Black People, We Need to Talk About Mental Health

Black people, if you’re reading this, we need to talk.

We need to discuss something that often goes unmentioned in our community. Actually, there are two things we need to talk about: mental illness and suicide. I don’t know how, why, or when we began treating these two issues as taboo, verboten. But it has to stop, for a number of reasons.

Let’s start with the Washington Post article that was published earlier this year stating that, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, suicides among black children in the U.S. under eighteen are up 71 percent in the past decade, from 86 in 2006 to 147 in 2016, while suicide among children thirteen and under rose 114 percent those ten years. (In the same period, the suicide rate among all children also went up 64 percent.)

The article also mentions how researchers are unsure what has fueled this rise, citing either racism toward high-risk black children or the black community itself for continuing to ignore suicide as a major issue. It can be both those things. When it comes to bullying, children of color often get hit — physically and verbally — the hardest. It isn’t even always white kids who are the ones slamming black kids with damaging taunts and epithets. The worst abuse can often come from your own kind, as in the flashback episode from the recent season of Atlanta, where a young kid gets ripped to shreds by other black kids for allegedly wearing a fake FUBU shirt — and that young kid ends up taking his own life.

I certainly remember how, as a kid going through middle school hell in the late Eighties, I was often picked on by my fellow black classmates for the usual stuff: looking broke, being too dark-skinned (back in my day, being called “Shaka Zulu” was a major insult), giving off a “homo” vibe. Sadly, even when we become full-grown adults, those are still things that continue to plague black people. As Huberta Jackson-Lowman, Ph.D., president of the Association of Black Psychologists, told the Atlanta Black Star last year, “The issues that black youth and children bully each other about are those issues about which we as black adults have unresolved and [conflicted] feelings and which are also viewed negatively or with great ambivalence by the larger society.”

African Americans have to embody strength even when it feels like our legs are about to give out from how much we have to carry as a culture. If you’re seen exhibiting vulnerability or emotion, you’re considered weak or — dare I say it! — gay! We don’t talk about our feelings or none of that bullshit! We’re the descendants of men and women who were taken from their land and forced into slavery. Whatever problems you got ain’t got shit on what they had to deal with! You can’t off yourself just because you’re going through some stuff — suck it up, goddammit! And, besides, suicide is a white-people thing!

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And there it is. In African American culture, suicide and mental illness are regularly perceived as issues that mainly affect the Anglo-American populace. Once again, I don’t know where this came from, but it’s something that has made black people distance themselves from psychiatrists, therapists, or any other mental-health professionals. (To quote a Chris Rock line, the only way black people are going to see a therapist is if the court orders them to do it.) There are black folk who also prefer to confer with religious folk and “pray away” their mental troubles instead of getting proper treatment. Not to knock anyone’s religious beliefs, but pastors aren’t medical experts. Then again, since African Americans are often mistreated and neglected by our healthcare system, it’s easy to see why going to a person of faith would be seen as an acceptable substitute.  

It doesn’t help that famous African Americans with mental health issues rarely discuss their problems, especially after they’ve had a very public meltdown. Seventeen years ago, Mariah Carey appeared on Total Request Live, schlepping around an ice cream cart and freaking out the audience and host Carson Daly with her erratic behavior. This led to her getting checked into a mental facility a few days later, amid rumors that she had attempted suicide. It wasn’t until this year that she divulged in a People cover story that she struggles with bipolar disorder.

A few years before that, Martin Lawrence had a notorious breakdown on Ventura Boulevard in Sherman Oaks, cursing and screaming at cars (with a gun in his pocket!) until he was taken away by police and hospitalized. Several years later, in his concert movie Martin Lawrence Live: Runteldat, he chalked up the experience to smoking bad weed. The whole incident is reminiscent of when Richard Pryor set himself on fire in 1980 and later used the trauma as comic fodder in his concert movie Richard Pryor: Live on the Sunset Strip, saying he exploded due to a potent mixture of milk and cookies. (He later fessed up in his semi-autobiographical movie Jo Jo Dancer, Your Life Is Calling, when the titular character, played by Pryor, pours alcohol all over himself and flicks a lighter.)

