How can I get over the racist feelings I have been having, since I got mugged...
February 17, 2010 3:12 PM   Subscribe

How can I get over the racist feelings I have been having, since I got mugged...

I have always thought of myself as a very liberal and accepting person, a large majority of my friends are gay, I have had a very diverse group of friends through out my life though admittedly few of my close friends have been black.

Either way, about 2 months ago RIGHT before moving to a new city, I was mugged at gun point. I wasn't hurt but my best friend was beat up to the point of hospitalization and it was VERY brutal, and I saw everything. I know I am still getting through some PTSD type stuff.

Since the mugging I moved to Brooklyn, and I am very comfortable in my neighborhood (which is on the boarder of prospect heights and crown heights.) Our neighborhood is very diverse but, because it lies on the line of upper and lower income it is "white" in one direction and "black" in the other (mized where I live). I have not been comfortable going anywhere that (god I just feel like the worst person writing this) isn't "white". I have come very close to panic attacks when my husband convinced me to walk in the direction I wasn't comfortable with. I have forced myself to do this a couple times, but I really don't know if it is helpful.

I consistently go on edge whenever a black man passes me on the street. I know I was mugged by a crack head NOT a black man, but I just can't seem to shake it and it is tearing me apart.

advice...
posted by LZel to Human Relations (33 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
 
volunteer at places that serve the poor black community. it'll help you start seeing them as individuals instead of a color.
posted by nadawi at 3:15 PM on February 17, 2010 [5 favorites]


Hate to be kneejerk here, but can you seek out some counseling / therapy? If you are going through PTSD stuff (and this sounds like more of the same), then you may well benefit from it.
posted by jenkinsEar at 3:18 PM on February 17, 2010 [1 favorite]


The standard Ask MetaFilter answer would apply here: therapy. There may be specific services available to you in your area as the victim of violent crime, targeted at helping you address your concerns and deal with your trauma.

If you were mugged in New York State, I'd contact the New York Crime Victims Board and see if there's anything they can do for you or anywhere they can refer you.
posted by fairytale of los angeles at 3:19 PM on February 17, 2010


Therapy. If you're having this much anxiety, you need to talk with a medical or mental health professional about the best way to work through it.
posted by decathecting at 3:21 PM on February 17, 2010


Well, I think there are two separate issues here. One is that that neighborhood, frankly, is not the safest neighborhood ever and that has nothing to do with the races of the people who live there. There's nothing irrational about being more afraid in a higher-crime neighborhood, in fact, that's something I would say was extremely rational. Having relatively more fear in a relatively more dangerous place is part of what has helped our ancestors to survive.

The other issue is the racism issue. It sounds like you have a bit of remove from people of color to begin with, even before the mugging issue. I don't necessarily think walking further into a dangerous neighborhood would solve this problem. I think what would solve it is exposure to people of color who are everyday nonthreatening people, of all walks of life. It sounds like it's time to start expanding your social circle.
posted by Ashley801 at 3:23 PM on February 17, 2010


Full disclaimer: I'm a white girl in a pretty-white city with a lotta white friends.

You were mugged by a crackhead. Was he a black crackhead? If this is the closest, most intimate experience you've had with a black person in the recent past, this is a natural response. (N. B. I am not saying "Well it just makes sense to be racist!" Read on.) In times of stress, you seize on distinguishing features and you can develop an avoidant response based on a single experience. See also, when you get pulled over by a cop and then for the next four months every sighting of a cop car makes your pulse race. This doesn't make you a bad person, it means you've forged a maladaptive association after a traumatic experience. I say all that because it will be a lot harder to get over this if you have bad anxiety about having the response at all. So first of all, forgive yourself for the accident of cognition that's caused this response.

Second of all, this is basically exactly what CBT is best at. You have a response which you know to be transrational and not born out by evidence, and yet you cannot stop having this response, because it has been forged at a level deeper than reason. I'm neither a CB therapist nor a CB patient; indeed, I'm not a mental health expert at all, save fourteen years of my own therapy and twenty years of my mother's, which included CBT. But that's the alley I'd look down first.
posted by KathrynT at 3:27 PM on February 17, 2010 [5 favorites]


Getting mugged by a white person (perhaps a white woman?) might fix this particular problem, but then again it could also cause others.

I'm not sure if you were joking about this, but I think there is truth to it. I was once followed off a city bus by a well-dressed, healthy, upper middle class-looking, middle aged white blonde woman. Who started aggressively berating me about how I was a government spy sent to follow her. And she stayed right in my face for several blocks. It was actually terrifying, and I really did get the chills whenever I came upon a stranger resembling her, for the next few weeks.

