Melanin and Mental Health
An interview with podcasters Eliza Boquin and Eboni Harris.
Posted October 28, 2022 | Reviewed by Ekua Hagan
- Inherited, unprocessed trauma in the Black community produces cortisol, inflammation, and disease.
- The trauma of the Black community is compounded by COVID and police violence.
- Messages to younger Black generations to "push through" and ignore their vulnerability may be based on their ancestors being in survival mode.
This post is part one of a three-part series.
I recently had the privilege of speaking with Eboni Harris (MA, LPC, LMFT) and Eliza Boquin (MA, LMFT) of Melanin and Mental Health Podcast based in Houston, Texas. We discussed racism, taking responsibility even when we’re not at fault, compassion over forgiveness, and more.
ML: What about each other drew you to collaborate? Where did the synergy come from?
EB: We felt it right off the bat. I have a marketing degree, and Eboni’s degree is in a different field, but I respect her as a businesswoman. So much of what we wanted to do and serve our communities was the same. Sometimes people are really great therapists but struggle with the business aspect. I come up with ideas even though I don’t know how we’re going to execute on them. She’s more grounded, asking how are we going to do this and how much is it going to cost? We ground each other in many ways, but we have enough common values and common goals.
ML: It’s difficult to marry a product or service with the nuts and bolts of business and reaching your market. I like that the two of you found that synergy to make it work because what you’re both doing is so important.
EB: Eboni sees the good in a situation. Us combined is what helps a lot of our goals to be met.
Being Black Is Stressful
ML: Both of you mentioned your similar goals and values, so what are your top reasons for reaching out to BIPOC communities to pay attention to their mental health?
EH: Going through life in a Black or brown body is already stressful: discrimination, racism, and even perceived discrimination. Along with moving along in the world and having the same stresses as anyone else, then came COVID. We dealt with COVID but also saw the racial violence and the murders of Black men and women by police.1 People check in on them in ways that make them feel uncomfortable, so there’s even more stressors. We probably need therapy more than the vast majority, but it doesn’t seem accessible. It’s getting better, but we often don’t see ourselves in a healing space or feel deserving of healing or we believe we should be able to do it on our own. It’s like you haven’t done anything differently from the next person other than living in Black or brown skin. Recognize that whatever has happened to you and your experiences are not your fault, but it is your responsibility to take care of your mental health.
Healing Is Our Resistance to Systemic Racism
EB: We want people to understand that our healing is our resistance. We can’t have wellness or wholeness if we don’t also tend to our mental health. We deal with higher levels of stress and trauma. Plus we have intergenerational trauma.2 We don’t just inherit our ancestors’ eye, hair, and skin color. We inherit their unprocessed trauma. That’s in our cellular level on top of the day-to-day traumas. All of that produces cortisol, which produces inflammation, which produces disease. We have to be able to address that in order to have wellness and physical health. When I say healing is our resistance, I mean there are people who benefit from us not being well. For us to say, “I’m going to tend to myself,” that is resistance. Historically, BIPOC people received messages that therapy wasn’t for us or we had to be strong and push through challenges. It was detrimental to our ancestors to show vulnerability. It was life-or-death for them to slow down and rest. Them telling us to push through and move forward comes from them being in survival mode. We have to undo these messages and redefine strength.
ML: Are you talking about the time period when Black people were selected for psychological experiments against their will3 and without their consent?
EB: I’m talking about as a whole. We are a colonized people. The traumas we’ve been dealing with have gone on for centuries. Today’s therapy model wasn’t created for us. Our colleague, Dr. Manuel San Maripa in Austin, Texas, said it best. Our people have always done therapy, but we didn’t call it that. We went to the tribe leader for council, or the elders, or the medicine woman. Eboni and I are trying to bring more of that back to our communities. This field was created by old, white men for old, white men. It’s so important for us to change the face of therapy. For example, there’s criticism around how we parent our children, that we’re too harsh, but we know if they don’t stay in line, that could be life-threatening. My generation is the first to have the luxury of healing. It’s our responsibility for the future generations as well as a way to honor our ancestors.
For Pt. 2 click here
National Library of Medicine, News: Cause of Death:Covid-19, Police Violence, or Racism?
Office for Institutional Equity, Duke University, Intergenerational Trauma: 6 Ways It Affects Families
Joshua Miller, PhD., Medical Apartheid: The Dark History of Medical Experimentation on Black Americans From Colonial Times to the Present