In recent years, people of color in the public eye have finally been coming clean about having mental health issues and/or contemplating suicide. Unfortunately, their pleas for sympathy can fall on a few deaf ears. When rising r&b singer Kehlani attempted suicide in 2016, after she was accused online of cheating on ex Kyrie Irving with Canadian musician PartyNextDoor, Chris Brown reminded everyone why he’s an A-1 douchebag when he went on Twitter to call her out. “There is no attempting suicide,” he tweeted. “Stop flexing for the gram.” Stay classy, you asswipe.

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But more recognizable people of color, whether it’s Wentworth Miller or Jada Pinkett Smith, have admitted to having suicidal thoughts, and that is a good thing. It lets African American people know that their feelings of hopelessness aren’t so exclusive.

Ironically, with our history — and what we continue to go through as people — African Americans deserve mental-health treatment and medication the most. Whether it’s black families constantly struggling to live above the poverty line or black men just trying to live every day without getting shot and killed by the police, black people need all the help we can get.

We need to stop acting like feeling depressed or sad or helpless is something you should be embarrassed about or ashamed of — and we definitely need to make sure children know that, so they’ll never have to consider killing themselves. No child should end their life before they’ve even started it.


Public Advocate Wants DOE to Show Its Work on Bullying

New York City kids went back to school today, and Public Advocate Letitia James announced new legislation that will help protect them from bullying.

Last week state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman released a report that found significant underreporting of bullying and harassment in public schools. In the 2013-2014 school year, 70 percent of schools reported no incidents of bullying or harassment in their halls according to the AG report. Ninety-eight percent reported fewer than ten incidents. The Dignity for all Students Act of 2012 mandates that schools annually report instances of bullying (including cyberbullying) and harassment to a public database.

“We believe that the Department of Education is not complying with the Dignity Act or Title IX,” said James. “In the case of several individual reports of abuse received by our office, it appears that instead of treating the victims of bullying as victims they were penalized, suspended and disciplined.”

James’ proposed legislation would require that the city Department of Education make public disaggregated bullying and harassment data, publicize a list of all school “Respect for All” representatives and would require an annual report filed to City Council regarding Dignity Act compliance.

An earlier audit by state comptroller Thomas DiNapoli found that hundreds of violent incidents—including sexual assault and weapons possession—had gone unreported in city schools. And in 2014, a Daily News analysis found that 80 percent of city schools claimed no bullying in their halls in 2012—including a school in the Bronx where a student was fatally stabbed.

Along with the legislation, flyers that spell out parents’ and students’ right to a safe school environment were distributed across the city with the help of Community Education Council officials. Along with underreporting of incidents by schools, James said, there’s a lack of awareness of how to report issues and what victims rights are among parents.

Toya Holness, a spokesperson for the Department of Education, told the Voice last week that Schneiderman’s report relied on outdated data and did not acknowledge the city’s efforts to control bullying. “Our schools are the safest they’ve ever been, and reporting incidents is not an option, it’s a requirement,” Holness said. One problem could be a disconnect between how the city and state define harassment, bullying and discrimination. Incidents that don’t meet the state’s criteria are not reported and thus left out of state analysis.

Despite recent reports, a slew of school safety measures introduced by Mayor Bill de Blasio have attacked punitive disciplinary policies, something the district has long been criticized for. Arrests are down over 50 percent. Just 1,155 students were arrested last year compared to over 3,000 in 2010.

A letter sent from James to the DOE demands 33 documents and databases that will reveal the extent of that disconnect, including the actual number and nature of bullying and sexual harassment incidents, actions taken (including the average length of time it took) and information about training given to employees who handle the reporting.

“The safety and education of our children is our number one priority,” said James.


NYC Says There’s No Bullying in 70 Percent of Schools, State Says No Way

Seventy percent of New York City schools claim there were no incidents of bullying or harassment in their buildings in the 2013-2014 school year. If this sounds unrealistic, Attorney General Eric Schneiderman agrees with you. A report released yesterday by his office says the high numbers indicate “significant underreporting” of incidents of harassment and discrimination.

