What Color Does It Hurt?

Why blacks don't want to talk about depression.

Black Americans have a hard time talking about the pain of depression.
Black Americans have a hard time talking about the pain of depression.

Too many of us are crying, too many of us are dying—in silence.

Because of centuries of staying strong and silent in the face of the ugliest kinds of brutality, African Americans continue the cultural habit of avoiding painful emotions. No one owns us anymore, but we find it cripplingly difficult to openly acknowledge pain and sadness. “It’s very hard for black people to show a kink in the armor,” says Williams. “Meanwhile, people to the left, right, in back and front have holes throughout their armor.”

Black women continue to pay the price of being superwomen.

Working 24/7 is a primary symptom of depression for black women. Williams says she knows that symptom so well, she could’ve invented it. “Like many black women, I would work until I dropped, meet unreasonable deadlines, sacrifice weekend days at the office and generally push myself beyond normal endurance,” she writes. “In the interest of my business and clients, I didn’t marry because I didn’t have time to be truly available to my man or kids—I didn’t feel entitled to take the time either.”

Depression can look like aggression.

We think of depression as sad, lethargic and low energy. But, especially in men, depression can look very active, even hyper. Depressed men often overwork, drive too fast, take drugs, have too much sex or become violent. “If you can’t feel it out,” says Williams, “you act it out.”

Evil = depressed.

Being evil and seeming bulletproof are the female versions of swagger and macho in men. It’s a painful, common cover-up for depression. “What we call evil,” writes Williams, “is the inability to set boundaries for ourselves, to say, ‘I need some help, or some downtime, and preferably both.'”

Ultimately, Williams hopes her book will provide a cultural healing. “Healing starts with us,” she says. “Share your journey with someone. You’re not alone. I promise you, you’re not alone.”

Linda Villarosa is a health columnist for The Root. “Passing for Black” is her first novel. For more go to her Web site.