Posted in Blog

“It’s Because of Their Mental Health Issues” – Labelling and Stigma

This might be a controversial post for some, however it’s a question I often ask myself when I look at the people around me, observing their behaviour and the way they interact with the world around them.

So the question is:

How far can somebody go with using their mental health issues as an excuse for being abusive towards others?

In other words, can you excuse somebody hurting you because they have mental health issues?

The reason I ask is because although I know and through volunteering have met some amazing people with various mental health illnesses and disorders (in fact, these are people who I have come to highly respect), on the other hand I’ve also met and witnessed people who treat others appallingly: Making racist remarks, being homophobic, being verbally abusive, physically assaulting people, committing sexual assault and even murder, and society tends to excuse the behaviour as mental instability.

Last month I was physically assaulted and it was racially motivated. The perpetrator is mentally ill and many people were divided because of that, some excusing the behaviour because of his mental health issues, while others felt that although he suffers from a mental illness there is no excuse for racism. My trauma was also minimised by some because as the perpetrator has schizophrenia he was seen by them as the victim.

What do you think?

Where I volunteer, there’s a member of our team who can be extremely abrupt and rude, even to the service users. At first, especially because I’m protective of the people we look after, my first reaction was to think of him as a dick, however I then wondered if he was perhaps on the spectrum: Because he struggles with communication and becomes very unsettled when there are interruptions to the daily schedule perhaps causing him difficulty in expressing his emotions. However, considering that the people we work with are vulnerable too, does that excuse his rude behaviour towards them?

I come to recognise (through the thankful help of therapy) that I tend to get ahead of myself in making assumptions about a person’s behaviour when actually I have not right to.

This can also be applied to us as a society.

We often excuse criminal behaviour for mental instability. Very often if a white man commits mass murder, society is very quick to label him and assume that he is mentally unstable and in need of help rather than judgement. However, as I’ve mentioned in a previous post, many young black men who have suffered horrendous trauma might commit acts of violence, yet society very rarely shows any understanding or sympathy towards them.

Those of us in the UK remember the incident earlier this year, where a white man verbally abused a black woman whose seat had been allocated next to his and because he didn’t want her to sit next to him, he shouted offensive racially abusive things to her (including calling her a “monkey” and referring to her as “that“), just because he didn’t want a black woman sitting next to him. Many white people who read the story excused the man’s behaviour because he was old and “probably had mental health issues”, but clearly the guy was a dick with no respect for women as well as being obviously racist.

I personally feel that there is a thin line between mental illness and hurting people. I’m not perfect and although my mental illnesses may not as severe as the people I come across while volunteering, I have definitely had moments of spontaneous emotion where I’m not thinking clearly about my actions and hurt people in the process. My personality issues make me extremely impulsive where I act before I’ve even had time to process the thoughts behind it. However, I am extremely remorseful afterwards, sometimes immediately, sometimes a little bit later on, sometimes longer. But I do show remorse which is very much genuine and very much off my own back.

This is important to note.

Last week while volunteering I had a conversation with one of the service users, who while in a fit of rage made some homophobic comments. He had been accused of hitting someone and in the process of saying he wouldn’t hurt anyone, he then said “it’s not like I’m going around beating up f****s“. I told him he couldn’t say what he was saying because it was offensive. He walked away but then a few minutes later came back with his head hung low and apologised; he explained that he was upset and struggling to express his feelings and sometimes when that happens he says things he doesn’t mean, however he had not meant to say what he had and was deeply ashamed. He also has schizophrenia and can struggle to sort through his own thoughts and beliefs. Being a queer woman, I had every right to be upset with him but to me, that was a blip for him; in my opinion he showed genuine remorse and he’s proven himself to be a kind soul. That conversation was actually our first real encounter and it could’ve had a negative impact on how I saw him, but he very quickly proved himself to be a kind-hearted and genuine person.

Unfortunately this isn’t always the case.

I think we really have to be mindful of how we’re using the term mental ill-health, because excusing bad behaviour as a symptom of mental illness only intensifies the stigma surrounding it, penalising the many people who are struggling to be seen as real people as opposed to monsters.

