Black journalists are in a uniquely challenging position. By Jarrett Hill – The last few months have been taxing for Black people in myriad ways. For Black journalists, it’s been a uniquely challenging time to live, work, and try to feel some sort of calm and balance.
I’m Jarrett Hill. And to be honest, as a Black journalist focusing on politics and pop culture, I’ve found the last month or so to be a roller coaster. There’s been fatigue resulting in countless naps and late-morning starts. There’s been sadness that’s seen me cry four times in a day. There’s been frustration with white people asking me questions I didn’t feel the energy or interest to answer. There’s been an unexpected resolve in me, regarding where I go from here, what I’m just not willing to do anymore. There’s been an anger that lately finds me making my way to the stove, firing up my KitchenAid stand mixer, and turning out baked goods for friends, sublimating my rage into cheesecake. Or banana bread. Or cookies.
SELF: How have you been emotionally, mentally, and physically over the last few weeks?
Ashley Holt: It’s been really heavy, to be honest with you. We launched a network in the middle of [COVID-19 and nationwide protests]. I have definitely felt a great responsibility to cover everything in a way that would make people who look like me proud, but that takes a lot, so it’s been tough.
Being a journalist. There’s always this conversation about not being biased, but with so many companies and media outlets coming out and [being] willing to say “Black Lives Matter” and to make statements, the rules have changed in terms of what’s biased and what’s not. These stories have a lot to do with Black people’s humanity…. So the lines are being redrawn, things are changing, and I think everyone is kind of trying to find where they fit in that. I would say that’s been the biggest challenge. How can I express myself and still make people proud?
SELF: When it comes to taking care of yourself, what does that look like for you? Do you feel like you’ve been taking care of yourself?
I would have to give myself a strong C+ on taking care of myself, to be honest. I have days where I just can’t watch the news, period. I know a lot of people try to do that. Just the other day, I had to get rid of all the social media apps on my phone; I didn’t do social media for 24 hours. You can scroll and get so many extremes, and then you get stressed out: Am I doing enough? Do I know enough? So I definitely have to give myself a break from all of the noise. That’s probably the one thing I’m best at. I could definitely be better, though.
2. “What helps me in the world of self-care is that I’m blessed with a really cool husband.”
Beverly White is a veteran reporter for NBC Los Angeles. She’s been with NBC4 for more than 25 years. White received the Lifetime Achievement Award in 2018 from the National Association of Black Journalists.
SELF: As a general-assignment reporter going out and seeing all kinds of stories, talk to me about how you’ve been feeling over the last month.
Beverly White: It’s been like a fire hose of emotions. I’m not going to lie. Because we’re in a pandemic, and everything’s fraught now. Your Spidey sense is tingling because you realize you don’t want to get up close on people and yet that’s still the only real way to get stories. You know, Zoom only goes so far. I still prefer the personal touch, and getting to that place is more challenging than ever before in my many decades of career.
SELF: You started off by saying that it’s been a fire hose of emotions. I imagine that those emotions are both when you’re on the scene but also when you get home. How are you dealing with the fire hose of emotions?
Well, I have to keep it out of my coverage. Other people can be emotional, and I can share how they’re feeling, but my thoughts don’t matter, not really, not ever. It’s challenging to tamp that down, but what helps me in the world of self-care, the after-work thing, is that I’m blessed with a really cool husband.
The last three or four months have shown me what he’s made of. Part of his DNA, his mission in life, is keeping me happy. For real, for real, he works hard at that. I have mad respect because I can be snippy and snarky and difficult because I’m bringing home all these feelings I can’t put into my reporting, and he’s my sounding board, my receptacle for all the angst and the pain and the tears and the anger and the bewilderment. He’s a wise dude. I think I chose well, so I thank my lucky stars.
Also, I’m cooking—haven’t done a lot of that in a long time, but I’m motivated. And I still got it, he still eats it, he doesn’t complain, so I guess I wasn’t as rusty as I thought.
One thing that I started doing at the beginning of the pandemic, just because I read somewhere that it might be helpful, is journaling again. I haven’t done that since high school, but it feels good.
3. “I’ve had some very major panic attacks in the past couple of weeks.”
Donovan X. Ramsey is a journalist and author based in Atlanta. His forthcoming book, When Crack was King—a history of America’s crack epidemic—will be published next year.
Donovan X. Ramsey: I’m feeling both overwhelmed and encouraged. I say “overwhelmed” because there’s so much happening, and for me being a writer who writes primarily around racial justice and equity, this is a particularly busy time. But I’m encouraged because there is attention being directed toward the issues that I work around and the issues that impact and affect my life.
SELF: Talk to me about how you’re taking care of yourself.
