Category Archives: race issues

MLK and Mental Illness


mlk-dream-bannerI went to church yesterday. As is usual with most Unitarian Universalist churches, the day was spent in reflection of the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Those of us who are caucasian pinned pink ribbons to our tops, a reminder for the day that people are treated differently because of their skin tone and that as caucasians, we have a duty to acknowledge our ancestors’ history and challenge injustice whenever we witness it. I had planned to pen an elaborate post regarding my thoughts on the service.

Then I had a mental health episode. It was a rough night, and I struggled with old coping mechanisms such as self-injury and alcohol. This is not the life that I want to lead, and I recommit myself to my overall health – including my spiritual and mental health.

Today I began to wonder, what would Dr. King say about how we treat the mentally ill in this country. I found this blog and wasn’t surprised to learn that Dr. King himself often battled with depression. People who are challenged with mental illness tend to be some of the most self-reflective and empathetic people you will ever meet. It’s not lost on me that someone like MLK who spent his life thinking deeply about injustice would struggle with the psychological impact of such a dreary reality.

There is still a stigma against the mentally ill. I could never compare this to the experience that African Americans have had in this society. Yet I’m compelled to call out injustice wherever I see it, for mental illness is something that does not discriminate based on the color of your skin. If we know that mental illness is stigmatize, and that racial minorities are discriminated against, one would shudder at the injustice of mental illness within those communities. Unfortunately, culturally speaking, some groups balk even more at the thought of mental health treatment. My husband is from India and there’s a long history of denying the need for therapy and that one should fix things on their own, which is a damaging and dangerous perspective. Damaging because it belittles those of us who seek help. Dangerous because it suggests a path that almost always fails.

We need to speak out in all of our communities that mental illness is nothing to be ashamed of, rather it’s something that many of us will experience at some point in our lives, just like MLK did. There is no weakness in asking for help as it is true strength and courage that allows you to recognize that you can’t do it alone. Growing up, we’re not taught to deal with these issues, so we need to learn from those who can help us. Regardless of our backgrounds, there is a counselor that can meet our needs.

If you need any support in exploring these issues, please reach out to me. I’m listening.

Ancestry


23andme

I never knew much about my heritage. I didn’t know many people on my dad’s side of the family, so I was curious as to my background. I felt like I was pretty confident in my heritage on my mother’s side. To quench my thirst for knowledge, I had my DNA tested with 23andMe.

My results were pretty much to be expected. 23andMe is good with continuing to do research on the genotypes even after you get your initial results. This further research has caused a mystery on my mom’s side of the family.

There was a story that I heard growing up – that one of my great-great-grandmothers was Native American. Even more than that, it was stated that she was a cousin to Chief Sitting Bull, which would have made her Oglala Lakota. The French-speaking people in my family were quite racist – they allegedly made comments that they didn’t care if the person was “red or black,” they didn’t want them in the family and disowned my great-great-grandfather for marrying a non-white.

This story was very unsettling to me. Because of the hatred my great-great-grandmother experienced, I made it my mission to be as respectful of and learn as much as I could about the Lakota people. I felt that by honoring my great-great-grandmother, I was doing my part in rectifying the hatred within my own family.

23andMe recently released some more genetic reports providing a deeper dive into the genotypes and the locations in the world from which they came. I recently looked at my results and was surprised to see 0% Native American! The “family story” is a lie. So, what’s the truth. Well, with the generational breakdown, in the time of 1710-1800, the genotype that shows up is Subsaharan African. Curiouser and curiouser.

Further investigation will tell – but my first impression of this new information? Not only was the story a lie, but the ancestor in question was likely of mixed African origin.

The Migrant Threat


In the interest of transparency, I must start this post off by stating that my husband is an immigrant. He came to the U.S. legally from India in 2007. To streamline the process, we retained an immigration lawyer to help us through this journey. Once my husband arrived in the U.S., he went through the proper channels to get work authorization, permanent residency, and finally, citizenship – and we paid all of the associated fees for each step of the process. At the end of everything, including the lawyer fees, we spent over $10,000. Because of the struggle and cost of the process, I am admittedly sympathetic to people who attempt to come to the U.S. to escape their homes. I say sympathetic because people who are seeking asylum and are trying to escape the horrors of their homelands do not typically have access to the resources that we did. Often, they cannot even afford to pay the processing fees to establish legal residency. Many times, the person seeks refugee status, which is the topic I would like to focus on for the rest of this post – refugees and the recent threat of the “migration caravan.”

In researching this post, I was surprised to learn that refugee and asylum admissions to the U.S. have actually decreased since the 1990s, with an increase in the last three years. Also, most asylum seekers do not come from south of the border. Most asylum seekers in 2016 (the most recent data) are from Africa and Asia. The Department of Homeland Security’s statistics show that the people who sought refugee status were from war-torn countries, some of which have been ravished by genocide, such as Myanmar and Syria. The data does suggest that there is a current increase in people seeking asylum from El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras. Still, the largest group of asylum seekers were from China, irrespective of the 2016 trend of more seekers coming from Latin America.

