I firmly believe that one of the things that keeps oppressed people oppressed is when we collude with the systems of privilege that deny us our full humanity. One example of this is when queer people accept second-class citizenship and agree with practices that say that we and our relationships are not as healthy, secure, and meaningful as those of heterosexuals. We, whether part of a privileged group or not, have all been socialized to believe these fictions and consequently, we, whether part of a privileged group or not, need to consciously, consistently, and courageously confront the fictions that maintain bondage and strive for liberation.
Another way that I believe that oppressed groups collude with their oppression is through creating defense mechanisms that celebrate cultural resiliency and strength, yet still deny people in the group full humanity. Embracing one’s humanity, means recognizing and acknowledging both frailty and strength. One example of this is the oft-repeated line that “black folk don’t commit suicide, don’t get depressed, don’t have mental illness.” I’ve heard variations of this for other racial and ethnic minoritized groups as well.
By passing mental illness and clinical depression off as the luxuries of privilege – something only White people can afford to deal with – people of color deny ourselves our full humanity, which still colludes with the systems of oppression that undermine our humanity. The denial of our humanity shows up in the prison industrial complex, in the hypersexualization and asexualization of our bodies, in the deficit thinking that says we can’t raise our children to be successful without intervention from others. It also shows up in the “superwoman” complex that allows others to continue to put more and more work on our backs until we become, like Zora Neale Hurston’s “Nanny” spoke in Their Eyes Were Watching God, “the mules of the world.”
Strength is not the denial of weakness. Strength is not the absence of complaint. Strength is admitting frailty and vulnerability and seeking help with those frailties threaten to overwhelm us. I’m not an expert on depression or suicide, but I have dealt with both throughout my life. At critical junctures when my mind’s inability to self-correct, to restore the delicate balance of hormones and chemicals in its brain, threatened my well-being, I reached out. And I’m glad I did. I wouldn’t have the strength that I have today if I had denied my full humanity – a humanity that includes frailty and vulnerability.
Check out this video clip from a group of folks who are trying to help Black folks get free, really free:
See you Monday!