A note to all my fellow white folks trying to get a quick anti-racism education

An analogy about expectations for my fellow white folks just diving into anti-racism education:

Imagine showing up to a class an hour late. How would you expect the professor to respond to your entrance?

Would you expect them to greet you at the door, tell you how happy they are that you arrived, walk you to your seat and make sure you were comfortable? Would you expect the teacher to ask you if you have everything you need or thank you for showing up? Would you expect them to take time away from the class to do that—would that even feel appropriate?

Or would you expect them to say, "Hi, take a seat." Or perhaps nothing at all—maybe just give you a glance while they get on with the class as you find a place to sit?



And how would you enter that class if you were an hour late?

Would you walk in and announce, "Hey, I'm here!" and then give a big explanation for why you are taking the class and what took you so long to get there, diverting the class's attention and taking away valuable class time?

Would you walk straight up to the professor and say, "Sorry I'm late, but could you please go over what you've covered in the last hour with me?" Just imagine the professor's face if you did that, and then hold that thought.

Or would you quickly and quietly sit down, open your book and do your best to keep up with where the class is now, knowing you're going to have to catch up on the first hour of material on your own. Maybe even borrowing someone's notes to help with what you've missed.

Would the professor be glad that you were in the class? Sure. Better late than never. But would you expect them to express gratitude or happiness that you finally showed up? Of course not.

Now imagine the professor's life depends on people like you showing up for class. Imagine that they've seen countless students arrive late, sit down for a few minutes, decide the desk is too uncomfortable or the subject matter is too hard, then walk out, over and over and over. Would you expect them to feel relieved at your arrival? Would you expect to be met with a warm welcome, or some understandable skepticism?


Photo by National Cancer Institute


White folks, we are that late student. Only we are far more than an hour late.

If you're just diving into anti-racism activism and it all feels a bit pricklier, less patient or less welcoming than you expected, this is why. We don't get a cookie for showing up to a place we already should have been. We should not expect an open-armed, warm welcome because we've finally arrived.

We might be embarrassed when we realize how late we are. We might feel like we have some good reasons for it. But lengthy apologies and explanations just waste valuable class time and no one really wants to hear it, no matter how heartfelt or sincere. The class just wants to move on.

We're undoubtedly going to feel a little lost. But if we raise our hands to ask questions about stuff that was covered in the hour we missed, we should expect the response to be a simple "You're going to need to get someone's notes on that" or "That was covered in Chapter 1—go back and read it." No one would expect a professor to go over material that's already been covered for the student who showed up an hour into class. No one should expect them not to find those questions annoying.

Yes, it is good that we're here. There's no question about that. But we're late to a class that's already in session and that's the dynamic we should expect. The most respectful thing we can do is recognize our lateness, then quickly take a seat, open our books and listen like someone's life depends on it. The truth is, it does.

Connections Academy

Wylee Mitchell is a senior at Nevada Connections Academy who started a t-shirt company to raise awareness for mental health.

True

Teens of today live in a totally different world than the one their parents grew up in. Not only do young people have access to technologies that previous generations barely dreamed of, but they're also constantly bombarded with information from the news and media.

Today’s youth are also living through a pandemic that has created an extra layer of difficulty to an already challenging age—and it has taken a toll on their mental health.

According to Mental Health America, nearly 14% of youths ages 12 to 17 experienced a major depressive episode in the past year. In a September 2020 survey of high schoolers by Active Minds, nearly 75% of respondents reported an increase in stress, anxiety, sadness and isolation during the first six months of the pandemic. And in a Pearson and Connections Academy survey of US parents, 66% said their child felt anxious or depressed during the pandemic.

However, the pandemic has only exacerbated youth mental health issues that were already happening before COVID-19.

“Many people associate our current mental health crisis with the pandemic,” says Morgan Champion, the head of counseling services for Connections Academy Schools. “In fact, the youth mental health crisis was alarming and on the rise before the pandemic. Today, the alarm continues.”

Mental Health America reports that most people who take the organization’s online mental health screening test are under 18. According to the American Psychiatric Association, about 50% of cases of mental illness begin by age 14, and the tendency to develop depression and bipolar disorder nearly doubles from age 13 to age 18.

Such statistics demand attention and action, which is why experts say destigmatizing mental health and talking about it is so important.

“Today we see more people talking about mental health openly—in a way that is more akin to physical health,” says Champion. She adds that mental health support for young people is being more widely promoted, and kids and teens have greater access to resources, from their school counselors to support organizations.

