Face of a Killer: Why the Black Community Must Take a Serious Look at Mental Health

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    Finish this sentence for me.  If I had a son, he’d look like? The President said Trayvon.

    “If I had a son he’d look like Aaron Alexis”- that is the new Internet meme. That’s the new hashtag that’s trending on Twitter.  If Obama had a son he’d look like Aaron Alexis.  If Obama had a son he’d look like the shooter.  Or if Obama had a son he’d look and act like Aaron Alexis.

    Immediately after the FBI identified the suspect in yesterday’s shooting in the Navy Yard in D.C. as Aaron Alexis, a young black man, some – some on the political right – jumped on the bandwagon, well, at least on the Internet; online, on Twitter, on Facebook specifically, and began to take glee, not only in the fact that the shooter was black, but that they could make a comparison to the President of the United States.  A funny comparison, a snarky comparison.  But here’s the truth.  Most of the mass shootings in workplaces, in schools, in malls, et cetera, are committed by white men, in overall numbers and in percentages.

    But men of color, as we have begun to know now, are not immune, like Christopher Dorner, remember him?  He went on the shooting spree earlier this year in California killing police officers and innocent civilians and now Aaron Alexis; two men who turned their inner anger and revenge to the people around them.  Black men know, like Don Cornelius, and more recently, actor Lee Thompson Young turned their anger inward and took their lives.

    So here’s something else for you to think about.  These incidents will probably increase if we don’t bring something into the light and discuss it.  And that is mental health among black people, or the converse, which is mental illness, which are taboo subjects in our community.

    When I told my own mother I was dealing with depression some years back, and I was seeing a therapist, she told me I didn’t need a therapist, I needed a preacher.  That was my own mother.  She eventually did come around, she’s my biggest supporter, my biggest ally, my biggest friend now.  And after my step-dad died some years back, she too went to a therapist and she got healthy.  But it took time for even the person who gave birth to me to realize that there are certain things that you cannot pray away.

    Why would we think mental or psychological issues can be prayed or willed away?  A sick mind is no different than a sick body.  Would you pray away a broken arm?  Would you pray away bad eyesight?  Would you pray away cancer, leukemia or diabetes?  No.  You would get it treated by the proper physician while praying at the same time.

    But since we are talking about the Navy shooter here I want to stick with black men for a moment.  According to the Center for Disease Control, from 1980 to 2012 the suicide rate for black males doubled becoming the third leading cause of death for black men between the ages of 15 and 24.  Suicide, depression and other mental illnesses are real in our communities; maybe more so than other communities because of institutional racism, because of overwhelming unemployment and poverty.  We can no longer look at these issues as taboo and something we can power through with God because we’re soldiers.  Even soldiers have post-traumatic stress disorder.

    If we don’t wake up to these realities, that we cannot pray it away, the next time we see a crime on the news, especially a mass shooting, the first question you might ask yourself; is it the usual one?  Oh, no, are they black?  You know you all do it; I hope they’re not black.  It might be the same one that the haters are posing on the Internet.  If Obama had a son would he look like the killer?

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