Colorful Children Dealing With Mental Health in Academic & Familial Spaces

Out of all the many taboos in the Black community, discussing mental illness is one of the topics parents and families shy away from along with sexual health, sexuality, and spirituality. Mental illness, whether diagnosed, misdiagnosed, or undiagnosed, causes discomfort and embarrassment for many people who have not yet found solitude in their life. The health of our minds is not dependent on any cultural or racial backgrounds, no race is innately less or more likely to have mental health issues. Yet, one can have traumatic experiences that are linked to their cultural or racial backgrounds. There are many things that can affect the mental health of a human, like bullying, keeping secrets from family and friends, weight perceptions, financial instability, poverty, wealth, lack of emotional support from family, lack of emotional experience from a lover, and even the experiences someone encounters while at work or school. Furthermore, depending on your upbringing, education or lack thereof, and ‘chemical brain balance’, the way your brain interprets information can be very unpredictable. In an American society that is believed to be participating in a post-racial era, our experiences as citizens continue to be separated by our class, race, sexuality and gender preferences. I grew up in a country whose government and media did not do a great job in making Black people, or people with African and indigenous ancestry feel adequate, worthy, or comfortable. Anyone who has ever felt threatened, oppressed, or offended by the language used to describe their existence may have a valid response in the way their brain interprets those experiences. I’ve found it very positive to discuss mental health with others, first by explaining what mental health means. Secondly, I like to identify the experiences in our lives that changed our perception in both positive and negative ways. Thirdly, I like to discuss the health of those traumas and how they play out in our daily lives. Lastly, now that the traumas have been acknowledged, it’s necessary to make a conscious decision on the progression and stagnation of your human experience by being aware of the way your mind interprets information that affects you emotionally and spiritually. In my experience of conversation and research, there’s three experiences I found to cause some of the first traumatic responses to the brain; family, education, and media. Though mental health is triggered differently by everyone, I’ll focus on how family, education, and media play a part in our human experience.

The Intersectionality of Blackness & Mental Health
Family
A family to a human is like a wolf to its pack, some packs have a strong leader and some may cry alone, but the family structure is the union that bridges people together.The power dynamics of a family can conclude to who makes the most money, or simply the man of the house. Single family homes, which are very common, can struggle with accompanying neither financial stability and a two-parent coexistence. Therefore, trauma can erupt before a child is born depending on the circumstance the child will be born into. In many families, the authoritarian approach brings power, discipline and aggression to the family structure when discerning the hierarchy of power. The parents are at the top, they decide on all things like the child’s ability to watch television, hang out with friends, which academic activities they will join, what sexuality preference is appropriate, what colors and clothes are appropriate for their gender, and the religion they will practice. Though it is healthy for a family to have a foundation of social awareness for their child to stand on, it is also progressive to be aware of how those actions will affect the development of your child’s mental health. Think about this, every time you use your power to make a decision for someone outside of yourself, you are affecting their mental health. How? Well, when you use power to make a decision for someone else, you are forcing them to agree or comply with your demand, whether that makes them happy or not. The moment someone’s power is taken away, their brain immediately translates how it makes them feel emotionally and spiritually. When those power dynamics go unexplained and unanswered, it leaves the powerless individual to draw conclusions and reasons as to why they do or didn’t deserve such treatment. The family home is usually the first place a child feels connected to, if the family home is not a safe space for the child to express themselves, this can cause mental trauma.

Education
Our parents are our first teachers, but eventually, we rely on our academic teachers to school us on subjects that we have yet to find useful. Nonetheless, while in those classrooms and play yards, children can experience many things that go unseen and unheard. Here are some ways a child’s mental health can be affected while in school:
The teacher may not show them positive attention.
Classmates may not show them positive attention.
Children bully other children based on their speed of learning, clothing, height, weight, race, gender, and speech capabilities.
Children may not see other students that look like them or resemble their family. Making them aware of how different they look from other students. If that goes unexplained, the brain will subconsciously develop emotions around that thought.
Physical fights with other students.
Sexual abuse by classmates or teachers.
Not being accepted into a social or academic group.
Not succeeding in sport try outs.
Not having enough money for extra food.
Having a bad day at home before school.
Having a bad day at school after going home.
Children may not be able to verbally express how they are feeling, but it does not take away from the fact that they are feeling something. Many things go unnoticed in school systems simply because it is a teacher’s job to teach, not counsel, console, or empathize. As a public school student, I rarely received empathy or consolation from my teachers. I didn’t feel safe talking to my teachers about anything and if something bad happened to me, I tried to handle it myself or act like it never happened. No matter the public institution, whether it’s private, public, homeschooled, or charter, there are experiences associated with education that can make a child/teenager uncomfortable. The way a teacher treats an A student and a F student can vary depending on the heart of the instructor. A student is either congratulated or scolded for their participation in class which brings up emotions of anxiety, disappointment, happiness, or good spirit. Now that you’re placed in an institution that grades you on all of the work you do, you’re faced with accomplishing tasks that do not hold importance to your life. Here’s when power dynamics comes into play. When someone is forcing you to do something that you may not want to do, you’re power is being taken away. In a country like the U.S. where school is part of tradition, many kids are not fully aware of what school is for. We live in such a routine society, that even as conscious parents or adults, we do without thinking. Again, the power shift comes back because most parents/adults feel that they don’t need to explain anything to a child in the first place. It’s interesting how there’s a common phrase, “college isn’t for everybody”, which insinuates that not only are people accepted on a selective basis, but college is not created to fit everyone’s mental capabilities.

