Afropunk Review Part 2: Mental Health in the Black Community Talk

Afropunk is a festival known around the world for celebrating art in all forms. It exhibits the latest in music, fashion, fine and graphic art, in addition to subject-specific talks. Yes, there was a LOT of black people, but at the core it’s a stream of WOKE individuals coming together to share life.

Structured as a panel-led Q&A, the Radical Self-Care talk focused on important issues surrounding mental health and mental health within the black community specifically, as well as the importance of creating a healthy, successful society.

The panel consisted of Dr Ronx, an A&E doctor, presenter and youth mentor, Patrick Vernon, the organiser of Blackthrive, and Mutulu Oblongata, a homeopathic retailer. The evening was introduced, moderated and curated by the founder of Our Naked Truths, Jocelyn Yeboah-Newton.

What was successful about the talk was that it opened up a dialogue between both the panellists and audience on what mental health means to us as individuals. Testimonies were shared by those on the panel and in audience, making it an extremely cathartic and supportive environment, both of which are necessary for putting radical self-care into action. But what really struck me were points raised about the current crisis in the NHS and the cultural nuances that affect our psychological condition. As a proud African woman and a midwife within the NHS I was passionate about the experiences shared. I connected to themes of disparity in our health system and whole-heartedly agreed with many of those who expressed the need to see more elements of themselves in the existing services. If better representation of people of colour occurred in the NHS, engagement with such services would be increased and mental wellbeing would be improved.

During the discussion, common words such as ‘resilience’ and ‘strength’ took on a new relevance; so much so that I found myself asking is resilience the cause or the cure to mental health? Some argued that having too much resilience is harming the black British community, as it is a trait that encourages great strength but also an internalisation of trouble and pain. Others responded to this suggestion with defence and argued that resilience is the very attribute that has allowed them to not be drawn into unhealthy psychological and physiological practices.

One of the key points to be raised during the evening was about appearance and self-presentation. When Dr Ronx, an inspirational young woman on the panel said, “Black don’t crack…black people look good all the time”, I thought how funny but incredibly perceptive this comment was. Dr Ronx was touching on the idea that because we stand straight with pride, have glowing skin and a smile on our face, we couldn’t possibly be hurting. In this age of conversation-less commutes and limitless social media, the act of putting on a mask or evading the truth is normalised. History has noted the hardships and struggles ethnic people have faced, which many believe has helped to create a strong, resilient generation. However, the plight of our parents and the buried traumas of the past have been passed down and are slowly starting to come to the surface. Then again, although millennials are now encountering new challenges, we have the privilege and liberty to discover ourselves, unlike those before us. This liberty to share our selves – a self that is a facet of personalities, attributes and feelings – can only provide hope for this and the next generation in coming together to provide communal and individual self-care.

All in all, it was an amazing, thought-provoking night that left me not only questioning my own mental health and need for radical self-care, but my role in protecting and supporting others who are also in need of it.

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