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What's it like for a Black man to train white folks to be anti-racist?

What's it like for a Black man to train white folks to be anti-racist?
Doyin Richards

Doyin Richards started off as "the dad guy talking about fatherhood" with his blog, Daddy Doin' Work. He spent several years sharing his fatherhood experiences, had a photo of him combing his 2-year-old's hair while wearing his baby in a baby carrier go viral in 2014, and published a book about dads empowering moms that same year.

"Then the world changed in 2016," Richards says. "It's not that the world changed—this stuff has always been bubbling under the surface—but then it just exploded."

Richards had always been an anti-racist activist, but when the Black Lives Matter movement pushed anti-racism into the mainstream, he started using his platform more and more to help move anti-racism education and activism along.

It hasn't been an easy road. Richards is open about his mental health struggles and the depression that took him to a "dark, dark place" a couple of years ago. When he found himself seriously contemplating suicide, he recognized he had a problem and got help. Now, he writes about all of it—fatherhood, mental health, racism, and even his new puppy—on his Facebook page.


Richards and his two daughters.Doyin Richards

In June, Richards launched a training program for white Americans who are new to anti-racism activism—the Anti-Racism Fight Club. For adults, the Fight Club "initiation" is a 90-minute live video training, including a 30-minute Q & A. For kids, it's 60 minutes, with a 20-minute question portion. In the training, attendees learn about the nuances of systemic racism, effective strategies for raising anti-racist children, bulletproof comebacks for common racist talking points, strategies for how to deal with racism in person and online, and more.

Upworthy spoke with Richards about the Anti-Racism Fight Club and what it's like to be a Black man educating white people about racism in America, even though it's not his responsibility to do so. (Interview lightly edited for clarity.)

Q: How did the idea for an Anti-Racism Fight Club come about?

A: After recent history with Amy Cooper and George Floyd and Ahmaud Arbery—and the list goes on and on—I realized that there's a movement and a strong energy around anti-racism. Then I thought, you know, there is an opportunity here to help educate white people on what it is to be a true anti-racist. I have 15 years of training and development experience, so I know how to create really impactful training modules, and I also have my decades of experience being a Black anti-racist in America. So, combine those two things, and I was like, alright, it's time for me to create this Anti-Racism Fight Club.

And the reason why I call it that is because being anti-racist is a contact sport. Maybe not literally, but it's not something that you can just sit on the sideline and go, 'Oh, I'm an anti-racist.' No, you have to get into it. It's confrontational. It's uncomfortable. It's loud. It's in your face sometimes. But it's never quiet and it's never passive.

And that's part of the reason why I call it the Fight Club, because it's a fight. We're fighting against racism, and systemic racism, and bigotry, and all of the things that have been laid forth for centuries. And it's going to be the fight of our lives to get things to a place where people of color feel safe living in America. It's a big, big fight we're up against. The enemy is no joke.

Q: What makes Anti-Racism Fight Club different from other anti-racism education?

A: I feel like my superpower is my ability to relate to people and use metaphors to help make the complex simple. And there's something about anti-racism courses that I've seen that's just not accessible to white audiences. It's either too complex or there's a lot of talking down to, there's a lot of guilt.

I meet them where they are. I say, 'Look, you're here now. I don't care what you did a month ago. I don't care that you're 45 years old and you just figured out what's happening now. There's no guilt. There's no shame. I'm meeting you where you are. You're here. Let's go.' And I think a lot people really appreciate that approach. It makes people feel more comfortable, and they're ready to be vulnerable and talk about these things when they know that it's okay to be vulnerable. Because I'm uncomfortable as well.

I talk about the idea of allyship, and I truly believe there's no such thing as an ally. No one's an ally. We're all allies-in-training. Because truly, an ally means you've arrived and you have it all figured out. And we're all learning. Like, I'm an ally-in-training for women and women's rights. I don't have it all figured out. And I don't get to decide if I'm an ally or not—that's another point. But allies-in-training means we're constantly learning, we're constantly evolving, we're constantly getting better to do what we can to improve the lives of the marginalized people around us.

So this course truly is a way for people—white people especially—to feel vulnerable, to feel safe in their vulnerability and open their eyes to what's around them that they may have missed for however long. And so far, so good.