And these are my final thoughts for 2018! I’m going on the short mini-break to Vienna and I’ll be back on 2nd January, so when I’m back I’ll post about my trip as well as my highlights for 2018. Happy New Year to all of my readers and subscribers 💋 your support has been a lifeline for me! See you in 2019!

Posted in Poetry

Lost Your Mind

You call me angry

When I am actually inconsolable

Broken, inside my heart is crying,

Crying out for love.

You call me aggressive,

When I am actually desperate,

Begging to be heard.

You call me loud,

But you don’t hear my cries of pain,

The agony of my mind breaking into two.

You call me unpredictable,

While others have the luxury

Of bad days and good.

How can I possibly predict

What each day will bring?

You call me fine

And capable of life without support.

Yet, inside I’m already dead,

Because what is living

When you have lost your mind?

© Cece Noel, 2018
Posted in Poetry

When You Look Like Them

Reflections of headlines in the dull eyes of the right

“It is un-British to mourn so publicly and for so long!”

But there’s no need to fear

When you look like them

 

There’s no need to fear that you will burn inside your home

That the state will taunt you for the colour of your skin

 

There is no need to cry

When you look like them

Everyday brings a fresh beginning.

 

Like peacocks they walk with swagger past the ashes

The tragedy plays no part in their lives

Holds no impact on their existence,

When you look like them.

 

Forgotten are the screams, the inferno, the betrayal,

Forgotten are the broken promises

The cries that came long before the tragedy.

Dull eyes filled with forgotten lives.

 

The conveyor belt continues, carrying essentials,

Essentials rationed to certain citizens

The rest of us thrown off the merry-go-round

Life goes too fast when we look like us

 

There’s no need to wonder how long the roof

Over your alien head

Will exist, until the carpet is tugged from beneath your feet

 

When you look like them

There is no need to lie

To the babies relying on you

Innocent of their birthright poverty

 

Like peacocks the neighbours in their castle

Swagger, clothed in privilege and entitlement

Race holds no impact on their existence

When you look like them.

© Cece Alex 2018

grenfell-tower-fire-avoidable-due-to-warnings-decades-before-says-union-136429356262702601-180905135034

(Image source)

Posted in Blog

How We Label Black Boys

I found out today through Twittter’s moments, that 23-year-old Saddique died in Camberwell (London) from a fatal stabbing this week.

I want to address the way that black boys and young men victims are labelled by the media following their death. Once again, Saddique has been labelled a rapper, this time in the Drill music genre.

Many will not understand why this is a problem, so I’m going to explain: the connotations of the label “rapper” as I explained in a previous post, are extremely negative; it dehumanises the victim and promotes the racial bias that because these black boys are involved in a particular genre of music, they are looking for trouble and thus deserve to die.

I also want to address negative assumptions within our own community. I personally haven’t listened to much Drill music, however one person today told me it’s quite violent and another person has also said that some gangs use the genre as a method of communicating their violent intentions to other gangs.

Yes, gang culture is a problem; nobody is denying that. But my problem is that we are falling down the same trap as the white people by saying things like: “they’re not helping their situation”, or “they bring it on themselves”.

Again, we’re dehumanising these boys and young men and ignoring the fact that white supremacy and institutional racism plays a massive part in keeping black men in a place of inferiority. Remember, I trained to teach in a boys’ secondary comprehensive school, where the majority of the staff were white and would openly bully the black boys by telling them that they were stupid, that they would amount to nothing because of the colour of their skin and that there was nothing for them because they did not belong in this society. They were also constantly labelled as aggressive troublemakers (even the quiet black boys who were just trying to live their lives). Mainstream media is also constantly telling us that Black boys are the largest group of underachievers. Some of those boys told me that I was the first teacher ever to come along and tell them that they were worth something and to encourage them to aspire to be something more.

If you are told something enough times, eventually you’re going to believe it, so if you’re being told at school (or even at home, because we have to admit that there is a problem with psychological abuse from parents within our culture) that you’re worthless, but older boys are telling you the opposite and giving you the acceptance that you’ve been craving your entire life, which leader are you going to follow?

