Uproot it – The nature of our emotions

artwork by Hilma AF Klint

Doing psychology, I learn an array of wild and what seems far-fetched theories. I think one of the most shocking was the idea that depression is beneficial for human mental health. The idea proposes that we isolate ourselves from others, sleep more, and cut ourselves off from society to preserve energy. Upon hearing this I thought it was ridiculous, but over lockdown I feel as if I have been a human subject of this theory in action. Due to COVID, we have been separated from what makes us human – the ability to socialise, communicate, and connect. This has magnified for me certain habits and relationships that serve no other purpose than convenience and are at-most damaging. This may sound harsh, but it is so easy to dedicate energy to dead-ends especially when we are moving at 100mph, and in the slo-mo of COVID, it has become clear to me that growth requires a dedication of energy to the right sources.

This year has been an emotional rollercoaster across the world, causing strain and hurt in unimaginable ways. As someone who is blessed to have spent this time in four walls, surrounded by people that I love, I know I am extremely privileged in this sense. My aim for myself is to be the best version of myself that I can be.

Cancel culture, cut them off, ghosting all screams ‘black and white’ thinking to me – which I am guilty of. Placing things in drastic ‘good’ or ‘bad’ categories, with no grey area for manoeuvre in between. This way, it is easy to hold a grudge and set unrealistic and unhealthy boundaries for changing relationships in our lives. Michaela Coel’s ‘I may destroy you’ inspired me to no longer hold on to hurt, trauma, or grudges, and that the most painless recovery is simply letting go. It is easy to cut contact with someone, block them, or avoid any hurt they may have caused us, but the true release from pain is acceptance and growth. More easily said than done, forgiving others or ourselves is one of the best forms of self-care. No malice, no resentment, just peace.

Over the past year, through the force of isolation I have explored more of my mind than ever before. One thing I learned about myself is that one of my coping mechanisms is hope. For someone who is impatient, hope can often look like progress, and over the last year this has not been something easily seen anywhere. So, over the past 12 months, this has manifested itself through my plant collection – to be able to look at something and know it is growing, it is alive, and the world has not come to a complete standstill. Trying my hardest to not sound like the crazy plant lady, my plants have taught me something about the nature of our minds. Hear me out.

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artwork by Katie Scott

When plants suffer from damage, certain leaves, stems, or buds may rot – and at the time, this feels devastating, but the wonderful thing about plants is that they are biologically designed to keep going. When this damage is removed, it enables the plant not only to grow back, but to grow further, and more healthily. Humans go through a similar process as children called synaptic pruning – where the brain decays any dead roots that no longer serve a purpose. For example, if I learned to play guitar for 5 weeks, and then give up, my ability to play fades away as the neurons in my brain decay. Having said that, I have noticed this applies to our emotional wellbeing too.

Holding onto things that no longer serve us – whether that be a relationship, or pain we have not let go of, is like that of a plant holding on to a dead leaf – it serves no purpose but wasted energy. Sometimes the hardest thing to do is admit things for what they are and treat them accordingly. This switch of energy feels sharp like a knife cutting through a stem but yields wonderful results. Going through the motions to understand what we give energy to is a lengthy process full of hurt, healing, but eventually growth. So, for that reason, I am calling this emotional pruning. And I am going to practice it more going ahead, understanding that the areas of my life that I nourish, are the ones that will flourish.

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artwork by Asja Boros

To be Young, Gifted, and Black – The importance of affirmations for my little brother

This summer was the first time I read a book to my brother as he fell asleep. His precious head resting on his pillow as I read lines from ‘The littlest dreamer’, a story that tells the tale of the possibilities of a young boy, and the branches of life yet to be explored. I cannot describe the excitement that draws from the parallels of the storyline and his life. As a young, black, male I know my brother will face more challenges than most, and so I recognise the importance of positive affirmations and conversations to free his mind and shape his future.

Recently, it broke my heart to hear my brother say he wanted to ‘rip his skin off’ after non-black children had made racist remarks at school. We as a family came together to reassure my brother that his skin is beautiful, and the power and strength of what it means to be black. But this highlighted to me the importance of positive affirmations and self-awareness from an early age. He is yet to unveil the depth of Jamaican culture, and how much there is to love about himself, his background, and his skin, but in the mean time, I want to ensure his self-image is positive, and realistic, and not submerged by the privileges and ignorance of others.

