Normalizing racism ‘does violence to our mental health’
In the wake of the death of Minneapolis’ George Floyd on Memorial Day at the hands of a since-terminated police officer, experts across the country have spoken up about the greater implications of the tragedy and the subsequent protests around the nation.
Mental Health America president and CEO Paul Gionfriddo added his name to that list Friday when he made the following statement:
“The inexcusable and violent death of George Floyd as he begged for help has evoked both our rage and frustration. The person who caused the death by choking – a Minneapolis police officer – and three others were fired from their jobs. But the officer was neither arrested nor charged as days passed by. Like other similar incidents in the past, this has brought out into the open the stress and trauma faced on a daily basis by so many people of color who live in our country. We see this as unrest.
(Editor’s note: Former police officer Derek Chauvin was indeed charged with third-degree murder and manslaughter shortly following Gionfriddo’s remarks.)
“But we should see it as utter distress. Too many people have had enough. They are taking to the streets because this is the only way for them to be heard. People of color and all those whose lives have been marginalized by those in power experience life differently from those whose lives have not been devalued. They experience overt racism and bigotry far too often. They shoulder a mental health burden that is deeper than what others face. When you must live in fear for your life just for being accused of passing a bogus $20 bill, you cannot be mentally healthy at the same time.
“Perhaps that is why people who identify as African American are increasingly likely to want to take action to protect their mental health and the mental health of their loved ones. And why people who identify as Asian Americans experienced the sharpest increases in anxiety during the first weeks of the pandemic. And why people with very low income in a recent U.S. Census Bureau Pulse Survey also reported worrying so much that they can’t control it on more than half the days of the week.
“It is because – when events like George Floyd being choked to death are broadcast to the country – they are facing trauma on top of their past trauma. After calling the death “egregious,” the President pivoted to calling protesters “thugs” and suggested in a tweet that they would be shot. When they see this, they know that what they are experiencing is fundamentally different from what he and others see through a lens of privilege, power, and wealth.
“They are imploring others to understand this and to do something meaningful about it.
“Past trauma is prominently mentioned as the reason that people experience serious mental health conditions today – and nearly half of those taking a mental health screening with MHA who received a moderate to severe result since the middle of April cited trauma as the reason. But those more overt forms of racism and bigotry – the more overt traumas – are just the tip of the iceberg.
“Every day, people of color experience far more subtle traumas than that:
- People who avoid them and their neighborhoods out of ignorance and fear;
- Banks and credit companies who won’t lend them money or do so only at higher rates;
- Mass incarceration of their peers with no violent offenses;
- School curricula that ignore or minimize their contributions to our shared history;
- Covert racial profiling
“This is more than we should ask people to shoulder. We all mourn the death of George Floyd and feel rage against the circumstances that led to it. But it is a mistake to think that we all experience the reality of his death in the same way. And for too many of our brothers and sisters, fathers and mothers, and sons and daughters, that mistake has proven to be a fatal one. It is no surprise that people are reacting as they are to this event. And we should not have to say that when we condone and normalize racism and bigotry, we do violence to our mental health.
“MHA and our affiliates are dedicated and committed to addressing the trauma and lived experience of marginalized communities. It is imperative that we do not turn a blind eye to this any longer. We urge you to join us as we continue to fight in the open for the needs of ALL people.”