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Break Silence on Mental Health, Black Women

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After today, lets no longer be silent about mental health and black women.”

Today I’m joining the prayers of many in favor of Bobbi Kristina. “God, please heal & help her” is all I could muster, and during that time, I began to have a conversation with myself about why I have to lift up such a prayer to begin with. As much as I want healing, I also want change in what led to her condition.

Recently, I came across Michelle Wallace’s Black Macho and the Myth of the Superwoman. It is a treasure everybody should read. Written in the 70’s, Wallace articulates that black women remained marginalized by the patriarchal culture of Black Power and that a genuine female subjectivity is blocked by the traditional myths of black womanhood. In other words, we’ve ignored loving, embracing, and engaging black women holistically because of false myths and unrealistic expectations on black womanhood. We fall pretty short when it comes to caring for black women, and no societal view towards black women is as harmful as this: sista’s are so strong that they do not need help in being cared for.

Seriously, I never thought of black women being in pain until today. Usually, I’m all up in arms about the brothas but find my voice little to non-existent when it comes to the mental health of black women. Why is a sista’s pain usually invisible to me? I mean jeez, even when I’m witnessing a sista in pain, my default idea is that she’s being dramatic. Why is it so easy for me to go there?

Last year, the blogging world lost Karyn Washington, founder of For Brown Girls to suicide. It was heart-wrenching news, for this was a young sista that everyone I’m sure figured was okay. Sure, we all have struggles but you’re black so you should be able to handle the pressure without any help right? How many times must we prove that old myth dead wrong – literally.

Even Malcolm X in his autobiography (the one written by Alex Haley) begins his story about how his mother ended up in a mental institution because of, well, life. Racism killed her husband, left her with debt & funeral expenses, also left her with alone with at least nine children on very limited income (children who were often hungry by the way), then harassed her with social services visits while continually attacking her belief in being able to take care of her own children until one day – she broke. Just before Christmas in 1938, Louise Little, the mother of Malcolm X, was found by police wandering through the snow with her newborn child and committed to Kalamazoo State Hospital for twenty-four years. I’m sure Louise Little’s institutionalization impacted the political consciousness of Malcolm X. After all, you’ve witnessed firsthand the world (and all it’s dysfunctions) break your mother.

This reminds me of my own mom. I remember the day she was diagnosed with depression and I treated it like she was just being a wimp. I only saw my mom as strong, never human. I only saw my mom as the woman who can make it through anything, who can magically stretch $30 to a month’s worth of groceries with meals on the table every night. Yet, the one day she needed me I erased her pain as if it wasn’t real. I even despised her a little for it. How cruel – shaming someone for a condition they cannot control. My mother was abandoned by my biological father and left with two kids, me and my little brother. Raising two young black male children in Chicago wasn’t easy for her. I remember a particular season in my early life when my mother was dating a very abusive man. Things finally went too far so my mother called the relationship off, primarily for the safety of me and my brother.

He didn’t leave peacefully.

I remember the man threatening he’ll come back one day to kill her. Cops didn’t take her seriously, so it was up to her to defend the home. Imagine, being a single woman with two kids up all night, every night, because you’re wondering if a man is going to harm you and your sons. All you have is your prayers and a .45 under the bed. We made it through, as we always did, but never did I think of the scars such experiences would leave behind or how often my mother was probably at her wits end (emotionally, mentally, and physically) during that time.

The painful truth is, a lot of black women suffer in silence.

I can’t imagine what it’s been like for Kristina the last few years: losing your mother (who also suffered in silence), tensions with your father because of it, and watching it all play out for people’s entertainment on Lifetime as the world tweeted away with comments and jokes. I’m sure much of this was intentionally-harmless, for thinking about black women’s mental health is not a common thing on the mind.

Still…

after losing one of the greatest singers in the world to a drug overdose, and this moment as her daughter fights for her life, almost dying in the same manner, one must begin to ask how the mental health of black women can be taken seriously in public thought & conversation. As we pray for Kristina to pull through, lets begin to intentionally care for our black women, ask questions, learn, and try the best we can to alleviate the burden on so many. Also, we must promote self-care as Audre Lorde once described it:

“Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare”

Or, In the words of Erykah Badu…

Bag lady you goin’ hurt your back
Draggin’ all ‘em bags like that
I guess nobody ever told you
All you must hold on to
Is you, is you, is you

——

Read more from this reader at www.bryantcross.com.