When he cries, he is told that ‘boys don’t cry’, or when his harmless fists hit his mini punching bag, he is told to punch harder to be ‘strong like a man’, he is expected to show dominance and power to fulfil his masculine expectations. Ben Hurst named this the “Manbox”, the socialised and toxic expectations of young boys and men, but when these traits are reinforced over a number of contexts and years of learning, this “Manbox” becomes a fermenter for toxic masculinity. So, it is critical for my younger brother, and those like him, that he attains a healthy sense of self and can break free from the grasp of toxic masculinity.

artwork by @artofnvck

It is easy to rejoice at the intelligence and absorption of my brother’s mind as he learns about the world, but even easier to forget the fragility of what is being absorbed. I cannot help but empathise as he vicariously learns the imbalance of daily domestic norms in his world, where men are expected to do so little. As adults, day-to-day we are immersed in a world of obscured systems, guided by corrupt leaders, injustices, and inequality. In childhood, this is all beyond the magnification of the mind, and our young brothers and sisters are mostly oblivious to the environment that shapes them and move so freely in the world unbeknownst to the gritty details that shape modern socialisation.

As an adult, I have the tools of self-awareness to distinguish my self-image from the perception of others. However, as a child the influence of other’s beliefs is absorbed less consciously, and so can seep in when no one is looking. So, understandably, is it difficult to see my brother being told ‘you are naughty’ versus ‘you are being naughty’, as the self-fulfilling prophecy reinforces that children will become what they are told they will become. Additionally, as a male it will indefinitely be more difficult for my brother to speak out if his physical or mental health is suffering. So, positive conversations are the gatekeeper to affirming a healthy self-image from a young age.

artwork by @artofnvck

The young mind of my brother is putty in the hands of those he talks to and what he does. You can see this from his meditation sessions after watching an hour of Ninja Ryan. Therefore, letting him know that he is smart, he is great, he is loved, and he is capable, alongside the truthful belief from loved ones, will protect his mind from the toxicities of the world. As a 5-year-old who is already scared of the police, it is very likely that his fears may one day become a crushing reality, and although as an older generation, we must work toward dismantling the racist structures that uphold these fears, in the meantime it is key to affirm the greatness of a young, black, generation. This year has been increasingly tough, and so empowering children to express themselves and their ideas is the gas powering the tank that is the next generation. Encouraging self-expression brings joy, and joy brings freedom – in a world that has attempted to silence us, black joy rings superlatively. Reinforce love and joy and the expression of both.

Watching my brother’s confidence grow is like seeing the solidifying foundation of what will become a superstructure. More so, for people like him who have a tendency to create, to not always follow the rules, and to be adventurous, introducing positive self-talk will only allow him to become stronger, and face the cruel winds of the world with stability. Every time I visit my brother, he is an inspiration to me to let go of the painful hooks of society and pour energy into affirming the self. He is consistently flourishing with new ideas, and in a world so structured, I know he can break the mould and do anything he desires, or in his words…”I can do what I want”.

Staying Vibrant during Winter Blues

image courtesy of instagram @tishkbarzanji

As winter approaches, taking care of our mental health becomes increasingly important. Less sunlight equates to a decrease in serotonin production, and so it is down to us to keep our heads above water. In winter, skin loses its vibrancy due to a lack of vitamin D – and this dullness can sometimes transcend into a rather dull mood – and so for those who experience depressive symptoms because of this, it is essential to understand what is happening and how we can keep the body and mind as vibrant, and uplifted as possible.

image courtesy of instagram: @hollymaguireuk

As a mixed race woman, my body naturally feels more alive in the summer – the beauty of being black in the summer months is reflected in the way the sun kisses our skin, the cocoa butter that seals the glow of the melanin produced in our cells, and the oils that flow in our hair. As black people, we thrive in sunlight and like pathetic fallacy, our moods are lifted when we do so. Transcendent of race, the sun has the ability to ignite the SCN (suprachiasmatic nucleus) in our brain, and produce neurotransmitters that uplift our mood, and so during winter we are more prone to symptoms of depression. A lot of people are unable to identify the cause of this ‘sad’ feeling, and a dramatic shift of energy and motivation can feel unsettling, so opening up the topic of winter blues unveils the normality of this feeling and expands on how to maintain a physical and mental glow during the colder months. A formal name for this isolated depressive affair is Seasonal Affective Disorder, or S.A.D for short, and it is increasingly common across adolescents and the black community.

