Are Black People Crazy . . . . . or What?


By Na’im Akbar, Ph. D.
Clinical Psychologist (Retired)
Special to the Outlook

After spending over 40 years, researching, teaching, writing and studying the behaviors of African people, the mental health of Black People remains a mystery to me. The same questions that I began my career with are just as perplexing as they are now. “Are we crazy? How did we get that way? How do we get our sanity back?

As I observe the self-destructive and painful things that Black people do to each other: from the violence we commit against each other to the hurtful things that we do to ourselves, it is evident that we are as much victims of other people’s disregard of us as we are victims of disregarding ourselves. The devaluation of Black life has its origin in the 400 years of brutal slavery that we experienced and the atrocities of oppression and abuse that were experienced for the many years after the end of legal enslavement in North America. There was predictable pain, bad feelings, grief and mental confusion about the inhumane treatment of African people during the devastating period of our several generations of enslavement. Even in contemporary times we have seen police brutality, massacres in our homes, in our communities and places of worship that continue to replay the emotional tapes in such a way that each generation relives the murders, death, horrors and brutal treatment of this inhumane experience. The devastation of such pain should be enough to dehumanize a weaker people, but obviously that is not a sufficient explanation since we have a majority of survivors who have risen above that collective traumatic hurt and we have become exemplary human beings in every imaginable arena of life. Despite the incredible examples of achievement and demonstrations of being able to rise above such brutal pain, there are still flaws in the depths of the African American emotional life that show that the hurt persists and continues to affect many of us and, in part, determines peculiar behavior that we can only conclude to be “insane.”

There are several psychological factors that seem to correspond with the decline of many “crazy” and self-destructive factors in African American communities. Two of these factors are “self-awareness” and “self-respect.” There is evidence that we can predict the degree to which we become dangerously self-destructive by the prominence or decline of these factors. We can then regulate the likelihood of self-help by the presence of these psychological factors. In this brief series, we are going to take a look at these factors and what can possibly be done to facilitate healing in our communities. Even though the target of concern in these articles is the African American community, these factors are just as relevant to other similarly affected communities of people.

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