By Kweku Ramel Akyirefi Smith, PhD
The Black community did not need the novel coronavirus to shed light on how our community is continually, disproportionately and negatively affected by historical emotional and medical trauma. African descendants of slavery in the United States have been shown for centuries that we must work twice as hard to get half as far.
Ironically, the concept of “race” is a man-made construct that only exists because we agree to it as a society. The effects of racism however, is very real. Family, the problem of the 21st century is not the color line. The problem of the 21st century is that many still believe that the original sin of slavery can be resolved in a rational and timely manner without acknowledging it and addressing it’s economic and psychological impact directly.
We know bullets kill. They kill without discrimination, often missing their intended targets. We know crack kills. It, also, kills without discrimination, victimizing without distinction of gender, SES or age. Racism kills; but it kills with a meticulous precision. With all the data and evidence to support the claim that racism leads to death, many people continue to deny racism even exists. They are under the delusion that the United States has a conscience and will work to find equality for all who live within her borders. This is the crux of the mental health problem in Black America.
Any generic definition on mental health will focus on one’s cognitive, behavioral and emotional well-being. We understand that the vast majority of Black Americans have never enjoyed this type of holistic well-being. With great resiliency, we have learned to adapt and survive in the midst of perpetual tragedy and turmoil for centuries. The real question is: why are we so enamored with being accepted and included into a society that has been fraudulent on its promises from before her inception?
The indoctrination of our oppressor has resulted in a colonized mind which has mentally crippled and dismantled the uprising spirit of our people to effectively fight for their freedom. Dr. Samuel Cartwright, infamously, labeled any enslaved African that wanted to escape the cruel oppression of slavery with a fabricated diagnosis of Drapetomania. This fictitious diagnosis stated it was a mental condition that made the African savage go mad and want to run away from the biblical teachings and parental care of his civilized master. He championed the point that the slave was by nature a submissive knee-bender. We dismiss and laugh at this rhetoric today, however, far too many of us allow gross indignities in educational, health and political arenas year after year.
It is difficult to admit and see, but like an individual traumatized from war, we have acquired a form of Stockholm syndrome for our colonizer. Many will fervently assert, they feel the burden of White Supremacy and will reject the thesis that they have become the gatekeepers to their own oppression; yet, far too many of us have fallen in love with capitalism and materialism which inherently renders us from being authentic agents of change in our own liberation.
The ancestors and elders have always told us, “When the white man catches a cold, we catch the flu.” COVID-19 has made it morbidly clear to our community what happens when the white man catches the flu. While we are searching for a treatment and vaccine for the coronavirus, we should simultaneously be looking for a treatment for White Supremacy.
White Supremacy is the foundation of mental illness in Black America. It is rooted in a historical trauma that has been ill-recognized and untreated. Family, insanity is to continue to do the same thing and expect different results. We have pleaded, prayed and protested. We have won legal battles and incrementally given more rights within this current system. Yet today, our people perennially rank the lowest on the social determinants of society that create a high quality of life.
Living in this current system, we will continue to produce broken children who will then either: (1) create individuals who fully assimilate into the American system and then denounce and disassociate with the community; (2) shape individuals with a mindset determined to work within the system without being too much of a threat to the status quo-thus only able to make minimal change; (3) turn informant who will barter individual success to bring down any individual or group who attempts any revolutionary tactics; and (4) produce broken children that will never maximize their human potential.
If we continue to view mental illness in the Black community from the lens of those who have oppressed our ancestors for centuries, we will continue to spiral downward. We need to redefine mental health as we know it. Black clinicians, and true allies, must veer from standard practices that were normed on a different culture. We must look back at the early Black scholars that attempted to break away from the chains of white psychological pedagogy. We must create interventions that address the real issues of our people and not simply treat the symptoms produced by a dysfunctional nation. We must open our minds to the exploration of every option that will liberate us mentally.
There is not an aspect of American culture that has not been impacted by racism and mental health is no different. This does not mean mental illness is not real. Mental illness is real! As a people, we need to be sophisticated enough to realize that keeping the Black community from healing itself physically and psychologically is a powerful weapon to hurt and neutralize the Black community.
Our mental health is inextricably tied to our freedom. We will not have freedom and justice until a global society of people committed to liberation are willing to fight for freedom and justice for all. If the coronavirus has taught us anything, it is that we are one human race and that we are a global family. Until we find the vaccine for White Supremacy and its physical and psychological impact, then we are all at risk. We will either live together as brothers or perish together as fools. The harsh reality is that racism kills and if we do not unite, it will kill all of us.
Dr. Kweku Ramel Akyirefi Smith is a licensed psychologist and owner of Blaquesmith Consulting and Unspeakable Truth Publications. For more information visit http://blaquesmith.com/.