Why I hate and love Black History Month
It is very difficult, mentally to live as a black person. There are so many situations that can cause you to doubt yourself. Simple everyday tasks such as going to work or school are wrought with additional problematic situations, that make it harder for you to achieve.
Not only can you expect to be judged by your professional or academic performance but you also face a social minefield. A place where the black woman, man or child's personality and appearance is under constant scrutiny.
No one can deny the sudden surge in the representation of so-called 'box braids' after the infamous Khadasian's co-signed the hairstyle. However, what is not publicly highlighted enough are cases where black people are forced to change their appearance in order to receive an education or gain employment. Black children as young as eleven are being discriminated against for no reason other than they chose to, or must, wear protective hairstyles such as cornrows.
What is more, when you possess the confidence needed to negotiate such minefields, you are often labelled (with personality traits) as "hostile", "aggressive" and overly "sensitive". Thus making it easy for non-black teachers, colleagues or supervisors to label their prejudicial views and discriminatory behaviour as "misunderstandings", or a result of "personality clashes".
Watching Love Island's Ovie be recognised as a 'nice black man' was deeply refreshing. Despite knowing, caring and loving black men, it is not an identity often afforded to them on mainstream television. Currently, this is a sad fact of life for many black individuals.
Racial discrimination and mental health
So what happens to the mind of a black individual as a result of racial discrimination? Well, the black person often lives in a constant state of anxiety being vigilant for the next snub or attack. The black person finds coping mechanisms to try and make sense of their oppression, without causing harm or discomfort to their white counterparts and can be subject to internalised racism. Without positive reinforcement of their true identity black people often mistreat themselves, just as they are mistreated by others. This puts them under undue stress for prolonged periods of time, causing mental and physical health issues to arise.
If you are not black and reading this then just imagine how demoralising it must be, to go into a place of learning or work only to be singled out in a putative way. For example, you may be ridiculed or even penalised for the way you wear your tight curls, until a lighter or whiter person makes a specific afro hairstyle 'cool'. Imagine seeing others hailed as beautiful or as trendsetters, for choosing to wear the same style you do, often out of necessity. Or think how it would feel to be described as an aggressive or overly keen employee whilst your counterpart is described as assertive or proactive.
It would be absurd and confusing, right? Well, this is the ongoing predicament which a black person finds oneself in. What is more, these problematic situations begin in childhood when a sense of self is developing. From a young age when a child should receive love and positive regard for who they are, black children face a world where they learn that they are 'less than', or are problematic, simply because of the colour of their skin.
That child grows up never quite sure of oneself because the discrimination in the world around is always present, casting doubt on one's capabilities and worth as a member of society. In the moment there are thoughts, emotions and responses linked to past experiences of discrimination as the racism is faced.
What does this have to do with Black History month? This has everything to do with Black History month! For one month of the year, black people are celebrated and honoured as they should be, however, it is in stark contrast to the eleven months of the year where the pain of slavery is depicted as the black person's legacy. There is so much rich cultural information to be explored dating back to the Roman Empire and beyond. Rulers, poets, scientists, etc all submerged and forgotten by most, in favour of the traditional stories of the wonderful Rosa Parks or Nelson Mandela.
Publishers, organisers, etc should use the publications they release in Black History month (October in the United Kingdom) as a benchmark for the rest the year. Give black children, men and women good representations of who they are all the time. Black individuals must continue to seek out and become members of groups and educational institutions, which foster positive self-identity. Celebrate the traditions of your elders which, coincide with your values. Seek therapy and support groups that help you understand your thoughts and behaviour. My encouragement to you is to broaden your horizons and continue to be awesome!
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