Why it’s different being Black and having mental illness: Black woman woes

Being shy, I’ve observed is an ethnically universal personality trait but not in the black community I grew up in.  It was not perceived to be a “black girl trait” to be quiet or reserved “openly” that is. When I asked my friends to recall their first impressions of me they usually went something along the lines of “At first I thought you were going to be  “one of those black girls. “Sigh”. Well, you could call these people extremely ignorant, but if we’re being honest with ourselves, black women don’t get the best personality rep, do they? Loud, ghetto, over gesticulating, aggressive, the list goes on and on, but to be completely honest, that is the way a lot of the black people I grew up with in high school behaved. Not because I believe they were those characteristics, but almost because a self-fulfilling prophesy appears to take place, and you naturally slip into the role that you see will aid survival

I also have anxiety which is often perceived wrongly in society, regardless of race. It can be viewed as rude, unfriendly, standoffish, even arrogant and all people with anxiety probably wish they could say “sorry, it’s not you, I’m just anxious!” Of course, we’re often too anxious to say that and end up just feeling miserable about it later. In my experience, it’s even harder being a black woman who is anxious.

For example,  I noticed in my high school how common it was amongst some of the  Asian girls to be quieter, shy more reserved individuals. Most loud, outgoing people seemed to be accepting of this, it was the norm and these girls were not viewed as antisocial or weird, but when a black girl kept to themselves or didn’t speak much, maybe due to anxiety or just a natural disposition they were given less of a pass.

In my own experience, I often found more digs were made at me, comments, usually provocation in hopes for some type of “black girl response”. Some indication that I must be able to speak up and defend myself, even more so then the other girls, I’m a black girl, so act like one. I sometimes observed girls who  acted very uncomfortably around me  more so than you would just being around as shy person as if a shy and anxious girl of my race was just too unnatural to bear.

Worst of all was the disrespect, from people who I would be acquainted with and call “friends”. Once the realisation you won’t “pop off at them” in “typical” black girl style set in,  it’s as if a huge barrier is broken and now they are free to express their opinion of your perceived inferiority to them, and this is not an exclusive trait to people who are the majority. In fact, most my experiences with this behaviour have been with other ethnic minorities.

Suddenly, it’s okay to use derogatory racial slurs, and to express your preference for lighter skin, and their preference for certain features which are not as prevalent in black people and then you notice the differences in the way they treat you compared to your mutual friends of other races or how it’s clear that they view you as the exception to your race whilst still holding ignorant if not racist views. They’re not “afraid” of you anymore as you don’t possess that black girl dominance.

So now you see, just having a character that differs from the stereotypical black girl norm rakes havoc, it’s a wonder to think what chaos will result in adding mental illness into the mix.

Unfortunately, many ethnic minority communities are closed off and uninformed about mental illness, not without reason. We have been treated differently, with more aggression than with other races. More likely to be hospitalised, sectioned, medicated it’s no wonder there is a sense of intense caution to the point of not declaring suffering. If you can hide it, hide it is the consensus. During some volunteering at a mental health charity, I spoke to a black woman who had been sectioned and forced into hospitalisation many times who looked at me and said, “I wish I could hide it”. I’m sure most people with any type of vulnerability wished they could function normally, but wishing you could suffer in secret to avoid persecution, now that unfortunately is an experience all too common in the black community.

It makes me thankful that I am able  to manage my conditions and function somewhat normally within society however there is still great difficulty in trying to express myself in the society I live in. It’s clear as day there is a divide between myself and society in how we communicate. The people I have grown up with and conversed with all my life now speak a different language. It seems as if we all start out speaking the same language but as time goes black children are shaped, moulded and grown to become the product of a very different experience, one that is not all that compatible with the rest, some will develop mental illness, some do not.

The realisation of your “blackness”can change you, your outlook on life when you remember the hostility, the passive aggression, the covert institutional racism in schools that attempted to keep you stagnant or underachieving it all builds up inside, as you get  not much older, you start to do a double take at everyday encounters,wondering why nobody seemed to want to speak with at that event,or why you never seem to be able to earn the same amount of respect when working within a group of white students who attend your elite majority white university. You come of age and realise the place you thought you belonged never claimed you. Then it dawns on you, I am a black person and I need to know how to survive because

Being black leaves little room for imperfection

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