Washington D.C. has been rocked by a mass shooting and a government shutdown in less than two weeks. And now, it has something else to stress over, the police murder of an unarmed black woman who was reported as suffering from depression. Miriam Carey was that black woman.
News reports first reported that D.C. police shot and murdered a “suspect”. Yet, there was hardly any mention of what the suspect was suspected of. Then, it was discovered that the victim was 34-year old Miriam Carey who, according to her mother, was suffering from postpartum depression soon after giving birth to her daughter. We then get knowledge that she – in her car – rammed through police barricades and anything and anyone else who was unfortunately in her path (or so the reports go). Ultimately, her erratic actions led to her tragic death by police to saw fit that her cry for help was worthy of an immediate death sentence.
The police murder of Miriam Carey and the D.C. Navy yard shooting carried out by Aaron Alexis opened up dialogues across the news media about the subject of mental health taken to violent extremes. However, this also opened a small hole in the mental health taboo that exist within black communities across America.
Black people are not immune to the psychological and emotional trauma that sometimes come from living in a racist society that sees fit to remind them regularly that something’s worthless about them because of their black skin. However, the mental illnesses of black folks are grossly underestimated and undervalued as a genuine problem due to research that suggests that society is not so empathetic to the pain black people experience as opposed to white people. This is known as the racial empathy gap.
The racial empathy gap helps explain disparities in everything from pain management to the criminal justice system. But the problem isn’t just that people disregard the pain of black people. It’s somehow even worse. The problem is that the pain isn’t even felt.
A recent study shows that people, including medical personnel, assume black people feel less pain than white people. The researchers asked participants to rate how much pain they would feel in 18 common scenarios. The participants rated experiences such as stubbing a toe or getting shampoo in their eyes on a four-point scale (where 1 is “not painful” and 4 is “extremely painful”). Then they rated how another person (a randomly assigned photo of an experimental “target”) would feel in the same situations. Sometimes the target was white, sometimes black. In each experiment, the researchers found that white participants, black participants, and nurses and nursing students assumed that blacks felt less pain than whites.
I thought about that research after reading the Slate article. I thought about the endless stream of racist trolls that strongly believe in black racism as opposed to white racism. I remember all the usual comments from “blacks bullied me when I was younger” to news articles of interracial crime as irrefutable proof of black hatred against whites. And I remember the usual accusation that anti-racism sites are racist against whites.
What I don’t recall is any explanation behind their arguments. Even asked, no straightforward answer was given, if there was any response at all.
Most of these people believe we are in some kind of “plan” to guilt trip white people. That being said, I assume that they don’t believe that black people are really experiencing any kind of emotion or mental anguish from living in a racist society because they don’t think racism is a big deal for blacks. So, any topic about white racism against blacks is scorned, ridiculed or debunked on the spot while white victimhood is thrown in our faces like cream pies as a more plausible issue.
Most people, including blacks and mental health specialists, do not believe that if a black person were to let lose their hold on sanity and express their pain violently, it is attributed to mental illness. There is a great insensitivity towards the pain black people experience, because they believe that their experience is normal.
Most conclude that it’s simply because of their true black savagery coming out. “They act that way because they’re black” is the low-level, stereotypical racist thinking to keep from diving into viable explanations. And if they don’t end up getting killed, the only solutions are locking them up or putting their heads to bed.
In that case, it’s no wonder why mental illness is hardly discussed in black communities. Some consider it as part of the cosmic flaw that comes with blackness. They don’t want to have that image of being inferior or to prove white people’s racist views.
However, none of this is a contemporary trend. It’s been this way ever since slavery. Ebony reports:
Historically, African Americans have normalized our own suffering. During slavery, mental illness often resulted in a more inhumane lifestyle including frequent beatings and abuse, which forced many slaves to hide their issues. Over time, strength became equated with survival and weakness (including mental illness) meant you might not survive.
Even though it was reported that both Miriam Carey and Aaron Alexis received some kind of treatment in their lives, I suspect that it was too little, too late. The discovery of their treatments may contradict that there is silence concerning the mental health issues of black people, it does hint that whoever was behind their treatments either didn’t predict any possible breakdowns or worse, didn’t believe that their illnesses were problematic enough for adequate therapy. Again, that’s all to be assumed at this point.
Yet, the mental illness topic is tight lipped within – at least – some black communities. It is not because they don’t care and it’s definitely not because they don’t have any. It is because the society they live in largely doesn’t care to see it as a human problem to those they still consider less-than human.