I think people are missing. They hear the word “privilege” and think “Well, I’m not privileged because I worked for everything I have.” But, the basis of privilege from a multicultural psychology perspective is unearned assets, passports, resources or blank checks that you get.
We don’t earn our way, we are just born. Some of us happen to be born into a race that has a lot of unearned passports and resources, and others of us are not. Similarly, we don’t earn our gender. We don’t dictate our nationality. We don’t get to say before we are born “I want to be born in India.” What multicultural psychology says is that when you have unearned privilege, you really have to keep that in check. You really have to think of how you are benefitting in ways that your counterparts can’t benefit, and it is because of something that you didn’t control.
I also want to be clear that privilege is about the social majority. So it is not that there is White privilege, there are all types of privileges. There’s male privilege, American privilege, etc., so it’s not just about White privilege it is about social majority groups that get access and passes. We saw this on Jan. 6. We now know that police officers around the country were involved in the insurrection. Sometimes we had police officers who were not holding the line, even though they were overwhelmed, and that is based in privilege. It’s that “I have something that I didn’t really earn and I’m using it to the detriment of others.”
AFRO: For the people of color who watched the events of Jan. 6, tell us what effect double standards, as it relates to racism, have on the psyche?
Dr. Carter: The double standard was stark. I think it was all by divine orchestration that we had a very close juxtaposition. It wasn’t like the Black Lives Matter protests happened four years ago, although they were, but we had something that happened four to six months ago and we could compare it to our lawmakers’ and law enforcement responses on Jan. 6. People of color expressed everything from sadness, anger, disgusts, being overwhelmed and resentment. How could there be such a stark, noticeable difference in how these events took place? How is that possible?
I had conversations with many people, even some who voted for Donald Trump, and two of them have said that they were embarrassed to have voted for him. I think that unfortunately, the pandemic had to happen for us to understand how much we need each other and how much we want to be around each other. The pandemic is terrible and people are losing their lives as we speak. However, something positive always comes out of tragedy. It is hard to find sometimes because the tragedy can be so great. I think that one of the positive things we came out with is the realization that our busyness is not an accomplishment. Our busyness doesn’t make us better or in high demand. We can be slow and appreciative. We have to reflect and be fulfilled. Americans are often fulfilled when they are busy, when they are doing instead of just being.
I make that analogy because, while awful things happened on Jan. 6, including the loss of life, people reflected on what they could get behind. I think everybody had a different barometer of when we had gone too far. I think Jan.6 had to happen for millions of people to say that we’ve gone too far, and that is very disappointing to people of color.
Many people of color expressed trauma reactions: irritability, jumpiness, feeling overwhelmed, difficulty sleeping and concentrating, etc. And we know that trauma can happen from many things, not just a direct threat to your safety, but also witnessing the harm of other people can create a trauma response. We’ve definitely had reports of that throughout the week and we are still having reports of trauma reactions.
AFRO: How can Blacks channel their frustrations into positivity?
Dr. Carter: There are a few things that you can do, one of them starts with self reflection. Ask “How am I like the people I saw on Jan. 6?” We can always look outward and say “That’s wrong,” but it is hard for us to look inward and say “Well, I’m the same way when it comes to the LGBQT+ community.” So how can we look on somebody else’s behavior and spew the same message?
I also think that having conversations with safe people and then gradually moving to unsafe people. That day I started having conversations with my husband, by the next day I was having conversations with patients about the events and by the weekend I was having conversations with friends. This week, I was having conversations with people that were unsafe for me. They were unsafe emotionally and could have engaged my anger or my disappointment about the situation even more. We have to start with the conversations and branch out. I also think that we need to start taking care of ourselves. Remember your coping mechanisms, whether you draw, ice skate, cook or garden. We need to do whatever we can to help us process the emotions. Do what helps you think. Do something that relaxes you and gives your mind space to wander. For me, it’s baking and cooking, so whatever you can do, engage your coping mechanisms. If you are still feeling intense emotions then you need to be connecting with a safe mental health provider. You need to be taking care of yourself in all ways. The good news is that the stigma in mental health as it relates to people of color is decreasing but we still have a lot of work to do. I don’t want anybody not feeling well but if you are going to not be feeling well anyway, at least call somebody who can help you.
AFRO: What words of advice or encouragement do you have for the person of color who feels hopeless?
Dr. Carter: My thought is a quote from Nelson Mandela: “Fools multiply when wise men are silent.” You have to find your voice in this moment. Using your voice doesn’t necessarily mean protesting all of the time. Sometimes finding your voice means giving a voice to your feelings. Anger is such an easily accessible emotion. It’s an emotion that lays over hundreds of other emotions. Other feelings, like hopelessness, are hard to communicate without words. You have to find your voice. That means identifying feelings and working out negative energy by using your coping mechanisms or writing a letter to Congress.
A pebble in a pond means something. It has an effect. You have ponds that are right outside of your door. Those ponds have an affect on other ponds and streams and rivers. You could use your voice to go to your job and possibly create a new policy and make your workspace more inviting. When you are more fortunate than others you build a longer table, not a taller fence. Find your voice so that we don’t have a multiplication of fools.
For more information about the Institute for HEALing, visit them online at www.myiheal.com, by phone at (410) 864-0211 and on social media @iHealMD. And to get in touch with Dr. Carter, follow her on social media @DrLaKeitaCarter and online at www.lakeitadcarter.com/.