Not sure if any of you keep up with the news but since February 23, 2020, I have been following the case of Ahmaud Arbery. The entire situation bothered me because when I saw that video of him being chased and gunned down, I felt so triggered. It triggered me that an unarmed black man was gunned down in broad daylight. When I initially saw the video, I immediately thought why? In my heart, I knew the answer and that is what breaks my heart the most about the killing. Ahmaud Arbery was gunned down in broad daylight simply because he was a black man, running in a white neighborhood. After all the fighting for civil rights, black lives lost, and even with the time that has passed…. Racism and hate crimes against African Americans are happening every day. African Americans are like an endangered species right now because we are literally being haunted like prey and killed regularly. That sounds harsh and no one wants to speak on it, but this is a fact.
Being African American right now is not easy; believe it or not, blacks are suffering from mental illness because of racial trauma that was caused because of their black skin. Therefore, if you are reading this and thinking how could someone suffer mentally for being African American? Let me give you something to think about! Imagine knowing your race was enslaved, raped, abused, tortured, discriminated against, and treated inhumanely for years before you were born. To know that before you were birthed into the world, you were already not accepted for who you are because you are African American. I remember my first history lesson on slavery, segregation, and the abuse of African Americans and it made me feel so uncomfortable. Being taught African American history in school messed with my mental health and made me feel fear because my initial thought was if I would one day be killed, abused, or discriminated against for being born to a black mother and father. African Americans are born in trauma. When an African American baby is born at a hospital 9/10 the mother is treated differently than a white mother. For example, when I delivered my first child the intake person asked me multiple times if I had insurance and seemed shocked when I stated that I did not have Medicaid. It was as if because I was African American that meant I was not supposed to have insurance. It made me feel so uncomfortable in my skin like I was less than. What transpired with my insurance made me realize why my mother always said, “because you are black, you will have to work harder and stand out more”. I understood then the reason she preached about education, integrity, and not hanging with the wrong crowd of people.
Feeling humiliated or being in fear about what could happen because of the color of your skin can cause detrimental and distressing effects to an African American’s mental health. For example, distressing symptoms can arise as a direct result of racist incidents such as hate speech. They can also occur as an indirect result of broader inequality, which racism perpetuates. Although racism also affects physical health, one 2015 systematic review Trusted Source suggests that racism is twice as likely to affect a person’s mental health than their physical health (WebMD, 4 Dec. 2019). Discrimination is one thing but imagine suffering from mental illness for being black. Ahmaud Arbery’s mother probably will forever suffer from PTSD and anxiety surrounding the facts of her son’s murder. She probably suffers mentally every day because she gave her son the “how to be black in a predominantly white area talk”. Ahmaud’s mother probably told him that he has to be careful with where he goes, what he says, and how he acts around Caucasian people because it could become a life-or-death situation. Unfortunately for Ahmaud, he lost his life tragically. He did not argue, he did not provoke, or do anything threatening, and yet he was still gunned down. For those who are black, it is traumatizing to constantly see other black people being gunned down by Caucasian people, and 9/10 nothing is done about it, or the offenders of these crimes are getting a slap on the wrist. The mistreatment of black people has caused many of us anxiety, depression, and PTSD. African Americans are living in fear and scared to even be themselves in a public place out of fear of retaliation. I cried when Ahmaud’s mother read her victim impact statement because I immediately thought about my boys. I am a mother of three black boys, and we live in a predominantly white area. Therefore, this could have happened to one of my boys. As a mother of black boys, I have given them the same speech my mother gave me. I have told them to keep their hands to themselves because I know of cases when white women wrongfully accused black men and were being deliberately dishonest. I tell our boys to follow the directions of law enforcement, and if they are right, we can defend them at a later time; but do not risk their lives trying to prove a point. We have also reminded our boys to never forget you have black skin and there is a chance you will be treated differently because of it, but know that you should still be proud of your blackness.