Q: Do you ever feel frustrated that you have to make white people feel safe in that space?

A: Oh wow. That's an awesome question. So…yes, I do feel frustrated, because no one's ever really worried about my feelings when I'm the only Black person in the room, or when there's a microaggression about 'Oh, I'm so articulate,' or when people clutch their purses super close when I walk by. No one's ever worried about my feelings.

But part of being a Black person in America is you have to eat all of those microaggressions...you try not to combat every single one of them, or else you'll go insane. It's like trying to empty the ocean with a spoon. So you just have to go about it and do your thing.

But the sad thing, to your point about the white people that I have to make feel comfortable, is that I have to. Because if I don't make it accessible for them, then they're not going to do it, and then they're not going to learn. I have to do whatever it takes to get in the door with them, so I create a safe space for them. I try not to go too hard into breaking their egos or things like that because then I know I'll turn them off.

I try to get into their hearts before I get into their minds. Because if I can get into their hearts, I can definitely get into their minds and help create a better change.

Q: Do you feel like it's different this time?

A: I do. I feel like it's different now. I feel like because we watched a callous murder take place in under nine minutes, live, with a man's life slowly snuffed out, it really made people realize, like, I don't like this. And also the Amy Cooper thing happening in the same time frame, and the Ahmaud Arbery thing happening in the same time frame. The combination of these things show we have a problem in America.

I can't count the number of white people I've seen who didn't know what Juneteenth was until three weeks ago. They didn't even know it was a thing. (But you know about Columbus Day? What?) And the thing about Juneteenth and the 4th of July is I think Juneteenth is a more substantial holiday for people of color, because that's the day that we were all free. We weren't free on the 4th of July. We were still slaves. And you're asking us to celebrate this holiday? When we were still slaves and being treated as 3/5 of a human being? I think we should be celebrating Juneteenth as the true Independence Day in America where all of our citizens were free. But that's a rant for another day.

Q: You also have an Anti-racism Fight Club for kids. What's that been like? And how has it been different approaching the topic with kids vs. adults?

A: I've done a few of them so far and it's been unbelievable how great it's been. The response has been overwhelming.

I have a few superpowers—but one of them is not art. But out of this doodle, I created these characters to try to explain the concepts of racism, white privilege, prejudice, all of these things that a kindergartener could understand. And based on the feedback so far, these parents are like, 'I've never seen my kid sit still for one hour straight and be captivated in a training session.' They're completely blown away by how interesting their kids thought the content was, and how much they've learned from it.

And most importantly, how it sparks them to action. Because this is not just a 'Hey this is what racism is,' this is a 'Hey, this what you can do right now to stop racism in your communities, your schools, your neighborhoods, everywhere.' And I talk about tips on how to deal with racist family members, like Uncle Johnny who likes to say some racist stuff, things like that. First it gives them an understanding of what it is, so they can identify when things are racist. And then what to do when they're confronted with those things.

The course has been unbelievably positive. People love it and the kids keep coming back for more. Parents are asking, 'When's the next one? When's the next one?' Parents are saying kids don't usually get excited about learning stuff unless it's like a video game type thing, but to sit and have an adult talk to them? That's something that most kids don't enjoy so much, but these kids love it. So I think I'm onto something.

Richards leading a fist raise (pre-pandemic, obviously)Doyin Richards

Q: What kind of questions do kids ask you?

A: This one kid, a 7-year-old white boy, was like, 'I feel ashamed to be white right now.' It wasn't a question, it was a statement. But I just told him, 'Look, being white is something you should be very proud of. It's not a bad thing. The only issue is if you don't recognize the power that you have in your whiteness to impact change for people of color.' And then I dropped the famous Spiderman reference, when Uncle Ben said, 'With great power comes great responsibility.' And then I told the kid, 'Look, you have immense power just in your whiteness, and if you use that power for the greater good, it's like a superpower. If you use that, you can impact the lives of so many people of color in a positive way.' And then he was so excited because he didn't realize, 'Oh my gosh, I'm like a superhero.' I have a way of interacting with kids by using metaphors and stories like that to break down complex issues and make it simple and palatable for the youth of America.

Q: You also open up 30 minutes at the end of the adult sessions and you say, 'Ask me anything you've always wanted to ask a Black man.' What made you decide to open yourself up like that? Because that could invite some rather uncomfortable questions for you to have to answer.

