by Guest Contributor Louise Tam, originally published at Hyphen Magazine
In September, I wrote a piece describing my perspective as a disabled woman of color and psychiatric survivor. I explored how race-specific self-killings are differentially represented by the media to demonstrate how public perceptions of suicide depend on social and political contexts. My intention was to de-sensationalize model minority suicide in order to draw attention to how particular non-white bodies are often presumed to be volatile and violent.
This month, I look more closely at clinical explanations of ethnic minority suicide and respond by citing current non-clinical and community-based anti-racist reflections on the significance of emotional pain and anger.
Before I proceed, I would like to draw attention to how the term suicide is invoked by the viewer rather than the subject of suicide: the neighbor who calls 911 rather than the person exhibiting suspicious behavior. This can have negative repercussions on the “allegedly suicidal” that we don’t often think about. In fact, daily we are surrounded by public campaigns that encourage us to report at-risk behavior with the intention of saving lives: we believe it is our civic duty to do so. This is especially true in communal living environments such as campus residences.
The “peril of help” arises in (1) how we, as the public, determine what is suspicious or at-risk behavior and (2) how our social infrastructure then deals with the people we “call out.” Behavior can be “cut out” of context, of an individual’s life history, when it does not make sense to onlookers, including family, friends, and employers. Behavior might not make sense and alarm us because an individual’s actions are inconsistent with social rules and, furthermore, associated with narratives of harm we are taught to recognize daily by institutions around us. For example cutting is strongly associated with suicide. Seen in the absence of context, most of us would be compelled to stop this action and probably call on professional expertise to intervene and solve what we identify as a threat. Continue reading