Schneiderman’s office pored through state data collected from 1,257 of the city’s 1,792 public and charter schools that year. Seventy percent of them reported zero instances in which a student was bullied, harassed or discriminated against while at school. Ninety-eight percent of those schools reported fewer than ten incidents. A Daily News analysis conducted in 2014 found that 80 percent of city schools claimed no bullying in their halls in 2012.

The low figures were also reflected statewide. Forty percent of schools across the state reported not a single incident of bullying and 81 percent reported fewer than 10, according to the report.

Schneiderman’s report relied on data collected from a survey meant to measure how well schools are meeting the requirements outlined under the Dignity for all Students Act of 2012, which mandates that schools annually report instances of bullying (including cyberbullying) and harassment to a public database.

“It’s vitally important that students feel comfortable coming forward with fears of discrimination or harassment in our schools, and equally important that schools honestly report their responses to these issues,” said Schneiderman in a release on the report. The report suggests that a misunderstanding of what constitutes harassment could be one reason for such widespread underreporting, and says more frequent training could help correct the problem.

Toya Holness, a spokesperson for the city Department of Education, said that the results rely on outdated data, and failed to recognize the city’s efforts to stamp out bullying. “Our schools are the safest they’ve ever been, and reporting incidents is not an option, it’s a requirement,” Holness told the Daily News. Incidents that do not meet the state’s definition of harassment, bullying or discrimination are still reported and addressed at the school level, though they aren’t reflected in the AG report.

Safety in city schools is improving, according to recently released data from the NYPD. Arrests are down over 50 percent; in 2010, over 3,000 students were arrested compared to 1,155 students last year. And eighty percent fewer summonses were handed out last year. Mayor Bill de Blasio has introduced a series of reforms to combat overly punitive disciplinary policies.

Still, the city has been regularly criticized for its handling of school violence, including bullying. In April, a group of parents backed by pro-charter school advocacy group Families for Excellent Schools filed a class-action lawsuit against the city DOE and chancellor Carmen Farina claiming that the department’s failure to address violence and bullying interferes with students’ ability to learn. The suit asked that an independent monitor be put in place to keep watch over the city’s efforts. The teachers union has been a vocal critic of Mayor de Blasio’s suspension policies, claiming they prevent teachers from maintaining order in the classroom, which could include removing bullies.


Should New York Bullies Face Criminal Charges?

As the story now goes, 15-year-old Felicia Garcia threw herself in front of a train in Staten Island as dozens of horrified students watched on Wednesday afternoon after getting tormented by several members of her high school’s football team.

The alleged bullying followed a weekend party, at which she reportedly had sex with four football players at the same time.

Friends of the Staten Island teen tell multiple media outlets that the bullying by members of the football team was brutal — online, at school, and at the train station just before she decided to take her own life; the bullies apparently were relentless.

Outraged New Yorkers are now calling for justice — they want the bullies punished. Problem is, legally, no such punishment is available — despite Governor Andrew Cuomo signing a “cyber-bullying” bill into law earlier this year.

As we noted at the time, the bill the governor signed does little to actually prevent punks from bullying their classmates. And no law currently exists in New York that punishes people for being bullies (however, according to a July 2012, review of each state’s bullying laws, a law including criminal sanctions for convicted bullies has been proposed in the Empire State).

The bill Cuomo signed basically requires sensitivity training for bullies. The new law calls for the following:

-Requires that schools act in cases of cyberbullying:

The law requires that schools act in cases of cyberbullying, which may occur on or off campus, when it creates or would create a substantial risk to the school environment, substantially interferes with a student’s educational performance or mental, emotional or physical well-being, or causes a student to fear for his or her physical safety.

-Ensures Proper Protocols Are in Place to Deal with Cyberbullying

The law requires school districts to put in place protocols to deal with cyberbullying, harassment, bullying and discrimination, including assignment of a school official to receive and investigate reports; prompt reporting and investigation; responsive actions to prevent recurrence of any verified bullying; coordination with law enforcement when appropriate; development of a bullying prevention strategy; and notice to all school community members of the school’s policies.