A: I haven't been doing it every week because things have been so crazy, but I also do an 'Ask Me Anything' on my Facebook page. Ask me anything, literally. I get all kinds of batshit crazy questions, but I answer them. And the thing that I do to make it safe is I make sure they're anonymous questions so people can ask them without fear of being outed.

One lady was like, 'Don't you think the term Karen is as bad as the n-word?' Like uh, lady, listen. Until people are beating you half to death while calling you Karen, and ripping your children away from you, raping you, doing all of these horrible things to you, then we can talk. But until then, being called 'Karen' is about as bad as being called a 'nincompoop.' Like, I'm not hearing that. But yeah, I get those questions, I answer them, and I'm gracious with it.

But as far as why do I do this, I've been getting so many DMs and questions about 'How can I be a better white person?' And I was like, this is crazy. I'm answering questions and it's just tiring. So I was like, I'm just going to create a course.

I wanted to make the price point somewhat accessible. And I think $49 is accessible. If I made it $99 people wouldn't have wanted to come because it's too expensive, and if I made it $29, people would be like, 'Oh really, $29 for all this? This must be shitty.' $49 is right in the middle, so it works out well.

I also give them what I call a Fistbook, which is my version of a handbook (since it's a fight club) which gives the participants some tangible resources that they can refer back to on their anti-racism journey.

But yeah, I do it because I feel like I have the ability, as a training development specialist and as a anti-racist Black man in America, to create a course that is powerful and can make a ton of difference. So far, so good. This is just the beginning.

Q: What's been the most surprising thing to you as you've gone through these first Anti-Racism Fight Club trainings?

A: The amount of people who have just said how much they love it. I haven't gotten one piece of negative feedback, which in this day and age is crazy, especially when you're telling white people how to act. Like, it's just inherent in their whiteness—'How dare you tell me how to act!'—but that didn't happen. I didn't have any of those issues. And that to me is crazy in this day and age. So I feel like I am onto something, and it makes me so happy to see the energy and the enthusiasm of white people to own their stuff and get better, and a willingness to get better, so that to me is amazing. And I feel so, so good about it. It gives me hope.

One of my participants during the Q and A session asked me, "What gives you hope?" and I said, "All of the good white people who understand that they need to be active and not passive when it comes to anti-racism. It's not enough to say, 'I'm not racist.' You have to be anti-racist, which is an active activity. And that gives me hope that more people are realizing it.'

Q; How do you personally navigate the emotional work of doing all of this?

A: That is a great question. Yeah, it's exhausting. After a session, sometimes I cry, sometimes I take a nap…it is just, it's like running three marathons. It's so emotionally taxing to dive into the depths and the insidiousness of racism, trying to tear it apart and break it apart, and while you're doing it you see how awful and disgusting it is. And then when you're done and everyone's off the call, you know, a lot of them feel really empowered, and I feel good that I'm helping to empower people. But I also realize that, man, this is taking some stuff out of me.

When I click the End Meeting button, I just slump in my chair for a good five minutes. Like I said, sometimes I cry, sometimes I go to my bed and take a nap. It's just...it's a lot. And the thing about it is when I go through the course, I'm not just talking in monotones, I am very animated. I am in it, I'm active. People say it's the best 90 minutes they've had in their life. It just flies by because it's full of energy and action, but 90 minutes of being 'on' like that when talking about something so emotionally heavy, it just completely drains me. So yeah, it's no joke. But, you know, it's important work, and I'm glad to be the one to do it.

Q: What do you want people to take away from this training? What do you hope will be their next step?

A: To really do the work of owning the fact that they are racist. That's the first step. Own the fact that you are racist. And I think the problem is it's like a Pavlov's dog thing, when they hear the word 'racist' they go straight to Confederate flags and white hoods and the n-word. And that's not it. I mean yes, that is it—that's the like the cartoonish level of racism—but the subtle version of racism is the micro aggressions, the systemic racism that's everywhere that white people benefit from. Things like that that they have to dig deep and see, 'Where am I benefiting from racism in my own life, and what can I do to ensure that people of color that I care about or that are coming up after me don't have to suffer the way that people of color are suffering right now?' That the hard work that they have to do. That's the first thing.

