I’m sure most of you have seen Jesse Williams’s powerful acceptance speech after winning the Humanitarian Award at the BET Awards on Sunday (6/26/16). He made two statements that I want to address in this post and both speak to the experiences of black women.
“Just because we’re magic doesn’t mean we’re not real”
#BlackGirlMagic has been a wonderful; it empowers black women to embrace our power, beauty, strength, and ability to make something out of nothing. It is inspiring to look through the #BlackGirlMagic Tweets, Instagram, and Facebook posts and feel affirmed and inspired by other black women and proud of being a black woman. And, what William’s captured in his speech was the importance of recognizing that being magical does not make us any less real. As black women we bleed, hurt, feel pain, get anxious, depressed, and stressed like all other humans. “Don’t air your dirty laundry” has been a prevailing directive in the black community. This mandate was aimed at countering the negative portrayals of black people in order to help prevent violence and discrimination against us. However, we are still being treated poorly and continue to be portrayed in dehumanizing ways. One negative consequence of believing it is unacceptable to show signs of vulnerability or suffering is that some of us have internalized ideas that experiencing depression, anxiety, mood swings, etc. means that we are weak or worthless. In response, we feel shame about the difficult aspects of our human experience and are less likely to seek the help and support we need.
A couple of weeks ago two articles came out highlighting a study, which found that black and poor people seeking therapy in New York City are much less likely to be called back by therapists. These findings are disheartening and as a psychologist and advocate for black women’s mental health it is something I must address. While I am well aware of the history of racism in the field of psychology, I naively hoped that the mandates for diversity training and modest increase in racial/ethnic diversity among psychologists was doing enough to address ongoing issues of racism and discrimination among therapists. Sadly, it turns out that not nearly enough progress has been made. It is frustrating to know that after someone has the courage to acknowledge their need for therapeutic help and takes the steps to find a therapist, they may have to call a large number therapists to find someone to work with or even return their call. Continue reading
We are all reeling from the horrific mass shooting that took place at Pulse nightclub in Orlando, FL. A vicious attack against people in the LGBTQ community on the club’s Latin night where many people in this community went to be themselves, to dance, to celebrate, to love, to live. It is painful to think that in the midst of exuberance and joy, there was an invasion of hate; hate in a person with a legally purchased assault rifle who proceeded to kill 49 people an injure 53 others. This is the America we live in. We live in a country where discrimination against people in the LBGTQ community is common and frequently justified by religious beliefs. We live in a country where people in the LGBTQ community often feel unsafe being themselves and showing affection to the people they love in public, for fear of retaliation. We live in a country where under the guise of “religious freedom” laws are being put in place that enable close-minded people to discriminate against people in the LGBTQ community who are simply seeking to live their lives freely like other Americans. This is the America we live in. Continue reading
In mid-May I saw the Facebook posts about a black, female Columbia student (Nayla Kidd) who was missing. I said a prayer for her safety and hoped that she was okay. When I saw posts a few weeks later that she had been found alive and well, I was surprised and relieved because sadly that’s not how stories of missing black women usually turn out. On May 29th Nayla shared her story and decision-making in a New York Post article. While I saw a handful of Facebook posts affirming Nayla’s courage for walking away from an Ivy League school to pursue a career in music, I had a different reaction. As a therapists at a university counseling center I spend a lot of time helping young adults as they wrestle with questions about what is important to them beyond grades and academic success. I know that Nayla was not alone in her desire to escape because I have supported students who are questioning their place in a predominantly white university. I do not believe disappearing is a constructive way to get on a meaningful path. In addition to causing distress to people who cared about her and unnecessarily using resources (police department, search teams etc.) Nayla’s disappearance may have enabled her to avoid some difficult conversations that likely would have supported her personal growth. Continue reading