mental health & systemic racism: state violence affects black people’s psyche

June 18, 2018
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By Kwame Shakir, AFROPUNK contributor


The main reason why many of us are suffering from mental health issues is due to the negative and destructive legacy that colonialism and slavery have had on us for several hundred years. And we’re still being negatively impacted colonialism and slavery to this day.

One of the biggest taboos in the black community right now has to do with the fact that many of us that have mental issues are afraid to have an honest discussion about it for fear of being stigmatized and ostracized.

For example, many black men with mental health issues are often afraid to get help or treatment for fear of being seen as “weak” and many black women with mental health issues don’t seek the treatment or help as if they’re made out to be like Superwoman.

I know this because I am one of the many black people in this country that suffers from mental health issues that come directly from the systemic oppression inflicted against our community on a daily basis in the form of poverty, police violence, homelessness, horizontal violence, and gentrification.

A lot of us that are out here in the streets that are fighting for our community to be economically self-reliant and being self-determined often go back home and suffer in silence.

Here are other ways that mental health affects black people.

  • Religion – One of the reasons why many of us have mental health issues is due to the fact that the oppressor had forced his religion on us and this was done to not only pacify us but to prevent us from fighting back against our oppressor and escaping the old slave plantations. Nowadays, you ask a religious black person if they wanna help rebuild their community, the first response you often get from them is “Let White Jesus Handle It”. The mental brainwashing from religion has been mostly detrimental to us as a collective. Religion also stems from the negative legacy that colonialism and slavery have had on us.
  • Personal Trauma – Many of us also suffer from mental health issues is because of the personal trauma that either we witnessed or experienced as kids. An actual example of this actually happened to me when suffered my first mental trauma when I was 5 years old when I was in a swimming pool and then I started to drown and nearly died while that happened and I remember having nightmares of that incident for years and it still sometimes haunts me to this day.
  • Mass Incarceration – Mass incarceration is definitely one of the biggest causes for the mental health issues that many of us have because we’ve seen either our friend and especially loved ones get horrendous sentences and then shipped off to prison by the colonial judicial system. I remember when I was 6 years old when my oldest brother was shipped off to prison on a nonviolent non-drug related charge. I remember being so emotionally distraught and was just crying that day they sent him to prison which added on to the mental trauma I experienced during my early childhood.
  • Colonial Violence – Many of us have mental health issues because of the mental trauma that we went through when one of our friends or family members were killed in either colonial state-imposed horizontal violence or colonial state-sanctioned police violence against our community. I can attest to this because over the past decade, I’ve had more mental traumas added to my life when my oldest nephew and one of my older cousins were killed in an act of colonial state-imposed horizontal violence, so I can definitely relate to the mental traumas that the families of the victims had been through when they lost their loved ones to colonial state-imposed horizontal violence and colonial state-sanctioned police violence.
  • Sexual Violence – One of the biggest ways that mental health has negatively affected us stems from the fact that many blacks were subjected to egregious amounts of sexual abuse when they were kids which has caused them to have a distorted view about the opposite sex and life in general. An example is when I saw a short video entitled “WTF Is Mental Health?” and there were young adult black people talking about their experiences with mental health issues including this young black guy who said he experienced his first mental trauma at the age of 8 when he was sexually abused by his mother’s boyfriend

The Conclusion – If we really want to have more open and honest conversations amongst ourselves, we must start to address the issue of mental health and how the legacy of colonialism and slavery are directly tied to it.