And then from there, it comes down to the anti-racist work—the 'active activity' as I like to call it—of really getting into it and saying, 'This is something in my community that needs to be changed, this is something in my school that needs to be changed, this is something in my family that needs to be changed.' Like Uncle Johnny, who may be racist...maybe making it so that he can't come by at Christmas if he's going to be spouting all this nonsense about people of color.

These are difficult, difficult things to do. This is not easy. It's not for the faint of heart. It's hard, hard work. And what a lot of people who enjoy and benefit from racism bank on is the fact that white people will be like, 'This is so much work to fix, like why do I even bother?" Again, equating it to emptying the ocean with a spoon...the goal is to get everyone to get a spoon and then we start seeing some big time progress. That's the goal.

Richards has ARFC sessions coming up. You can visit his Facebook page or website to learn more and register.

All GIFs and images via Exposure Labs.


Photographer James Balog and his crew were hanging out near a glacier when their camera captured something extraordinary.

They were in Greenland, gathering footage from the time-lapse they'd positioned all around the Arctic Circle for the last several years.


They were also there to shoot scenes for a documentary. And while they were hoping to capture some cool moments on camera, no one expected a huge chunk of a glacier to snap clean off and slide into the ocean right in front of their eyes.


science, calving, glaciers

A glacier falls into the sea.

assets.rebelmouse.io

ocean swells, sea level, erosion, going green

Massive swells created by large chunks of glacier falling away.

assets.rebelmouse.io

It was the largest such event ever filmed.

For nearly an hour and 15 minutes, Balog and his crew stood by and watched as a piece of ice the size of lower Manhattan — but with ice-equivalent buildings that were two to three times taller than that — simply melted away.

geological catastrophe, earth, glacier melt

A representation demonstrating the massive size of ice that broke off into the sea.

assets.rebelmouse.io

As far as anyone knows, this was an unprecedented geological catastrophe and they caught the entire thing on tape. It won't be the last time something like this happens either.

But once upon a time, Balog was openly skeptical about that "global warming" thing.

Balog had a reputation since the early 1980s as a conservationist and environmental photographer. And for nearly 20 years, he'd scoffed at the climate change heralds shouting, "The sky is falling! The sky is falling!"

"I didn't think that humans were capable of changing the basic physics and chemistry of this entire, huge planet. It didn't seem probable, it didn't seem possible," he explained in the 2012 documentary film "Chasing Ice."

There was too much margin of error in the computer simulations, too many other pressing problems to address about our beautiful planet. As far as he was concerned, these melodramatic doomsayers were distracting from the real issues.

That was then.

Greenland, Antarctica, glacier calving

The glacier ice continues to erode away.

assets.rebelmouse.io

In fact, it wasn't until 2005 that Balog became a believer.

He was sent on a photo expedition of the Arctic by National Geographic, and that first northern trip was more than enough to see the damage for himself.

"It was about actual tangible physical evidence that was preserved in the ice cores of Greenland and Antarctica," he said in a 2012 interview with ThinkProgress. "That was really the smoking gun showing how far outside normal, natural variation the world has become. And that's when I started to really get the message that this was something consequential and serious and needed to be dealt with."

Some of that evidence may have been the fact that more Arctic landmass has melted away in the last 20 years than the previous 10,000 years.

Watch the video of the event of the glacier calving below:

This article originally appeared on 11.04.15

"The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon"/Youtube

Coco is back, baby.

Conan O’Brien had a blink-and-you-missed-it run as “Tonight Show” host. After only a year, he was unceremoniously laid off in 2010 by NBC due to a contractual dispute and replaced by former host Jay Leno, followed by Jimmy Fallon in 2014.

But despite his short-lived reign, O’Brien cemented himself as a wickedly funny and whip smart performer, as well as a master of recurring gags, self-deprecating humor and engaging conversation…not to mention developing a reputation for being a pretty great guy off the air.

Which is why fans were excited to see O’Brien appear as a “Tonight Show” guest for Tuesday’s episode, marking a return to his old stomping grounds for the first time in 14 years. And let’s just say…O’Brien’s comeback did not disappoint.