Don’t get it twisted; I am in no way excusing the path these boys and men are taking. What I am saying is more needs to be done to change the direction they are being forced into.

I’m going to end with a quote from Maya Angelou’s “The Heart of a Woman”, which I happen to be reading again, where Angelou’s son Guy has been threatened by a gang (called the Savages) and she is actually contemplating the concept of who these boys are behind the facade of violence:

First I had to understand the thinking of the Savages. They were young black men, preying on other young black men. They had been informed, successfully, that they were worthless, and everyone who looked like them was equally without worth. Each sunrise brought a day without hope and each evening the sun set on a day lacking achievement. Whites, who ruled the world, owned the air and food and jobs and schools and fair play, had refused to share with them any of life’s necessities – and somewhere, deeper than their consciousness, they believed the whites were correct. They, the young black youth, young lords of nothing, were born without value and would creep, like blinded moles, their lives long in the darkness, under the earth, chewing on roots, driven far from the light.

I understood the Savages. I understood and hated the system which molded them, but understanding in no way licensed them to vent their frustration and anger on my son […] something had to be done to contain the lawless brood of alienated teenagers. 

Rest in power Saddique.

XOXO

Posted in Blog, Mental Health

Racism At Work – Competition with Other People of Colour (The Effects of White Supremacy)

Black women at work

(Image source)

Yesterday I went to my second Racism At Work session. The group is led by a Black Clinical Psychologist who specialises in racial trauma. I signed up because I was still suffering from the effects of the racial trauma I experienced with my previous employer, which had left me bedridden from epileptic seizures and mental health issues triggered by the racism. The effects of the racial trauma also left me with a phobia of going back to work.

Thankfully, I’m back in work part-time now, but it’s with an agency, not only because it allows flexibility whilst I finish my MSc, but also because it allows me the freedom I need as a Black disabled woman. While employed with the agency, I don’t have to be bound to a contract with one employer; If I go to one place and hate it, I can just call the agency to tell them so that they don’t send me back.

The best thing about this support group, is being amongst a group of British BME (Black and Minority Ethnic) people, who have suffered very similar experiences to me in the workplace; who have suffered such racial trauma at work, that they have been left psychologically scarred for life. Like myself. As difficult at the sessions are, I find it incredibly comforting to be in a group of people who are pretty much strangers, yet they get me, and what I’ve been through and what I am still going through.

Recently, I’ve been thinking about how I came to be at “Jule’s House of Pain” (my previous employer), posing questions to myself like,

 

why did I think that I could work in an almost all-white staffed school?

 

Other than one Black media teacher and one Black teaching assistant, I was the only employee of colour at this school. I was the only person of colour in the English department. Prior to this, I’d worked in a Secondary school in Hackney for two years, where I was one of many people of colour amongst the staff. My line manager was also a Black British Caribbean woman, who was older than me. At the beginning, our relationship was amazing; She was like a second mother to me, she knew all about the deterioration of my relationship with my own mother and was incredibly supportive. She even let me take on extra responsibilities regardless of my disability and I was the only teaching assistant in the school who was also teaching lessons solo. However, when I decided in the second year of my employment to apply for teacher training in another school, our relationship deteriorated. I’d applied to train in that school the previous year, but my application had been rejected by the mostly white senior leadership team. At first they said that they hadn’t received it (even though I’d had confirmation after submitting the application through UCAS), then after making me wait for so long, they finally rejected my application, claiming that it was because of my lower second-class degree (even though in their application guidelines, they’d said that they would accept and consider applicants with a 2.2). The Head of the English department said that she had fought for me, however the Head Teacher has refused to consider my application. My Line Manager didn’t say anything until the following year when I told her that I was applying again, but to different schools; she told me that I’d been rejected the previous year because of my epilepsy and soon began to divulge apparent murmurings amongst the Senior Leadership Team that I was a burden to the department because of my epilepsy and wasn’t fulfilling my job description… even though I was still working as an Unqualified Teacher at the point, while still only being paid at a Teaching Assistant rate.

