My plan was to write a different blog post today, but a trip to the barber shop changed all that. The shop is on 110th and Longwood near the site of yesterday’s triple homicide of a mother and her two daughters. I am in this place again, trying to make sense out of the senseless.
Jade Hannah, 17, her 11 year-old sister and her mother were brutally stabbed to death by Jade’s 18 year-old boyfriend, Denzel Pittman. A young man in the shop who was in Jade’s senior division was saying that Pittman was the kind of guy who felt that if he couldn’t have her, nobody could.
The conversation swirled around how he could do something like that. Was it rage? Was he crazy? Was he trying not to leave any witnesses? “That’s something white people do,” one of the barbers remarked. I shook my head because it brought back a flood of memories of how many times I’ve heard the same sentiment spoken among people in the black community. We had a perverse pride in believing that the crazy stuff: kidnapping, killing the whole family, shooting sprees was “stuff that white people did.” It seemed like we got blamed for so many things that we took solace in saying there were some things that not even we would do.
We can’t say that anymore. But more than that, race aside, what these growing number of incidents show is that there a great deal of pain and mental anguish going untreated in our communities. According to an African-American Community Mental Health Fact Sheet available on www.nami.org African-Americans in the United States are less likely to receive diagnoses and treatment for their mental illnesses than Caucasian Americans. Here are some of the facts:
African Americans tend to rely on family, religious and social communities for emotional support, rather than turning to health care professions. . .
Mental illness is frequently stigmatized and misunderstood in the African American community
African Americans are often at a socioeconomic disadvantage in terms of accessing both medical and mental health
Across a recent 15 year span, suicide rates increase 233% among African Americans aged 10 to 14. . .
People experiencing homelessness are at greater risk for developing mental illness. African Americans comprise 40% of the homeless population
Children in foster care and the child welfare system are more likely to develop mental illness. African American children comprise 45% of the public foster care population
First, we have to acknowledge that given our horrific history in this country, we are probably suffering disproportionately from mental illness. Secondly, we have to move beyond the stigma of persons with mental illness as “crazy” and seek the help that we need. While I recognize that in spite of our history, we are a resilient people, the truth is that we did not come through unscathed. Many of us are hurting, and we need to take the necessary steps toward healing.