Mentalitea: why our black skin can no longer be seen as superhuman

Note to self. A poem. 

How regal is your silence, Queen?

A silence that too often removes your tongue 

and tint.

Silence is complicity.

It is acceptance.

To be colourblind is to render you, black woman, to silence.

Your wild spirit is too much for the tame onlooker.

While you are surrounded by pejorative patterns

of stereotypical speech to flatter you

-”but it was supposed to be a compliment” they say

when compliments can only truly exist in – equality.

And what is so magical

about your melanin

your demeanor

your chronic contours and curls?

Or maybe the magic is an illusion of a burden and expectation

placed upon a social mantelpiece, far beyond your reach.

Your aura, a sweet tempting treat 

to be devoured for their pleasure, chocolate. 

Your obviously obscured tears make you no less of a black woman.

As shall they not question your strength nor tenacity.

Tears are your soul’s purge.

Clearing the way for new hope and perspective

so go on and cry sis.

Talk and love unashamedly, freely, passionately 

and

allow yourself to be loved.

I write this poem as an ode to my fellow black British women, to those that feel as though they fall through the cracks, feel isolated, feel silenced, feel detached from themselves, feel misrepresented.
Rashida Campbell-Allen

Self-love is not just a face mask and bubble bath, it should be just as inclusive of mental health as anything else we see plastered across social media. Self-love should be the reclamation of the ideology that with this melanated skin comes an impenetrable armour that makes us superhuman. 

As a society and especially on social media platforms, it is time to reduce or at least be more wary of the use of adjectives and terms such as ‘Queen’, ‘Fierce’, ‘Strong’, ‘Black Girl Magic’ etc. Whilst it is completely understandable these are intended to be complimentary, language runs deeper for those on the receiving end. These terms come packed with a history and stereotype that do very little to empower black women to be at peace with being vulnerable. To not have everything in their lives under control, to be excellent, to be magical and exceptional. These terms simultaneously dehumanise and disempower black women. When it comes to mental health, it is language and tropes such as those aforementioned that lead wider society to be disillusioned around the authentic experience of being a black woman. For change to occur, linguistic adjustments can make a larger difference than one may think.

With mental health becoming ever more present in mainstream dialogues across media and public spaces, the experience of Black women remains seldom heard and depicted. Data from the The Prince’s Responsible Business Network/RDU report shows that 29% of black/black-British women experienced a common mental disorder in the past week in 2014, and that people in the Black ethnic group were the most likely to have been detained under the Mental Health Act in 2017/18.

Given the current COVID-19 crisis, the surge in Black Lives Matter movement activism to name just the most recent social events, I would not be surprised if these statistics have increased since, given the accumulation of stressors that continue to go ignored and overlooked. 

Rashida Campbell-Allen

The reasons for issues of mental health in black women are complex and nuanced – from its taboo nature in many African and Caribbean cultures, to misdiagnoses or malpractice under the healthcare professionals, to simply the lack of knowledge and access to services available to them. Having the personal labour and emotional turmoil of self-policing, biting our tongues, and avoiding drawing attention to our struggles to lessen the burden for others, is a trans-generational trait (or I could say ‘curse’), passed on as a means of survival.

But enough is enough. It is time to humanise black women. Let black women seek help rather than be sought for help.  We need to genuinely create and promote safe spaces and opportunities for support, which are exclusively for Black British women. Have open discussions about mental health with black women that we can ultimately all be a part of.

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