theguardian: by Kirsten West Savali —
When 20-year-old Frankea Dabbs abandoned her 10-month-old baby girl on a New York City subway platform on 7 July, it was a piercing cry for help that has long echoed throughout homes, neighborhoods and cities across the United States – a cry that is often ignored or replaced with a more racially charged narrative.
The surface response to her actions seems to be one of blanket shock: “Why would she do such a horrible thing?”
But the subtext to that question is this: “Why do they do such horrible things?”
And “they” are black women living in poverty in the United States.
“Stuff is wrong with Frankea’s mind,” her aunt told the New York Daily News. “She walks around with dark shades. She even sleeps in dark shades. I really believe there is something mentally wrong with Frankea.”
But when “wrong” is a label attached to a young, black mother who abandoned her baby, it reflects a broader, more sinister history. “Wrong” represents a manifestation of black pathology. “Wrong” describes a supposedly innate criminality. “Wrong” becomes the reason we further invisibilize poor, black women with no one or nothing to rely on but their faith and their family, neither of which is guaranteed.
Dabbs, who was kicked out of her home for allegedly showing signs of mental illness, is a textbook case of a woman who needs help, not self-righteous indignation. But, instead, her face has been splashed across the news as a Bad Black Mother.
By comparison, in a Duke University study conducted by Jayne Huckerby entitled “Women Who Kill Their Children”, the author noted that white, middle-class women accused of filicide are often perceived as “mad” mothers who should be treated with care and humanity. Due to entrenched racial and ethnic stereotypes, however, women of color living in poverty are perceived as “bad” mothers before they even commit a crime – and something worse if they do.
Despite being more likely to be simply perceived as “bad” mothers, African-Americans are 20% more likely to report having serious psychological distress than non-Hispanic whites, according to the US Department of Health and Human Services Office of Minority Services. And, according the NIH study “African American Women’s Beliefs About Mental Illness, Stigma, and Preferred Coping Behaviors”, simply being a black woman in the United States places one at risk for developing mental illness:
The rates of mental health problems are higher than average for Black women because of psychological factors that result directly from their experience as Black Americans. These experiences include racism, cultural alienation, and violence and sexual exploitation.
The women believed experiencing family-related stress and social stress were possible causes of mental illness. The family-related stressors, including trauma, family problems, and violence, are supported in the research literature. Davis, Ressler, Schwartz, Stephens, & Bradley (2008) found that African Americans in low-income, urban communities are at high risk for exposure to traumatic events, including having relatives murdered and their own experience with physical and sexual assaults, all of which are associated with the onset of post-traumatic stress syndrome and depression.
The stigma attached to mental health in this country is endangering lives. And the stigma of being a poor, black woman in this country with mental health problems is endangering even more. Black American women struggling at the intersection of race, gender and class face intensely unique challenges by feeling obliged to embody the very stereotypes that hurt us, including that of the “strong black woman”, even when we are ill. We aren’t supposed to cry when we’re hurt; we aren’t supposed to bleed when life throws blow after blow, threatening our very existence. We are supposed to maintain a strong façade so as not to threaten a social ecosystem dependent on our unacknowledged labor to thrive.
There are more Frankea Dabbs living at the margins than we see on the news. We need to help them by addressing the disparities in mental health accessibility for women of color living in poverty, including making mental health dialogues focused on postpartum depression more inclusive of women of color.
We need to ensure that reproductive health education and family planning services are available to women of color living in poverty, rather than demonizing them for what they don’t know or can’t use when our politicians believe that abstinence-only education and limiting birth control access wins them elections.
We must fix the embarrassing lack of food security for women of color living in poverty, rather than allowing those who try to access basic social services to be derided as “welfare queens.”
Frankea Dabbs may have never told anyone that she was suffering, preferring instead to hide in the dark – possibly from herself. But she spoke loud and clear when she left her baby on an subway platform hoping that someone – anyone –could be the parent that she couldn’t. In effect, she’s gotten her wish: she’s facing charges and, undoubtedly, her child will be removed from her custody. However, if we let her story – and the sensational headlines it generated – fade from our collective memory without changing anything about the systems that failed her and her child, we’re just paving the way for it to happen again.
If these things are to be accomplished, this nation must first stop denying women of color living in poverty their humanity.
Origional Post here: http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/jul/10/mother-baby-subway-platform-frankea-dabbs