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“Living Black” Racism & Anxiety

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Dear Dr. Levister: I was recently stopped by two Los Angeles Police Officers. I wasn’t speeding or violating any other traffic laws. He demanded that I lie on the ground with my hands behind my back. I was told, I fit the description of a robbery suspect. Thirty minutes later I was cleared with not so much as an apology. Now merely setting foot in LA, makes my hands tremble, I feel sweaty and angry. What can I do?

Dear K.P.: Welcome to “living Black in America.” Your experience illustrates the disruptive power of an emotion that many Black Americans take for granted as part of everyday life. Anxiety disorders strike about 7 percent of all Americans, but they are more common in young Black adults and in women, who are affected twice as much as men.

If anyone knows anxiety, it’s African Americans. After all life can be a tense frustrating affair when simple activities such as earning a living, applying for college, shopping, applying for a loan, driving the freeway, or moving into a new neighborhood can mean dealing with discrimination, racism, profiling, unfair scrutiny and hate crimes. The effects of racism are emotionally crippling and a main source of anxiety for Blacks.

We’re susceptible to all sorts of race-based scrutiny without having the power to eliminate the long term effects racism can have on our lives. But if you are suffering from an anxiety disorder, even small issues like being stopped by an officer for no reason, can become a problem of major proportion. Even when race is not a factor, African Americans have their share of bouts with chronic fear, anxiety and depression. The result is a higher percentage of Blacks who die or suffer from hypertension, strokes, and heart disease.

As debilitating as your experience was, however, mental health treatment can help you put things into perspective. First, not all LAPD officers are racist. Second, to avoid driving into Los Angeles because of your experience allows racism to win over your civil rights.

If your problem persists, don’t hesitate to see a physician or mental health specialist for a definite diagnosis. Your problem could be remedied with medication, therapy and or relaxation techniques. My advice, get on with your life.

Dr. Levister welcomes reader mail concerning their body but regrets that he is not able to answer individual letters. Your letters will be incorporated into the column as space permits. You may direct your letters to Dr. Levister in care of Black Voice News, P.O. Box 1581, Riverside, CA 92502.

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