updated resource links in post
Like some kind of deep echoing, I found myself reading an article reposted over at Racialicious by Bassey Ikipi about women and mental health. The introspective piece takes us from Hollywood and the music industry to Ikipi’s own experience. In so doing, it reminds us of the powerful oppressions and the even more powerful women trying to survive them in the mental health industry.
Ikipi begins her story with two famous white female stars: Heather Locklear and Britney Spears. In so doing, she reminds us that the vilification of the so-called mentally “ill” is so powerful that it can bring even the wealthiest and privileged women in to the realm of public scorn.
I for one avoided discussing Britney on this blog b/c I did not want to encourage all the “hateration” going on, nor do I particularly care for Ms. Spears music or image. And I remember distinctly how it was ok to go after her despite the indications that something was going terribly wrong even in feminist circles and women’s studies classrooms. Despite having been underage when her career was at its height and her porn referencing videos hit the air, she was some how singularly held responsible for the sexist and sexualizing of girls that the industry built around her. Was she blameless in this industry, no, but was she in an industry that had been guilty of both before she was even born, yes. And while there is much room for critiquing both her and the Spears Industry’s role in many negative media issues about women, particularly as she crossed that line into adulthood and failed to take control of her image as her other contemporaries had done, taking popshots at her let everyone else off the hook. Worse, in this instance, it fed into what we would later know to be ableism – in the popular conception of “crazy” and in the specific handling of her diagnosis.
I did talk about her original meltdown with my mother, who works with pregnant women. Her simple two-word answer reframed the entire discussion for me: “postpartum depression.” No one afforded Spears the kindness that would be required to recognize what my mother so clearly saw because of age, class (remember all the “white trash roots” comments), and disdain for the way she used and was used by a sexist industry (gender). It was easier to join in the oppression based laughter than deal with the fact that mental health stigmas can reach us all and that when people are more invested in what they can make off you, or in vilifying your health issues, no help is likely to come.
Locklear, who is much older than Spears and has never been characterized as coming from a rural poor background and whose public image has been radically transformed from working class roles to upper class ones, managed to remain completely out of the media’s eye. Yet the stigma she experienced at being labeled ill still compromised her self-image. Proving that age and class matter, but that ultimately the perception of mental health is its own form of oppression.
In talking about her own experience, Bassey also reminds us of the metalanguage of race (thanks Higgenbotham/read it) and how race acts as a multiplier in an already existing hotbed of oppressions. Her narrative not only discusses the difference in the way mental health is read when applied through the lens of blackness/color but also implies the way that lens has become internal in our communities, creating a silence that may choke while it deafens.
Bassey Ikipi spoke out in the silence with an eye to intersectionality and she still is speaking to a truth some would deny. There is a dual intersection between race and mental health one that denies us adequate intervention, treatment, and care (in all senses of that word) and may result in death-by-provider. The other, is the ease with which society vilifies typical signs of mental health issues in women of color as some how part of an engendered racial pathology in similar ways that it makes it part of a gendered pathology for white women and in which certain communities of color subscribe to the “long suffering” or “shunning” interpretation of these issues. The higher the social class, for white women in particular, the less the latter will occur but may God help you if you are poor, and black, and young or old, and experiencing mental health crises.
The echoing I heard in reading Bassey’s piece should be clear:the story of the loss of Esmin Green and the need to think across multiple oppressions to understand how we all ultimately suffer when anyone of these oppressions is left unchecked.
I encourage you all to read Bassey’s piece. And to rejoice in not only her courage to speak out so that others will but also in the communal love she received from other women, during her time with def poetry jam, that helped her to be strong. It is the powerful sisterhood of these women and of Bassey in turn that reminds us what we are capable of as women committed to social justice in the mental health industry and elsewhere. Thanks to racialicious for the repost.
I’ve left comments open on this post for now, but if the same oppressive drivel repeats in the comments, I will lock it down.
PS. Books I have found useful with/for clients of color who are depressed:
- bell hooks Sisters of the Yam.
- Meri Nana-Ama Danquah Willow Weep for Me
- Kelly Koo “Sexual Orientation and Depression Among Asian-American Women” (no link available)
- Belisa Lozano-Vranich The Seven Beliefs
For those interested in the findings of the medical establishment on barriers to treatment or specific needs and indicators for communities of color (which includes class and some gender analysis):
- Surgeon General “Mental Health: Culture, Race, and Ethnicity.”
- Journal of Multicultural Counseling and Development
- Latin@ community MH Fact Sheet