“Racism generates anxiety, insecurity and deep anguish”: The importance of black professionals caring for the mental health of those oppressed by racism

Psychologist Maria Lucia da Silva is founder of Instituto Amma Psique e Negritude

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Note from BW of Brazil: In my regular interactions with both black people and white people over the years, both in the United States as well as in Brazil, I’ve come across many types of personality types and ideologies in terms of how people deal with the issue of race. I know black people who are profoundly aware of what it means to be black in world in which white people dominate nearly every aspect of society. I’ve met black people who look at the world through rose colored glasses in which everything in the world is simply lovely and if’s it’s not lovely for you, it’s your own fault. I’ve met white people who subscribe to the latter ideology and who sincerely believe that racism is not as big a problem as certain activists, interest groups and organizations want to make it. I know those type of white people who only see racism when it’s that of the blatant, obvious variety but that have no clue of the depths of racism within the psyche of a given society.

For many, the fact that blacks have jobs, some having prominent positions and even being married to white people obviously means that the issue of race is not a big deal. If fact, in Brazil, I’ve known quite a few black people who only came into seeing themselves as black in recent years and consequently began to understand the various ways that racism functions in the everyday. Before this coming into consciousness, these black people often saw race in the same manner as the white people I just described, but when they do in fact come to a deeper understanding of the issue, it is sometimes a very painful transition.

Dealing  with this standard everyday sometimes requires that black professionals, well-trained on the subject, to tend to the needs of those haven’t quite fully understood the matrix of race relations that influences nearly every inch of the existence of people in the world who are classified as non-white. Some of the incidents in the articles you’ll find searching on this very blog serve as examples as to why such professionals are necessary. If you have the time, check out some of those articles or the testimonies of people who have experienced it and come back and read today’s post. It’ll probably make a lot more sense to you, that is, if you’re one of the people who don’t believe it’s a major issue.

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The importance of black professionals to care for the mental health of those who are oppressed by racism

by Juliana Gonçalves

tornar-se-negroUnknown to most people, including mental health professionals, psychologist Neusa Santos wrote the first reference about the race question in psychology. The book Tornar-se Negro (Becoming Black) (Graal, 1983) brings the author’s study of the emotional life of blacks. Santos reflected on how the denial of one’s culture and one’s own body affects the subjectivity of black people.

A successful Lacanian psychoanalyst born in Bahia, her work makes an important contribution by revealing the collective experience with individual nuances that mark the post-diaspora black existence forced from the African continent, post-enslavement period and, finally, in a society developed through racism.

“Knowing yourself to be black is to live the experience of having been massacred in your identity, confused in your expectations, subjected to demands, compelled to alienated expectations,” she explained in the opening pages of her book. Psychologist Maria Lucia da Silva, founder of the Amma Psique e Negritude (Amma Psyche and Negritude Institute), gives clues about what this “becoming black” quoted by Santos means. “We are not born black, we become (black) to the measure that we can make a reading of our trajectory through the experiences of discrimination experienced,” she says.

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Psychologist Maria Lucia da Silva is founder of Instituto Amma Psique e Negritude

“Racism is something that crosses us,” she adds, adding that the existence of racism contributes to the constitution of black subjects. “There is not a black subject who is not crossed by racism and who somehow, consciously or not, goes on to experience the effects produced by racism,” Maria Lucia explains.

Becoming black has an important political dimension, according to her, when negros e negras (black men and women) realize that their place in society is strongly tied to group membership, not just individual issues.

Years ago, this perception between the individual and the collective made a difference in the treatment of Adriana Barbosa, entrepreneur and founder of Feira Preta, the largest feira afro (black expo) in Latin America.

“There is not a black subject who is not crossed by racism and who, conscious or not, goes on to experience effects produced by racism”

While studying Marketing in the 90’s, Adriana had difficulty feeling that she belonged to the university environment and had a fragile relationship with her classmates. “I believed that I had problems because of my shyness and poor interpersonal relationship, but my introspection was really about the racial issue,” she says. She was one of the only black women in a private university in an elite neighborhood in the city of São Paulo.

This year Adriana completes 10 years of therapy and succeeds in working on issues brought about by racist experiences that she experiences not only in the individual aspects but as a subject belonging to a historically discriminated ethnic group.

