My family used to joke that only white people need therapy. Black people go to church instead, find remedies on their knees in prayer, sing their sorrows away. Meanwhile, white academics told me that African-Americans merely fabricated ungrounded stigma around psychiatric help. As absurd as these two viewpoints may sound, these myths actually point to a greater phenomenon.
As of 2012, 15% of the US American population without health insurance was African-American. Considering the role economic status plays in healthcare sheds light on the racial discrepancy with respect to treating mental illness. Many people with health insurance find that their companies don’t cover the cost of mental illness treatment, and those without any health insurance find themselves facing incredibly high prices to pay for medical care, or opting not to pursue treatment at all. These obstacles often lead Black folks in the states to “rely on family, religious and social communities for emotional support rather than turning to health care professionals, even though this may at times be necessary,” states NAMI’s fact sheet on African American Community Mental Health.
Even if able to pay for treatment, many Black folks encounter prejudices and biases from medical caregivers. Black people, especially Black men, are frequently misdiagnosed when it comes to mental illness. For example, most prominently in the 1960s, white doctors institutionalized Black men involved in civil rights protests (particularly in Detroit) on the grounds that the behaviors these men defended as political activism was really schizophrenic rage and volatility. Also, medical practitioners’ prescriptions sometimes reflect discriminatory and generally racial assumptions that Black people do not need as much medicine as white people. Studies conducted by the University of Michigan’s School of Public Health discovered that Black US Americans are 1.5 times as likely to be denied antidepressant treatment. No one wants tell you that the system is sick. No one wants to tell you that the healthcare system intentionally keeps historically marginalized groups like queer folks, and Black folks, and people who happen to find themselves at the intersection of queerness and Blackness sick.
Accidents can happen. But how we manage the accidents show how we are as a society. You can see what kind of environment we are in through one situation. Also, this isn’t just someone else’s problem - it could happen to us. I think our society is ill.
Naheed Islam (1998), in her seminal study about South Asian women who love other women, finds that her respondents reject the term lesbian. South Asian-American women who sought lesbian organizations and communities, primarily defined by white lesbians, felt they were marginalized and exoticized because of their differences. Islam’s respondents unanimously and consistently describe that women in saris and shalwar kameezes (loose pants with a long fitted shirt) would never be seen as lesbians in America. The women additionally discuss growing up with breasts, hips, and long hair, and otherwise embodying an aesthetic value system utterly different from white androgyny. Most women felt that their bodies were reinterpreted by white lesbians as manifestations of being femme.