During parts of the interview, O’Brien exuded that same amount of candid poise that he famously maintained throughout the 2010 controversy. Like when he talked about podcast “Conan O’Brien Needs a Friend,” the project that followed his “Tonight Show” exit, he said he still considered hosting a late-night show “the best job in the world,” but shared his appreciation for the podcast format since it allows for longer, more in-depth conversations with guests.

But along with all the sentimentality were trademark rapid fire zingers and absurdly dramatic outbursts, especially when talking about how “weird” it felt to be back at Rockefeller Center.

"I was here for 16 years doing the ‘Late Night’ show," O'Brien told Jimmy Fallon (both “Late Night” and “The Tonight Show” filmed in the same building.

"When someone else is in your studio it feels weird. So I walked in and said, 'Who's in my old studio?' And they said 'Kelly Clarkson'. And I love Kelly Clarkson, who doesn't love Kelly Clarkson? But still I felt like, IT'S NOT RIGHT! BLASPHEMY! THEY SHOULD HAVE BURNED IT TO THE GROUND!"

"And then Kelly came out to say hi and I said, DON'T TALK TO ME! YOU MAKE ME SICK!!"

Man, O'Brien really knows how to commit to the bit. Watch:

O’Brien’s interview was so well received that fans seemed to fall in love with him all over again.

“Conan returns to the Tonight Show in TRIUMPHHH being one of the greatest of all time.”

“Conan is going down in history as one of the greatest to ever do it!”

“Conan's career is a true testament to the saying ‘Everything happens for a reason.’”

“This hit me right in the feels.”

“The man's a national treasure, give him everything.”

If you’re left wanting even more Coco, O’Brien has a new series, “Conan O’Brien Must Go,” which debuts on April 18 on Max. Talk about a full circle moment.

Jimmy Carter at the COmmonwealth Club.

Jimmy Carter, 99, was the 39th president of the United States (1977 to 1981). Looking back on his achievements both in and out of office, it’s easy to say that he was a man ahead of his time. He was far ahead of the mainstream when it came to advocating for social justice, human rights, and the environment.

Carter famously installed solar panels on the White House in 1979, only to have them removed by Ronald Reagan.

The former peanut farmer and Navy Lieutenant from Plains, Georgia, was also far ahead of his time when supporting gay rights. In 1976, while running for president, he said he would sign the Equality Act, an amendment to the 1964 Civil Rights Act that would prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation. “I will certainly sign it, because I don’t think it’s right to single out homosexuals for special abuse or special harassment,” he said.


He continued to advocate for gay rights as president. In 1977, the first gay delegation visited the White House. He also campaigned against California’s Proposition 6, which would have barred gays and lesbians from teaching in the state’s schools and was the first Democratic president to endorse gay rights in the party’s platform in 1980.

It may seem unusual for Cater, a confessed born-again Christian, to be a staunch advocate for gay rights. But he has publicly said that he believes that being pro-gay is wholly aligned with the teachings of Jesus Christ. Carter’s advocacy is in the spotlight once again after a meme featuring his thoughts about Christ and homosexuality from 2012 went viral on Reddit's MadeMeSmile forum on April 8, 2024.

Jimmy Carter
byu/PR0CR45T184T0R inMadeMeSmile

The viral quote was taken from an interview with the Huffington Post in 2012, during which Carter promoted his book, “NIV, Lessons from Life Bible: Personal Reflections with Jimmy Carter.” At the time, LGBTQ rights were the subject of heated debate in Washington, and President Obama had just “evolved” and began publicly supporting same-sex marriage.

"A lot of people point to the Bible for reasons why gay people should not be in the church or accepted in any way,” the interviewer Rev. Paul Brandeis Raushenbush said. But Carter responded by correctly noting that Jesus Christ never said anything about homosexuality.

"Homosexuality was well known in the ancient world, well before Christ was born and Jesus never said a word about homosexuality. In all of his teachings about multiple things—he never said that gay people should be condemned. I personally think it is very fine for gay people to be married in civil ceremonies,” Carter said. "I draw the line, maybe arbitrarily, in requiring by law that churches must marry people. I'm a Baptist, and I believe that each congregation is autonomous and can govern its own affairs.

"So if a local Baptist church wants to accept gay members on an equal basis, which my church does, by the way, then that is fine. If a church decides not to, then government laws shouldn't require them to,” he continued.

