By America Paredes, Associate Vice President of Partnerships and Community Outreach at Mental Health America
Silence is complicity.
I am a Latina immigrant, and that identity colors my experience. It is through this lens that I see and experience the world. I am blessed because I have had people and opportunities that have helped me understand the world differently, to move beyond my worldview and expand it.
For Black people, their worldview is fraught with lessons and experiences that highlight that their lives do not matter. BUT they do.
I have come to know and deeply understand that the world and the people around me may not share in my worldview – they are often not even thinking about how our experiences differ or have similarities.
Maybe I, along with all people that do not align with your ideas of worth, are lumped in with whatever stereotypical beliefs held, or you simply do not care. Should they? Are we not being asked that question right now, do you care?
The answer may not come easily. But I wonder if we are supposed to start there, in merely asking ourselves where we fall? Do we care or not? If so, what are you doing to help change your existence, your world? If you do not care, why is that? What has your experience been that you do not value life regardless of color, gender, or anything different from you?
I know we are different, each one us. But there is something that binds people of color and our communities, the simple fact that we are so often ignored until we become a threat. What do we threaten - your way of life, a clear path to getting what you want, a change in the way you see the world?
Why are we marginalized and NOT allowed an existence where we DO NOT have to defend our bodies, our presence, our experience, and our identity?
Communities of color have been taught oppression through violence and marginalization. As Blacks, Latinos, Asians, Natives, and so many more labels placed upon us, we were taught that we should keep quiet, accept things as they are, and with that, give up our voice and power. That belief has been ingrained in many of us – that despite whatever we do, nothing will change.
But it must. Systemic racism is a weight that impacts our mental health every day. The subtle jabs, the words used to describe us, the overt depictions of our brothers and sisters as monsters tire us out. But a mental shift happens every time when we choose to go out into the world. We choose to keep moving forward despite the ongoing sadness, depression, anxiety, and fear we feel.
We cannot set aside our emotions and our mental health. Carrying the burden of ignorance and racism has far-reaching impacts in our communities of color and we cannot ignore that.
Our mental health and well-being have to be protected, discussed, and addressed in the context of our cultural worldview and experiences. Do not take away our identity when we are urging to be heard.
I believe that change can happen, and because of that, I have thought about where my power lies. I have asked myself where I can create change that can be lasting, and I have concluded that change happens one person at a time. Share your experience because there are people out there that are committed to listening and doing more.
Maybe you do not agree, and that is okay. Find your path.