The saddest part about being a mother is having to explain all the ins and outs of what your black child cannot or should not do when your child(ren) should have the same humane treatment as other children. Our oldest son is the sweetest child, and he does not see color and he loves to make friends with everyone. I love that he does not care about the color of another child’s skin and that is because he has been taught to treat all people kindly and never judge regardless. Therefore, imagine how disheartening it was for our family when our son came from school and told me that a white female student told her dad she liked him, and her dad told her to tell my son “She cannot like a black boy”. It broke my son’s whole heart and after that, I purchased him so many history books because I wanted him to understand the origin of what had happened to him. After he started educating himself on African American history, he then had a better understanding of why the young lady was told that. Racism is taught, and that is the sad part. Children should be able to play together without worrying about the color of their skin. Since this incident occurred my son has experienced self-esteem issues and even became depressed for a short time. When you are a target that causes unnecessary mental stress, and it has led to high mental illness rates in African Americans everywhere. Statistics say “While African Americans are just as likely to report serious psychological distress, they are less likely to get behavioral treatment. But adult African Americans are more likely to report feelings of sadness, hopelessness, and worthlessness than are adult whites. Still, in 2018, 18.6% of white Americans received mental health services, compared to less than 9% of African Americans” (WebMD, 4 Dec. 2019). Meaning not only are the numbers high for blacks dealing with mental illness due to racial trauma, but the numbers are even higher for the number of blacks not receiving treatment compared to the number of whites receiving treatment for mental illness.
Once I researched and reviewed the statistical data it made me feel a deep sadness, and I truly wish times were different right now. And let me be clear, although I am a black woman and I know what is happening in the world, it has not made me hate white people because I know that all white people are not the same or racist. If I classified all white people based on the actions of some white people, then I am no better than those mistreating African Americans. I have met some white people that have positively impacted me. My mentor from my childhood was a white woman and she was and still is one of the most amazing people I know. She used to come into the projects I grew up in and take me out to escape my reality. I knew from her actions that she cared for me, and that is why I tell my kids to treat all people good because although racism exists; not all whites are racist. If you are African American and reading this blog, please remember to not allow the history or actions of a few to prevent possible worthy friendships and relationships. And if you are white reading this, remember racism is taught and you can change the narrative for your future generations. The constant fear, and racism that is causing mental illness in African Americans could improve if the correlation between racism and mental illness were made an priority. Racism and mental health are closely linked. Discrimination based on race or ethnicity can cause or worsen mental health conditions. It can also make accessing effective treatment more difficult (WebMD, 4 Dec. 2019).
The purpose of this blog post is to educate and inform others about racial trauma. Racial Trauma is a real thing and many African Americans are suffering in silence. African Americans are suffering from the effects of racial trauma such as flashbacks, nightmares, headaches, heart palpations, avoidance, and constantly being alert. A person’s life can forever be impacted by racial trauma and this topic needs to be discussed more. When the sentencing was finished, I felt obligated to blog about racial trauma because no one wants to speak about the effects of racism, prejudice, hate, or discrimination. We as a people can no longer ignore what is happening around us, and it is time for us all to focus on change. Change is the only way to make progress. The verdict, the judge’s statement, and the sentences in the Ahmaud Arbery case are the start of change. The sentencing of the three white men who killed an unarmed black man shows precedent that there will be consequences for racism and hate crimes such as murdering an unarmed black man. I am sure African Americans around the world felt a sigh of relief once they heard the sentencing. The Life without Parole sentence does not bring Ahmaud back, but it allows us all to feel important and valued enough to receive justice. Justice for African Americans in 2022 is major because in 1955 Emmett Till a fourteen boy was killed by white men and his family received no justice. Justice today reminds African Americans how far we have come since being killed and ignored as if it was the 1950s in Money, Mississippi. I hope that the treatment of African Americans continues to improve and that those who are suffering receive the help they need to heal through the racial trauma. I will be posting some facts and resources below, please check them out! Also, I am open to all thoughts and opinions.
“African Americans Face Unique Mental Health Risks.” WebMD, 4 Dec. 2019, http://www.webmd.com/mental-health/news/20191204/african-americans-face-unique-mental-health-risks.
Rees, Mathieu. “What Is the Link between Racism and Mental Health?” Medical News Today, 5 Nov. 2020, http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/racism-and-mental-health#long-term-effects.