Three years later, Carter shared the same sentiments in another interview with the Huffington Post, this time shortly after the U.S. Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage. “I think Jesus would encourage any love affair if it was honest and sincere and was not damaging to anyone else and I don’t see that gay marriage damages anyone else,” Carter said.

Jimmy Carter’s belief in gay rights stems from his faith as a Christian, but it’s also in complete alignment with his values as an American. Carter believed that the United States was a “beacon” for human rights, and in his 1981 presidential farewell address, he reminded the nation that the job was an ongoing struggle.

“The battle for human rights – at home and abroad – is far from over,” Carter said. “If we are to serve as a beacon for human rights, we must continue to perfect here at home the rights and values which we espouse around the world: A decent education for our children, adequate medical care for all Americans, an end to discrimination against minorities and women, a job for all those able to work, and freedom from injustice and religious intolerance.”

Education

Someone criticized a middle school teacher's behavior. Her comeback was an A+.

When someone commented, "your a teacher act like it," Amy Allen hilariously took the advice to heart.

Representative image by Brooke Cagle on Unsplash

It's OK for teachers to have fun with their students.

Being a teacher isn't easy. Teaching middle school students is particularly not easy. Teaching middle school students who spent several of their formative years going through a global pandemic in the age of smartphones, social media and a youth mental health crisis is downright heroic.

If you haven't spent time in a middle school classroom, you may not fully grasp the intensity of it on every level, from awkwardness to body odor to the delightful hilarity that tweens bring to the table. When you connect with your students, it can be incredibly rewarding, and when you don't…well, we all read "Lord of the Flies," right?

Skilled teachers bring out the best in young people, and that can be done in many different ways. For Amy Allen, it's by making her classroom a fun, welcoming place for kids to learn.


She plays games with them, gets rambunctious with them and creates opportunities for them to expend some of that intense pre-and-early-teen energy in healthy ways. For instance, she shared a video of a game of "grudgeball," an active trivia game that makes reviewing for a quiz or test fun and competitive, and you can see how high-energy her classroom is:

@_queenoftheclassroom

If this looks like fun to you, pick up my grudgeball template (🔗 in bio) #qotc #grudgeball #10outof10recommend @Amy Allen ☀️ @Amy Allen ☀️ @Amy Allen ☀️

Allen clearly enjoyed the game as much as her students ("I love the chaos!" she shared), and there's absolutely nothing wrong with that. Fun keeps teachers sane, too. But one person took issue with her classroom behavior and commented, "your a teacher act like it." (Not my typo—that's exactly what the person wrote, only with no period.)

Allen addressed the comment in another video in the most perfect way possible—by acting exactly like a teacher. Watch:

@_queenoftheclassroom

Replying to @كل الكلبات تريد مني Come see me if you have any further questions. #qotc #iteachmiddleschool #weDEFINITELYdonthavefuninhere @Amy Allen ☀️ @Amy Allen ☀️ @Amy Allen ☀️ #Inverted

There are two solid ways to handle a rude comment without making things worse—you can ignore it or you can craft a response that makes the person look like a fool without being cruel or rude yourself. Allen's grammar lesson response was A+ work, right down to the "Come see me if you have any further questions" caption.

In fact, the person apparently went back and deleted their comment after the comeback video went viral, which makes it all the more hilarious.

The irony, of course, is that Allen was acting like a teacher in her video—an engaged teacher with engaged students who are actively participating in the learning process. Just because it doesn't look like serious study doesn't mean it's not learning, and for some kids, this kind of activity might be far more effective at helping them remember things they've learned (in this case, vocabulary words) than less energetic ways of reviewing.

Teaching middle school requires a lot of different skills, but perhaps the most important one is to connect with students, partly because it's far easier to teach someone actually wants to be in your classroom and partly because effective teaching is about so much more than just academics. A teacher might be the most caring, stable, trustworthy adult in some students' lives. What looks like silly fun and games in a classroom can actually help students feel safe and welcomed and valued, knowing that a teacher cares enough to try to make learning as enjoyable as possible.

Plus, shared laughter in a classroom helps build a community of engaged learners, which is exactly what a classroom should be. Keep up the awesome, work Ms. Allen, both in the classroom and in the comment section.

Health

Please read this before you post another RIP on social media

There is a hierarchy of grief and it's important to know where you fall on it before posting about someone's death.

