During my college days way back when, I got favorably involved in reading copious books on the subject of black history. The era was saturated with attention toward segregation vs. desegregation. I'm proud to say that my college friends and I demonstrated in the heart of Manhattan against the then most well-established segregationist, Gov. George Wallace of Alabama.
Fast forward to today, 50 years since Martin Luther King's famous "I Have a Dream" speech. I realize how far removed I am from the understanding of black culture, particularly in relation to mental-emotional health. President Barack Obama says that we've made progress relative to education, jobs and economic opportunities. Yet, there is more room to grow.
Given the sordid history of slavery whereby folks were violently uprooted from their African homeland and transplanted into some of the most horrid conditions recorded in history. I cannot still begin to comprehend the long-term longitudinal effect and ramifications. I recall a college friend's sentiment when we were debating on this subject matter. "No matter what, Marshall, I cannot hide from my color."
We live in a world that encourages labeling. "Those ... folks, he's bipolar, she's the type that" ... on and on, you know what I mean? Grouping is a favorite way to pretend we understand more than we can credit ourselves. For example, you know all those (fill in the group) lay around, smoke crack, won't work, drink alcohol and beat their women. We read about an example where one man, for instance, is arrested for a crime and we get caught in a web of false belief that all folks from his (you pick) "group" are the same.
I recall a story that my favorite college professor told the class. On his day off from teaching, he donned his T-shirt, jeans and sneakers and took a walk. A garbage truck pulled up next to him, and the two "white" men yelled at him to get a job and not be so lazy. He was blown away and yet used the experience as a sociologist (he had a Ph.D.) and an African-American to teach us beyond the books. This was real life.
Our attitude individually and collectively can either promote and fuel insidious stereotypes or challenge certain held false beliefs. Just because we may have been taught by our kinfolks doesn't make it right. Prejudice is wrong! Most all of us practice prejudice in some way. We need to confront ourselves when our beliefs injure others. The evolution of false beliefs will take time to decay so that love, compassion and humanity can truly grow.
My years of conducting professional counseling-therapy sessions have taught me much about life. I've worked with people from a whole array of socioeconomic, ethnic and religious-spiritual backgrounds. During the years I've taken notice to one glaring matter that left me to ask the question about African-American mental-emotional health. What about it? Do men, women and children seek help in traditional or perhaps non-traditional quiet ways to assuage mental-emotional health problems? I've no current answer. I also note how few African-American mental health professionals work in this arena, especially in our country. Help me to understand, please. Thank you.
Remember, far beyond the color of our skin, we all face life's challenges. Mental and emotional struggles do not discriminate. Seek help if you need it.
Marshall Greenstein holds a master's degree in marriage and family counseling and is a licensed marriage and family counselor and a licensed mental health counselor in New York state. He has regular office hours at Hutton and Greenstein Counseling Services, 501 E. Third St., Suite 2B, Jamestown, 484-7756. For more information or to suggest topics, email firstname.lastname@example.org.