The past week was hard for me on many levels. Even harder than the last few months of seeing people I thought were for equality and justice post about how Donald Trump will “Make America Great Again.”
I have been thinking about Shirley Chisholm a lot lately. Mrs. Chisholm was the first Black woman to be elected to Congress, and the first Black woman to run for the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination. Her campaign slogan was “Unbought and Unbossed.” A revolutionary, a feminist and a humanist, she called for a “bloodless revolution” in politics and spoke passionately about the need for equal rights for women and minorities. That was in 1972. Forty-four years later, how far have we really come?
“In the end, anti-black, anti-female, and all forms of discrimination are equivalent to the same thing — anti-humanism.” — Shirley Chisholm
What made the past week so difficult was viewing a video of a well-known mental health activist screaming, cursing and invading the personal space of a Black or Latinx woman on the L Train. This activist has sat on many committees and panels in and around New York City, yet people have known for years that he harbored bigotry toward women and Blacks.
He was recorded shouting vile profanities at a woman of color, a woman who has to walk the minefields of racism, sexism and misogyny every day. For the majority of Black people and other people of color, there is never a break from these invasive isms.
You may ask what this has to do with mental health and the critical psychiatry movement. It has everything to do with the people within these communities. Our humanity is at stake, as is our activism and the validity of this budding human rights/social justice movement.
In the past week, I have heard those that work professionally or are activists within these communities excuse this person’s behavior and try to protect him. The most disconcerting comments have come from several folks stating that “we should not be discussing this in a public forum but behind the scenes amongst each other.” That “speaking out in public puts a target on our backs” and “gives those that want to destroy the movement the ammunition to do so.”
The truth is that we will be defeated from within if we continue to let fester this monstrous wound.
“Racism is so universal in this country, so widespread and deep-seated that it is invisible because it is so normal.” — Shirley Chisholm
Staying quiet or keeping the conversation in the backrooms of the privileged doesn’t bring about change, it just maintains the status quo. The people who are impacted deserve to know the conversations being had. Racism has been the norm for centuries. When are we going to shake this up? When are we going to stop brushing it under the rug? When are we going to be revolutionary enough to create safer spaces that demolish the invisible racism that is bubbling up in our communities?
Being revolutionary will allow us to create what many have been saying we are, but we really are not yet. It will allow us to create a truly strong, compassionate and inclusive human rights/social justice movement. One that provides space for all. We cannot and will not do this until we are breaking down walls and shattering glass ceilings. As a movement claiming to be for justice, we cannot and should not allow half of our community to remain on the outside. Our revolution requires and demands that we obtain greatness by utilizing as many talents as possible. If not, we are only creating a mirage of greatness.
This is important to us as a group. If we are to demand justice for our brothers and sisters in hospitals, jails and community-based programs, then we must demand justice for women, Blacks and other POC who are being discriminated against. We cannot continue to be silent while 50% of us are regulated to the back, and not allowed space at the table.
Our fellow community members are wounded by the silence. We expect and are now demanding to be treated better.
Speaking out against racism and misogyny within the movement should be first and foremost on the minds of all. We need to recognize the intersections within our movement and act accordingly. We can honor each other by offering intentional support to those who need it and ask for it in the face of racism and misogyny. We can hold each other accountable.
Holding someone accountable does not mean we are throwing them away, attacking them or not honoring or loving them. Holding someone accountable for their behavior can actually be a loving act.
“You don’t make progress by standing on the sidelines, whimpering and complaining. You make progress by implementing ideas.” — Shirley Chisholm
What are some next steps to healing for the Black community members within the psychiatric survivor/mental health communities?
It is okay to be angry, upset or cry in the face of the racism and oppression you face each day.
It is okay to tell white people who dismiss your emotions as overreaction or “reverse racism” that they have no right to devalue your feelings.
It is okay to let them know that you are no longer accepting conditional love, that you do not owe anyone forgiveness, and that your humanity is not for sale.
On local, regional and national levels, discussions with leadership and face to face meetings with community members are a must. Campaigns about mental health and wellness need faces that look like ours, and they need our ideas and input. We need to see and hear more speakers that look like us at conferences and on committees. When we see ourselves and when others see and hear us, minds and values change.
“Laws will not eliminate prejudice from the hearts of human beings.” — Shirley Chisholm
It takes hearts and minds to change bad behavior. Are we up to the task as a community?
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If you want to do more:
CALLING OUT RACISM, MISOGYNY, and VIOLENCE in OUR MOVEMENTS: A PUBLIC NATIONAL FORUM
Date: August 1, 2016
Time: 9 PM Eastern, 8 PM Central, 7 PM Mountain, 6 PM Pacific
Facilitators: Kathryn Cascio and Lauren Tenney
Call-In Number: (605) 475-2090
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Mad in America hosts blogs by a diverse group of writers. These posts are designed to serve as a public forum for a discussion—broadly speaking—of psychiatry and its treatments. The opinions expressed are the writers’ own.