Most African-Americans are taught to keep their business and feelings to themselves. This is because, if you are Black in this country, there is a long and difficult history of penalization and demonization for expressing “how you feel”. This narrative has been passed down for generations. One learns that silence, even in the face of insufferable pain and terror, is the only way to protect oneself. Breaking that silence, disclosing to anyone, even those closest to you, you’re struggling with something, is a sign of weakness. Breaking the code of silence is unimaginable. Disclosure remains difficult for Black people because the same brutality and oppressive system that our forbears warned us about still exists today. To protect us from that harshness, they’d say “don’t trust anyone, don’t trust a soul”. For African Americans, the fear of retribution runs deep. What will happen to me if I admit I’m scared, depressed, or alone? Who can I trust to protect my secrets? Is there anyone?
African Americans believe that if we hold our suffering in, the feelings that plague us will go away. Asking for help is the last thing on our minds. Confiding in someone other than God is almost sacrilegious. So where does one go for help? When you mention the idea of therapy to a person of color, we almost always respond with resistance and disdain. There are many reasons for these attitudes. Often, we are asked to seek help from someone who does not look like us, who cannot relate to our stories. We fear we are seen, but not heard because the listener cannot relate to our problems. But, the ability to relate to one another helps us feel understood, helps us to heal. How does one do that if we are branded before we even speak? Too many times our concerns, our issues, are ignored because, again, the listener cannot relate to our history, our struggles, our lives. African Americans are misdiagnosed and under treated more than any other population in the country. Some practitioners believe that what we Black Americans experience is simply part of our “condition”. But, it doesn’t have to be that way.
People trust who they know and what they know. Having an African-American or culturally competent therapist gives way to the idea of “opening up”. When one can relate to and understand your issues, you feel safer and more comfortable asking for help. Silence, for Black people must end. We want to provide a safe environment for African Americans to discuss their concerns in a space where they will not be persecuted or misunderstood. Culturally competent therapists are an integral step on a long journey to self actualization. If we want to heal, we must speak up, speak out, and share our stories. It is about time. Everyone wants to be heard, and more importantly, understood.