But I have many people in my life whose appearance resembles hers, so it died down fairly quickly. I think that's a big part of what the OP lacks.
posted by Ashley801 at 3:33 PM on February 17, 2010 [2 favorites]


It's probably important to remember: having irrational fears and phobic anxiety caused by a traumatic experience doesn't make you a bad person. You shouldn't feel guilty about experiencing feelings you readily identify as ones you don't want.
posted by Fiasco da Gama at 3:40 PM on February 17, 2010 [6 favorites]


Sorry to hear about your encounter- yuck.

I would stop labeling your fear as racism and instead call it a phobia. Don't beat yourself up over this. The event happened only 2 months ago. The fact that you are questioning how to overcome your fear is a great thing. Continue challenging your fear by gradually putting yourself into exposed situations.

One thing I do to help overcome anxiety/fear/hatred towards others is that I visualize them as they were when they were first born- innocent, naked, vital, and pure.
posted by surfgator at 3:44 PM on February 17, 2010 [2 favorites]


Therapy and what Nadawi said. The sooner you get to know more folks just as folks who happen to be black the sooner you will be able to work thru this, I think.

And kudos to you for recognizing this and wanting to deal with it.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 3:52 PM on February 17, 2010


Maybe join a club or organization that has a lot of non-crackhead minorities in it? Smart, caring, non-violent people of all colors? Just so you can reset your psychology a little.

FWIW I was attacked by a few 14/15-year old boys, all African American, in NYC a few years back. At the time I was working with a lot of African Americans, and while I didn't have any weird knee-jerk response to the race factor, I began avoiding any 14-year old boys, to the point of crossing the street to avoid them. (I didn't know many kids that age, so they were more of an Unknown than people of their race.) I'm not ageist, I just suddenly had negative associations with that age range.

So don't be too hard on yourself-- I agree with what others said about your mind seizing on distinguishing features. Just try to be around more black people who you feel comfortable with, and eventually the negative associations will be diluted with positive ones.
posted by egeanin at 3:53 PM on February 17, 2010


If you saw everything and you saw the person who did it and knew this person was a crack head.. It seems to me there are some things to think about as far as what indicated that this person was sketchy and possibly dangerous, and race isn't one of those things, but it is one of the things you'd tell police after the incident to identify this person, and now race is the characteristic stuck in your head and linked to "dangerous." But that's a misunderstanding..

So if you think back and sort out characteristics that tell you "watch out" you can work on disassociating those characteristics from race. Speaking as someone who grew up in an area where plenty of white people are messed up on drugs and where some are generally prone to being violent and hostile especially if they've been drinking.. you can pick up on signals (erratic and/or pointlessly aggressive behavior, bad personal hygiene..) that say, this person is unstable and liable to do something if you're not careful, remove yourself from the situation asap, do not engage, do not go near them, do not look them in the eye.

That is a huge difference from people who are the same race as the person who attacked you, but otherwise have nothing in common with him, and also different from younger people who are sometimes trying to look kind of tough and intimidating to show off and be cool, which happens everywhere & reminds me that me and my friends used to dress all punk rock to try and scare people at the mall too.

Also I figure it just takes time to get accustomed to going places where nearly everyone is a different race and you are in the minority, when you're used to it being the other way around, so for a while you feel conspicuous.
posted by citron at 3:54 PM on February 17, 2010


What a horrible thing to happen to you. I'm so sorry you are experiencing this.

Therapy is an excellent suggestion. Also, try talking through what happened to you and your friend (perhaps with your friend) with anyone who will listen, as much as you can. Talking it out helps you to get all your feelings out in the open and start dealing with what you experienced from more distance.

As said above, you are not a bad person. You have been traumatized.

After you feel more comfortable, I think that nadawi's idea about volunteering is an excellent suggestion. But I think it will take some time before you are able to move on to that step.

Good luck!
posted by misha at 3:59 PM on February 17, 2010


Response by poster: Thanks a lot these have all been really great responses... I will definitely consider volunteering somewhere, and potentially therapy. Thanks for the reasurance that I am not the worst person for feeling this way and will probably not always :)
posted by LZel at 4:04 PM on February 17, 2010


Try this website - they have a lot of free workbook downloads. Easy stuff. Effective. You have nothing to lose!

The problem here is that your heart/brain have sorta become your enemy. They're making connections for you to keep you safe. Unfortunately, these connections were only valid during the mugging, but any and all sensory input from that event has since (temporarily?) become a major part of your current "programming."

