Despair: The African American Plague
The feeling of despair is a huge issue because it's endless. It is when you feel like you're climbing up a hill and strapped to your back are weights of your race, your finances, where you live and where you come from. It feels like you're climbing a steep hill that becomes steeper the further you climb it.
There is no generational wealth to draw back on. There is no grandma or grandpa to call for help. You got the education you were told you needed to get. Fried your hair in just the right ways to assimilate so that when you go to an interview you fit the part and look like you will "be a good fit."
But it doesn't happen and it doesn't come.
If being who you are prohibits you from having "A Seat at the Table" it has been scientifically proven that the stresses of racism and poverty will cause chronic and psychological stress.
What is chronic stress?
Chronic stress is the response to emotional pressure suffered for a prolonged period of time in which an individual perceives he or she has little or no control. It involves an endocrine system response in which corticosteroids are released.
We tell ourselves all the cliche's, "What doesn't kill you makes you stronger." "Work your black girl magic." "You'll pull through." "It's apart of the struggle."
African American women might be overrepresented in this population as they are at a higher risk for developing mental illness. Risk factors include lower income, poor health, multiple role strain, and the “double minority status” of race and gender (Neufeld, Harrison, Steward, & Hughes, 2008; Schneider, Hitlan, & Radhakrishnan, 2000). Older African American women might be at an additional risk because of the high prevalence of chronic disease in this population, and the demonstrated correlations between chronic disease and mental health issues such as depression (Artinian, Washington, Flack, Hockman, & Jen, 2006; Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2004).
Stress has an adverse mental effect. But how can you not stress?
Stress isn't the answer and not stressing isn't the answer. The poverty line in 2010 was $22,314 that's roughly about $10/hr. No one can afford rent that way. When you know you are doing all that you can to improve your situation and you can't that's one aspect. The second aspect is the denial that the backpack exists.
Being a visible minority in any situation is stressful. Maybe it will matter or maybe it won't. It must be nice to walk into environments, 'safe spaces' where you won't have to worry if it will matter or not.
My friend is handling this kind of stress now, it's a level one stress on the scales but she is Caucasian and her children are half Latino. People have approached her with questions she hasn't ever had to deal with before, "do your children speak English?", "Are they American?"
When she leaves the house now her guard is up higher than it was before she had children.
What my friend is learning through her mixed children is that when you're the only minority in the room or in any situation even in a city as diverse as Philadelphia you have to prepare yourself, you have to steel yourself and harden yourself to whatever will come your way.
When you're a minority it's difficult to exist without questions.
Stress is directly tied to mental health. Without the proper coping tools to handle stress and distress, there is a breakdown, there is resentment and the lack of coping skills create chemical imbalances and outbursts. It's similar to why people cry. It's because of extreme emotional trauma or sadness that crying feels like a relief. The same way having an emotional outburst feels good. It feels great, in the moment all of the stress and pressure builds up and like everything that is kept bottled up explodes.
"Doctor, I'm depressed, I don't have money to pay my bills."
"Here are some pills." No, you don't need pills for depression not when the cause of depression is financial. You need money, not pills. You're treating the symptom, not the cause. And thus starts the cycle of over medicating and self-medication.
There's no such thing as a vacuum, if you do not have hope there will be despair. If there's despair you either become angry or a victim.
The Sunken Place is aptly titled. It's from Jordan Peele's Get Out, it made it to my list of top ten movies. The Sunken Place is the African American experience of where you have to hide who you are as much as you can and become someone else to navigate and cope with the way the world is. My mother used to call it a mask.
Going through the day allowing people to talk to you the way they talk to you. Allowing people to treat you the way THEY want to treat you is tiresome, it can make you weary the microaggressions build up.
Microaggressions aren't just racial.
Microaggressions are the everyday verbal, nonverbal, and environmental slights, snubs, or insults, whether intentional or unintentional, which communicate hostile, derogatory, or negative messages to target persons based solely upon their marginalized group membership.
The key part of microaggressions isn't micro, no matter how big or mall they still add up. The negativity still adds up.
A Seat at the Table is one of my favorite albums - ever. Solange explains what it is to be a double minority. To be weary of the weight of the world and how depression can affect your life. How any kind of negativity can disrupt your peace.
Black women don't get the help they need in a lot of cases. Sometimes when they do they're taught to be a victim, not solutions. The system isn't set up for everyone to succeed.
Black and brown women have been screaming at the top of their lungs to be heard to no avail. I read Brave New World a pill for this or a pill for that. Will pills make your bank account grow? Will pills help people see you as a 100% person?
**It's worth noting that both Solange and Beyonce filmed videos at pools. A staple of the old guard of old oppression. Where black people either didn't have a local pool to go to or weren't allowed in the white pools. Statistics show that 70% of African Americans cannot swim. Swimming is considered unimportant and a luxury when you have to worry about where you're going to live, work or where your next meal is coming from. Swimming is taught to you typically by your parents. But what if you can't because your mom or dad has 4 jobs between them? What if you don't have both parents?
Are there women who suffer from bipolar disorder. Yes absolutely and yes they do need the medication. But those women are mixed in with the women who need a financial break or an employment break.
Thinking you don't need help is also the conundrum of the disorder itself. The pills make you feel great and like you don't need the medicine anymore so people stop. They stop taking the pills, they stop seeing the doctor until the next incident.
Bipolar disorder does have a genetic/hereditary component. That being said in addition to racial struggles, there's financial struggles, there's finding a place to live as well as a personal life to navigate.
For Further Reading:
African American Women's Beliefs About Mental Illness, Stigma, and Preferred Coping Behaviors