By: Megan Sims and Stacy Jackman
Dr. Imani Walker has an issue with the strong Black woman trope. The psychiatrist and Married to Medicine star tells Yahoo Life that the idea that has been deeply ingrained in the Black community has done more harm than good.
"During slave times, we were the people who bore the burdens, any type of a burden," she says. "That mindset really hasn't changed much. We're, you know, out here, looking cute in Black girl magic and Black boy joy, just because those things are, are more prevalent. We haven't let that go. And until we are able to let that go, we're still kind of viewing ourselves as superhuman, as people who collectively can take on more burden than we really should be allowed to take on."
A 2010 CDC study found that women were more likely to experience depression and members of the Black community were 4 percent more likely than whites to report having major depression. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, 63 percent of Black Americans believe that mental illness is a sign of weakness. Walker adds that the expectation of superhuman strength also prevents many from getting help when it comes to mental health.
"We're seeing everything through a lens of 'I'm strong, but also I'm depressed,'" she explains. "Instead of just like, 'Oh, I'm depressed. I don't feel right. I need to get help.' It's 'I'm depressed, but I'm strong. So it's OK. I'll deal with it later.' We're not able to identify within ourselves that we need the same type of help that anyone else would need. And especially with our circumstances, because we simply have more stressors by being Black folks."
Walker recalls a conversation she had with few white friends during last year's racial turmoil following the death of George Floyd that struck a chord.
"One of the conversations that I had last year with some of my white friends that was really interesting, wasn't a matter of, 'Oh, well, I never owned slaves.' It wasn't that ignorant. It was well, 'You know, but we all go through our struggles,'" she says. "I'm like, 'Yes, we all do. That's absolutely correct. But your struggle isn't baked into the laws. Your struggles, don't, or won't likely end with you possibly being dead because someone pulled you over at a traffic light."
Mental Health America notes that the Black experience in America is most often characterized by trauma and violence than whites. It also credits several societal factors that contribute to the high rate of mental illness that include race-based exclusion from health care and other resources, socioeconomic status, systemic racism among others. Walker adds that there are everyday reminders of past racial traumas that can have an impact on Black mental health, including the fact that gynecological instruments are relevantly the same since they were used on enslaved Black women in the 1800s.
"There are so many things that on a, on a day-to-day level, Black people have to compromise. We have to have a dialogue with ourselves before we leave the house. We have to deal with just so many things. And we have been desensitized to a certain point to overlook certain things and just to like, kind of push things aside. But those things still really do like harm you on a day-to-day, minute-by-minute basis," she says.
Walker also points out that when dealing with police or walking in a majority white neighborhood requires some mental and emotional preparation. But she wants people to know that this is all valid.
"There are a lot of compromises that we have to deal with as Black folks on a daily basis that are baked into our society that are baked into our post-colonial culture," she says. "Just because the majority of citizens in this country don't want to acknowledge it doesn't mean that it doesn't exist. And therefore, by extension, it doesn't mean that my feelings aren't worthy either."