This begs the question, what is going on in Central America that would prompt people to leave their homes and travel thousands of miles, sometimes by foot, to escape a perceived danger? According to the U.S. Department of State, there are travel advisories in each of the countries that are trending upward in asylum seekers. For El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras the warning is for violent crime and gang activity, with widespread reports of murder, assault, rape, and armed robbery – all of which are characterized as common. Who wouldn’t want to escape those conditions? But what about China, the largest “producer” of asylum seekers? The Chinese government is well-known for detaining people, interrogating them to the point of torture, restricting free movement within the country, and other humanitarian abuses. All and all, horrible living conditions in all these countries.

So, why aren’t we hearing more about closing our borders to prevent the influx of Chinese instead of the migrants of Latin America? Aren’t there criminals in both groups? Wouldn’t people from all these countries “take U.S. jobs?” The Sociologist in me first thought that this is really a classist issue in a way. How much does education a group has have to do with whether they are considered a threat? With this line of thought, I looked at the education rates of each country. Since 1964, China’s literacy rate has climbed from 66% to 96% while the number of high school and college graduates has skyrocketed. It’s not a far-fetched idea to think that asylum seekers from China would be highly educated and able to do highly skilled labor. In El Salvador, primary education is not completely free, so poor families are not able to complete what we consider basic education. Guatemala has the lowest literacy rate of Central America and education is only compulsory for six years. Similarly, in Honduras, children are only required to attend school until the age of 12. Basically, the migrants from these Latin American countries are seemingly poorer and less educated, meaning they would only be skilled to perform lower-paying jobs. As a point of fact, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that there will be employment growth of 0.7% annually through the year 2026, with the largest industry affected being healthcare. As we would rightly assume, healthcare professions generally require a more highly educated populace. More than half of the growing occupations require a post-secondary education. What his means is that those in the current migrant caravan from Central America would not immediately qualify for this economic boom.

One of the biggest fears we have heard associated with this migration is crime. To me this actually makes sense for someone to believe this. If poor people are struggling to get an income, they might resort to illicit means of providing for their livelihoods. Is this the reality, though? According to the 2017 Unified Crime Report, the most common offender was between 21 and 30 years of age, male, and white. In comparison, what does the typical Central American migrant look like? Well, they’re definitely not white and the majority are children – they do not fit the profile of a violent offender in the U.S. Well, what about being an offender in their homeland? As a part of the established process for registering refugees, each migrant is required to go through a background check and if anything comes back on this check, they will be rejected.

I think this last part is part of the issue – the fear that people are coming into the U.S. illegally and not going through the proper refugee/asylum process and will then be free from scrutiny to wreak havoc on an unsuspecting population. According to the Pew Research Center, illegal immigrants only comprise 3.3% of the U.S. population as of 2016 and have significantly declined since 2007. Sounds to me like we’ve got some immigration processes that are working, all without a wall.

What about the threat to West Virginia, specifically? Well, there’s not much of one. Most refugees are resettled in California, Texas, and New York. The immigrant population of West Virginia is less than 2% of the state’s total population, much of which comprises migrants from Germany. Also, nearly half the immigrants in West Virginia possess a college degree or higher.

Bottom line, in looking at the data, you are more likely to be a victim of crime from a young white NON-immigrant man than an illegal immigrant or someone seeking asylum to escape those same conditions.

For your reading pleasure, I got the data for this post from www.pewresearch.org, www.americanimmigrationcouncil.org, www.dhs.gov, www.fbi.gov, and www.bls.gov.

What’s In a Word?


I have let comments regarding the story about Tom Hanks’ son get to me.

I’ve seen this in a couple of different places, in addition to all of the comments people have.

Issues such as this tend to be a sore point for me. I have very strong convictions when it comes to racial issues. So much so that there are certain things that I just won’t tolerate – including caucasian people using this word.

Now, this doesn’t mean that I completely agree with people of color using the word. I do understand and respect the view that by using the word, they perpetuate the persecution of their own culture. I ALSO understand the concept of reclaiming, for a disenfranchised group to reclaim a word as a communal source of bonding and power. In reclaiming the words of the oppressor and flipping its meaning, you take its power.

Let me emphasize – reclamation DOES NOT give everyone carte blanche for cultural appropriation. A caucasian person using this word is not only cultural appropriation, it diminishes the whole intent of reclamation. Not to mention the idea that one’s privilege is SO prevalent that s/he thinks they have a RIGHT to use these words.

Sure, in terms of free speech you have a right to use them. Just as I have a right to eliminate your presence from my reality.