How does it effect us?

People with more melanin are prone to a vitamin D deficiency as melanin inhibits UVB – the trigger in the production of vitamin D. So, in winter when there is a lack of exposure to the sun, our body chemistry changes and can trigger swift changes in our body and mind. This puts darker skinned people more at risk of experiencing S.A.D, despite being common across many demographics. A lack of vitamin D in any body decreases serotonin production, the root cause of many biopsychological symptoms of depression such as changes in sleep, appetite, muscle and body stiffness, and low mood.

So, what can we do?

Many people who struggle with these depressive symptoms simply don’t know where to begin to alleviate them, especially when we lack the glimmer of the sun to motivate us in getting up and getting out. So, here are some options for those stuck in winter’s grasp and want to keep their mind, body, and heart warm.

Exercise – Despite the cold, just 10-20 minutes spent exercising in the residual winter sunlight has shown to increase serotonin production. A morning or evening walk on a cold winters day, or taking advantage of the gym will increase mood as well as self esteem! This workout brings the carnival vibes to the heart of our homes. Enjoy the lifestyle choices of some of these active and inspiring fitness influencers:

Eat well – Foods that increase vitamin D production will help to treat our bodies as a sanctuary and stay warm and well throughout the winter. Foods that will increase vitamin D include salmon, tuna, egg yolks, mushrooms, soy milk, orange juice, and oats! Supplements such as cod liver oil also increase vitamin D and have been known to stabilise the immune system. Some inspiring recipe sources that touch the soul are linked below

Mindfulness – Holistic healing and mind-body connection is often underrated, sometimes the most difficult thing to do is to pause, and be at peace to observe our body and what we need. Meditation can help us become more in touch with our body and mind, whilst increasing serotonin production. Often, people don’t know where to start and can be intimidated by the idea of stillness – but these beginner guided meditations are made to ease us into a journey of inner peace and body regulation. For physical alleviation, yoga is a great medium to increase blood flow and body warmth. Traditional practices incorporate mindfulness philosophies such as the ‘sankalpa’ to help us visualise our internal and external goals, to keep us focused and motivated. Here are some of my favourite guided and non-guided meditation materials to help keep my mind balanced:

As well as this, two incredible authors that have helped my mindfulness journey are Morgan Harper Nichols and Sylvester Mcnutt, for warming words of wisdom in the winter.

image courtesy of instagram: @morganharpernichols

Similarly, aromatherapy is effective in relieving stress and boosting mood. For example, neroli oil is used as a herbal remedy to reduce stress and anxiety; when diffused and inhaled, neroli oil helps the brain reduce cortisol production and increase serotonin, giving us the ability to manipulate our brain’s chemistry and promote a happier mood.

Light therapy – every cell in our body is alive, including the photoreceptors in our skin, and so when we lack access to natural daylight, artificial UV light acts as a beneficial substitute for getting the light stimulation we need. It has been proven that even when we sleep, our bodies still process the amount of light surrounding us, meaning having UV light present subconsciously increases mood by boosting vitamin D and serotonin production. S.A.D lamps help to do this by taking advantage of the science behind our brain’s chemistry during depressive episodes, here is a list for anybody interested and open to trying something new . Enlighten yourselves! (pun intended)

Ikigai – A Japanese concept that promotes the process of self-development. Sometimes social media can make us feel as if we are not consistently doing something, that we are falling behind. It is okay to remind ourselves that we are all on an individual timeline, and sometimes the best thing we can do is listen to our mind and body, and do something we simply enjoy! Painting, reading, writing, sport, socialising, delving into a new or old hobby will stimulate the brain and help maintain happiness more holistically.