-Sets Training Requirements For School Employees to Help Identify and Prevent Cyberbullying

The law sets training requirements for current school employees, as well as for new teachers and administrators applying for a certificate or license, on the identification and mitigation of harassment, bullying, cyberbullying and discrimination.

The law is pretty heavy on education and awareness, and pretty light on punishing the creeps who pick on kids over the Internet. Any talk of punishment in the law is vague; schools must “act in cases of cyberbullying?” That could mean pretty much anything — even something as minimal as an apology.

That said, the argument exists that bullies don’t physically push someone into a train, or off a bridge, or cause a person to harm themselves. Therefore, the bully isn’t physically responsible for someone’s death if they decide to take their own life.

That logic is part of the reason why only 12 states have laws in place that include criminal sanctions for bullying.


Bullied Staten Island Teen Throws Herself in Front of Train As Friends Watched

“I can’t. I’m done. I give up.”

That’s what a bullied Staten Island teen posted on Twitter on Monday. Yesterday, 15-year-old Felicia Garcia jumped in front of a train as classmates watched. She was taken to a Staten Island University Hospital, where she died.

About 3:15 p.m. yesterday, Garcia and dozens of her classmates at Totternville High School were waiting at the Huguenot Staten Island Railway station platform when Garcia reportedly broke away from the group and threw herself in front of an oncoming train.

“She got bullied in the school, especially by the football players,
because she looked different and had piercings,” senior Amanda
Liquori tells the New York Post.

“She wouldn’t have done it if she wasn’t bullied,” another friend, Alissa
Compitello, wrote on Twitter. “All this girl wanted was to be left
alone. And nobody could do that for her.”

Garcia was a foster child.

friend, Gabriella Leone, whose younger sister was there when Garcia
jumped in front of the train, tells the Post that the girl “had a
terrible life on top of all
the heartache — bullies at school taunted her and spread rumors. I hope
all bullies get punished!”


Here’s An Interview With Tyler Clementi’s (Now) Gay-Friendly Parents

For the first time since the man who drove their son to suicide was released from jail (after a laughable 20 days behind bars), the parents of Tyler Clementi are speaking out.

Jane and Joe Clementi, and his older brother James, sat down with NBC’s Lester Holt to talk about their son’s tragic death (Tyler, for anyone who doesn’t already know, threw himself off the George Washington Bridge after a classmate, Dharun Ravi, streamed video over the Internet of Clementi making out with another man). Turns out, the devoutly Christian (read: fagala-phobic) Clementis have since changed their tune when it comes to homosexuality being a sin.

After telling Jane Clementi he was gay just prior to his first day at Rutgers, Clementi told a friend he felt “rejected” by his uber-Christian mother, which later prompted New York Post columnist Andrea Peyser to suggest that the grieving mother is somehow to blame for her son’s death and should be prosecuted.

The Clementis now have a different — human — view of homosexuality, and even have started a foundation to help other kids Tyler’s age who are struggling with their sexuality.


This Is A Video Of A Bunch Of Little Creeps Bullying A Defenseless Old Lady

The video embedded above is one of the more despicable things we’ve seen in a while — it shows a bunch of junior high-aged kids bullying a defenseless old lady for no reason other than to just be total shit-bags.
The woman in the video is Karen Klein, a bus monitor for a school district just outside of Rochester.

As you can see, the kids harass her about her weight, her clothes, and even tell her that she has herpes.

The boy who shot the video, Luis Recio Jr., claims — stop us if you’ve heard this one before — that he didn’t participate in the bullying; he says he just recorded what happened, and feels horrible about it.

“I feel bad about how they were making fun of her and everything,” he told a local TV news station after the video went somewhat viral.

According to WHAM in Rochester, the Greece Central School District is deciding how to punish at least four students involved in the bullying, and the case has been referred to the Greece Police Department, which will decide whether the kids will face any criminal charges.

Check back for updates.