CBT, the link above, meditation, massage, acupuncture, yoga, yoga, breathing exercises, NLP - anything that re-wires and re-programs your neural programming will go a long way towards helping you here.

It's a journey. You'll get there, just try whatever you feel an affinity towards. Simply engaging in the process will do the rest.

Good Luck!
posted by jbenben at 4:07 PM on February 17, 2010


This issue you struggle with has defined entire societies in the past. I think you're smart to deal with it now while it still bugs you.

Therapy seems like a great option. A mugging is one thing that tends to polarize people, and therapists are, on the whole, absolutely amazing at bringing the shades of gray back into the picture. It sounds like that's what you need.

May I also suggest temporarily abstaining from the news media, if you don't already? To some this is unthinkable, but the media really do seem to profit by emphasizing racial divisions, and generally presenting issues as false dichotomies. For someone with your background, paying attention to that stuff can really be like picking at a scab.

You might want to think about altruistic moves as something to do down the road, as a capstone on this experience. An example would be a donation to a scholarship fund for inner city youth. But that can be most powerful as a way to put it all behind you, further down the road.
posted by circular at 4:08 PM on February 17, 2010 [1 favorite]


It's probably important to remember: having irrational fears and phobic anxiety caused by a traumatic experience doesn't make you a bad person.

I'll second this. Your trauma is largely driving your feelings on this matter, more than any specific aversion to a particular race/ethnicity. I'd wager that you'd have the same kind of associative reaction if your assailant was a large white man, a small Asian woman, or, you know, a bear.

This kind of emotional trauma doesn't stem from the rational side of your brain. As such, I'd focus less on the idea that you're afraid of black people, and more on the idea that you're simply afraid, irrationally so (though understandably), because of what happened to you. If you can, I would also recommend therapy. A good therapist can help you work through the roots of what's really going on for you here.

Barring therapy, you might want to research treatments for PTSD. Maybe take some self defense classes, as it can make you feel more secure in your ability to react to hostile situations. Or try nadawi's suggestion.

Good luck.
posted by Brak at 4:09 PM on February 17, 2010


I was mugged once, and while I would not characterize my feelings as racist, my heart did tend to speed up when people wearing hoodies passed me on the street at night. It went away after a year. It will be ok. Be glad you're safe.
posted by chickaboo at 4:12 PM on February 17, 2010


Watch a cordial, edifying, hour-long conversation between two bloggers: Ta-Nehisi Coates -- who's black (here's his memoir about his upbringing) -- and Brian Buetler -- who's white ... and had, shortly before the converstion, been not only mugged but SHOT in Washington, DC by two black youths.

Here are the segment headings:
Brian recounts being shot at close range in DC (07:47)
The psychology of scared white people (08:54)
Was the shooting a robbery or a gang initiation? (03:09)
Has being mugged by reality changed Brian’s politics? (07:01)
Does gentrification drive black kids to join gangs? (06:42)
Ta-Nehisi remembers growing up in the violent Crack Era (11:17)
posted by Jaltcoh at 4:13 PM on February 17, 2010 [6 favorites]


Volunteering at an immigrant services center would probably help
posted by KokuRyu at 4:19 PM on February 17, 2010


conversation ...
posted by Jaltcoh at 4:21 PM on February 17, 2010


I was in a very similar situation, and I am so sorry.

I was also mugged by a black guy in my 95% white city a couple summers ago. I'm a liberal girl in a liberal city in a liberal state. It really shook my world and afterword I felt a weird mix of guilt and terror. Terror, when I was alone in the street and the only other person was a black guy. And guilt, because what a fucking stereotype.

I really, really recommend therapy. And I would argue that what you feel is racism, but it will go away. Therapy will help that.
posted by pintapicasso at 4:27 PM on February 17, 2010


Almost the same thing happened to me about 6 years ago and I had similar feelings. I felt really guilty about being scared of tall black men until my boyfriend asked if I would be feeling that guilty if I had been robbed by a short red-headed male and consequently avoided them. The answer for me was no, and that made me realize that I, like you, was using race strictly as an identifying characteristic for this horrible event that took place. At least for me, this realization made me feel a lot less guilty. And just like all neural connections, it takes time to get rid of a faulty one. The suggestions in this thread are good ones, but don't beat yourself up as you're in the process of getting over this traumatic event.