How am I taking care of myself? [Laughs.] I live in Atlanta and a part of me taking care of myself was leaving New York after eight years in the city. New York got to be anxiety-ridden. The pace and the activity of the city were a lot. I made the decision almost two years ago now to move back here, a place that is home for me—it’s where my mother is, it’s where I went to college—to slow down the pace of my life, and to be able to breathe a little bit. I’m very happy that I made the decision.
SELF: How do you feel you are processing things that are happening around us, handling the stress of the work and of the time?
It’s funny that you’re asking me this because I’ve had some very major panic attacks in the past couple of weeks. I’m a person who also happens to have generalized anxiety. I deal with that on just a personal level. There are very distressing things happening in the world, and for those of us who are African American, those things land on us even harder, but some of us are also dealing with some [other things too].
One of the unfortunate byproducts of this moment is that not many outlets have a dedicated race reporter or someone who was looking at issues of diversity or identity in whatever their beat is. So when big things happen in the news, they turn to those of us that do this work to come in, typically last minute, and to not only deliver content but, because the issue is so important, to deliver meaningful content.
The good thing is that I’m in a community of Black journalists, of Black thinkers, who are helping me through the moment, who are reading my drafts, who are listening to my complaints, who are just commiserating with me on Twitter and other social media platforms, and that’s really helpful. But I worked through Juneteenth just like every other Black person that I know.
4. “I started saying no to some things.”
Dorothy Tucker is an investigative reporter at CBS 2 Chicago, where she’s reported since 1984. Tucker is beginning her second year as the national president of the National Association of Black Journalists.
Dorothy Tucker: It’s been tiring. The subject of race just never leaves you as a Black journalist. The last few weeks have just been magnified. It’s been a pile-on. I think, as a Black person, that you probably are confronted with or reminded of your Blackness often. It is just nonstop, and as a reporter, there are so many who are reaching out to you now, [such as] your colleagues in the newsroom, who want your opinion on a story. They want your advice, they want your context. They want your perspective journalistically. It’s just truly, truly exhausting, but at the same time, you know you have to put up with it because it is an opportunity to educate, especially your colleagues.
It is refreshing to get a phone call from somebody who is saying, “Okay, I think I get it.” “Is this what people really feel?” “Is this what really goes on?” “Is this how we are entitled, we are privileged?” “Is this what you mean?” So, tired as you are, you pick up the phone again and you answer the call again. You have an opportunity to educate another white colleague, you do it, you take it, and you just summon up the strength to go on because you have to.
SELF: I often think about the stress level for me that comes along with being a leader of a local NABJ chapter, and then I magnify that many, many times when I think about the role that you have as the national president at NABJ. How are you balancing all of that and taking care of yourself?
I don’t know that I’m doing a great job.
Before the protest, before the pandemic that resulted in so many layoffs and furloughs and economic hardship on our members, I think that I was doing fairly well at balancing the job, NABJ, my personal life, and my space. Now I struggle to find that moment to breathe. I will say that the last three or four weeks have been really hard. You’ve caught me at a really good time today. Today was probably the first day that I only had a couple of things to do.
About three or four days ago, I started saying no to some things. That is very hard for me to say, but I started calling on other people to represent NABJ on my behalf. I started delegating more because it was too much. It was taking up all of my time. So that’s probably the more truthful answer.
5. “I’ve made conscious decisions to put my phone down or to not check in on the news.”
Jarred Hill: There was this time that I was working from home for about a week or so. I think it was after maybe the first wave of protests had happened, and I just wasn’t working out, and I was eating whatever. I’m someone who, generally speaking, works out like five times a week. This week, I was just like, “Nah.” I don’t think that it was a direct reaction to what was happening, but it was just for whatever reason.
I realized by Thursday or Friday that I felt terrible. Things were affecting me in a different way emotionally than they would have ordinarily, and I think that part of it was that I realized that I wasn’t giving myself that hour or two hours of time to completely zone out and exert stress on a physical level. After that, I decided I have to make sure I continue that sort of physical activity because that does a lot for my mental state.
The other thing is, I’’ve made conscious decisions to put my phone down or to not check in on the news because that constant stimulus is stressful and oftentimes not necessary.
SELF: With turning everything off, for a lot of us there’s a layer of guilt that makes it just a wee bit uncomfortable to not know what’s going on when we unplug. Can you relate to that, and if so, what does that feel like?
Yeah, that guilt comes in a couple of different ways. One, you do feel like your job is to always be in it, whatever the “it” is. You’ve got to always be up-to-date on the latest situation. And at first I think that I felt guilty about it. Honestly, with working in Washington, in such a crazy time, regardless of where you fall on a political spectrum—I mean, you’re in a year where a president was impeached, so that’s nuts. [But] I became much more okay with tuning out.