We must consider a holistic vision of wellbeing as pharmaceutical techniques do not work for everybody. Herbal remedies, mindfulness, and a regulation of diet and exercise will all contribute to a happier and healthier mind when our environment is not so bright. Happy winter everybody!

image courtesy of instagram: @cosmoillustrator

Foresee the beauty of 4C – colourism in the media

When we discuss race, we tend to see the black community as a collective, however when we zoom in we see a myriad of experiences, backgrounds, and colours. Although some people might be of the same race, their skin colour can differ. Enter, colourism .

What is colourism?

Colourism defines the prejudice, discrimination, or bias that members of the same race experience dependant on the colour of their skin. A commonality is that lighter skin is ‘systematically privileged whilst darker skin is disadvantaged and often devalued’. Intersectionality defines people of the same race, but different colours, navigating a different experience of being black.

This is the result of internalised racism and years of colonialism where Eurocentric features (such as lighter skin, straighter hair, and smaller lips) were deemed the norm, and blackness was placed on a continuum of these norms.

Historically, Eurocentric features represented ‘purity, beauty, and power’, and as a result, anything that diverged from this was systematically devalued. Unfortunately, there is still a huge prominence of colourism across cultures, including within the black community. When we negatively perceive Afrocentric features (such as darker skin, curlier hair, and bigger lips) we are reinforcing damaging stereotypes, and contributing to a system built on the dehumanisation of blackness.

Colourism and the media

Dating back to the Jim Crow era, dark skin women face a “double jeopardy” from society due to their skin colour, and gender. Society has often failed dark skin women as they have been consistently misrepresented in the media, through oversexualisation or exclusion. This is a result of misconception of blackness and emphasises the need to uplift and empower dark skin women. A great example of exclusion is the portrayal of Caster Semenya, a 2016 Olympic gold medallist. Despite her incredible achievements, the media consistently pursued a growing attack on her appearance and gender, with arbitrary markers of racial difference labelled as ‘manly’. The media is guilty of its colourist implications and and reducing Semenya to the standards of westernised, white-washed beauty.

Similarly, colourism can be seen in an abundance in the music industry. With male rappers often glamourising lighter skin women within lyrics and videos.

The exclusion and oversexualisation of darker skin in the media has led to worrying manifestations. Including the use of light skin or white women posing as darker skin women for ‘cultural references’ rather than using actual dark skin women. This further reinforces the misperception of blackness. It is a necessity that we start using and seeing more dark skin women in the media to portray a true appreciation for the beauty of darker skin, tighter curls, and Afrocentric facial features, rather than modifying light skin and white women to meet the colonialised standard of beauty. This has contributed greatly to the rise and coinage of ‘blackfishing’. Colourism is feature-selective, and so to colourist people, blackness is seen as an accessory, something malleable, quantifiable, and available to dissect, leaving black features to be scaled in equation to beauty. A recent, and ongoing, exemplar includes the depiction of Blue Ivy vs North West in the media, with unsettling petitions created to shame Blue Ivy’s hair and facial features, in comparison to the fetishisation of North West as a mixed race child.

A classic example of colourism is the non-black use of “chocolate” as a compliment. When we examine positive implications of dark brown colours, this is one of the only comparisons that comes to mind. This reinforces the fetishisation of dark skin, deeming blackness as only desirable when compared to something positive, rather than being something positive. This is far from the truth and needs to be tackled by promoting more positivity around darker skin, curlier hair, and Afrocentric facial features.

Notably, the non-black use of “caramel”, “mocha”, “latte”, and “bronzed” to describe lighter black skin tones is also distasteful, and shows a reduction and fetishation of blackness. This is often used as a marketing point by beauty brands to to give non-black people a look that is “just black enough”.

When we acknowledge colourism, meritocracy becomes a myth. The acknowledgement that lighter skin is wrongly favoured by the media unveils a level of privilege for those who possess it – I’m calling this the Destiny’s Child effect (the fact they put Beyonce front and centre despite the talent of Michelle Williams, and Kelly Rowland, her darker skinned peers).

Although men do not face the same societal standards of beauty, the implications of colourism reveal themselves in criminal injustice and economic inequality. A 1995 study revealed that darker skinned men were perceived as being more violent than their lighter skinned counterparts, a damaging and wrongly reinforced result of colourism. This can be partially attributed to the negative portrayal of dark skin men in the media. The ’56 Black Men’ project highlights addresses this as a campaign aimed to dismantle the portrayal of black men in association being perpetrators or victims of violence/crime. Research at the Michigan State University saw that black men were 50% more likely to be wrongly incarcerated, with a further study revealing that darkness of respondents’ skin tone is associated with 13% higher odds of incarceration. Combine colourism and the patriarchy and we see lighter skinned men exceed darker skinned men, dark skinned women, and light skinned women in terms of financial income, as well.

