Diversity Should Always be a Thread in the Tapestry; Not Just a Patch on the Jacket

Mental Health
Mental Illness

Years ago, when I started my career in mental health, the approach to teaching people about diversity was to put them in one OPTIONAL elective with a title like Multicultural Counseling or Mental Health Issues in Minority Populations.  In all, honesty, I never liked this.  In part, it was because I was always the junior faculty member tasked with teaching these courses (unpaid labor y’all), and because in those rare instances where the diversity classes were mandatory, anyone tasked with imparting wisdom about marginalized people faced deep student scrutiny.

This is not what diversity in mental health is meant to be or do.  I have many colleagues who even hate the term diversity because they feel it dilutes the real message (I, however, am not of this belief).  I honestly love the word diversity because for me it signals visibility, inclusion and welcoming.  Unfortunately, the term just happens to be used in ways that belie its true meaning.  As a Black heterosexual, cisgender woman (who works actively to learn and do better as an active ally (i.e. one who works to be vigilant in using allyship as a verb), I am required to stand up and amplify my strongest desire for everyone to know that their mental health matters.  So for me, the term diversity is a word that allows me to signal my belief that #BlackLivesMatter #BlackTransLivesMatter, #BlackWomen’sLivesMatter, #BlackLGBTQLives Matter and even that #BlackYouthLivesMatter.

Photo by Alex Sorto on Unsplash

Active allyship also allows me to embrace the plight of people I encounter who are not Black yet who also experience marginalization.  My paternal grandmother Rena was of the Mississippi Band of Choctaw, so of course American Indian lives matter to me.  I have loved ones with widely varying identities so of course, #BlackDiasporaLivesMatter to me, I even have fictive kin who come from a variety of backgrounds so of course #BrownLives #AsianLives #ArabMENA lives and so many more lives matter to me.

What I don’t like is this blanket ALL Lives Matter and the laziness of signaling, but not actually practicing, allyship.  THAT type of behavior is the proverbial patch on the jacket, because at any time, you can rip that patch off and the import of diversity rips off right along with it.

I tell people that instead, diversity should always be the thread in the tapestry, meaning that you START with a focus on diversity because it is foundational, because it is the right thing to do and because it is critical for inclusion, belonging and allyship.  Our primary goal should never be to add in and adapt after the fact.  My deeply held beliefs are reflected in my research where our foundational work begins long before we ever apply for a grant. Our foundational work includes building relationships in diverse Black communities so that we are always starting from a place of partnership rather than dictatorship (i.e. the dreaded ‘helicopter research’). And you can learn more abut HOW we do this in my new book, Community Mental Health Engagement With Racially Diverse Populations.

As for me and The AAKOMA Project, we will keep weaving our tapestry with a beautiful rainbow thread of hues, from our research to our social media, to our media appearances and on into our everyday lives. I have learned from 20+ years of research and advocacy, that if we can resolve the issues and barriers that keep marginalized people out of mental health care, then by default, those with the greatest access will benefit.

Ultimately, I believe in #love #light and #culturallyrelevant science for the mental health of all marginalized people and I hope that you too can come to understand, believe and join us.