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Support Mental Wellness for Marginalized Communities by Being an Ally in the Fight Against Racism

It’s time to amplify the voices of minority and marginalized communities. Here’s how you can support the cause.

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In the words of Will Smith, “racism isn’t getting worse, it’s getting filmed.” The popular actor shared his thoughts on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert in 2016, and nearly five years later his words still ring (mostly) true.

Smith is correct that in this digital age racism is being caught on film more frequently than ever before, and as such, it’s being reported to police and being covered by the media, sparking a public discussion around a topic that for centuries has been deliberately discouraged. What has changed though is the number of hate crimes reported in the U.S., increasing by nearly 17 percent from 2016 to 2019 according to FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) Program. The 2020 report, which will include the spike of hate crimes against Black, Latinx, AAPI (Asian American Pacific Islander), and POC (people of color) communities that arose during the pandemic, is not complete as of publishing date.

“The recent racist attacks are nothing new to people of color,” says Phyllis Hubbard, ND, a Black woman and the chief healing officer of Radiant Health Strategies. “The advent of cell phones and social media has made it more difficult to ignore what we have always had to endure. Now that we have society’s attention, perhaps the healing can begin.”

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While it’s imperative society continue to discuss racism both past and present, the constant reminder and fear it causes marginalized communities takes a grave toll on mental health. According to Mental Health America, racism is a mental health issue as it causes trauma, and trauma paints a direct line to mental illnesses. And with Black adults 20 percent more likely to report serious psychological distress than white adults, it’s far time that those with privilege speak up for those without.

But how can you go about being a good ally for your friends and family of color? This is by no means a comprehensive list, but for starters it’s important to know your space. If you come from privilege, use your voice to amplify that of those who have experienced racism or mental trauma from it. Don’t speak over those who are sharing their authentic experiences, even if you’re trying to help.

“We need to acknowledge and understand that we are a deeply divided and racist nation,” says Anna Haddad, a Korean-American woman and founder and CEO of ONEYOGAHOUSE. “We have been taught this, modeled this, whether we are aware of it or not. There is a level of ignorance that many do not have the tools to manage through, so we need to take a big step towards understanding our own conditioning and where we allow for any level of racism in our own lives. We need to have a deeper awareness of what our actions and the actions of our community members cost other human beings.”

Haddad is not alone in her feelings. Katara McCarty, a Black author, anti-racism advocate and educator, and founder of Exhale, an emotional wellbeing app designed for and by BIWOC (Black, Indigenous, Women of Color), feels similarly. “White folks and non-people of color can start by recognizing that there are systems at work that they benefit from and that hurt, harm, and kill Black and brown people,” McCarty said. “That recognition should lead to action, and that action is the work of anti-racism and a commitment to dismantling systemic racism.”

Once you’ve recognized and admitted how the system inherently benefits you, here are some simple ways to take action as an ally:

  1. Listen: Just because you identify as an ally doesn’t mean you now know everything about a certain topic. Continue to listen to marginalized communities on what support they need, not the support you think they need.

  2. Speak Up: Use your privilege to speak for those without. Intervene when you see racism happening in person. Call out your friends and family who use racist rhetoric.

  3. Educate: Read books and watch films by Black authors and directors. Share your knowledge about racism and allyship with members of your community so marginalized people don’t have to. Here’s a list from NPR to start.

  4. Show Up: Attend community events and protests for justice. If there aren’t any in your neighborhood, consider starting your own. At work, suggest a diversity and inclusion day to support your coworkers of color.

  5. Give Back: Shop locally at minority owned businesses. Here is a list of vetted equal justice organizations worth donating to, curated by the non-profit fundraising platform Classy

By taking some of the burden off of marginalized communities to defend themselves against racism, they’re free to reclaim their time and protect their energy in whatever ways needed.

McCarty founded Exhale with the idea that the Black and brown community is holding its breath, waiting for the next video of police brutality, the next microaggression or the next negative health impact statistic, and it’s time to exhale––breathe out all that isn’t serving BIWOC and breathe in healing, energy, and love.

With content curated by BIWOC, the app inspires self-care, mindfulness and rest through meditations, coaching talks, affirmations, guided visualizations, and breathwork. McCarty personally focuses on her mental health the same way. “I prioritize my emotional wellbeing by meditating, going on walks, drinking water, connecting with my family, even if it’s through devices,” she says. “I’ve been spending time with myself and paying attention and tuning in and listening to my body and emotions, what they might need, and trying to give that to myself.”

Haddad takes care of her mental health in a similar fashion. “A wise woman in my life told me that the overdoing can be my undoing,” she says. “I have been trying to do less, physically; to know I deserve rest. From a spiritual and mental perspective, I do my best––not only as a yoga teacher but as a compassionate human being–to tap into my guiding purpose to think about how I can serve, to find peace, healing, and community. Not only preaching it, but to live it and radiate it.”

Another tip? Check in with yourself. “I never allow someone or something outside of myself to be my first point of contact for my day,” says Hubbard. “Instead, I take a few moments being grateful for another day and for the opportunity to do my part to make this world a better place. I actively engage in self-awareness, love, empowerment, and I do not allow myself to seek value or identity in sources that lie outside of myself.” Hubbard also doesn’t engage in social media or watch the news for at least 60 minutes prior to going to sleep.

If you’re feeling overwhelmed at the thought of being a good ally, remember to take it day by day. If you can do the right thing today, you’ll likely have inspired someone to join you in the fight tomorrow. There is strength in numbers, and together we will continue to fight for equality and justice for all.

About The Author
Samantha-Reed-headshot

Samantha (Sam) is a digital and content strategist who has been covering the health, wellness, and hospitality industries since 2016. A journalism graduate of Rider University, she has bylines in American Spa, American Salon, Travel Agent Central, Luxury Travel Advisor, International Meetings Review, BroadwayWorld, The Odyssey, and more. When she’s not working, she enjoys listening to podcasts, visiting Instagrammable art exhibits, looking for new restaurants to try, and petting dogs she passes on the street.