“I started off life with everyone telling me what I could not do.”
Those were the words of renowned actress Viola Davis just a few months ago at the Summer’s Finest Film Festival.
And while they may have been spoken by an Oscar, Tony and Emmy Award-winning actress, her story rings a bell for many people of color living their everyday life.
“I went into acting with everyone telling me the roles I should not be playing,” she said. “You’re not pretty, you’re not feminine, you’re not this, you’re not that.”Viola King
It was no wonder then when the role for “The Woman King” came to Viola, she saw it as an opportunity to show the world that just because you didn’t match their expectations, it doesn’t mean you aren’t worthy.
In the film, Viola played the Woman King, a woman who had been cast away by society at an early age, captured, sexually assaulted and then told that her tears were not allowed should she decide to become a warrior.
For Viola, her character and many people of color, our mental health challenges begin at these pivotal moments where you’re told who you should be and who you are allowed to be.
It can be traumatizing and debilitating and painful to be told you don’t fit the mold; to be raised thinking of all the things you cannot do and the kind of person you cannot be.
For people of color in America, this story isn’t just a movie line. It’s reality.
According to the American Journal of Community Psychology, trauma exposure is higher for children and adolescents of color, with African American and Latinx youth reporting the highest amounts of exposure.
The devastating effects of trauma, societal expectations, generational and historical racial stereotypes, and violence can change how adolescents view the future – and rob you as an adult of your ability to form, hold and manage healthy relationships, including with yourself.
For people of color, those traumas are normalized. A 2014 study done on African American attitudes toward mental illness, trauma and coping behaviors said most people were not willing to disclose even the possibility of psychological problems.
Just like the women in “The Woman King,” people of color put on the warrior face, deny the existence of our challenges and march forward, coping in unhealthy ways.
It doesn’t need to be like this, however.
You don’t have to be a “Strong Black Woman” or a “Strong Black Man” whose traumas and mental health challenges are stuffed into a heavy backpack you carry on your shoulders, but don’t acknowledge.
The burdens you hold don’t have to be held by you and you alone – no matter what your parents, friends or society have told you.
You can get the help you need to stop surviving and start thriving, and it all starts with a single step:
Scheduling a session here.
Therapy can be a safe space for you to leave your “Woman King” persona behind and be vulnerable.
I know it’s scary to acknowledge you might need help, but you don’t have to do this alone.
If you’ve grown tired of being the strong friend or not dealing with the ghosts of your past traumas, you don’t have to stick it out. Schedule a session now, so I can show you how not to be afraid of the skeletons in your closet.