This isn’t the first time I’ve written about suicide. Strange way to start a piece, I know, but I think it holds merit to the topic. Suicide. In the fifth grade I wrote a paper on the subject because it happened in my family, on my mother’s side. Her cousin’s father committed the act and as it was explained to me, that had shaped who he is now. For a child it was an interesting concept that I just so happen to have access to for the paper I was writing for school.
But it has always got me wondering: How many other Black people are as close to suicide as I am? My guess was like most Black issues, it was an open secret we didn’t discuss, but we all were aware. I felt validated when I saw Ava DuVernay’s web series “Black Folk Don’t” in which she explored some of the taboos, or assumed taboos, of our culture.
It wasn’t a good feeling, just a feeling of acknowledgement.
I attended Clark Atlanta University and while there a young woman hung herself in the dorm. People were shocked, I mean utterly confused about the why. And there it was again. Here in the haven of Blackness, amidst the most genuine support and friendship most of us would ever know, in the Blackest city in the Nation, a person like me or you killed themselves in our space. How? Why? What happened? I had never actually walked down a street and heard whispers until that day. It was like a movie. Again, we are closer than we think. Me and my best friend, Edoye, talked about it then and every so often bring it up now; that’s how much it affected all of us… it never left our minds, not once.
That’s it. That’s suicide. A moment that ends for one person, and lasts forever with everyone else. Leaving everyone asking, Why? How? What happened? With no answers.
The First Why is the most difficult. Why did you do it? Honestly, I don’t think there is an answer that makes sense to most people. For Black people it should though. We’ve been linked to the practice since the first days of this nation. Most of us have heard the stories of our ancestors throwing themselves from ships during the Middle Passage. We’ve known of the indescribable trauma of the plantation and understand that some chose to “fly away” as the folk tales say. We understand the mental strain of Jim Crow and how that could have led to some wishing to leave this place before their time. And unfortunately in our modern day we all heard and seen the tales of a system of “justice” that would lead young people like Kalief Browder to tragically take his own life.
We know more than we’re saying.
A recent article from Word In Black showed data that expresses Black people are becoming more at risk for suicide. The pandemic is causing all kinds of problems, but when you are a people at the bottom of the problem pole do you even notice? I pray so, but the data isn’t comforting. In June 2020, a study showed that 15% of Black respondents had seriously considered suicide in the past 30 Days, which coupled with the second chart showing that 30% of the Black respondents have experienced increase in anxiety we are once again looking at a clock ticking down time until what we know will happen, will happen…again.
What are we going to do?
I wish I had an answer. I don’t. My solution is to take it seriously, and take responsibility. None of us can read another’s mind, but we can look for clues, especially when it comes to our close friends and family. In this time of isolation, it can mean a lot to ask someone how they are doing and if they need help. Black therapists have been in high demand, and they should be. Share links to their social and professional page and let people know it’s okay to ask for help.
We as a community should begin to look at our issues like we did the crack epidemic in the early 90s. We should be talking up issues in our own community to address in the ways we know work. Our Culture. I can’t tell you how much the crack is wack campaign in Hip Hop worked for creating awareness of the issue. And although not all people chose not to pick up a pipe, it was never a secret that it was a personal choice and had repercussions we all knew about. Several of the young entertainers these days have taken their own lives, I haven’t seen as much as a memorial song for them. There are drug and addiction facilities now, funding for prevention and awareness campaigns. There’s help, but is the community pushing it? The youth is at risk and we have the tools to help.
No excuses. We should be reacting to the data in a solution-oriented approach. We can address this issue and we can make progress. We just all need to know how to help and why.