Parents are encouraging this support too. More than two-thirds of American parents believe children should be introduced to wellness and mental health awareness in primary or middle school, according to a new Global Learner Survey from Pearson. Since early intervention is key to helping young people manage their mental health, these changes are positive developments.

In addition, more and more people in the public eye are sharing their personal mental health experiences as well, which can help inspire young people to open up and seek out the help they need.

“Many celebrities and influencers have come forward with their mental health stories, which can normalize the conversation, and is helpful for younger generations to understand that they are not alone,” says Champion.

That’s one reason Connections Academy is hosting a series of virtual Emotional Fitness talks with Olympic athletes who are alums of the virtual school during Mental Health Awareness Month. These talks are free, open to the public and include relatable topics such as success and failure, leadership, empowerment and authenticity. For instance, on May 18, Olympic women’s ice hockey player Lyndsey Fry will speak on finding your own style of confidence, and on May 25, Olympic figure skater Karen Chen will share advice for keeping calm under pressure.

Family support plays a huge role as well. While the pandemic has been challenging in and of itself, it has actually helped families identify mental health struggles as they’ve spent more time together.

“Parents gained greater insight into their child’s behavior and moods, how they interact with peers and teachers,” says Champion. “For many parents this was eye-opening and revealed the need to focus on mental health.”

It’s not always easy to tell if a teen is dealing with normal emotional ups and downs or if they need extra help, but there are some warning signs caregivers can watch for.

“Being attuned to your child’s mood, affect, school performance, and relationships with friends or significant others can help you gauge whether you are dealing with teenage normalcy or something bigger,” Champion says. Depending on a child’s age, parents should be looking for the following signs, which may be co-occurring:

  • Perpetual depressed mood
  • Rocky friend relationships
  • Spending a lot of time alone and refusing to participate in daily activities
  • Too much or not enough sleep
  • Not eating a regular diet
  • Intense fear or anxiety
  • Drug or alcohol use
  • Suicidal ideation (talking about being a burden or giving away possessions) or plans

“You know your child best. If you are unsure if your child is having a rough time or if there is something more serious going on, it is best to reach out to a counselor or doctor to be sure,” says Champion. “Always err on the side of caution.”

If it appears a student does need help, what next? Talking to a school counselor can be a good first step, since they are easily accessible and free to visit.

“Just getting students to talk about their struggles with a trusted adult is huge,” says Champion. “When I meet with students and/or their families, I work with them to help identify the issues they are facing. I listen and recommend next steps, such as referring families to mental health resources in their local areas.”

Just as parents would take their child to a doctor for a sprained ankle, they shouldn’t be afraid to ask for help if a child is struggling mentally or emotionally. Parents also need to realize that they may not be able to help them on their own, no matter how much love and support they have to offer.

“That is a hard concept to accept when parents can feel solely responsible for their child’s welfare and well-being,” says Champion. “The adage still stands—it takes a village to raise a child. Be sure you are surrounding yourself and your child with a great support system to help tackle life’s many challenges.”

That village can include everyone from close family to local community members to public figures. Helping young people learn to manage their mental health is a gift we can all contribute to, one that will serve them for a lifetime.

Join athletes, Connections Academy and Upworthy for candid discussions on mental health during Mental Health Awareness Month. Learn more and find resources here.

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Of course, wrecks aside, buying a used car might end up costing more in the long run after needing repairs, breaking down and just a general slew of unexpected surprises. But hey, at least we can all look back and laugh.

My first car, for example, was a hand-me-down Toyota of some sort from my mother. I don’t recall the specific model, but I definitely remember getting into a fender bender within the first week of having it. She had forgotten to get the brakes fixed … isn’t that a fun story?

Jimmy Fallon recently asked his “Tonight Show” audience on Twitter to share their own worst car experiences. Some of them make my brake fiasco look like cakewalk (or cakedrive, in this case). Either way, these responses might make us all feel a little less alone. Or at the very least, give us a chuckle.

Here are 22 responses with the most horsepower:

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"Rules are a bit more rigid, attention and validation is directed and somewhat excessive," Niro Feliciano, LCSW, a psychotherapist and anxiety specialist, told Parents. "As a result, firstborns tend to be leaders, high achievers, people-pleasing, rule-following and conscientious, several of the qualities that tend to predict success."

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