After last week’s disappointing Presidential election, many Americans are experiencing profound grief. This election was deeply disappointing for many Americans who fear they may lose their fundamental rights– and especially disappointing for marginalized communities that fear for their safety. The grief many of us are experiencing is legitimate. We at Simone Digital want to do our part to help you through this difficult transition.
I spoke with Caleb Stephens, LMSW, LAC, a Lawrence Kansas-based therapist who offered validation and important advice for those who are experiencing insurmountable grief—especially Black Women and Femmes.
CREIGHTON: Is post-election grief real?
CALEB: Post-election grief is absolutely real. We are all in mourning. The election brings about the terms and conditions of negotiating and surviving through marginalized and oppressed identities. To survive is to grieve on a regular basis, because what we are doing is giving up any sense of “normality” for the continuation of life. Post-election grief is very much a part of loss and grief. Many individuals that I am in Solidarity with, and also those that I serve, including my neighbors, experienced a loss of control over their own breath last Tuesday. And some of the people are grieving the loss of their Hope. What’s interesting is that Bereavement used to be a diagnosis in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), but has since been taken off, when the most recent version, the DSM-5 was published and implemented October 1, 2015. Bereavement was described as a process of mourning, loss, and grief, following a death.
CREIGHTON: What would you say to those who insist we move on and unify as a nation?
CALEB: Hard Pass. The reality that people choose their own comfort over the validation and recognition of the pain and hurt of others is horrifically abusive. The thing that all human being desire is to be validated in their pain, in their truth, and to be seen, truly seen, as they are, and not as they have been shaped and socialized to be. For someone to say that we are interested more in the perpetuation of pain and “surviving,” rather than sitting in the fires of truth and the power of fullness.
CREIGHTON: What’s your advice to marginalized folx who don’t know they’ll survive a Trump Presidency? Any tips on coping and self-care?
CALEB: I would also say, as a therapist and as an intersectional clinician, that it is okay to protect yourself. As people who are suffering from the realities of the systemic and institutional oppression that is and has been genocidal, since it was created for just that, it is necessary to create boundaries of actualized and worthwhile, space and expectation (BAWSE, I made that up). It is essential to disconnect (if able, because capitalism is also very real), from those individuals, be it family, kinfolk, or spiritual leaders etc, because they are not entitled to your space. There are individuals who walk into the spaces where you mourn, solely to center themselves in the fact that they “are also affected.” This is not only disgusting; it is emotionally abusive. There is no exception because it is intention vs. impact. If this doesn’t make sense to you, see examples of when people proclaim “Black Lives Matter” and people respond “all lives matter,” as if they need to be included, when they are not at risk.
CREIGHTON: What would you say to black women and femmes who felt abandoned this election?
CALEB: I would say that you’re right. You were abandoned. All the work and none of the results. It’s the historical look at the reality of Black Women and Femmes. It’s not that it wasn’t expected, it was that the individuals, even those that look like “us” are exactly who we thought they were. There is no argument nor exception. Anyone outside of those narratives indicated in the question are complicit, and charged with not only neglect but the intergenerational trauma perpetuated this past week, informed by life, as experienced by Black women and femmes. What you feel is real, and you don’t need any permission to feel the way that you feel, but Righteous Anger, as Bell Hooks coined, burns bright, hot, and in righteousness. Do what you need to do, and remember that you don’t owe anyone not one doggone thing.
But reading this question, I acknowledge that I can read and also not feel anywhere close to anything that Black women and femmes feel. I sit in the pain of those who are expressing these things, and acknowledge that I have absolutely no right, as a Black cishet able-bodied, “in-shape,” college and graduate school educated man, to give you any advice, because of my privilege and narrative, but also because I have always received advice, support, and empowerment from these specific narratives. One of my beloved friends, comrades, and mentors, Shegufta Huma, once said, “You are always saving everyone else, but who saves you?” This is the reality as I have experienced it as someone on the outside-looking-in, and it is horrifying. As someone with experiences and lives with the privileges indicated above, I would say I hear you, I am sitting with this, and I will act and live in solidarity as you express it. Now, as a licensed clinician, I acknowledge the realities that are expressed and the pain that is shared. I sit within the Truths that I have read about, as well as the Truths that I could never experience or understand, and I am here to listen. The reality is that some of you will not survive through a Trump/Pence presidency. That is the reality that people are living with, but we desperately aren’t wishing to say out loud. On Tuesday, November 8, 2016, we elected the continuation, but the incendiary catalyst of the genocide that Black, Brown, and Indigenous Cis, Queer, and Trans Women and Femmes have been experiencing already. In order to know what we need, we need to acknowledge what lives in the dark and loud repressed corners of our beings. “Safety” wasn’t deemed important enough, but White supremacist, cishet, able-bodied, wealthy, and capitalistic patriarchy was. Self-care looks like the following:
- Internal inventory of who you are.