Image from GOOD.

Working through grief is a community thing.


Grieving in the technology age is uncharted territory.

I'll take you back to Saturday, June 9, 2012. At 8:20 a.m., my 36-year-old husband was pronounced dead at a hospital just outside Washington, D.C.

By 9:20 a.m., my cellphone would not stop ringing or text-alerting me long enough for me to make the necessary calls that I needed to make: people like immediate family, primary-care doctors to discuss death certificates and autopsies, funeral homes to discuss picking him up, and so on. Real things, important things, time-sensitive, urgent things.

At 9:47 a.m., while speaking to a police officer (because yes, when your spouse dies, you must be questioned by the police immediately), one call did make it through. I didn't recognize the number. But in those moments, I knew I should break my normal rule and answer all calls. "He's dead??? Oh my God. Who's with you? Are you OK? Why am I reading this on Facebook? Taya, what the heck is going on?"


Facebook? I was confused. I hadn't been on Facebook since the day before, so I certainly hadn't taken the time in the last 90 minutes to peek at the site.

"I'll call you back", I screamed and hung up. I called my best friend and asked her to search for anything someone might have written and to contact them immediately and demand they delete it. I still hadn't spoken to his best friend, or his godsister, or our godchild's parents, or a million other people! Why would someone post it to Facebook SO FAST?

While I can in no way speak for the entire planet, I certainly feel qualified to propose some suggestions — or, dare I say, rules — for social media grieving.

How many RIPs have you seen floating through your social media stream over the last month? Probably a few. Death is a fate that we will each meet at some point. The Information Age has changed the ways in which we live and communicate daily, yet there are still large voids in universally accepted norms.

This next statement is something that is impossible to understand unless you've been through it:

There is a hierarchy of grief.

Yes, a hierarchy. It's something people either don't understand or understand but don't want to think or talk about — yet we must.

There is a hierarchy of grief.

Hierarchy is defined as:

  1. a system or organization in which people or groups are ranked one above the other according to status or authority, and
  2. an arrangement or classification of things according to relative importance or inclusiveness.

What does this mean as it relates to grief? Let me explain. When someone dies — whether suddenly or after a prolonged illness, via natural causes or an unnatural fate, a young person in their prime or an elderly person with more memories behind them than ahead — there is one universal truth : The ripples of people who are affected is vast and, at times, largely unknown to all other parties.

A death is always a gut punch with varying degrees of force and a reminder of our own mortality. Most people are moved to express their love for the deceased by showing their support to the family and friends left behind.

In the days before social media, these expressions came in the form of phone calls, voicemail messages, and floral deliveries.

If you were lucky enough to be in close proximity to the family of the newly deceased, there were visits that came wrapped with hugs and tears, and deliveries of food and beverages to feed all the weary souls.

Insert social media. All of those courtesies still occur, but there is a new layer of grief expression — the online tribute in the form of Facebook posts, Instagram photo collages, and short tweets.

What's the problem with that? Shouldn't people be allowed to express their love, care, concern, support, and prayers for the soul of the recently deceased and for their family?

Yes.

And no.

Why? Because there are no established "rules," and people have adopted their own. This isn't breaking news, and you're not trying to scoop TMZ. Listen, I know you're hurt. Guess what? Me too. I know you're shocked. Guess what? Me too. Your social media is an extension of who you are. I get it. You "need" to express your pain, acknowledge your relationship with the deceased, and pray for the family.

Yes.

However...

Please give us a minute.

We are shocked.

We are heartbroken.

Give the immediate family or circle a little time to handle the immediate and time-sensitive "business" related to death. In the minutes and early hours after someone passes away, social media is most likely the last thing on their minds. And even if it does cross their mind, my earlier statement comes into play here.

There is a hierarchy of grief.

Please pause and consider your role and relationship to the newly deceased. Remember, hierarchy refers to your status and your relative importance to the deceased. I caution you to wait and then wait a little longer before posting anything. This may seem trivial, silly, and not worth talking about, but I promise you it isn't.

If the person is married, let the spouse post first.

If the person is "young" and single, let the partner, parents, or siblings post first.

If the person is "old" and single, let the children post first.

If you can't identify the family/inner circle of the person, you probably shouldn't be posting at all.

