Unmuted E1: The stress of being Black in America

July is BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and People of Color) Mental Health Month, also referred to as Minority Mental Health Awareness Month. As millions around the world stand in solidarity to amplify the Black Lives Matter movement, one thing is clear: Black mental health needs to matter, too.

Historically, mental health in the Black community has been a taboo topic. The stigma surrounding needing help, coupled with the trauma of systemic racism and COVID-19 has caused many Black Americans to suffer from a range of issues, including anxiety and depression.

To further discuss the stress that comes with being Black in America, Yahoo Life spoke with five Black public figures, who are raising awareness on the importance of seeking therapy or other forms of treatment for mental health, and how to navigate this current social climate.

Video Transcript

ALYSHA PAMPHILE: Free mental health care is just something that has to 1000% exist for Black and brown people.


TATIANA PILE: Hello. I'm Tatiana Pile, and I'm so excited to have this conversation today with some prominent Black figures in our community. Today. We have Alysha P, was is a cinematographer and co-host of the Black Girl podcast. We have Ashley Akunna, who is the host and producer of the Grapevine, Donovan Thompson, who is a panelist and also a producer of the Grapevine, Kimberly Jones, who is an activist, writer, and filmmaker, and Doyin Richards, best-selling children's author and keynote speaker.

I want to introduce our conversation today with acknowledging mental health and Black intersections. So July is Minority Mental Health Awareness Month, and mental health is a topic that isn't talked about enough in communities of color, quite frankly. At the moment, the effects of COVID-19 and systemic racism in our country, there is an overwhelming sense of, this is a lot. I want to begin the discussion with you, Kimberly, because you've kind of been pushed to the forefront as a face throughout this Black Lives Matter Movement with your viral speech.

KIMBERLY JONES: You can't win! The game is fixed! So, when they say, why do you burn down the community? Why do you burn down your own neighborhood? It's not ours! We don't own anything!

In terms of mental health in this community, the things that we are subjected to viewing everyday, the experiences that we are living, implicit bias in and of itself has projected onto us that we've had to survive and live with that obviously take a toll on your mental health. So I think that when we start talking about reconstruction after this movement, that mental health has to be a key component.

TATIANA PILE: I want to move over to you, Doyin, because you've also made a few videos about talking about racism, but, the difference is, you're a parent. How are you navigating through this moment right now?

DOYIN RICHARDS: As recently as two years ago, I almost took my own life due to depression, and I am clinically depressed. That's something that a lot of Black men aren't willing to admit or talk about publicly.

The one thing I'll say about being a dad is that, my two daughters are 6 and 9, and I talk to them about, and I let them know, like, hey girls. Daddy's little bit overwhelmed right now, and I let them know why. There's people out there that just do not like me due to something that I can't control. My job is to raise you two to be strong, Black women and understand that they have the confidence and know that they're great, beautiful inside and out and just try to make them to be the best human beings that they can be.

DONOVAN THOMPSON: That's right, Dad.

ASHLEY AKUNNA: That's great.

TATIANA PILE: And Alysha, you've been open about seeking therapy when your father passed away. How has this moment been different for you as far as therapy methods?

ALYSHA PAMPHILE: As a Haitian woman, there's no such thing as anxiety. It-- we just-- we label it as dramatic, you know? And that's not what it is. It actually has a label of being called anxiety.

My therapist had to, to literally talk me off the ledge and help me identify that I was actually going through anxiety of the unknown, of what this pandemic was causing. I honestly don't think, if I was in therapy, I don't know if I would be able to be even getting through this. And that-- being able to even just say that is just growth within itself because I wouldn't be able to say that before.

TATIANA PILE: I want move over to Donovan and Ashley because you guys are kind of unique. I feel like, with the Grapevine, you create those safe spaces for people. So how do you guys find solace?

ASHLEY AKUNNA: Taking the stigma away from therapy was also big for me. I'm Nigerian-American, and I, I cannot tell you how often I hear people say that therapy is not for them. They don't need it. It's for white people. So I-- like Alysha, therapy has helped me.

DONOVAN THOMPSON: I feel that, for my own mental health, so that we can continue to do the show, so that we can be impactful, so that my cup is at least a little bit full so I can give a little zhoosh to what we have to do. Because I remember, we record-- we recorded the Ahmaud Arbery conversation. That was a very, very traumatic situation for all of us, the way that it rippled through the community and permeated all of us through our challenges and all of the stuff that we started out the quarantine with. And it got real serious really, really quickly.


DONOVAN THOMPSON: For me and my own mental health, a combination of unplugging and then also being able to just do what I can where I can was very, very helpful for me.

TATIANA PILE: Kimberly, I want to ask you, being a voice throughout this movement and having a child, do you at any point have to talk about PTSD or any other of those traumas with your kid when you leave out the house in the mornings?

KIMBERLY JONES: My son is 14, but he's 14 and 5' 10", so I know how the world views him. I know the world views him as older. I know the world views him as a threat, so I have to have conversations with him about his physical form and what that presents to the world.

I'm very transparent with my son about my mental health concerns. He knows, you know, that Mommy has ADHD and anxiety, and what that means. And, and how my responses are, and we have systems when he can tell that I'm feeling anxious.

And sometimes I feel a certain level of guilt as a parent, right? Like that he has to take on this responsibility of understanding how to deal with a mother, you know, with mental health concerns, but, honestly me, I don't know if there's any Black people in America without mental health concerns, to be honest. I don't know if you're being honest with yourself if you think you don't have any. [LAUGHS]

It is a rough road that has been given to us in many, many different ways. Finding that balance as a parent is difficult. It's difficult because you do want your child to have a kind of normalized childhood, but there's a--there's a imminent threat to their form that's different than their-- you know, than their white counterparts.

ALYSHA PAMPHILE: The conversation that I think we need to start having about PTSD is that there's nothing post about the traumatic stress that Black people go through. Post-traumatic stress is not post simply because we are currently, constantly living through the traumas that we've been living through for ages. These are conditions that no one acknowledges to the Black community simply because we are able to then put a mask on every day and say, I'm going to show up to work and do what I need to do regardless of the microaggressions. I'm going to be OK because that's what I, I've been taught to do. I'm going to laugh through it because that's what my ancestors did.

ASHLEY AKUNNA: I have a niece, and every day, I'm thinking about, how is the world gonna treat her because she's Black? I should be able, as a young woman, to be happy about potentially having a child, not worry if I'm going to lose my child in a vicious way. And, and, to me, that's, that's sad, and that's part of the reason why we do, like Alysha said and everybody else has said, we need to talk to people because it's taxing.

DONOVAN THOMPSON: I just wanted to say one quick thing about intersectionality really quickly because it's one of those things in the layers of the conversation around mental health that shows the complexities of the Black community, which is not monolithic, right? Sometimes I, I watch our community, and I see sometimes that we leave Breonna out of the conversation for too long before we include her. I think like looking at those things, like how does it affect potentially that-- I'm, I'm not a parent either. But imagine raising a, a trans child, and you look on the TV, and the trans people are getting beaten up. You know, it's like, where do I go? Who do I talk to? We're not all the same. We don't have the exact same issues, and we need special treatment for that.

ALYSHA PAMPHILE: I think the beautiful thing about the pandemic right now is that a lot of people are starting to come to terms with the idea that mental health is actually very necessary. So while there's so much trauma happening in the world right now, parallel to that is a beautiful awakening. And I think, you know, mental health awareness is one of them.


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