Travis Gosa examines the continued impact of racism on the mental health of Black Americans

by Travis L. Gosa, Ph.D, February 25, 2013


Chris Dorner

We start up non-profits, volunteer as paramedics and firefighters, go to school, and live otherwise happy lives in spite of continued racism.

Still, we also have to deal with the invisible impact of discrimination on the lives of Black Americans.  As studies published by the American Psychological Association show, racism can lead to increased anxiety and depression, and even physical pain. There is an unspoken issue of mental health in the Black community, specifically, the stigma of depression. As dream hampton and Nia Hamm put it, we continue to suffer in silence in shame.

Black men and women tend to bottle up the pain and hurt caused by racial indignities by becoming soldiers in the struggle. As Black boys we learn to master the swagger of the “cool pose,” and as grown men we pretend to be invincible. Black girls are forced to be "strong,"  yet blasted for it at the same time.  In order to survive the street, the corporate boardroom, or academia, we wear the mask of Black Rambo and Black Superwoman.

Most of the time, though, the coping strategy doesn’t end in a killing spree or riot.  It ends with Black men harming themselves with drugs, abusing and abandoning their families, or with suicide. Recent statistics show that one Black person commits suicide every 4.5 hours, and Black men are 5 times more likely than Black women to kill themselves. Last year, we lost entertainment icons like Soul Train host Don Cornelius and hip hop producer Chris Lighty to suicide. Mental health is not a “White issue.”

Racism doesn’t usually cause Black people to become unhinged like Christopher Dorner or go on rage-filled crime sprees.  However, the vestiges of racism continue to wreak havoc on the emotional and mental state of Black communities.

Travis L. Gosa is an Assistant Professor at Cornell University’s Africana Studies & Research Center. He teaches courses on African American families, education, and hip hop culture. He can be reached at and on Twitter @basedprof.

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