Psychological Strength in the Face of Racism

The psychology of racism is hard for us to understand, maintaining psychological strength in the midst of it can be debilitating. You may or may not know that I live in the Minneapolis metro area. Recently, a man by the name of George Floyd was killed by a police officer while he was handcuffed and not resisting. A crowd of people watched it happen and didn’t intervene out of fear for their own lives.

Black Lives Matter.

Before I get into the heart of what I want to talk about today, let me make one point absolutely clear:

Peak Mind stands by the values of diversity and equality. We fully support every single one of our rights to live our best, most fulfilling life. And when a group is being discriminated against, that goal isn’t possible. 

Black lives matter. Every day. Not just during times like these.

The Distraction

The aftermath of Mr. Floyd’s death has been volatile, to say the least. 

Protesting, rioting, looting, and arson have become daily events that we witness on the news, and I noticed something else that made me think about all the work we’re all doing to build psychological strength.

In the 24 – 48 hours after Mr. Floyd’s death, the ally (white) community was largely focused on supporting the African American community.


Elevating the voices of people of color.

Marching alongside black community members.

But then, something happened that changed all of that. A number of state officials made comments that the “majority” of the protestors were “outside agitators” who did not live in the state. Macro social psychological factors at work.

They seemed to imply that the level of pain, protest, and injustice we were seeing bubbling to the surface was an overreaction of sorts. That reducing racial bias was an overreaction. 

Things are not necessarily as they seem. We’re told it’s  “just outside agitators.”

And with a single press conference, the ally community became distracted. 

Rather than focusing on supporting their black counterparts, the white community began infighting about whether the protestors were truly Minnesota residents or not. Whether the pain we all saw was real. Whether the underlying problem was as big as we initially thought.

The entire thing became a distraction from the true issue at hand: racism.

The United States became entrapped in this racial and ethnic hodgepodge of emotions, spurred by the media’s negative thoughts. They took what was a very black and white issue: racism, and grayed it out, to be used as a distraction. 

Never mind that a reputable news station actually pulled the public records of the arrests that were made and concluded that the vast majority of them were, in fact, Minnesota residents.

No one even noticed.

The damage had been done.

We were distracted.

I got distracted, but then I realized what was happening. I realized it fairly quickly, and I truly believe it was the work I’ve been doing to build my own psychological strength that allowed me to do it.

Attentional Control

One major facet of psychological strength is the ability to intentionally decide what you want to focus your attention on (direction and intensity) and hold that focus for as long as you need to. This requires mental strength and aptitude. You must get out of your comfort zone, as mentally strong people do. So, this requires us to spend some time and closely observe any uncomfortable emotions that arise. 

This requires a few things:

  1. Getting specific about what it is you want to focus on. In our day-to-day lives, this might be as simple as deciding we want to focus on the present moment (mindfulness), rather than worrying about the past or fretting about the future. 
  2. Repeatedly checking back in to see if you’ve veered off-course. Our minds are EASILY distracted, particularly by things that align with our previous beliefs or the ways we wish the world worked. In this case, I truly believe the white community was easily distracted because deep down, we didn’t want to have to believe that racism is as big of a problem as it still is in the year 2020. Which is unfortunate. This must change. We can do better. 
  3. Adjusting course when you need to. Finally, we have to be able to move our attention back to our intended target and recommit to focusing there. 

The ability to do these 3 things on a consistent basis is one of the cornerstones of psychological strength. 

It’s one that we encourage you to intentionally develop in your day-to-day life. Psychological science rewards consistent behavior.

The more you can control the direction and intensity of your attention, the more that ability will bleed over into every facet of your life. The better you will be at developing mental strength, and in turn, long term mental health. That is powerful.

Become UN-distractible.

The horrific situation that was a significant interaction between George Floyd and law enforcement drew global attention to race and ethnicity politics (specifically between black and white people but affecting all minority groups) in the United States. But to be able to cut through the noise and see the specifics is what allows you to become un-distractible. A very powerful tool. 

Going Forward

This is one of those times where the path forward is simple…but not easy. 

Think about what you value. What you truly stand for. Decide. Get intentional. Be specific.

Repeatedly check in on yourself. Are you spending your precious time and energy pointed in the direction of those things you value?

Or, have you become distracted, which is so easy to do?

Then re-commit.

Living a life in alignment with what you value is one sure-fire way to experience well-being. 

You deserve to live a life of well-being. We ALL do.

If you want to become un-distractible by building your psychological strength, including your ability to control your attention (mindfulness skills), you may be interested in our ASCEND program. 

“An individual has not started living until he can rise above the narrow confines of his individualistic concerns to the broader concerns of all humanity.”
– Martin Luther King, Jr.