“Black People Don’t Go to Therapy” and Other Myths Our Parents Told Us
Different fears are now morphing into even more ridiculous, and dangerous, myths that we’ve begun spreading to our children.
TW/CW: Mentions of depression, anxiety, learning disabilities, and ableism.
By Adrie Rose
If you’re Black, there’s a very good chance that your parents are lying to you. Your grandparents too. They’re all lying to you and they have been for your entire life. They’re not lying to you because they don’t love you or they want you to fail. Quite the opposite actually. It’s not only plausible but probable, that they don’t know they’re lying to you. But a lie is still a lie, no matter how well-intentioned it is.
I can understand why the lies have lasted so long. There is a justified, deep distrust of medical/health-care and social service providers in Black communities. Both institutions are built on the treatment of Black bodies, specifically Black women, as curiosities to be gawked, poked, and prodded at. We have been a fascination, completely devoid of humanity since our violent and forced integration in the “civilised” and colonial world.
The entire practise of gynecology and obstetrics is predicated on the racist, entirely non-factual assertion that Black women are less or even incapable of feeling pain. Just two years ago, a $235 nursing textbook was swiftly pulled from shelves and curriculum after students noted claims that Latinx people believe pain is necessary to enter heavens and “Blacks” report higher pain intensity than other cultures, lessening the urgency of care needed for BIPOC and defining pain in a way that serves white supremacy. As recently as February 2019, the American Heart Association found that wealthy, educated Black women are four times more likely than white women to die of pregnancy-related complications because they are “not monitored as carefully” and “often dismissed.” We (and our parents and grandparents) have real and valid reasons to distrust medical professionals. My own grandmother was born just six years after the Tuskegee Syphilis Study began, during which board-certified doctors chose to neither treat nor alert afflicted patients to the development of penicillin as a medical treatment for syphilis.
But this fear, and the lies that are borne of this fear are not helping us. They’re actually hurting us in devastating ways and re-opening generational wounds that have begun the healing process. A 2007 study found that Black and Latinx people have greater distrust in physicians and a stronger belief that doctors will let them die to cut costs than white people. This is a dangerous characterisation of the health care industry on its own, but given that Black adults have higher rates of asthma, diabetes, hypertension, and heart diseases alongside higher rates of death via cancers easily treatable when detected early enough, it’s quickly become fatal. These fears are now morphing into even more ridiculous, and dangerous, myths that we’ve begun spreading to our children.
A popular myth in Black communities, especially online, is that doctors will let you die if you’re an organ donor. 8,000 people die annually (22 people daily) waiting for an organ transplant with a current list of 113,000 because only 58% of the country is registered to donate. Even if more than 3 in 1,000 (0.3%) deaths allowed for organ transplantation, given Black predisposition to organ-altering illness, it’s highly unlikely that medical professionals could allow enough of us to die to make an appreciable impact on the mostly white transplant list. Other myths surrounding lotus births, HIV/AIDS being invented to kill Black people, and sunscreen being unnecessary because Black people don’t get skin cancer (“Black don’t crack”) have been allowed to fester for too long in our communities. So long in fact, that they’ve helped feed and foster resentment and rage that lead to us eschewing all forms of medical intervention.
This includes the oft-forgotten mental health care. To be fair, the neglect of mental wellness is not a uniquely Black phenomenon. The United States and the world have written off mental wellness and mental health care as ridiculous and unnecessary, but in America and other colonial nations, we have to do better. Our very survival depends on it. Suicide was the second leading cause of death for young (15-24) Black people in 2017. The scars of slavery have left a legacy of depression, anxiety, and distress in all of us. We have higher rates of death from treatable disease, poverty, unemployment, enforced segregation, and discrimination than white people throughout the country. Despite being more educated, we are on track to see Black wealth hit zero in less than 35 years.
And yet, so many of us (those who can afford it or have access to it) don’t go to therapy. We’re angry, depressed, anxious, distrustful, and resentful of the institutions that continue to oppress us daily, but we don’t go to therapy. We don’t talk to each other. Being a Black superhuman capable of withstanding all manner of pain, both physical and emotional, is a badge of honour despite being the evolution of racist myths regarding our sexual prowess and imperviousness to pain. I don’t know about y’all but I’m not willing to die in a roundabout attempt to prove James Marion Sims, the “father” of gynecology, right.
Adrie Rose: She/her. Fan of big hair, unrepentant sex worker, and grad student studying internet-based sex work. Cat mom to Misty (15), lipstick hoarder, and dramatic nail clicker.
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