The reason why I bring this up, is because in the group yesterday we were discussing toxic relationships at work with other women of colour, who appear to be threatened by the competition they perceive between us as two women of colour and become pawns in the “game” of white supremacy and institutionalised racism, by enacting the behaviour a white oppressor would usually display towards us.

My Line Manager didn’t have to tell me “everything that was apparently being said about me”. She only did it to bring me down, because I had become confident in my role – confident enough to spread my wings to another school even. She was acting like I was gunning for her role, but all I wanted to do was teach! And in a different department! In the grievance, I even put everything that my line manager had told me was being said about me – even by the Head Teacher – and was told that it was all categorically lies. But it’s difficult to know who to believe in a situation like that.

I began to realise that if it wasn’t for this manager, I would never have rushed to “Jule’s House of Pain” to do my teacher training. I was just so desperate to get away from her, that I took the first school that offered me a job. Most of the Senior Leadership Team were leaving during my second year, including the Head Teacher, and the teacher who was taking her place was always supportive of my work. With her and the Head of English looking at my teaching application, I may have had a second-chance. In fact, when I had to ask her to write my Teacher Training reference (she began her role during the last term of my employment), she was disappointed that I wasn’t staying with them to do it at her school. She asked me why I hadn’t applied to train there and by this point, it was almost the end of my employment at the school and I felt like I had nothing to lose by telling the truth, so I did:

 

I was told that my application last year was rejected because of my epilepsy, so I felt like I had no choice but to go to another school.

 

She responded:

 

We would’ve accepted your application now that I’m Head Teacher. We need teachers like you here.

 

By the end of my time at the school, I’d had to file a grievance against my line manager and was moved to the English Department until the end of the school year. But, even being in a different department was difficult because she was still in the school and still talking about me to staff.

 

The irony is that, my Line Manager handed in her resignation after I did. I wouldn’t have had to deal with her anymore. I could’ve stayed in a multi-culturally-staffed school, if it wasn’t for her. When this suddenly dawned on me last night, it broke me, because it brought back all of the trauma I had suffered during my teacher training year. Had it not been for that Line Manager in my previous school, I might have been saved from such trauma. Having to reconcile that although white supremacy played a big part in this game, a Black woman had played a huge part in the demise of my career as well as my mental health, is a difficult pill to swallow. But this is what competition will do, especially when we’re playing the game of the white man. Some of us are so desperate for approval and acceptance from white people, that we will trample over our own people to get it. It’s historical – As slaves, Black people were encouraged to compete for favour from their White slave owners; within families, women in particular fight for the attention and favour of their mothers –  and clearly some of us are unwilling to break the generation pattern. Psychologically, unless we make the decision to break that bondage we could all still fall prey to the orders of the white man. Even if they aren’t explicitly telling us to fight each other, we can still implicitly hear the orders because that’s how institutionalised racism works and the closer you are to your white colleagues or managers, the closer you believe yourself to be to the power that they hold, which of course isn’t true. 

XOXO

Posted in Blog

Speaking Out & Fighting Black

I always feel like I’m constantly crying because I’m constantly disappointed by life.

My girlfriend doesn’t do her share of the housework, so I cry as I obsessively glare at the dirty dishes piling up.

My mother proves once again that she cannot be the mother I deserve, so I cry.

I wake up to a new day and before I’ve even opened my eyes properly I have a seizure, so I cry.

I think about the possibility of returning to work but the thought of doing so fills me with immense fear. So I cry.

When I do work up the courage to apply for jobs, I hit a wall when it comes to the reference requests because my previous employer always find a way to refuse doing it even though they signed an non-disclosure agreement (NDA) promising to give me a reference for any future employment. So when they don’t I cry.

I’ve kept my end of the agreement for almost a year now. Even though I was forced to sign this document when I was mentally unstable.

One of the terms of the agreement was to also keep quiet about the name of that Employer, so even though they are so intent on not only ruining my past career, but any future job prospects, I still have to keep schtum..

The employer was an all white comprehensive secondary school in Finchley. For legal reasons, let’s call them “Jule’s House of Pain”.

