Posted in Blog, Mental Health

Friendships: Scared to Get Close

Hiiiiiiii!

I’m extremely happy; yesterday I met up with a friend for coffee and each time we see each other, it’s just fun and chilled and time just flies. I can be myself; I can struggle to get out of bed because I haven’t had a good night’s sleep, or my joints and muscles are aching, I’m feeling lethargic from the side-effects of my medication, but it feels worth the struggle; I don’t have to pretend that I’m feeling superb but still have a great time because I with a friend I can open up to.

We’ve known each other for about six or seven years now and up until this year we would only see each other when I went to one of his gigs (he’s the lead singer in a band. It wasn’t until summer of this year I realised that not only was he now my oldest friend, but we hadn’t really hung out 1:1. So since then, we’ve been meeting up to have coffee and a catch up regularly and I feel like I’m ending the year on a positive.

I may not have any family, but I have an amazing girlfriend who I’m madly in love with and a friend that I can rely on and be myself with.

It is petrifying though…

Each time I get close to somebody, they hurt me.

They want me to be somebody I’m not, they want to be able to forget my blackness so that they can say shitty things about black people and people of colour, they want to forget about my disability, they want me to give my life and everything I am to accommodate them to the detriment of myself.

In the past four years I’ve lost an entire family (both immediate and extended), best friends from school and early adulthood, and people I formed intense bonds with only to realise that our friendship had been built on sand (I still know my bible references!).

So, I am frightened of getting close to people. I’ve been rejected by both of my parents, of course I have abandonment issues!

It’s only natural right?

I’m also incredibly impulsive which leads me to make intense relationships with people I realise I hardly even know (which is actually a symptom of personality disorders). For instance: My BFF from Bumble, I had no idea where she even lived yet I truly believed I’d made a best friend for life! And I told this gal eeeeeeverything like we’d known each other for years. Which she then used against me because that was the kind of person she was and I’d failed to see it.

I guess I wear my heart on my sleeve.

So I’m scared.

But at the same time, I’m not one for standing still. I’m one for trying to pick myself up and move forwards. Therapy has taught me that not everybody is going to hurt and abandon me. Human beings are not a monolith. I’m also becoming really good at checking my judgments with others, particularly my girlfriend, just to check that I’m reading situations right and not being too impulsive with my relationships with other people. Sometimes it’s just good to check in with people you trust to protect your heart and mental health.

Posted in Blog, Mental Health

The “Aggressive” Black Woman Label (Essay)

 

When we focus our discussions on sexism and racism, targets of sexism tend to focus on white women, and targets of racism tend to focus on Black men, while women of colour get forgotten about.

 

As a Black woman having grown up around white-centric environments, growing up, I was always described as shy, soft-spoken, reserved and quiet but then in my late twenties, when I began to embrace my Black culture, I was subjected to negative stereotyping in many different areas of my life.

It wasn’t until my negative Teacher Training experience last year, that I was ever described by anybody as “aggressive” for the first time. This was also the first time that I was seen as a Black woman. I was shocked. My Black friends were bewildered because I was the quietest in the group. However, as only one of two Black teachers in the very white comprehensive school, this was not just about the colour of my skin. This was also about my actions: speaking up for myself and for my Black pupils who were being unfairly targeted. However, my employers thought otherwise and quickly labelled me as “aggressive” for speaking “out of turn”.

 

The second time I was called “aggressive” was shortly afterwards, in a mental health Facebook group, when somebody referred to the Grenfell fire as “just a fire”. The initial complaint came from one white woman who was asking for sympathy, because the media coverage a month after the tragedy was still too overwhelming. In response another white woman said: “remember it was just a fire”. As a Black woman from London, I was shocked that people from outside London could refer to such a tragedy in my hometown so carelessly and flippantly. While a community was (and still is) grieving and my city was raging you’re asking for sympathy, because you’re incapable of basic empathy? I remember my words explicitly: “I implore of you, please don’t refer to it as ‘just a fire’”, before I was ganged up against by the entire group and labelled as “aggressive” for daring to so insensitively call out the person who had made the comment.

I have Epilepsy and would talk openly about the negative side-effects of anti-epileptic drugs, as well as what it’s like to live life as a Black woman with Epilepsy. However, the more I’ve been reading into Epilepsy research, the more it has become apparent just how racist empirical research is — in fact, most of the medical studies do not contain any people of colour whatsoever. And now that I am making this racism known as part of my campaigning, other campaigners are labelling me as “aggressive”.

 

Wendy Ashley explains the stereotype of the “angry Black woman” as a characterisation of “ignorant without provocation” (Ashley, 2014, DOI: 10.1080/19371918.2011.619449). However, in all of my examples you can be assured that I was never ignorant, and I was definitely provoked. One thing my Teacher Training experience opened my eyes to was to explore the question: why are Black women never permitted the freedom to display anger as a valid expression of emotion? We are constantly forced to police our emotions, for fear of not slipping into that “angry Black woman stereotype”. Even Serena Williams throughout her career, has been consistently labelled as aggressive, even though she is retaliating (with class I must add) to constant racial macrogressions and aggressive provocations.

 

If you’ve been hurt, and somebody has caused you pain, you have every right to be angry! Just like any other woman of any other colour, girl!

 

So where does this stereotype even come from?

 

In light of not so recent events where Serena Williams was also labelled as aggressive by the media, Black women are suffering this every day where they are subjected to negative stereotyping, while juxtaposed with invisibility – particularly in the workplace.

