Random thoughts from a loud black woman

It seems that it’s always a white person who is asking me about my views on race, racism, culture and disparity.  Today that question was posed to me by a black person and although I gave my usual answer, “my culture is my community”, today for the first time in a very long time,  I am giving some real thought to how race(ism) affects the work that I do in my community (my culture)

Although my standard answer is truth and what I believe, I had to think about where this response is coming from.  Not answering for every black woman or person of color has something to do with it. I personally have experienced racism and disparity in health care. It was very difficult for me and my family to accept and yes, I did do something about it. But when I talk about my personal experience, how does this help others? Am I only sharing my experience because it happened to me or am I sharing because it helps others? Did my reaction to my own situation help others? Of course I’ve thought if this happened to me, imagine how many others it’s happened to and what did they do about it?

Another reason I may be hesitant to speak loudly on this issue is because when working with so many disadvantaged  families over the years,  I fear I have become so accustomed to the disparity that all families of children with mental health issues face (distressed children= beached whale) that I have become desensitized to  my own ethnic group.

I’ve also experienced racism in other areas of my life, for example at the store and on the job.  But is this different from health care disparity? Do I have a problem talking about racism I’ve encountered in these environments? When I talk about these incidents, do I speak for myself or for a group of people?

I think the response lies in the role I am in when the question is asked. I have become mindful of not speaking for a whole group, the difference between being an ally or an advocate. Today I was reminded of the power of support. I am not the only black woman or parent of color who has experienced racism or disparity in health care. It is okay to speak on behalf of others who have experienced the same.  I spend a lot of my time teaching parents how to advocate for themselves and subconsciously, I believe I do spend more time teaching parents of color not only how to advocate for themselves, but what it means to be an ally.

So bottom line is this:  Yes, racism and a lack of cultural competency does impact families of color when it comes to accessing mental health services. Black families are not treated with the same respect, our expertise as parents is not valued; we are often treated as hostile vs passionate and negative assumptions are made about our social-economic status and level of education. These statements I have just made are based on fact; personal experience and relayed to me by other African American families in my community. True, many families face these same adversaries’, but for black families it is different because it is not personal, it is prejudice.

What do we do about it?  Training in cultural competency is one thing, but to be culturally comfortable is a life style.  Providers need to be comfortable in any environment. They need to be comfortable speaking to, with and among families of color the same as they would with their peers. Let’s not make excuses such as “I don’t see color” but rather acknowledge differences and respect those differences. Instead of being insulted by my language or lack of, learn what the words I speak mean, just like I learned yours.  Don’t assume my mannerisms are ignorant, accept that they are mine. Don’t dismiss my knowledge; my education may not be as rich as yours but I am educated.

Dalene Basden has been a PAL Family Support Specialist in Lynn since 1998.  She is the parent of two boys, both of whom have mental health challenges. Affectionately called Noni by many in her community, she prides herself for being known  as that loud Black woman. 

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7 Responses to Random thoughts from a loud black woman

  1. Meri says:

    Perfectly stated and honest. Always from the heart.
    Thank you!

  2. Cindy Nicholls says:

    Well stated! Thanks Dalene!

  3. Jennifer Rambridge says:

    So well spoken, especially your last paragraph. And when it comes to discussing your child’s mental health, you are the expert regardless of your education – you live with that child day to day and see what no practitioner can see.

  4. Angela Berry says:

    Powerful!
    Thank you!

  5. Nancy Collier says:

    Thank you for writing this. It needs to be discussed. We think in this field we are somehow more aware, and maybe we are, but we still have a ways to go. I admit to being one of those white people who didn’t really “register” race. It’s not that I didn’t “see” it, it just didn’t seem a big deal. I have learned it is. So now I try to be color “brave” and ask the dumb questions. You, Dalene, are brave, as always, in writing about this.

  6. Tavis R. Carter says:

    Hi Everyone. I have quite involved in speaking out in regards to getting fair treatment in “Behavioral Healthcare Services.” I have been an Community Advocate for years now. My most stark experience comes from the medical field..in short I was given a extremely sub-par Annual Physical Exam, my own PCP’s attitude was totally unprofessional, and no blood screen ordered. I am a Black Male with several risk factors stemming from family history. In the end I advocated for myself and other Patients of Color who may not stand up for themselves or not even present to White Doctors and stay home and die God forbid. I filed a complaint with the Board of Registration and after a lengthy investigation I got what was needed, “Professional Accountability.” This is also in their Record and I got a new Dr. We all have “Bias'” stop responding with “oh, that’s not it at all…”

  7. Jude says:

    “Dalene”, “Noni”, “That Loud Black Woman”,

    I am listening, I am hearing and I will stand and be a voice with you! So very well said!
    From one Noni to another! Stepping up and looking inward to recognize our my own responses, I refuse to just be a passenger and know that together we can navigate change, acknowledgement and empathy to empower growth! Be a Pied Piper!