FWIW, therapy didn't really help me all that much; time did, as did taking self-defense classes and having a keychain of mace to make myself feel safer when I went into what could have been dangerous situations. I'd say my fear went away within about 8 months of the incident. Years later, I ended up teaching in an all-black school district, and I never had any fear or race issues, so I think the volunteering with minorities idea is a good one. Sorry this happened to you.
posted by karyotypical at 6:44 PM on February 17, 2010


I've been mugged at gunpoint twice (yes, unbelievable). Neither time did anyone get physically hurt. The first was by a group of men, and the second was by a single man. Both times, I was with a male companion, both times we were in a poorer area of town, and both times it was nighttime. And yes, both times the muggers were black.

And both times I developed a fear of being out after dark (and dear heavens, if a stranger was near I would sprint to "safety" even though they were not going to harm me). It did go away on its own, after I re-learned that actually, many times I'd been in out at night without any incident at all.

Give yourself some time, and give yourself a break. You rationally know that black people aren't all muggers, just as I rationally knew that nighttime did not always mean danger. It just takes time for you to shake off fear. The fact that you rationally know it tells me that you will "come to your senses" so to speak.
posted by Houstonian at 6:49 PM on February 17, 2010


I'm going to side with karyotypical.
Therapy might help you move forward, but there's no deep-seated problem here. You're experiencing quite normal feelings, and they just happen to make you feel racist, which is a sensitive and sore subject. You;re not rascist, you just feel like one because you're a recent mugging victim.
Time will help you move on, as will doing things that build realistic self-confidence.
Good quality self-defense spray, like a mace or pepper spray on the keychain/readily at hand when walking around NYC at night, at least in certain neighborhoods or until you feel more comfortable, is a start.
I'd also recommend looking into Krav Maga, the Israeli self-defense/martial art that teaches very practical applications of defending oneself against attackers, especially armed attackers. I'm not saying one should always fight, but it's good to have the option of knowing how to disarm and disable predators. There are a number of good Krav Maga instructors in NYC (MeFi mail me if you want a recommendation), and it's a very powerful feeling to know that the next time you are threatened, you are more than equipped to properly punch someone in the throat or kick them in the dick and get the hell out of there. I know of a few people who have saved their own lives with this knowledge, and filling your brain with new self-confidence and knowledge is a great way to force out the ("racist") fear.
posted by BillBishop at 11:38 PM on February 17, 2010


I'll preface this by saying I have utterly no professional training in therapy ... but having looked into recovery from traumatic situations before for some unpleasant incidents in my own life that I just couldn't let go of, one of the common themes I ran into seemed to be gradual increased exposure to the element that creates the panic reaction. I'm not sure how you'd set that up when the thing that causes your panic is skin color, as you'd have to know the demographics of a group ahead of time.

Another thing I've found is to not *fight* the fear, but to control it. I don't know if that translates, really, but essentially, with some of my own fears, I have basically internally said to the feeling, "I am not going to try to squash you out of existence. You are there for a reason and are trying in your own primal, non-rational way to achieve a good (keep me from being hurt). But this reaction is maladaptive now, and so I'm just going to let you run your course internally while I control my outside and keep doing what I'm gonna do. I am in control, here, feeling, not you." Somehow, not trying to utterly squash and fight the feeling out of existence, but letting itself burn out like a match, seemed to actually work. For me. I'm not saying it'd work in every case -- if what you've got isn't a match that'll burn itself out but something that's chain-reacting, it might be the wrong way to go. But something to consider.
posted by WCityMike at 11:41 PM on February 17, 2010


Best answer: More exposure might help. If you're around lots of black people on a regular basis, you will stop having the first visual message your brain receives be BLACK because, that's just so common. Then the first impression will shift to RICH (you subconciously notice the nice earrings and stately walk) or ON DRUGS (you subconciously notice the unsteady balance) or NICE OLD MAN or YUPPIE GYM-GOER or whatever. Just like with white people, you don't see WHITE, you see HIPSTER or HOMELESS GUY or AGING HIPPIE or whatever. That subliminal first impression of what someone "is" will shift as you develop more nuance in what you notice.

