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Killer Secrets: An Excerpt From Tamara Winfrey Harris’ New Book

By Arturo R. García

Author and Racialicious alum Tamara Winfrey Harris.

Longtime readers of the blog will remember friend and alumnus Tamara Winfrey Harris: Tami’s voice, which many of us first discovered through her blog What Tami Said, has been essential reading in the POC justice ecosystem for years.

But over the past few years, her reach has expanded, and she’s been published everywhere from The Guardian to Salon to — just last week — The New York Times.

Well, we’re proud and happy today to be able to share with you a part of her most pivotal work yet: The Sisters Are Alright: Changing the Broken Narrative of Black Women in America, in which she takes on the stereotypes regularly used to deride black women in the US — their romantic lives, their mental health, their beauty and more.

“The more Americans face stereotypes about us in media, pop culture and other places, the more they are subconsciously ‘activated’ where real black women are concerned, affecting the way we are seen by potential employers, partners, the government and others,” she writes.

The book will be out on July 7, but is already available for order online; it’s already ranked as the No. 1 new Gender Studies release on Amazon. An excerpt can be seen below.

In 2003, the California Black Women’s Health Project found that only 7 percent of black women with symptoms of mental illness seek treatment. And, according to a 2009 National Institutes of Health manuscript, a 2008 study of African American women’s perspectives on depression found that many “believed that an individual develops depression due to having a ‘weak mind, poor health, a troubled spirit, and lack of self-love.’”

A member of the mental health profession currently working in higher education, Adrianne Traylor says, “I am cognizant of our community being left out of mental health discussions, not having appropriate access to mental health support, the cultural restrictions and barriers that keep us from seeking that support and that there are really not enough competent therapists to deal with situations that are unique to the black experience in America.

Finding a black therapist to refer a client to is extremely difficult. Even when it comes to self-care, I think. ‘Who am I going to talk to? Who am I going to refer myself to? Who can I talk to who can really understand what makes my situation unique as a black woman?’ We really lose out in the mental health equation — particularly when it comes to areas of depression, stress, and anxiety.”

Members of the black community often learn that mental health care is something they neither need nor can afford — economically, socially, or culturally. Black folks are encouraged to take it to the Lord in prayer, but Adrianne stresses that many mental health issues cannot be ameliorated by a pastor, friend, or family. Some mental illnesses require intensive therapy or psychotropic drugs, and not getting that treatment can be devastating.

Her own family provided her with a strong example of this cultural challenge. Adrianne says she grew up surrounded by women who exemplified the positive aspects of “black women always being strong and resilient and always being able to carry everything.” But as she grew older, “I saw the [unwillingness to pursue mental health care] weighing more heavily on the women in the family, because it seemed they were the ultimate repositories for sanity and intactness for everyone.”

When she was a teen, the house where Adrianne was born burned down. It was her grandmother’s home and had been the center of many family memories. The loss was devastating to Adrianne. “But I remember watching [my grandmother], who was temporarily living in this itty-bitty house out in the country, and on the one hand admiring her strength. She had lost everything — her physical mementos of her life with her husband — everything. She seemed so strong and seemed on the surface to be coping. But I wondered what happened when she went to bed at night. What did she do then, when no one was looking at her? I started thinking if we were wearing a lot of masks to get through our lives and whether they were helping or hurting us.

“As you become older and more aware of family dysfunction . . . it is an awakening. You’re oblivious to things as a kid and then your eyes open. You realize that the things that seemed like such strength could have really been someone doing what they could to hold things together.”

Thirty-five-year-old Vivian St. Claire* is a high-achiever, perfectionist, and inveterate “good girl.” She earned a PhD before she was thirty “because I was bored.” Vivian also suffers from clinical depression. And three years ago, she had a nervous breakdown, driven in part by her relentless drive to meet societal expectations.

Despite her academic and professional success, Vivian couldn’t shake the notion that she was a failure as a woman. A late bloomer in affairs of the heart, who was always more confident in intellectual pursuits than romantic ones, Vivian was childless and single, having just broken up with the man she once thought she would marry. “I never wanted to be the single black woman, and I think that fear created that whole pressure.”

Her undiagnosed clinical depression began to spiral out of control as Vivian grappled with fears about her personal life, her weight, and other issues. She began taking Ambien to cure the insomnia it caused — Ambien, red wine, and occasionally marijuana.

“I would black out,” she says. “It was just all this very unhealthy mix of me trying to hide from a lot of different things. I know I was all over the place.

“Another part of my depression is I had a pact with myself: if I wasn’t married by thirty-five, I was going to kill myself. I very much planned everything out for my life. At thirty-five, my plans ran out,” she says.

“That came out when I had my breakdown. My parents were in the room. While I was being evaluated, my mom was just sitting there silently crying.

“I would like to be more open with my struggle with depression — let close friends and things know,” says Vivian. But she admits her openness is tempered with the realities of being an academic hoping for tenure and a desire not to “embarrass” her parents. Although they were there during her breakdown, they still have not processed her mental illness.

“My mom is fine with it for other people, but not her children— even though her brother is a paranoid schizophrenic.”

As her parents helped her complete paperwork that would commit her to the hospital, Vivian was surprised to hear her father answer in the affirmative when asked about mental illness on his side of the family.

“‘Oh, yeah, your Auntie So-and-So has this. Your uncle is paranoid schizophrenic and whatever.’”

Black families often keep mental health histories under wraps, treating suffering members like guilty secrets. Quoting author Nalo Hopkinson in the book Brown Girl in the Ring, Vivian points out, “We as a people — our secrets are killing us.”

It was a hard road back to mental health. Healing required that Vivian learn to be gentle with herself, to practice physical and mental self-care, to let go of her perfectionism, and to refuse to see her mental illness as a stigma.