So, what can we do?

Many people, including those within the black community, are subject to these internalised biases. So, it is essential that we understand that colourism is colonial residue, and use this to dismantle the ideology that blackness defers from the norm. I asked an audience of inspired individuals to contribute their thoughts on this topic, including what we can do to dismantle colourism, their experiences, and how we can uplift darker skin people within the black community.

“I think first we have to change our own biases. And 2nd we have to educate and inform others so they can do the same. We can educate in a number of ways, such as your blog, or movies, art etc.”

Dr Sarah L. Webb, creator of ‘Colorism Healing’

“Growing up as a darkskin black girl really didn’t come easy, yes now it’s “in fashion” but back then it was hard. People wouldn’t even think twice before calling you ugly or whatever. It affects your self esteem a lot, and like everyone there’s many factors that bring down your self esteem but this one really took a heavy toll on me. You always offer to take your friends pictures because you don’t wanna be in the picture and ruin it. You use snapchat filters to try appear lighter than you are. Small things like that. Colourism is definitely a thing. Being a black girl in this world is already hard, but being a darkskin black girl is even harder. You’re literally cringed upon. But it’s okay, that only makes us stronger. You learn to find your beauty and embrace it, because your black is beautiful.”

Millicent Lebo, student

“Greater Representation in black media and culture e.g music, hair (4C). Dark skinned women could be more valued even in the black music industry; and also when it comes to our own hair products or pieces, we often focus on makeup and foundation but colourism also extends to hair, and I feel that 4C Afro hair extensions or ponytails even are a lot less accessible or in variety.”

Emma Bakare, athlete, model, and law student

“I feel like there is a stereotype of black men wanting a light skin or mixed race girl and I feel as if this has been a societal pressure, sadly reinforced by music videos, TV. So in regard to colourism, I believe there is an existing double standard which is projected more onto male dating tendencies rather than women as a result of a patriarchal societal. So as a result we still have problems today we need to uproot and remove. We need to work together as men and women, as many black women blame colourism on men and assume black men would rather go for a lighter skin woman (although true in certain cases) and this is wrong to accept, and we need to dismantle this misconception.”

Elijah Etete, student and owner of Konjira clothes

So, it is down to members within the black community as well as non-black people to promote healthy, realistic, depictions of people with different levels of blackness. It is important not only for lighter skin people to understand their privilege, but combat the seemingly accepted and ongoing misperception of the dark-skinned intersection of the black community.

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MICHAELA COEL – This time around, she wanted transparency from her collaborators. She learned the power of saying no. She declined to do a third season of Chewing Gum and an offer to have a production company under the now-defunct Retort. (“Something about it didn’t feel clean.”) When she first began pitching the concept for I May Destroy You in spring 2017, Netflix offered her $1 million upfront ! But when she learned they wouldn’t allow her to retain any percentage of the copyright, she said no. No amount was worth that. She fired CAA, her agency in the U.S., too, when it tried to push her to take the deal after she learned it would be making an undisclosed amount on the back end. Throughout the fallout with Netflix and CAA, Coel asked questions relentlessly. She is eager, almost giddy, to say she doesn’t know something (even if she may have an inkling) because of the way it forces someone else to explain it to her. She has discovered that the explanation is where people begin to falter and the fissures of conventional wisdom crack wider. It may be business as usual, but is it right? Is it good? Coel recalls one clarifying moment when she spoke with a senior-level development executive at Netflix and asked if she could retain at least 5 percent of her rights. “There was just silence on the phone,” she says. “And she said, ‘It’s not how we do things here. Nobody does that, it’s not a big deal.’ I said, ‘If it’s not a big deal, then I’d really like to have 5 percent of my rights.’ ” Silence. She bargained down to 2 percent, one percent, and finally 0.5 percent. The woman said she’d have to run it up the chain. Then she paused and said, “Michaela? I just want you to know I’m really proud of you. You’re doing the right thing.” And she hung up. “I remember thinking, I’ve been going down rabbit holes in my head, like people thinking I’m paranoid, I’m acting sketchy, I’m killing off all my agents,” Coel says. “And then she said those words to me, and I finally realized — I’m not crazy. This is crazy.” @e_alexjung Styling @olaoluebiti , Hair @charlottemensah Manketti oil products, Make up @berniciaboateng 🤎🤎🖤🖤 THANK YOU my brother,Ry,Leonor, Jody + @roosterkitsch

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Welcome!