I know you know mentally that there are many better attributes to notice about someone, but it's your eyes and subconscious reactions that you have to train here. You don't have to volunteer for this to happen. I am sure NYC has entire neighborhoods that are fairly integrated. Maybe you could sit somewhere that you feel is relatively safe and just watch people going by. If you came out to Oakland you could check out some of our excellent upscale restaurants downtown that are frequented by plenty of rich black people, and then for lunch the next day you could go to a restaurant frequented by plenty of black, white, Latino, and Asian college kids. I'm not judging you at all as I say this, just suggesting that, as you can manage it, you spend more time in racially integrated settings.
posted by salvia at 11:45 PM on February 17, 2010 [3 favorites]


I don't know if these stats will help you or not.
posted by obiwanwasabi at 12:56 AM on February 18, 2010


Hi neighbor! I used to live on Classon and St. John's, so I'm very familiar with your neighborhood. Here's my advice:

Stop beating yourself up about being scared. I would venture to say that a well-dressed professional-looking older black man does not make you want to cross the street. I'm imagining that the people who are intimidating you are teenagers or young adults that fit within the same "looks" demographic as the crackhead who mugged you. I don't think you need therapy, but I think it would be a good mental exercise to focus on what's different between the young men in your neighborhood and the crackhead. I imagine he was somewhat unkempt and had a "crazy person" walk. When you see a pack of boisterous teenagers, think about the differences between them and the crackhead. I think it might make you feel better. Recognizing a crackhead at 40 paces is a good skill to have. Use your experience to hone your sense of danger. Don't ignore your instincts, just refine them.

Also, I'm imagining that you are more scared when you are (a) by yourself (b) on a block you're not familiar with and (c) out after dark. Of course you didn't ask to get mugged, but I think you would feel better if you avoided those situations as much as possible without cramping your lifestyle. Maybe your bf can meet you at the subway if you are coming home after 9 or so. Maybe you guys can agree to not explore the neighborhood any more until you are feeling better. It's okay to have a recovery period without therapy. Also, there are blocks in that neighborhood where there have been repeated shootings, where teenagers hang out and get into physical fights, where the lighting isn't great--by all means, avoid those streets! It's not racist, it's sane!

And Mefites, having a mugging victim volunteer to help black people in an effort to make herself feel less racist is just a little over the top, don't you think? How about just spend more time at places that are quite diverse--e.g. the Brooklyn Public Library at Grand Army Plaza, First Night at the Brooklyn Museum, maybe a local restaurant. You'll see people within your demographic (holding jobs, having homes, sane, not drugged out) who just happen to be black.

I'm really sorry you got mugged, but you being scared of young black men is not actually hurting people. I can see why it's something you want to deal with for your own well-being, but it's nothing you need to apologize for or feel like you need to make it up to black people for. The crackhead who mugged you is the a**hole here, not you.
posted by tk at 5:54 AM on February 18, 2010 [1 favorite]


I live a few blocks south of the Franklin C stop, so I live right around you and know the neighborhood. It can be a little surprising, because the neighborhood can transition pretty quick -- from a nice coffee shop to shuttered stores to a giant abandoned millery, etc. Many people have said things about racism/therapy/shock, etc, but I'll focus on the neighborhood. If you've only been here for two months, then you probably don't know more of Crown Heights, which probably adds to your fear if you're designating it as "some dangerous place out there".

Can I suggest a walk further northeast of where you are? Walk to the Nostrand/Franklin C stop a few times with your husband, maybe, and sort of suss the area out, get used to it. Did you know there's a mosque on Bedford and Fulton? There are great jerk chicken places around the Nostrand stop, also. Once you know the neighborhood, and can recognize certain shops on sight, then you might get used to the people walking around, and start seeing a bit beyond their skin color.

I have friends who live around Grand Army Plaza who are sketched out to come to my area, even, but it's fine. I'm sure you may have friends in other areas who think you live in a sketchy place. Part of adjusting is relearning your boundaries and sussing out the limits of what's dangerous and what isn't, and if you give it some time and make sure to wander around I think you'll be fine.
posted by suedehead at 12:45 PM on February 18, 2010


Response by poster: Thanks these have been great responses, particularly the later ones about the neighborhood. I can feel things getting better as time passes. I supposed I was just making sure that this response was somewhat normal, its good to hear all the opinions.
posted by LZel at 4:04 PM on February 18, 2010


Similar experience. Newfound concern about youths in my way. I don't feel bad about it at all. I'm just more aware of younger people than I thought was prudent before, and I carry a blackthorn cane (that I will hopefully not need. (I'm also alert that the white kids might not be so friendly as I once thought, so that might be a racism-unfilter.))
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 7:48 PM on February 18, 2010


Response by poster: Just following up on this subject in CASE anyone was curious. I am pretty much 100% over the issue! What helped the best was getting involved with my community so I wasn't unfamiliar with the places and people around me. I have made tons of great friends as well :)
posted by LZel at 1:51 PM on May 20, 2010


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