Managing Black Anxiety

A call for compassion this Mental Health Awareness Month

Pax Ahimsa Gethen


A black figurine holding a hand to their head, which contains a jumble of red particles and has “stress lines” emerging from it.
Icon to represent anxiety, CC BY-SA 4.0 Jayberries on Wikimedia Commons.

“Oh, do you live here?”

The question was delivered without any apparent malice by the young blonde woman I was following into our apartment building this afternoon. A building I’ve lived in with my spouse for over 20 years.

In those two decades, every unit except ours has changed occupants at least once. And for the last few of those years, I’ve spent most of my time at home, sometimes for days or weeks at a time, even after COVID restrictions were lifted. So it’s no surprise that a fellow tenant might not recognize me.

Regardless, I’ve come to fear such encounters since my gender transition, because I’m mindful of being seen as a Black man in a primarily white neighborhood. And even here in (supposedly) progressive San Francisco, brown skin is still often seen as threatening.