“Today, I would say I’m the healthiest I’ve ever been — mentally and physically. I’ve come to a peace with myself. Yoga, therapy, being open about my mental illness and my medication, having coping mechanisms, and staying healthy — they are just part of my life now.”

Her voice catches as she describes her pride at making it through: “At this point, every day it’s a blessing that I’m happy, that I’m content with myself, and that I’m okay. I’m very proud of myself. I’m proud every day, because at least I keep holding on. It’s not so much of a struggle for me anymore.

“Putting other people’s pressure on me almost killed me. I’ve had to become comfortable with the uncomfortability of not being perfect. I’m amazed at the woman that I have become. . . . Sorry, I’m getting a little emotional, but it’s been hard. It’s been very hard. But I’ve earned a life beyond thirty-five years.”

Learn more about Tamara Winfrey Harris and The Sisters Are Alright at www.tamarawinfreyharris.com.

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Web of Spider-Men: Will Marvel Use Miles Morales To Stick It To Sony?

By Arturo R. García

As of Wednesday morning, the mantle of Spider-Man has changed hands in both the comic-book and movie realms. And while Marvel Comics scored a win on the diversity front, it’s fair to wonder if the move could pay dividends in another realm.

Because while it’s notable enough to see Miles Morales, the Black Latino character introduced in an alternate comics universe nearly four years ago, named as the protagonist in Marvel’s new Spider-Man title, it will be particularly interesting to see how the company handles both him and his predecessor, Peter Parker, after a series of moves de-emphasizing characters who, like Peter, are not part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU).

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Revenge Of The Blerd: The Racialicious Review of Dope

By Arturo R. García

What’s supposed to be a romantic moment in Rick Famuyiwa’s Dope ends up being one of its more problematic: we see the protagonist, Malcolm, tell his love interest Nakia, “Don’t sell yourself short” when she explains that, should she get her GED, she plans to attend a community college before, hopefully, moving on to Cal State Fullerton or a school in that system.

Malcolm’s remark is meant to be encouraging, to spur her on to defying expectations. But there’s also a touch of unwitting condescension, of classism in play in that response. And the vexing thing about Dope is that it’s a coming-of-age tale that won’t let him see that other side even as it insists he’s maturing before our eyes.

SPOILERS under the cut
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Ex Machina Abuses Women of Color, But Nobody Cares Because It’s Smart

By Guest Contributor Sharon H Chang, cross posted from Multiracial Asian Families

This past April, British science fiction thriller Ex Machina opened in the U.S. to almost unanimous rave reviews. The film was written and directed by Alex Garland, author of bestselling 1996 novel The Beach (also made into a movie), and screenwriter of 28 Days Later (2002) and Never Let Me Go (2010).

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Sense8 And The Failure Of Global Imagination

By Guest Contributor Claire Light, cross-posted from The Nerds Of Color

How do you imagine a life you could never live? Though not really a theme, this problem is at the heart of Netflix’s new original series Sense8, created by the Wachowskis and J. Michael Straczynski, and heavily influenced by Tom Tykwer. Like many fantastical or science fictional premises, Sense8’s premise is a wish fulfillment: not — as is typical of this genre and the Wachowskis’ earlier work — the wish fulfillment of the disempowered middle school nerd stuffed into a locker, but rather the Mary Sue desire of a mature, white American writer/auteur who has discovered that an entire world is “out there,” one that the maker doesn’t know how to imagine.
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SDCC First Call: Are You A POC Creator Going to San Diego Comic-Con?

With less than a month until San Diego Comic-Con, we’d like to get the ball rolling on our annual coverage by promoting creators of color throughout the convention.

If you’re going to be an exhibitor or presenter during the convention, or know someone who is, drop us a line in the comment thread here, or at team@racialicious.com and we’ll boost the signal in our SDCC preview posts, including our looks at the programming and special SDCC Files post telling fans where to find you on the floor and online.

We’ll put up one more call for creators in a couple of weeks, but why wait? Let’s start getting the word out now!

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Quoted: Tauriq Moosa on Race and Witcher 3

By creating digital representations of people who aren’t white, it indicates a culture and industry who view us as people. It counters the status quo that dehumanizes us by erasing us or casting us as a non-human. We want to be seen as people, too. There’s little more to it, for me.

But seeing angry responses to this simple request speaks volumes about the kind of culture we’re creating by not diversifying races, genders and so on. Consider: In Witcher 3, all humans are white and every other being is non-human. That’s not exactly friendly or inclusive of people of color. A game can include diverse number of monsters, but not a diverse number of skin colours or races for humans?

And then we see panic and anger when white gamers may be asked to play as people of color in Rust. The double standard is rarely addressed. Being white is apolitical, being a person of color, even simply by existing, is threatening to some players.

Read the rest at Polygon.

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A Quick Guide To Five Of The Cambodian Artists Featured In Don’t Think I’ve Forgotten

By Arturo R. Garcia

While a lot of rock documentaries focus on the “rise and fall” or coming and going of a particular artist or genre, John Pirozzi’s Don’t Think I’ve Forgotten: Cambodia’s Lost Rock and Roll largely fulfills a more daunting — and ultimately more haunting — assignment: chronicling the blossoming and annihilation of Cambodia’s entire musical identity, all within a 15-year period.

Pirozzi himself is invisible throughout the proceedings; instead, artists and officials who survived the period narrate the tale oral history-style, with film footage and recordings filling in the blanks and showing how vibrant the country’s musical scene became as it adapted not just North American rock but Afro-Cuban influences with its own traditions.

Under the cut, we’ll take a look at some of the more notable acts spotlighted in the documentary.
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Race, Culture, and Identity in a Colorstruck World