We are aware of some underlying conditions that leave African American communities with higher COVID-19 deaths than others: more hypertension, diabetes, obesity, asthma. Some blame “reckless lifestyles” of excessive drinking and smoking, but there are other critical factors at play.
African Americans’ mental health is impacted by social, economic and cultural factors such as systemic and institutional racism. Research suggests that 6 percent of Americans are affected by poverty, unemployment and/or food insecurity. Many African Americans live in environments with higher, more frequent violence and criminal activities. It is imperative to note that racism and oppression are among the highest forms of violence that negatively impact African Americans.
These stressors are major contributors to mental health issues, because they cause mental/psychological anguish. Mental health impacts physical health in many ways. If we are to heal the body, then we must address the psychological assaults of racism and oppression—the Zulu call this ukufa kwabantu or metaphysical/spiritual challenges.
For people of Afrikan descent, spirit is essential to existence. Experiences of the Maafa (Afrikan enslavement dynamics) and the Persistence Enslavement Trauma (PEST) have a deleterious effect on the psychospiritual well-being of Black people. We must address the PEST as we seek to facilitate health and wellness within our community. The diagnosis of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) often is applied to describe the condition under which African Americans live, however, it falls short of capturing the dynamics of the Afrikan experience for several reasons:
One, PTSD is generally diagnosed in someone who has experienced a traumatic event in one generation under a limited set of circumstances. The trauma encountered by Afrikan people has lasted for several generations and is ongoing. We see the impact of this trauma with the health/ death marker of Blacks due to COVID-19. Therefore, another problem with applying PTSD to Afrikan/Black people’s trauma is that PTSD is diagnosed in those who have experienced a traumatic event and are currently not experiencing that specific trauma. Institutional and systemic racism combine to be a psychospiritual disruption to people of Afrikan descent.
Our way to heal is tied to this same worldview of spirit and connectedness. African Americans are communal and enjoy gathering and relating. We could suggest that our social capital is our greatest asset. When we connect with one another, we feel more alive because our value is found within our interconnectivity. The Zulu have a concept called Ubuntu, which speaks to humanity and all of its connectedness. This is a time for us to enhance our social capital by connecting in ways that we haven’t done in a few generations.
Family and community rituals are moments where bonding can occur between family and community members. Healing of severed relationships with self and others can take place in the context of ritual. African Americans must elevate the essence of self and a spiritual/physical journey through meaningful cultural rituals. Contrary to distorted historical misinformation, African Americans love deeply.
• Celebrate African American holidays and ancestors—even if virtual. Consider family strengths and highlight lessons of resilience and divine intellect;
• Plan family and ancestral celebrations of those who have passed. African Americans come from a great and mighty people and must pay forward that greatness to make the world better;
• Fortify spirit with prayer, meditation, exercise, healthy food consumption, and optimal rest. Engage in activities that
will bring about ease rather than dis-ease to the mind, body and soul. Have positive conversations and eat life-affirming foods. Make fruits and vegetables 50 percent of diets and restore the body;
• Celebrate family and community while acknowledging others’ positive impact. Call, text or write those family members and express how life has been changed for the good. The healing we seek begins with one person at a time via one ritual at a time.
Let the healing begin.
By Kevin Washington, Ph.D., head of the Psychology Department at Grambling University and Elevate columnist at ONYX Magazine