Black History Month: Yodahe Maaza

In celebration of Black History Month, we are hosting a series of profiles and stories to amplify and honor people, businesses, organizations, and events connected to the history of Seattle’s Black community.

The Importance of Black History Month

by Yodahe Maaza

A problem in Seattle, and many other places, that needs to be addressed is mental health within Black communities. There is an omnipresent stigma in the Black community around mental health. There is no talk about it, just silence, making individuals go through serious issues like depression and anxiety alone. Also, it needs to be normalized for young men to feel and express emotions, because piling them up can do more harm than good. We as a community need to recognize that it’s absolutely okay for men to cry. This notion of men hiding emotions creates an ongoing cycle of toxic masculinity that we need to stop.
In addition, students’ mental stability is being dramatically affected by high academic expectations. It is known that achieving high grades nearly always boosts confidence. However, if an A student received a C versus an A, you can see how there would be a negative outcome. Personally, as a student at an academically rigorous school, I am constantly faced with the battle of choosing between my mental health or academic success; I usually select my academics. This mindset needs to change since mental well-being is inherently equal, or even more important, than grades.  If a student is mentally unwell, they might not perform well at school. People don’t understand the value of mental health because it is not commonly discussed. One main thing that is needed is culturally competent counselors in schools. That is, counselors who can overcome cultural barriers with students. There is a lack of counselors of color, which makes Black students uncomfortable. It makes a significant difference when you talk to a person who looks like you. If there were more opportunities for honest, genuine conversations about mental health from trusted resources within our community, youth would feel less alone in what they are going through and be more comfortable reaching out. Now, I will discuss many issues like social economics, microaggressions, and racism that negatively affect Black people’s mental health.
Growing up, I was oblivious to all the active racism in our city. Normalized microaggressions were present everwhere I went. Instead of experiencing explicit racist comments, as a Black girl, I received these microaggressions so commonly that I soon became numb. Too numb to stand up for myself. Too numb to recognize that what was being said was not alright. Also, the use of the word microaggressions doesn’t sit right with me. The usage of micro in this word makes it seem like these frequent racist actions are small and trivial things – nothing big to worry about. Often, when people talk about microaggressions, they say that they happen without awareness because the occurrence is so typical. That should not be the case. Microaggressions are fundamental instances of racism covered thinly by claiming micro. They can take the same mental toll as blatant racism. The common usage of microaggressions is proof that there is still a lot to do, and we must continue moving forward. This leads to reduced self-esteem and a damaged sense of self.
We should also go back in time and talk about Black history in Seattle since it’s essential to know about the history of our people in our city. As you learn more about Black history, you realize how deep-rooted the issue is. Redlining in Seattle is a prime example of the systematic racism embedded in this city. Redlining is a racially discriminatory strategy in real estate that divides residential living based on race and ethnicity. In specific neighborhoods, banks, mortgage companies, and other organizations would refuse to loan money for property transactions to people of color. This promoted segregation in housing alongside racially restrictive covenants. Government authorities would draw a red line on the map around certain neighborhoods and would not give loans, based only on demographics. Historically, Black communities in Seattle had a higher chance of being impacted by redlining.
You wouldn’t think redlining still exists in our world today, but it is a prevalent part of people’s lives. People are oblivious to this, and there is barely any conversation about it. Currently, we can see this in gentrification. Minority communities are being forced out of their homes, and rich, wealthier people move in. The communities targeted are low-income people of color, and the rich people moving in are typically wealthy, white people. This drastically affects our community because it causes racial and economic division.
There are, however, a lot of changes being made in the present. I am optimistic for the future because of the recent increase of Black figures and city leaders. For example, Seattle’s mayor, Bruce Harrell, is an African American elected. As a Black girl, seeing an individual in a high leadership position is very beneficial because we mostly don’t see that representation among our people. For them to be in power inspires and uplifts me and hopefully many others like me. In addition, Black athletes like Simone Biles and Naomi Asaka felt safe speaking out about their mental health. This is a significant change because the important known figures are breaking the silence behind mental health Due to them possessing large platforms, they reached many people.
This is not all to say that there is no progress to be made. Because there is; a lot of change must happen. We don’t live in this perfect utopia where problems like I mentioned don’t affect our lives and the people around us. While some may choose to ignore them, they still impact people the same. Some progressive Seattleites may feel sympathetic or guilty about race, recognizing racism and its effects, but we need to do more than that; we need to take action. We see performative activism a lot on social media, where people only choose to speak up about racial injustice when it’s “trending.”
Usually, when we look at stories of racial injustices occurring worldwide, it can seem complicated to know where to begin to combat such a vast and supposedly helpless problem. However, Black History Month exists for this reason. You must take advantage of this incredible opportunity to learn about the history of the Black community and find ways to support, no matter what you may do to help. Black History Month highlights the importance of remembering people and events in the history of the Black experience. This month is a set time to honor Black history and bring awareness to issues that face the Black community today. We should remember to give this same respect to Black history all year. Everyone deserves to have their story heard,365 days a year. I advise you to be open to listening.

“I am a sophomore at Lakeside School. I have an older brother and two amazing parents who taught me to be resilient. I was born in Ethiopia and moved to Seattle when I was four years old. I wanted to contribute my thoughts in this blog because, as a student and growing up in Seattle, I have a lot to say about issues we face. I thought this was a great opportunity to share my story and use my authentic voice on this platform to talk about mental health awareness within our community.”

This piece was commissioned by the Seattle Department of Neighborhoods. The opinions expressed and information contained herein do not necessarily reflect the policies, plans, beliefs, conclusions, or ideas of the City of Seattle.


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