What is Melanin and the Mind?

MATM is an open space where I will share ideas from people in the black community surrounding neurodiversity and mental health that inspire , empower, and elevate our voices.

What is mental health? And why do we need to focus on it?

Mental health influences our capacity to perform, changes our perception of the world, and allows us to cope with life. During lockdown, this has been an increasing issue, with extreme changes of lifestyle and routine causing a depletion of mental health.

The mental health foundation revealed that 24% of adults in the UK have suffered loneliness during the outbreak of COVID-19, including 44% of young adults reporting symptoms of depression.

With the recent unjust deaths of George Floyd and Elijah McClain, we are tired of seeing and hearing about people that look like us dying at the hands of racism. The empowering rise of the BLM movement has drawn awareness to the double struggle that black people face in and out of lockdown. As the lockdown eases, a focus must be held on the black community’s mental health.

Whilst attempts to silence us are being made, this is the perfect opportunity to emphasise the importance of mental health in the black community. It is crucial in times of isolation to remind ourselves that whilst isolating, we are not alone.


Why black mental health?

Living in an unjust world creates an increased struggle for black people. Poor mental health can generate negative ideas of the self, often reinforced by society, and it is important to diminish these ideas and replace them with hope, even when it feels like the world is against you.


Institutional racism aims to diminish the prospects of black people and can often leave us feeling as if we have fallen through the cracks of society. As soon as we are born, societal structures mean that black people have to work twice as hard as our white counterparts to get to the same place. This journey can be tiring, and discouraging, and so a spotlight for the successes, trials, and wisdom of members of the black community is essential.

Unemployment statistics revealed that among 16-24 year olds, black people made up a staggering 26% of this, however this does not reflect the potential of the black community but the power structures in place that aim to keep us from flourishing.

There is also a stigma around mental health in many black communities that needs to be addressed. The “strong black woman” character is a perfect example of this, and conveys the attempt to reduce the emotions and struggles of black women by comforting that with the stereotype of being “strong and independent”.

A study also revealed that young black men do not experience poorer mental health than other sub-communities until the age of 11, where the writers at Mind described this as a result of “stigma, cultural barriers, and systemic discrimination” all of which are more experienced by black men as they get older.

It is common for many Afro-Caribbean cultures to dismiss poor mental health as a barrier, when it is something we can all experience. With an older generation that has faced the cruel front of racism, the effects of today’s more covert racism and everyday struggles of the black community can often go unrecognised. It is essential to share the stories of one another and destigmatise conversations surrounding mental health.

What is neurodiversity?

Neurodiversity encompasses the fact that we are all wired differently, and puts an emphasis on the individuality of people concerning how we learn, think, process, socialise, and feel. Neurodiverse is an umbrella term for individuals with Autism, ADHD, dyslexia, dyspraxia, Tourette’s and anyone who is not neurotypical.

Patterns of behaviour in the neurodiverse community can often be negatively stereotyped and wrongly dismissed as “rude”, “naughty”, or “unsociable”. It is important to bring awareness to the fact we all process information and react differently, and normalise the experience of neurodiverse people.


Neurodiversity and blackness

As previously mentioned, in a world where negative stereotypes of black people still exist, the behaviours of people who are neurodiverse can often reinforce negative stereotypes and be seen as a “double disadvantage”. However, this is not the case. We must remember that we live in a world where typicality and uniformity is favoured, and anything that diverges from this society set norm is discriminated against. 1 in 4 minority children are often misdiagnosed and face the same struggle of falling through the cracks of society.

This website aims to share stories that normalise these experiences and continue to inspire, empower and address mental health and neurodiversity in the black community to ensure our voices are not only heard, but elevated.