When it comes to mental health and how to deal with it, the advice given to the Black community varies from person to person and from solution to solution, depending on the affecting trauma and issues.
Therapy is a controversial topic. The Black community is still having debates on its effectiveness. Some feel it is helpful, while others think it is useless because what is the point of talking to somebody who can’t understand or relate to your pain?
But it might be a good idea to have that fresh look at life and see things from another perspective. That’s what Kiara Imani is trying to do with her book “Therapy Isn’t Just For White People,” a memoir chronicling Imani’s journey to understand the racial trauma experienced by Black people in America and the underlying effect it has on Black mental health.
Through therapy, Imani was introduced to the concept of racial trauma and discovered how her unrecognized racial trauma affected her mental health, self-image, and worldview.
Imani is an attorney, writer, and co-host of Don Amiche vs. Everybody + Crysta & Kiara, a daytime talk show on LA radio station KBLA Talk 1580 AM. She is co-founder of LikeU Cards, a getting-to-know-you card game that facilitates human connection and meaningful conversation.
A graduate from the University of Virginia School of Law, Imani received her bachelor’s degree from the University of Virginia with a major in political science.
Imani knew that she wanted to write a book about Black people and her day-to-day life as a Black woman, but during her interviews, she realized the importance of the subject.
“During my conversations with White people, they were shocked when I told them about the microaggressions I would experience daily or the racism I would experience at the doctor’s office,” Imani said, noting that talks about the importance of having this type of conversation with Whites because they think that racist incidents are few and far in between and don’t understand that they are daily experiences for the average Black person.
Imani dives deep into her perception of therapy and how the Black community changed her viewpoint on it.
“Like a lot of people of color, I was raised Christian, and anytime I had an issue I was told to take it to the cross, take it to Jesus, and was always reminded that I was too blessed to be stressed, and I could pray anything away,” Imani said as she explained some of the mental obstacles she had to get past.”I always struggle with anxiety, and I remember having my first anxiety attack in high school. I couldn’t put words to what I was going through at the time for me to develop anxiety and cause an anxiety attack. From there, I was on anxiety medication, but I noticed there were still unresolved issues affecting me.”
She was first introduced to the idea of therapy by a friend but was very hesitant about it because of her upbringing. Imani knew she exhausted all other options and decided to give it a try.
“I went into therapy very cocky because I know I’m intelligent and aware of myself,” Imani said. “I told my therapist, ‘I have no trauma, and I’m not going to be a headcase like your other patients, I’m just here for my anxiety.’”
Imani learned quickly that her self-awareness was not as high as she thought. She realized she had locked away her trauma and having consistent therapy helped her unpack it.
“I was very intentional with seeking out a Black female therapist, who looked like they could be a friend as I was hesitant towards the idea of therapy, and the thought of sitting across from someone who couldn’t understand me, my culture, or I couldn’t connect with, gave me more anxiety and prolonged the process,” Imani said.
She now defines trauma as how people negatively view themselves and how we view the world around us, and that’s why she thinks the Black community as a whole is traumatized regardless of how one grew up.
Imani points out that when she was in kindergarten she was the only Black child in class, and the teacher had an issue saying her name, which led to her feeling different — a micro-traumatic experience.
In her book, Imani highlights how she was called buckwheat by her White friends in an all-White elementary school because that’s the only Black nickname they knew. She thought nothing of it because she was too young to understand racism. It was only after she told her mother the nickname and saw her mother’s reaction that she realized it wasn’t something good.
“I remember having a birthday party and receiving a White Barbie doll which I was excited about because my mom only brought me Black Barbies, which I felt were only the sidekicks to the real Barbie,” Imani said. “My mom took the Barbie and told the parents we only buy her Black Barbie. This moment was another eye-opening experience for me because, again, I experienced Micro-racism. After all, the parents didn’t consider that maybe the Black girl would like a Black Barbie.”
Imani talks about how this experience shaped how she viewed herself and the world around her and made her question what it means to be a Black woman.
In another instance in the book, Imani shares how she has experienced racism and prejudice from medical experts.
“I went to my doctor and told them I didn’t want to be on birth control, and she quickly asked if I would be able to keep my legs closed because she assumed I didn’t have good insurance or a good job,” Imani said, noting after the doctor saw her occupation, she apologized. “That experience made me understand why there is a distrust in the medical community for Black people.”
Imani wants the Black community to know that trauma comes in different shapes and forms. All Blacks, of any income, can experience mental health issues.
“Anybody can have mental health issues, anybody can struggle with anxiety, and none of it is linked to how successful or poor they are,” she said.