6. “I’m all over the place right now.”
Keith Boykin is a political commentator at CNN and an author. He’s an icon in the Black LGBTQIA+ community, having been the highest-ranking openly gay man to serve in the White House, under President Clinton working on various issues including HIV/AIDS policy.
SELF: How are you feeling emotionally right now?
Keith Boykin: I’m all over the place right now. I feel like I don’t know what’s happening. I don’t know where things are going. I don’t know what’s going to happen next week or next month or next year, and that sense of limbo and uncertainty is brand new for me. It’s really baffling. I don’t even know what to say. I can’t make any plans because you don’t know what’s going to happen.
I’m not sure if I’m going to a Democratic National Convention this year to cover it, or if there will even be a convention. I’m not sure if I have a job this year. I’m not sure what’s going on, so everything is up in the air. It’s really very weird and unpredictable.
SELF: How are you taking care of yourself? How are you handling self-care in a time where things are so stressful with racism and anti-Blackness?
Well, to be honest, I can’t say I’m doing a great job of it, because I’m still a bit news-obsessed, but I try to limit my news consumption, especially at particular times of day or the evening when I want downtime.
I also try to carve out time for playing the piano, meditation, and reading. Those things keep me focused. I usually would go to a gym—that’s a big part of my self-care—but there’s no gym to go to, so those are the main things I’ve been doing recently.
7. “I have learned to feel things all the way through.”
Shar Jossell is a media personality, journalist, and writer. She focuses on pop culture reporting and writes in the intersections of transgender identities, race, and entertainment.
Shar Jossell: I’ve been feeling indifferent. I think that’s the best way for me to put it. Prior to protests [and this] civil unrest, I was already experiencing my emotions yo-yoing. They were imbalanced, but everything has certainly been turned up. So it’s a feeling of indifference and just allowing myself to feel. I try to dictate what my day will be like [and be intentional] with affirming how my day is going to go, but spending time alone and working and dealing with everything in my personal life and that of the world, I just have to just feel whatever it is that I feel.
It’s a feeling of [numbness] because I have been on this cycle—it feels like I’m either mad or I’m sad and I have had to fight to retain some semblance of joy. So that’s what I mean by indifferent. It’s a form of self-preservation.
SELF: So how are you taking care of yourself?
I’ve been doing a lot of journaling, a lot of praying, a lot of crying. I have to emotionally purge…. I have to feel things all the way through. I used to say to myself that I’d deal with it later, and then end up on this hamster wheel, and these emotions end up surfacing and bubbling up in the most inconvenient times and in the most random places.
Now that I have been in here alone, I can just give myself permission to feel things all the way through, even if that means spending an hour crying at the end of the day. I have to get it out. I also have been trying to stick with my routines of TV, podcasts, and books. I’ve been reading a lot, but I’ve also just been trying to focus on me because I’m hell-bent on coming out on the other side of this a better person, a more sound person, and a more grounded person.
8. “Balance just isn’t possible.”
Tre’vell Anderson is a freelance journalist and film critic, as well as the chapter president of the National Association of Black Journalists of Los Angeles. They cohost the new show FANTI, a podcast that focuses on the things, people, or ideas people love but also have some challenges with. I’m their cohost.
Tre’vell Anderson: I have been feeling both joyous and loved but also tired, and exhausted, and overworked, and hyper-visible. Right before June started, it was very depression-esque in terms of energy, and then the protests started happening, and people also realized it was Pride at the same time. Because of said visibility, the work opportunities started flooding in, in addition to the activism and the protest and the calls for accountability and all that other stuff. So it’s been a lot.
SELF: How have you been taking care of yourself in the midst of a grueling schedule and everything happening in this country?
Well, I don’t know if this is quite taking care of myself, but I have been finding joy at the bottom of pints of Ben and Jerry’s Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Ice Cream. And we’re in California, so I can say this: marijuana. And cooking and eating and doing so unapologetically, but also waking up the next morning and being like, “You shouldn’t’ve ate all that.”
SELF: Do you feel like you are doing a good job of balancing yourself with the grueling schedule of June for a queer person and the difficulty of the moment that we’re in right now?
I don’t know what balance means, both in this context and outside of this context. As someone who is visible in the ways that I am visible, I don’t think it’s possible for me right now. I think balance is not necessarily something that can happen for me while I’m in the midst of everything that’s going on. Balance for me comes at the start of July when some of this stuff shakes out, and I’m able to take more time for myself. But in this moment, as somebody Black, queer, and gender nonconforming, we’ve got to get these checks when we can get these checks. We still exist in this capitalist society.
I’m hoping self-care will start for me in July as I am able to breathe while the rest of the world goes back to ignoring Black people and ignoring LGBTQ folks.