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Ryan Coogler’s Wrongful Arrest and the Disillusioned Black Man

Posted on
February 15, 2023

In her book, Eloquent Rage, Black feminist, professor, and activist Brittney Cooper writes, “It’s damn near impossible for rage and respectability to reside in the same place.” And so, after reading the headlines last week about Black Panther director Ryan Coogler’s wrongful arrest, I found myself trying to choose between the two.

I had one option. As a Black man, the world tells me that anger is never an allowable emotion, no matter how eloquent or righteous. While rage is a vitally more appropriate response to America’s perennial mistreatment of Black people, respectability-politics insist that I tamp down any anger or frustration, lest it boil over and cost me my job. Or, my life.

That’s why last week, I opted for disillusionment.

The irony of these moments is not lost on me. Me, a Black man, carrying the water to destigmatize mental health and illness in Black and Brown communities, struggling with how to show up on days when we’re fed yet another story about a Black man being denied his inherent dignity. Days when I’m required to orchestrate my fury and sadness into a symphony, lest it tear me apart. I’ve learned that confessional writing can help.

Admitting how I feel – even if it’s admitting “I don’t know how to feel” – lifts a weight off my heart. And I hope it can help others unload any heaviness in their hearts.

“Like Ralph Ellison’s Narrator in The Invisible Man, I, too, am obsessed with understanding myself in the shadows of racism and oppression. … On days when I become disillusioned like Ellison’s Narrator and feel the impossible weight of living in a world that is either blind to my humanity or convinced I am a threat to society because I am a Black man, I can look back at my father and grandfathers and remember that I do not have to live in the shadows.”

- Kevin Dedner, The Joy of the Disinherited

I recently returned from a few weeks of travel. I have been on the road, meeting with other digital health founders and health tech investors, sharing the mission and vision of Hurdle from stages, screens, and dinner tables. I felt moments of great inspiration in conversations discussing the momentum of recent U.S. policy initiatives that situate mental health as health.

At VIVE, I was reminded of the power of a ‘moonshot mindset’ in conversations with Unity Stoakes, and my colleagues from Startup Health. I left convinced that we can help Black and Brown communities achieve optimal health as a united army of Health Transformers.

Yet, last week, after following the news about Coogler’s wrongful arrest in Atlanta, GA, I felt disillusioned. I admit I often feel discouraged. Vicarious racism and trauma are real, which is why Hurdle’s research team is investigating this issue. We will release a paper in May to observe the anniversary of the death of George Floyd. It is our attempt to wed the meta conversations we’ve been having the last two years to action.

Mental health advocates and policy informers call this year a watershed moment for mental health, momentum gained from a cresting wave of racial justice movements. Two years ago, in the wake of Floyd’s murder at the knee of a white Minneapolis police officer, countless corporations announced efforts to accelerate diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives, including improved access to culturally intentional mental healthcare models like Hurdle’s. Millions across the globe took to the streets to declare, once again, that Black Lives Matter.

America has been here before, on the precipice of change in the name of racial justice. What levers of accountability should be implemented this year to avoid vanity investments in health equity? How can we cement in place the conviction of the moment? What more can we do to ensure this 21st Century racial reckoning persists?

The fight is not over. Hearts are still heavy. Racial healing is needed now more than ever.

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