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Adriana Barbosa, creator of Feira Preta, realized that without the help of a black psychotherapist, she would have difficulties in having a positive response in therapy.

As in the case of Adriana, Maria Lucia says that more and more black people with problems related to identity acceptance, shaken self-esteem, doubts about their skills and talents, and that fight battles with the place of devaluation in which blacks are placed. “Racism generates anxiety, insecurity and deep anguish,” she says.

Since 1995 dealing with the topic of mental health and racism, the psychologist believes that there is no recognition by most psychologists that racism produces psychic suffering. In the last five years, however, the racial issue has been constant in the institutions of psychology thanks to the work of black psychologists. “Anyone who comes to seek care from the psychologists of Amma has a very explicit request that is to want to work with someone who can understand the speaking place of pessoas negras (black people),” she says.

After passing through several professionals, the founder of the Feira Preta has opted for the last three years to do therapy with black professionals. “I realized that therapy with others did not account for my subjectivities as a black woman. There was even a white psychologist who got into the race more, but I saw that she did not have any baggage to feedback in this sense,” she recalls.

“I realized that therapy with others did not account for my subjectivities as a black woman”

As a major event with a bias towards affirmation of blackness in the corporate world, Adriana faced institutional racism several times and only through therapy did she begin to understand that the rejections she suffered through the Feira Preta project had this historical burden and were not originated by her as an individual. “It was with black professionals that I had the dimension of how much the processes of structural and institutional racism mixed with my dilemmas and even interfered with my behavior,” she explains.

One of the actions promoted within the scope of Amma’s work is precisely to assist in the formation of black and white psychologists so that the listening with respect to the racial question is refined and not relativized as is still common today.

According to Maria Lucia, there is a wide field of political intervention in the training and field of clinic that needs to be done for the historical dimension of racism to be considered. “It is necessary to think that the perspective of the cure for those who suffer from the effects of racism is psychic and political and clinical care for these people will only be effective if you take these points into consideration,” she reflects.

Thinking about this intervention from the point of view of clinical care for black people, in 2016, psychotherapists Laura Augusta Almeida and Tainã Vieira created in Salvador, Bahia the Rede Dandaras (Dandaras Network), a space for the promotion of health for black women. “We realized that the demands of black women were not taken into account in the fragmentation of race and gender proposed by the attendants,” says Laura Augusta.

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Laura Augusta Almeida and Tainã Vieira created Rede Dandaras, a space for promotion of health for black women in Salvador.

Still in the data collection phase, the mapping has already revealed the existence of more than 500 black health professionals working with the promotion of mental health considering the harmful effects of racism. “The aim is to connect black women with black professionals who recognize the need for intersectionality in their work,” says Laura, who also coordinates the Grupo de Trabalho de Psicologia e Relações Raciais do Conselho Regional de Psicologia da Bahia (Psychology and Racial Relations Working Group of the Regional Council of Psychology of Bahia). For her, not having markers of class, race and ethnicity makes it impossible to offer quality care.

“We realized that the demands of black women were not contemplated in the fragmentation of race and gender proposed by the attendants”

According to Maria Lucia, of Amma, the exercise of a Psychology that takes into account this social oppression would be beneficial for the whole society since racism produces effects for all. Thus, it would not be possible to speak of racism without considering the heritage of slavery not only for blacks, but for pessoas brancas (white people). “The difference is that for whites, racism creates a system of privileges and for blacks, oppression,” she concluded.

While the European cradle of psychology theories do not conceive of racial oppression as the cause of psychic suffering, racism continues to prove its lethality that can be slow and silent as the countless cases of depression as devastating and brutal as suicide cases.

The book by Neusa Santos quoted at the beginning of this text to discuss this possible psychology has been available to the public since 1983 and yet it remains an unknown literature for many professionals in the field. Coincidence or not, the tragic story of its author, who at about 60 years committed suicide in 2008 without ever showing signs of depression according to reports of friends, is a sad allusion to the perversity perpetuated by the silence around the effects of racism to the human psyche.

Source: Revista Trip

About Marques Travae 2894 Articles
Marques Travae. For more on the creator and editor of BLACK WOMEN OF BRAZIL, see the interview here.

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