The Black Community vs Mental Health

The Black community has long learning history of racism and oppression that has led to a rabbit hole of distrust and victimhood. In regard to mental health and the general medical field, The Black Community has become stuck in a learned helplessness of both needing to have faith in those fields, while dealing with the mistrust and social stigma associated with utilizing those sciences.

Brief History

  • The father of modern gynecology, J. Marion Sims, built his medical legacy by putting enslaved Black women through multiple surgeries without anesthesia, most enduring more than 30 such surgeries. Many still believe the ends justified the means.
  • The Tuskegee Experiment purposefully studied 600 Black males for syphilis without informed consent and never treated them, just to see the long-term effects over their lifetimes, even though an effective treatment had been found in the early stages. All participants were given placebos and many of their spouses and children ended up suffering from the disease. Eventually, the government apologized and paid off the families.
  • Henrietta Lacks had cells from her body used without consent in 1950, leading to her children being used in research without their consent in the 1970’s, because her cells didn’t die and continue to replicate to this day, being used to research around the world to study almost anything you can think of.
  • As I wrote about before, Black men were committed to mental institutions and diagnosed with Schizophrenia due to suffering from “delusional anti-whiteness”.

While many people feel this history is so long ago, I have family members that used Colored water fountains and were alive when Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. experienced racism in Chicago (1966) which resulted in his famous quote, “I’ve been in many demonstrations all across the South, but I can say that I have never seen, even in Mississippi and Alabama, mobs as hostile and as hate-filled as I’m seeing in Chicago.” Many generations of The Black Community continue to deal with personal learning histories that are reinforced by anything they continue to believe may be tied to their traumatic experiences.

What does this have to do with behavioral/mental health?

Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) has gained popularity in recent years, but it continues to be a topic of discussion and debate. ABA is a scientific approach to understanding behavior and how it is influenced by the environment. It involves the application of principles and techniques to improve socially significant behavior and enhance the overall quality of life for individuals. It has been shown to be effective in treating a range of behavioral and developmental disorders, including Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), and substance use disorders. However, concerns have been raised about the use of ABA in The Black Community, particularly in light of the historical abuses of behaviorism.

Behaviorism, the theoretical foundation of ABA, was used in the early 20th century to justify racial segregation and discrimination. Behaviorist John B. Watson used taught a baby to fear a white rate, which generalized to white objects, fur coats, furry objects, etc., through behavioral conditioning. It demonstrated that people could be taught to behave in desired ways. Experiments like this led to the development of Psychogenetics, which related genetics to behaviors. This led to the promotion of eugenics, which aimed to improve the human race by controlling reproduction and eliminating undesirable traits. It was used as validation that Black people engaged in behaviors that couldn’t be shaped due to their inferior genetics. Eugenics was used to justify the forced sterilization of Black women and other marginalized groups, as well as the segregation of schools and neighborhoods. Due to this, it is understandable why some people are wary of ABA.

I previously wrote about modern families continuing to be weary of behavioral and medical services when reviewing teaching modules conducted in Southern California. This demonstrates the fears that people have that result in continued refusal of care that could be positively impacting their lives.

HOWEVER, it is important to note that ABA has evolved significantly since its early days and is now grounded in some of the most strictly enforced ethical principles that prioritize the well-being of the individual. ABA practitioners are trained to work collaboratively with individuals and their families, taking into account their unique cultural backgrounds and experiences. This cultural sensitivity is critical in the Black community, where historical trauma and ongoing experiences of racism can impact behavior and mental health.

Additionally, ABA is meant to be tailored to meet the specific needs of each individual. This can include addressing the impact of racism and discrimination on behavior and mental health. ABA can be used to teach coping skills and strategies for dealing with racism and its effects, as well as to promote positive behaviors that build resilience and enhance the quality of one’s life.

Personally, I have seen work in the ABA field that is exceptional and some that are horrendous. During my first time going through graduate school, I dealt with peers in my cohort that said some really nasty and inappropriate comments to me directly. And when I complained the Board told me I had to learn to deal with it, because I wasn’t like most people in the field. This also referred to me being literally the only Black male in the program. This field can be elitist and problematic for regular working-class people to deal with. That’s why I’ve made it my mission to maintain the highest quality of work while maintaining my roots and relatability as a Black-Mexican kid from Chicago that hates seeing people mistreated. And again, I’ve seen some of the best, objective work from individuals of all races, genders, and ethnicities in this field. People that know and embrace that to be successful in this field, you have to teach people to not need you, so they can have a successful, independent life.

In conclusion, ABA is a valuable intervention for addressing behavioral and mental health challenges in the Black community. However, it is important to approach its use with cultural sensitivity and awareness of the historical context. ABA practitioners must be trained to work collaboratively with individuals and families, taking into account their unique experiences and backgrounds. With these considerations in mind, ABA can be a powerful tool for promoting positive behavior change and improving the overall well-being of the Black community.


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