Racism and Mental Health in Black Women

Mental health will always be a big part of my life, and I cannot ignore the effects. I also cannot ignore the effects of being both a woman, and being black in our country, nor will I attempt to. Unfortunately, studies on effects of oppression towards black women are very few and far between, it’s hard to substantiate predictions with empirical evidence. Thankfully, as of late, more and more studies are being done, and as a black woman I feel as though I need to understand what we are going through in order to fight it. As a black woman, my voice has been silenced so much that now that I have the opportunity to say what I need to say, I will no longer be quiet about things that matter to me.

Mental health in the black community is something that has plagued us since the early 1600s when the first slaves arrived. Mental health has a stigma and history of its own in the black community, and understanding that alone is hard enough for many people due to lack of adequate resources and education. To understand that mental health intersects with women’s rights and racism, it becomes a very complex and confusing topic to discuss, so I thought that I would break it down with the help of a report I have found.

Everything I’m referencing today comes the brief report titled “Impact of Racial Macro- and Microaggressions in Black Women’s Lives: A Preliminary Analysis,” linked here: http://jbp.sagepub.com/content/early/2012/04/13/0095798412443259.full.pdf+html

According to the report, a study was done in which 187 undergraduates who self-identified as Black women were given three tests, the Racism and Life Experiences Scale- Daily Life Experiences subscale (DLE), the Depression Anxiety Stress Scale (DASS-21), and the Marlowe-Crowe Social Desirability Scale, Short Form (MCSD-SF).  They studied the effects of both PRMa- perceived racial macroaggressions, and PRMi- perceived racial microagressions. It was predicted that microaggressions would be more damaging to the mental health of black women, but actually, it was found that PRMi were more harmful to the mental health. Because of the lack of empirical studies done, we do not yet understand completely, but “intersectional theory and research suggest that embodying subordinate racial and gender social categories influence how Black women are perceived and treated, creating lived experiences that are different from those of Black men and White women.” The results of the studies found that 2 of the most common PRMa were being accused or suspected of doing something wrong because of race, and getting into an argument or fight about something racist done to you or someone else. 2 of the most common PRMi were being treated rudely or disrespectfully because of race, being ignored, overlooked, or not given service (in a restaurant, store, etc.) because of race. It was predict that macroaggressions were harder for black women to deal with than microaggressions because  they’re “blatant, egregious acts, [and] more difficult to cope with than microaggressions, which are subtler and might be perceived as less offensive.”

While the rate of black women committing suicide overall is low at 1.7 percent, that’s only the reported number, and the number is steadily increasing, especially in Black Americans of younger ages. The risk for attempted suicide in Black Americans is highest among 15 to 24 year olds. Among Black Americans in high school students, more females than males reported seriously considering suicide (17.1% vs 7%), making a suicide plan (13.5% vs 5.5%), and making a suicide attempt (9.8% vs 5.2%)

As a black woman, I am often looked at in terms of my passion and anger. To clarify, my passion is often mistaken for anger, and treated as such. My words and thoughts are invalidated due to the assumption of me simply being the angry black woman. I feel myself argued with all the time, by people of all races and genders. I have been told that I am afro-pessimistic or just plain negative amongst other things. At that time, though, no one takes into true consideration my experiences as a black woman and how it has shaped me. My thoughts are seen as irrelevant and my passion for trying to understand is given no room in our society. If we are progressive as we are, why should I have to speak a little louder, stand up straighter, and speak in a certain vernacular in order to be taken seriously. Imagine having to deal with that, and patriarchy, and lack of education and such. Do you think your mental health would be perfect. I was listening to the podcast The Read, and Kid Fury said something along the lines of  “if white people had to go through a tenth of the things we did, their minds would explode.” Put yourself in the shoes of a black woman; not quite fitting into the white women mold, nor the Black women mold. Always working hard to become educated by the Eurocentric methods, yet never getting enough recognition. Black women do not have super strength, and we have struggles of our own. My question is, are you going to continue to silence us, or stand by us?

-JW

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