Although I identify as a Black person of African and Caribbean heritage, and American socialization, I am still struggling with the word “Black people.” As I selected those two words as the first for the title of this blog, I imagine that some people may feel certain ways when they read it. They may wonder, who are “Black People?” In this world of what some may consider heightened political correctness, is it even acceptable to say the phrase, Black People. Can everyone say it and be fine, or is the phrase reserved for only certain people to say without worry? These are some of the questions I imagine may be in the minds of readers. So if those questions and others come to mind, do not think that you are the only one wondering about them. It may therefore be necessary to define what I mean by Black People. I simply mean people who so self-identify because of the African, African American, African-Caribbean, or other African X identities.
I decided to write on this subject today because as a Black man who is a counseling student in settings where I may be the only one or one of the few of my background, I am often asked by colleagues to provide my views on mental health and Black people. Those questions have been both general and specific.
One of the most frequent questions that I get from peers is related to well-known statistics that Black people in America are drastically underrepresented as recipients of sufficient mental health services. Recently, I was asked the following question. I hereby share my answer to it with you in hopes that you will find value in it: What must we consider about black people and mental health before we look into solutions for their disproportionate mental health issues?
Black people are very diverse
We need to first remember that Black people are very diverse. Black people come from many countries, faith backgrounds, cultural experiences, environmental settings, economic settings, physiological backgrounds, psychological profiles, political settings, social settings, and spiritual foundations. We need to consider all of these in the context of the person before us. We need to avoid applying stereotypes about Black people in general, or what we know or believe about certain Black people to dictate what we think we know, how we think about, how we feel towards, and how we act/react to the Black person that is before us. Then, and only then, if absolutely necessary we can extrapolate to others beyond that person. Avoid the ecological fallacy of using what you know about one or a few Black people and applying that information to other Black people. The same goes to people from other backgrounds.
Know the relevant history
Professionals have historically used research and treatment of others to apply to Black people even when results may not sufficiently suite them. Be sure that whatever you are using as a theory or method to treat a Black person has sufficient cultural relevance to their realities.
Avoid dangerous stereotypes
Black people are often stereotyped as being very strong, able to withstand a great deal of pain, often cause their own problems, and are not willing to take enough responsibilities on their own to improve their lives. Be very careful about the extent to which you believe these stereotypes. It will be easy for you to find what may seem as confirmation for them if you do not sufficiently resolve those exaggerations and mistruths within yourself. Most Black people are not that way and deserve unconditional positive regard and a fresh chance with every counselor.
There are several more issues to keep in mind when working with people who identify themselves as Black. Some of those issues are no different than among people of other racial and ethnic backgrounds; yet others are different. I may write more on this subject in the future. For now, I encourage all readers to reflect on the three considerations outlined above and apply them as they become relevant.
Written By: Peter S.J., Masters Level Intern