Unfortunately, as Black women we struggle to be heard and struggle to be visible, due to being “intersectionally disabled” (Purdie-Vaughns & Eibach, 2008, DOI/10.1177/1368430216663017). Research also describes “angry Black women” typically being “aggressive, unfeminine, undesirable, overbearing, attitudinal, bitter, mean, and hell raising” (Malveaux, 1989; Morgan & Bennett, 2006, DOI/10.1080/19371918.2011.619449). This is of course in direct comparison to our white cis female counterparts, who are perceived socially as fair, more feminine, less-aggressive and therefore more desirable.

 

Having a strong sense of self is equally perceived as aggressive and threatening: So many women struggle with their self-image and self-constructs, that Black women who are perceived to have a handle on theirs (even when we don’t!) may be misunderstood by their peers to be aggressive. However, the concept of the confident Black woman is a phenomenon that has become more widespread — particularly in UK, mostly thanks to social media, which millenial Black women are wholeheartedly embracing: the Slumflower instigated the #saggyboobsmatter movement and is also empowering women to embrace their gut feelings. Unfortunately, people still perceive these drives towards positive mindsets as aggressive.

 

I have just finished reading Americanah (2014) by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. In it, Aunty Uju says: “These [white] people make you aggressive just to hold your dignity”, which is always my response when provoked. I feel like I’m being put onto a stage against my will and the audience are hurling abusive insults at me, just waiting for my reaction.

This relates to Personality Theory: there, behavioral tendency refers to the way an individual prefers to act, heavily influenced by the individual’s preferred thought process, the current situation, the current available resources, and the authority the person currently has. Using this, we are constantly proven not to be aggressive in many situations we are forced into:

Black women reported that, like me, they were forced to encounter negative race-based stereotypes in the workplace on a regular basis (Catalyst, 2004, DOI 10.1177/0894845308325645). Another study was able to make correlations between experiences of negative race-based stereotypes for Black women in employment and historical misogynoir:

Thus, Black women are forced to contend with many negative racial stereotypes, which can obstruct their professional lives and connections with others in the workplace. Historical stereotypical images—such as the caretaker Mammy, the loud-talking Sapphire, and the seductive Jezebel—in addition to emerging images, such as the unstable Crazy Black Bitch (CBB) and the constant overachieving Superwoman, may affect Black women’s professional goals, work relationships, and overall organizational experiences” (Reynolds-Dobbs et al, 2008, p.130-131, DOI, 10.1177/0894845308325645).

 

So, sometimes it simply doesn’t matter how much of a “workface” we put on, how much overtime we put in—due to the overpowering negative history of the “angry Black woman” stereotype, for us the glass ceiling is still significantly lower.

 

Social theorist Kimberlé Crenshaw reminds us that the law does not recognise intersectionality and therefore, as Black women we cannot look to the law as our saviour.

 

Unfortunately as a Black woman, you just have to be your own.

 

Posted in Blog, Mental Health

Introduction to Personality Theory (Being Black is AWESOME)

personalities

(Image source)

Since starting my MSc, I’ve been thinking A LOT about labels and diagnoses, particularly when you’re Black.

When I was 28 I was diagnosed with Emotionally Unstable Personality Disorder (formally known as Borderline Personality Disorder). However, this diagnosis was based upon my past behaviour where I had no sense of self; I was unstable, impulsive, my moods would go from high to low and I could be extremely unsociable one day to belle of the ball to the next.  However, as a young, Black woman growing up in the UK amongst mostly white girls of course I was confused about my identity and therefore, had no sense of self. But now that I’m “woke” and I’ve finally found a sense of “Blackness”, does that mean that I no longer have mental health issues? Of course it doesn’t. But because I finally do have a sense of self, I was rejected from the NHS Mental Health services assessment team for being too “high functioning” and even though I’ve complained, it’s made no difference. I may get a meeting with a psychologist regarding a further explanation on my diagnosis as per my request, but that’s it, so I’ll have to continue to pay for private therapy. To be fair, my Therapist is awesome, she’s a beautiful Black woman, so woke, and she’s highly intelligent.

My current module is on Individual Differences, Personality and Intelligence. I’m only a week in and so far, it’s proving incredibly insightful: psychologists like to throw around the words “normal” and “abnormal” quite a lot, which doesn’t surprise me, therefore when they’re creating a hypothesis for behaviour, you can imagine why they look at a Black person and find our behaviour “abnormal” when their theories are based upon “normal [white] populations”. It also makes sense as to why they’re so frequently diagnosing Black women with Personality disorders and Black men with Schizophrenia. Go figure.

A term I’ve discovered is: Unconditional positive regard, which is where an individual becomes less reliant upon the opinions of others and becomes more confident in their own opinion of themselves, therefore having a more positive opinion of oneself. This is a construct which I feel that my generation of Black people are lovingly embracing and something older generations were never taught – in fact, they were taught to hate themselves. Black people were never taught about the concept of self, not in this way, in fact I know in Caribbean culture it was very selfish to be introspective. However, what the older generation didn’t realise was that not allowing themselves to be free of white opinions was a mental shackle.

My final thought is something I read which proves something I’ve thought for awhile: some people create a self-construct (image) as a crutch, which is not actually a true representation of themselves or the way they can behave all the time, so when a distortion takes place, they become aggressive because they’re suddenly unsure of how to behave. I’ve found this in situations when [white] people are pretending that they are intelligent in conversations, but I show them up (not on purpose), so they become aggressive towards me. When these situations initially used to happen, I would become upset because in my mind I’m thinking all we’re doing is having a conversation, and now you’re shouting at me and calling me stupid wtf! when actually I’m saying something intelligent and you’re the stupid one, however now I’m confident enough to know that they are the insecure one and they are the one who is lashing out because of their insecurities. Their behaviour is a reflection of their own insecurities and a denial of any incongruence between their self-image and own behaviour.

XOXO