On average, White Americans are two times more likely to go to counseling than their African American counterparts. This disparity isn’t only because African Americans believe mental health services are expensive or costly, either. There is a stigma associated with going to therapy in the black community. People view you as “crazy” or “weak” if you aren’t able to handle issues that may arise in your life. Monnica T. Williams, a licensed clinical psychologist and Associate Director of the Center for Mental Health Disparities at the University of Louisville in the Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences, cited a study that found “that among Blacks who were already mental health consumers, over a third felt that mild depression or anxiety would be considered “crazy” in their social circles.” That same study also found that a fourth of those consumers believed that discussing mental illness would not even be appropriate among family. If you can’t go to a counselor about a crippling depression and you can’t talk to your family about it, what can you do?
While studying this topic, I found an awesome video created by the National Black Programming Consortium; it created a beautifully accurate picture of the stigma associated with counseling in the black community.
In my 21 years of life, I can attest to this stigma being alive and prevalent in the communities in which I’ve lived.
Growing up, I was taught that if you couldn’t handle a problem by yourself, with the help of your family, or through the church, then you and your family were weak. This thought process wasn’t explictly stated, but it was confirmed by reactions to hearing someone you knew had gone to counseling. You never wanted to be that “crazy” guy who went to counseling, so if you did have an issue, you just sucked it up and kept it moving until it went away. This thought process continued well into college and by my 3rd year, it died out.
I’d say there needs to be a change in the culture. This is something that is detrimental to the black community and must be addressed. The stigma needs to die and the only way to kill it is through education. Mental health education will clear up any misconceptions individuals may have and, in turn, end the stigma. The black community must know that going to counseling does not make you a “weak” or “crazy” person, but, in fact, makes you brave and strong for wanting to get real help.
Racial Colorblindness is not the answer
During my second year of college, I remember logging on to Facebook some time during Black History Month and seeing that one of my friends had posted a Morgan Freeman clip. In the clip, Freeman stated that the best way to deal with racism was to stop talking about it and that not acknowledging race would be the best strategy going forward. Don’t get me wrong, I see where Freeman was going there, and in a perfect world, that strategy just might work; since we’re not in a perfect world, I have my doubts about the color blindness rhetoric. Racial color blindness is a cop out. It gives individuals an excuse to ignore a key facet of who someone is and demonizes color on a grander scale.
An article in the scholarly journal, Psychology, explained that racial color blindness is “avoiding talking about race – or even acknowledging racial difference – to avoid the appearance of racial bias.” If you watched the clip, you can see how uncomfortable Mike Wallace was when Morgan Freeman began to ask him seemingly “tough” questions about race. Those who use the racially color blind rhetoric are typically afraid of appearing prejudice and are afraid that categorizing a person by their race is offensive.In the same article, Anything but Race: Avoiding Racial Discourse to Avoid Hurting You or Me, they found “consistent evidence that Whites’ use of strategic color blindness is motivated by both self-protective and egalitarian concerns.” Individuals are concerned about others’ perceptions of them and their feelings.
Sometimes there is truly no malice behind the color blind ideology, but this ideology is damaging to those who aren’t white.
Researchers Richeson and Nussbaum found that “a central tenet of this perspective [racial color blindness] is that ignoring ethnic group differences, for instance, undermines the cultural heritage of non-white individuals, and, as a result, is detrimental to the well being of ethnic minorities.” This type of thinking makes it seem like being an ethnic minority is a bad thing, when it is most definitely not. We are different. We were born different and we will die different. Why ignore these differences that make us who we are?
In the end, the answer to ending racism is most definitely not colorblindness. This ideology simply sweeps a large issue under the rug and refuses to even acknowledge it. I would suggest that you see me as a black man and I see you as whatever you are, and that be okay. There is nothing wrong with being black, white, yellow, or green (Although, if you’re green you might want to get that checked out). This is the only way we will ever elevate from our current hypersensitive, “color blind” culture. Instead of ignoring our differences and acknowledging on our similarities, let’s celebrate both.