The Burden Of Femininity: An Observation of Rape Culture Part 1

All families are widely different, but one thing most baby children hear, is how beautiful they are or will be. Though I believe we are all created beautiful in God’s image, this passage is going to dissect the beauty standards set for women and the lack of security women have when their beauty causes unwanted attention. Feminists, organizations, students, and social clubs have spoken out against sexual abuse for hundreds of years. Public stunts continue to erupt around rape, sexual assault, and misogyny, the value placed on female beauty and innate attraction to male counterparts is rarely discussed as a psychological factor. It seems obvious, men are attracted to women, but at what point does it go from attraction to obsession and that obsession leads to disrespect and harm. As mature humans we should be able to understand that the mentality of physical and sexual abuse start from their understanding of women, sex, and power. It is not plausible to insist the time of night, location, wardrobe or career profession as to how unconsented sex and abuse happens. According to Al Jazeera, over 34,000 cases of rape was reported across India, stating that 95.5% of victims knew their abusers (2016). India is a country where women pride themselves on modesty and also one of the highest populated countries of Islamic faith. While in the U.S. the conversation always resorts to a woman’s choice of fashion, lack of faith, language, and kindness which may allure her sexual intentions with people she encounters. Yet, in a country where most women are covered in garb from head to toe, that theory is not valid. My country is very fearful of change and hasn’t put in much effort to acknowledge the social programming that colonial powers set in place, is simply not realistic for a positive human experience. Through this series, I wish to bridge those gaps of male ego theory, female body exploitation, the law of attraction, and healthy communication. This is a heavy topic and it may cause some people to feel triggered. The goal is to move closer towards understanding, healing, and compassion.
The burden of feminity begins for most women before she hits puberty, before her feminine breasts and hips start to develop. For some women, our burden began when men were present during our moments of nakedness or expression as little girls. Psychologically, every individual passes down cultural or family traditions to their children, out of instinct and comfortability. Gender roles are placed upon children very early by the clothes they are dressed in, toys they are allowed to play with, and even the way they wear their hair. Typically, men and boys can have their shirts off, it doesn’t offend anyone, but women have three areas that are taught to keep sacred. The breasts, vagina, and derriere are a woman’s treasures and we’re taught early that it is so valuable that we must almost be ashamed if it is seen by others. Even the sight of a woman’s body causes speculation of her intentions, sexuality, desire, and expression whether she is developed or not. Seeing fathers yell at two year old daughters because they are walking with their mother’s heels, or punishing a small girl for walking around the house naked while relatives are present causes young girls to grow into young women who are ashamed of their bodily expressions. On a camping trip in Northern California I took with a friend, a baby girl was called a stripper by her uncle for wearing a two piece bathing suit. In the midst of the situation, I honestly couldn’t react because I thought it was absurd, not to mention I was the only Black person on a campsite with so-called liberal white Americans. The child was almost three years old and covered with a life jacket while her parents took her to the lake to swim. The uncle later mentioned it to the mother and she stood up for her family by saying that her child shouldn’t be policed on a two piece bathing suit. The uncle went on further to even call the baby a whore and the mother immediately separated herself from the campsite. It’s moments like this where the internalization of female body expression is ridiculed and demonized because of the discomfort of the male gaze and lack of sexual control. 

As a mother, I’m sure it’s hard to raise a daughter that you want to feel safe but also instilling a strong sense of reality for her coming of age years. The body of a woman has been idolized, fetishized, copied, and glorified since the early recordings of Ancient Egyptian Goddesses and Queens. Statues that emphasize a woman’s curves or luxurious, long hair or paintings that add glow to her breasts and roundness to her bottom, it is evident that men are well aware of the attractive beauty that women exude naturally. That is the issue I believe needs to be discussed, the natural beauty that women have and the innate reaction that most men feel while in her presence or in his thoughts. Men are not typically taught how to handle those feelings, I don’t find it common for men to understand how to analyze those moments they see a woman and they feel a sexual desire. It is humanly possible for anyone to be attracted to someone without making them feel uncomfortable, powerless, or afraid. There are stories about inappropriate relationships with coworkers, academic professionals, babysitters, family members, and strangers in public areas that lead up to these scenarios of rape, sexual abuse, or unconsented sex. All of these instances only occur when someone decides that their sexual desire is more important than someone else’s choice of sexual action.