Today is the final day of May, and all month we have been honoring Mental Health Awareness Month here at Rebirthoflisa. For my final entry of the month on this topic, I would like to address a theory that has been floating around since the 1950s, and that is Racism is a Mental Illness. We’ve discussed the impact of stigmatism in the community and how it hurts people who suffer from any form of mental disease. A quote I posted in my #wcw challenge from Adam Ant alludes to the fact mental illness is the final taboo and needs to be addressed. Well this is my contribution for the month.
Growing up a black female in the South, you would automatically expect I would have faced many issues with racism, but you would be wrong. From the time I was in first grade and through college, I went to school and mingled with people from all backgrounds. Of course the differences were noticed, as they should be, but I can honestly say no one was discriminated against based on the color of their skin; at least not to my knowledge. People tended to gravitate toward others who shared commonalities like sports or fashion, but everyone was accepted. I played sports and my teammates and I were always welcomed where ever we traveled and the community embraced us.
I never experienced out right racism until I was an adult in my early 20s. I was working as a lead cashier in a grocery store and this lady wanted to write a check, but had no id on her. Store policy prohibited me from taking the check because there was some fraud going on in the area. I had my instructions “NO EXCEPTIONS”! Well at that time in my life I was a stickler for rules, so that meant nobody was giving me a check without the proper identification. We required a picture id and no starter checks were accepted. Well it just so happened this particular customer had no id and a starter check. There was no way I was putting my initials on that check and accepting it. I checked her out and her groceries were bagged when she started writing the check. I asked for her id and she immediately said she did not have it. Well, I was no fool who writes a check and doesn’t have id? Looking at the check, I noticed it was a starter check and she had only written in her name; no address or phone number. I nicely informed her that I could not accept a starter check and I would need id to accept any form of check. Long story short the lady tried to use her status as a lawyer to bully me into accepting the check. When that didn’t work, she began using racial slurs that made my ears bleed. (Not really, but they should have) At first I was shocked and appalled that anyone would be brazen enough to talk like that; especially a so-called lawyer. Of course I read about racism and heard stories, but not until I experienced it with such fury, did I understand the pain and shame that goes along with it. I remember thinking to myself, “Why would she say such things to me when I was just protecting her? What if someone had stolen her checks and was trying to pass it off? She would have been extremely upset that her bank account was empty. Why would that cause her to use such hateful language?” I didn’t fully understand in my 20s, this being my first bout with racism. I was trying to rationalize her behavior, but what I didn’t realize was there is nothing rational about racism.
It is my belief, all people are similar creatures. We have the same hopes and dreams no matter what culture we grew up in. Everyone has the basic need to be loved, understood and appreciated for the gifts they bring to the table. Every individual is unique and must be treated as such. People cannot be lumped into a category because they look a certain way. Stereotypes are one of the worst things ever thought up by humans. They all stem from a small truth about a couple of people in a certain group, but then they become the poster behavior for a specific race or culture. I grew up in a small town in North Carolina in the projects. Most people would stereotype me as being ghetto and violent, with at least three kids by three different men and uneducated. I should in fact have low self-esteem and live off of welfare with no future to speak of. I should have no ambition and no appreciation for culture. In fact, I went to college, albeit on a basketball scholarship, was on the honor roll each semester and have grown out of my combative stage most of the time. I am now a beacon of positivity who loves museums, all genres of music and love to read and learn new things. I have no children, and have been married to the love of my life for close to 15 years. I am so not the stereotype some people would believe me to be. My personality contains bits and pieces of the stereotype, but I am so much more.
I am not alone in this. Everyone is complex and we all have layers to our personalities. If racists could understand this concept and really appreciate each person as the individual they are, the world could be cured of this terrible, debilitating disease. Racism is like diabetes in a since. It is caused by what is being fed to you. If you absorb all of the negative traits about the one person you know of a different race, you will get sick. However, if you consume the nutrients of positivity and get the whole picture, you will start healing the disease.
Since racism is an illness, it can be cured. Here is my prescription:
- Step 1 -Recognize you have a problem
- Step 2 – Talk to a therapist or clergyman
- Step 3 – Pray for guidance
- Step 4 – Make amends for wrongdoings (if any)
- Step 5 – Open your mind and heart to different people and cultures
- Step 6 – Travel to distant lands and learn about their lives and culture
- Step 7 – Have honest conversations with people who look different than you. You’ll find you may have more in common than you thought.
- Step 8 – Enjoy life instead of walking around angry at someone for just being themselves.
- Step 9 – Learn to love yourself
- Step 10 – Realize when someone else dares to love themselves, it is not a threat to you. They are simply planting seeds of self – esteem. It’s not about you.
If we all stop trying to be better than one another and realize we are stronger working together than apart, we could really make an impact in annihilating this disease. Won’t you help spread the cure?