And they fired me because I am Black and disabled.

When I called my mum weeks ago to tell her what “Jule’s House of Pain” were doing, she advised me to send an email to the new Head Teacher pleading for her to reconsider. When I asked my mum why I should have to grovel to these people, her response was:

That’s what Black people have to do in this country.

I hated the idea but I did it anyway. The Head Teacher ignored me. So when I got an email from the employment agency I was trying to register with to say that they had to reject my application, because”Jule’s House of Pain” were refusing to give me a reference and thus confirm that there were no Child Protection issues while I was an employee at the school, I decided to fight. I emailed the Head Teacher again, pointing out that she was breaking the terms of the NDA and I would be forced to take legal action against the school.

She emailed me back within a day to say that she had provided the reference to the agency.

My previous email may have helped my case because clearly this new Head Teacher, who wasn’t working at the school while I was there, had inherited the prejudice from her predecessor who had tortured me. This was clear from the way she spoke to me on the phone when I courageously called to speak to her personally. She spoke to me like I was a piece of dirt. Therefore a polite, grovelling email contradicts the Black, aggressive troublemaker she’s evidently heard about. Perhaps she saw my final email as a “last resort” and out of character if she compared me to the same person who had emailed so politely prior. But, as Black people in Britain it is not our legacy to plead with white people to get what we are entitled to. We are human beings and citizens.

But, as Black people in Britain it is not our legacy to plead with white people to get what we are entitled to. We are human beings and citizens.

So now, instead of crying I’m going to fight. I was forced to sign that NDA while I was mentally unstable, so I’m going to seek legal advice on my next steps. When I read it now in my right mind, I see it as worthless like the toilet paper I use to wipe my arse. It doesn’t protect me, it is just an oppressive weapon to shut me up.

My therapist also asked me why I expected them to be co-operative after what they did to me:

This is “Jule’s House of Pain” why would you expect them to give you what you want?

As if that should excuse the continued torture.

Again, this isn’t about getting what I want. It’s about getting what I am entitled to as a fucking human being and a citizen of this country. It’s about being part of a new generation of Black British citizens fighting a long oppressive legacy of colonialism where white people think they can take from us and not have to pay reparations. It’s about fighting against structural racism.

After consciously making the decision to fight instead of cry, last night I dreamt about being in a school but for the first time in over a year, it wasn’t a nightmare and I didn’t wake up shouting and crying.

This time, I was in full control.

Posted in Poetry

Kiri

I smash my head against the table because there ain’t no pain worse than a white man taking my daughter away from me.

 

But still, you question my pain. When you wrongfully charge me with my daughter’s murder you spit judgement at me for showing nothing to you. I don’t care if you look like me. You’re still one of them – or so you think. This is how structural racism works in Britain.

Her neck, her neck, he put his hands around her beautiful long neck, because where he saw a black drug baby I saw a beautiful little Black princess.

 

My princess. So he took her from me.

 

Which is why I smash my head against the table because there ain’t no pain worse than a white man taking my daughter away from me.

 

White words can destroy a life just as much hands. She claimed she saw my car outside her house, so you charged me on her word. Now two lives are lost, and I’m forced to live out my days in incarceration endlessly grieving for my Black princess.

 

So I smash my head against the table because there ain’t no pain worse than a white man taking my daughter away from me.

 

Now there are riots outside of the police station, crying #nojusticenopeace

But the media has portrayed me as a thug with no fixed abode, so there will be no justice for me because there never is for faces like mine.

 

And who gets peace? Surely the hands that wrung my princess’s neck will forever tremble, not from guilt but insanity. Because whiteness knows no guilt when Black blood is shed.

And he will be scared of his own shadow because there’s more to fear in your own mind than justice catching up with you when you kill a black body.

 

Which is why I smash my head against the table because there ain’t no pain worse than a white man taking my daughter away from me.

 

 

 

 

Image taken from BT TV.

This piece was inspired by the events seen in the TV Drama show Kiri.

©The Wallflower Speaks Loudly, 2018