By Renee Walker, Sept.13, 2022
Graphic details and profanity could be offensive or disturbing to some readers.
The fabric on my mother’s couch always felt a little colder anytime we had this conversation. I would choke on thin air and stumble over words because I never knew what to say.
“That’s white people s—,” my sister said.
She never knew how much that one phrase affected me, or how that one phrase tore down buildings Black kids with mental illness tried so hard to build.
Mental health in African American culture is often overlooked and either categorized as “fake news“ or trivial. It’s a shock that many individuals dismiss mental health as an issue overall when, according to Mental Health America, “African Americans are 20 percent more likely to experience serious mental health problems than the general population.”
The stigma of mental health in the Black community goes back further than the years I have walked on this green earth, and “white people s—,” is a whole other Black phenomenon that plagues the community.
We have become too familiar with stereotypes to fall into them, and yet here we are. We are constantly pushing the boundaries, so we are never aware when our bodies have taken too much. We can never stop moving, we can never stop marching, fighting and praying because the moment we do, we fall. What have we become?
Just like the rest of the world, we start to believe that Black men and women are supposed to be mentally strong and able, like melanin does not get tired sometimes.
We pray to God, hoping for a miracle and hoping for our peace to be still. Nowhere in that plan is a trip to a psychiatrist.
“That’s white people s—,” my momma said.
And yet, no matter how Black I am, I always find myself at the altar, begging for God’s forgiveness because I spent another night slitting my wrist.
I don’t have enough fingers to count how many times I have heard those around me say, “We’re born from slavery, injustice and scars on our bodies that belonged to our ancestors. If they survived that, then we can survive this.”
This mentality has plagued the Black household for years, and mine is no different.
“That’s white people s—,” my grandmother said.
We are not allowed to feel what everybody else can.
At times, I mask depression and self-harm tendencies to compensate for my lack of strong will, and therefore, preserve my “Blackness.” When my mother finally discovered the array of slices on my arms organized like library books, she yelled at me.
Yet, just as quickly as it came, it was forgotten.
Like my mother, the Black community is quick to dismiss mental health diseases instead of researching and gaining more awareness. We deem it as “white people s—,” but in all actuality, Black teenagers are more likely to attempt suicide than their white counterparts. Mental health issues do not just apply to white individuals.
Our kids are dying. Our mothers are dying. Our fathers are dying.
The community is dying all because we refuse to understand that our mental inabilities do not make us less Black. They do not make us weak, and they do not define our identity.
For the first time in a long time, I looked at my sister with all the brawn my body would allow.
“It’s human, Niecy,” I said. “It’s human.”
Feature image by Sharon Wu.
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