Posted in Blog

Growing Up Black

Black Girl (Image source)

I grew up wondering if we as black loved each other. In fact, I doubted it. I realise now that this was mostly because of how I was raised. 

A few weeks ago, I stumbled upon some videos of Michael Jackson talking about the psychological abuse he suffered at the hands of his father, Joseph. In these clips, the example he used was how Joseph used constantly to pick on him for the shape of his nose.

The abuse had such a psychological impact on him, that it led to years of surgery on his nose.

The response to these video clips, were incredibly open, honest and encouraging towards Michael, from hundreds of black people who, as little boys and girls, had grown up being taunted by their parents for their facial features, their weight, even their hair (I was shocked to read of parents referring to own children’s hair as “nappy hair”). I read Nina Simone’s autobiography in July, and her mother was her first bully, who criticised her dark skin and nappy hair. Nina’s mental health issue’s began with her upbringing. Like Michael Jackson, by the time she became a superstar it didn’t matter that the world loved her because the psychological damage was already done. 

My mother was a great encourager of my intelligence. She always used to call me a little professor because of my glasses, and when she found out in primary school that the teachers were refusing to give me harder books to read, she marched to the school and demanded for me to be intellectually challenged, just like she was doing for me at home! She would buy me as many books as she could get her hands on when she could afford it.

However, when it came to beauty, I felt taunted. She would call me fat and tell me to stop eating too much.

Even when I wasn’t eating. 

Everybody would say that my younger sister was the prettier one, so I guess that’s why I became a tomboy – I was rough, clumsy and forgetful. I hated dresses, but actually didn’t mind Barbie dolls, as long as I could cut their hair and give them jobs LOL.

When my parents split up, she would tell me that I looked like my father, which was devastating for me as a teenager, yet everybody I know sees my sister and my mum in my face and I’m now starting to agree.

Every time I got spot she would be the first to tell me.

Every time I put on weight she would be the first to tell me.

I recall the summer during the height of my eating disorder when I was purging and over exercising, at my lowest weight and my mother never said a thing.

She would however constantly compare me to my sister: why can’t you be more girly like her? Why can’t you be slimmer like her? When my sister fell down the same path, she threw compliments down the path like a paparazzi stream, knowing that my sister wasn’t eating properly either.

I don’t really know what to say about my father. His torture took years to recover from, to the point where even up to perhaps last year I was apologising to strangers before I’d even had a chance to disappoint them. And I finally stopped blaming myself for the abuse in my late-twenties, which unfortunately is a common poison in Black culture (victim blaming).

It took for me to read the words of Maya and Assata to learn not to walk with my head down, and to walk tall. Their grandmothers taught them not to be ashamed of who they are, and now from the grave I’m being taught the same. I walk the streets of London, with my hair scraped up and no makeup on my face and my head held high and for the first time in my life I feel beautiful.

I see out of the corner of my eye, people do double takes as I walk past (wooooo).

I don’t pay no mind – I just carry on walking.

I’m so thankful for this new generation of Black People, who love ourselves and love each other. It’s sad that some of us have skipped a generation for our education, but I’m just thankful that it’s THERE. Black love is real love.

When Assata was in her final prison, it was Grandmother who spoke these words to her:

““I love you,” my grandmother said. “We don’t want you to get used to that place, do you hear? Don’t you let yourself get used to it.” “No, grandmommy, I won’t.” Every day out in the street now, i remind myself that Black people in amerika are oppressed. It’s necessary that I do that. People get used to anything. The less you think about your oppression, the more your tolerance for it grows. After a while, people just think oppression is the normal state of things. But to become free, you have to be acutely aware of being a slave.” – Assata: An Autobiography (2016) by Assata Shakur, Angela Davis

I can’t be angry at my mother – just like Joseph Jackson, as black immigrants they believed in the false narrative that  “being white” equates to success; my mother believed in white supremacist lies that told her that we had to conform to certain labels, and the older I get, the more I realise how many Black People are psychologically oppressed by that system as they forever try to conform. It got me thinking about mental health: black adults have every right to be angry for the persecution they have suffered at the hands of the white man or Black culture and they have a breakdown.

You will know from my previous posts, that Psychology has failed people of colour when it comes to mental health. For whatever reason – whether it be internalised racism, childhood abuse – we suffer a breakdown and go and see a Psychiatrist for help, but instead of being listened to, we get given a label that doesn’t apply to us because these labels don’t understand white supremacy, parental abuse in Black Culture, the Black community in general or even religion. The psychiatrist prescribes the medication anyway, which doesn’t work and as the years go by, the black patient’s condition deteriorates until they become the disregarded “crazy black bitch/dude on the street who’s always outside Sainsbury’s”.

 

Which is why I’ve now decided that I want to work with adults in Mental Health.

 

♥ We shouldn’t have to bring ourselves up – we deserve a proper childhood. 

♥ We deserve proper mental health care and deserve to be listened to. 

♥ We should be able to have access to psychiatrists who understand our culture. 

We need to know how to educate our children

XOXO

Author:

I’m Cece Alexandra and I have Epilepsy. Since being diagnosed, my life has changed significantly. After studying and teaching Humanities and Literature for all of my adult life, I was bullied and lost my job a month before qualifying to become an English Teacher. Once you fail the Teacher Training course in England, you cannot ever retrain; I then became too sick to work because of my Epilepsy. I am now currently studying an MSc in Mental Health Psychology with the University of Liverpool. My disability provokes me into raising awareness for invisible disabilities, which I also actively partake in with Epilepsy Action. Part of that awareness is to help fight against invisible disability discrimination - I believe that this behaviour is not cognitively unconscious; modern society is actively partaking in a hierarchy of disabilities and I believe that there is not enough psychological research to prove this. I am also clinically interested in Cultural Psychology - particularly Collectivist Culture, and wish to pursue this further in my academic career.

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