- Development of characteristics ranked by importance.
- Cultivate a list of things that are essential.
- Cultivate a list of things that are fun, enjoyable, and beyond survival techniques.
- Redefine what solidarity means, what it requires, and how it lives.
- Recognition of the problematic behaviors of individuals closest to us.
- Invite people into the fire and demand that they stay there, if they are to stay here.
- Expulsion and disconnection from those individuals, effective immediately.
- Surrounding yourself, unapologetically, with like-minded people, disregarding the shaming that society expresses towards those that prioritize themselves and revolutionize their self-care.
- Invite those individuals into your specific spaces, when or if you are able and willing.
- Enter and/or create spaces with those individuals of both Revolution and Recreation, where you are able to be you, and where you are surrounded by your own fire, as well as the fire of others. Remembering that Solidarity lives, walks, and breathes. It does not merely speak.
- In those systems, build from the inside-out, not from the bottom up.
- Evaluate whether the things that you listed at the beginning are the things that you are receiving, and traverse back through the list, removing and adding individuals, spaces, and opportunities or problematic situations, based on what you need, deserve and require.
- Remember that it is not enough to merely survive, but we are at war, and the war that is created is not the war that is sustained, because Black Women and Femmes have always defied the odds, and carried the nations.
Hear this: You have always run this world, yet been trampled, destroyed, maimed, devaluated, disgusted, and violated by it, without any recognition or support, as the realities of White Supremacy, imperialism, and colonization have continued, while also acknowledging Post Traumatic Slave Syndrome. You, exquisite and ancestral power, humanity, grace, fire, and light, have always revolutionized chaos, but the time for those to step up is now. The time is not to call on others to protect you, unapologetically, and not settle for any type of mediocrity. The time of, “Well, it’s not that bad,” or “at least it’s not what _____ did has passed.” And it is the responsibly of power and privilege to change, not the responsibility of the oppressed and marginalized survivors to change or adapt. The revolution is internal as well as external, but once you know, you know. The time for forgiveness has passed, as seen violently and silently, by media, and by those who said they “Love you.” Love does not mean protection. Love means feelings. Solidarity is action, and solidarity is not an option. It is a part of a relationship, it is a part of activism, and it is a part of the revolutionary gears that this election, and the veil that the election dropped from the eyes of the beloved “Americans” throughout the country. What you’re feeling is real, valid, and true. You are doing all the things. It is the job, as it always has been, but never actually has been acted on, of those who experience the fire, to spread it.
CREIGHTON: Are there any resources you could suggest for black women and femmes navigating this transition?
CALEB: What I would suggest would be things that would instill the sense of identity, power, healing, and authentic Truth as the individual experiences, not as the world informs. It would start with our social media. To be honest, fuck the noise of “being open to the opinion of others.” The opinion of others are the things that get us seen, indicated, singled out, silenced, and murdered. No. Surround yourself with whatever and whoever you need. That’s your space, be about it. Anyone that isn’t down with that forgot to check themselves because you aren’t owned by anybody, much less men, who are the people who perpetuate this the most. I am not exempt from that crowd, regardless of my active work against it.
Here are some things I came across:
Ain’t I A Human: Ferguson And The Negligence Of Black Women Femmes And Girls
Understanding Cultural Issues in Death
A White Person Can’t Understand the Black Experience
“I am Not my Hair! Or am I?”: Black Women ‘ s Transformative Experience in their Self Perceptions of Abroad and at Home
12 Black Women’s Organizations Doing Work You Should Know About
#Lemonade: A Black Feminist Resource List
Feminism and Race in the United States
Caleb Stephens is an intersectional feminist, intersectional activist, speaker, licensed therapist and addictions counselor, living in Lawrence, KS. He’s a core leader in the Black Lives Matter-LFK chapter, founder of IdentiFight, and is a visible figure in the community. Caleb’s knowledge and heart comes from the realities of adoption, the struggle of intrapersonal conflict, and the reality of radical prioritization, as taught and instilled in him by Black, Brown, and Indigenous Women, Femmes, and Non-Binary Folkx. Caleb enjoys speaking across the country, working out, eating, and going hambone for those he loves, and who have always historically fought for him (Read: Black Women and Fems) as well as deconstructing patriarchy, classism, misogynoir, sexism, ableism, internalized oppression, heteronormativity, and imperialism.