Do you get where I'm going with this?

In theory, we should never compare grief levels, cast the grief-stricken survivors into roles, or use words like status and importance. But maybe we need to at this moment (and for the next few weeks and months).

The "RIP" posts started hitting my timeline about an hour after my husband's death, and I certainly didn't start them. This created a sense of confusion, fear, anxiety, panic, dread, and shock for the people who knew me, too. What's wrong? Who are we praying for? Did something happen? Did someone pass? Why are there RIPs on your wall and I can't reach you? Call me please! What's going on?

That's a small sample of messages on my voicemail and text inbox. I had to take a minute in the midst of it all to ask a friend to post a status to my Facebook page on my behalf.

Your love and expressions of support are appreciated and needed, but they can also be ill-timed and create unintended additional stress.

The person is no less dead and your sympathy no less heartfelt if your post, photo, or tweet is delayed by a few hours. Honestly, the first couple of hours are shocking, and many things are a blur. Most bereaved people will be able to truly appreciate your love, concern, prayers, and gestures after the first 24 hours.

I've learned this from the inside — twice within the last four years. And I assure you that if we each adopted a little patience and restraint in this area, we would help those who are in the darkest hours of their lives by not adding an unnecessary layer of stress.

A few extra hours could make all the difference.


This article originally appeared on 05.07.19

Mental Health

The danger of high-functioning depression as told by a college student

Overachievers can struggle with mental health issues, too.


I first saw a psychiatrist for my anxiety and depression as a junior in high school.

During her evaluation, she asked about my coursework. I told her that I had a 4.0 GPA and had filled my schedule with pre-AP and AP classes. A puzzled look crossed her face. She asked about my involvement in extracurricular activities. As I rattled off the long list of groups and organizations I was a part of, her frown creased further.


Finally, she set down her pen and looked at me, saying something along the lines of "You seem to be pretty high-functioning, but your anxiety and depression seem pretty severe. Actually, it's teens like you who scare me a lot."


Now I was confused. What was scary about my condition? From the outside, I was functioning like a perfectly "normal" teenager. In fact, I was somewhat of an overachiever.

I was working through my mental illnesses and I was succeeding, so what was the problem?

I left that appointment with a prescription for Lexapro and a question that I would continue to think about for years. The answer didn't hit me all at once.

Instead, it came to me every time I heard a suicide story on the news saying, "By all accounts, they were living the perfect life."

It came to me as I crumbled under pressure over and over again, doing the bare minimum I could to still meet my definition of success.

It came to me as I began to share my story and my illness with others, and I was met with reactions of "I had no idea" and "I never would have known." It's easy to put depression into a box of symptoms.

lighted candles on man's hand lying on the floorPhoto by Fernando @cferdophotography on Unsplash

Even though we're often told that mental illness comes in all shapes and sizes, I think we're still stuck with certain "stock images" of mental health in our heads.

When we see depression and anxiety in adolescents, we see teens struggling to get by in their day-to-day lives. We see grades dropping, and we see involvement replaced by isolation. But it doesn't always look like this.

And when we limit our idea of mental illness, at-risk people slip through the cracks.

We don't see the student with the 4.0 GPA or the student who's active in choir and theater or a member of the National Honor Society or the ambitious teen who takes on leadership roles in a religious youth group.

person holding white printer paperPhoto by Sydney Sims on Unsplash

No matter how many times we are reminded that mental illness doesn't discriminate, we revert back to a narrow idea of how it should manifest, and that is dangerous.

Recognizing this danger is what helped me find the answer to my question.

Watching person after person — myself included — slip under the radar of the "depression detector" made me realize where that fear comes from. My psychiatrist knew the list of symptoms, and she knew I didn't necessarily fit them. She understood it was the reason that, though my struggles with mental illness began at age 12, I didn't come to see her until I was 16.

If we keep allowing our perception of what mental illness looks like to dictate how we go about recognizing and treating it, we will continue to overlook people who don't fit the mold.

We cannot keep forgetting that there are people out there who, though they may not be able to check off every symptom on the list, are heavily and negatively affected by their mental illness. If we forget, we allow their struggle to continue unnoticed, and that is pretty scary.


This article was written by Amanda Leventhal and originally appeared on 06.03.16