Mental Health is still colonial racism
Every Tuesdays, I sit reading through Mental Health articles and curating them for The Red Door’s Newsletter. Every single week, every single time and for over the decade of having to hear stories of recovery, diagnosis, trauma and pain, of healing – I only see one common factor: stories coming in from another continent.
And the funny part is as Indians we are owning these stories and experiences. (*beep first sign of social media consumerism still being colonial in nature)
I am not saying that one shouldn’t share them or these stories are of no value or significance. BUT please tell me if you have seen any or as many Asian/Indian stories taken from Asia there? Or is it because there aren’t many (like in the 2nd largest population in the world, really)? Or is it because there is a different political structure? Or simply because our recovery stories aren’t ‘good enough’ cause it challenges the same constructed ideas and notions of what Mental Health and Illness means which then would challenge the constructed ideas and notions of what recovery and healing will also mean. Or hey maybe because they didn’t think of it first or discover it first (*beep that’s what colonialism is…need a run down your history books?)
When I say Indian, I am being inclusive of the other Asian countries around it including Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka. They might not have the same level of voice but where are their stories? I see friends sharing stuff from brilliant Pakistani women writers but somehow they aren’t widely appreciated as a Plath? I am not criticizing Plath, I am criticizing you.
I know of Sri Lankan women who write awesome music, who are of the younger generation – but somehow no one talks about them and their stories. Rather, it is about some video shared from another country telling you about their pain and their stand. (*beep first sign of racism and jealousy). Ever considered sharing your own friend’s music? their stories? their pain? or maybe it is all too familiar for you that you don’t want to. That you rather hide in a story that doesn’t really reflect your true reality then you would own it and create another reality based on that and make that your reality because you want to feel special.
Sorry to ruin your thunder but everyone wants to feel special and everyone IS special by just being who they are and not by owning stories and comparing them or their toxicity levels. High levels of toxicity doesn’t make our stories better nor does it increase our creative powers. I know a lot of creative people who have no ‘illnesses’ as such.
But I am starting to see how Mental Health does carry invisible threads of racism in it. And unfortunately Indians practice it more by allowing it. Ever thought of embracing the truth of your skin colour – because the word ‘politics’ should be enough to shed light on this. But for some reason – one’s skin colour isn’t too good hence even the words we use in everyday life is us trying to be them. What good of trying to talk about body types or even sex for that matter?
While I was in Ireland, I did have a taste of racism too apart from all the adventures and love I received. No offence to my ‘non-brown’ friends – but maybe it is time these things change if we are to be living in a world that is supposed to practice basic human acceptance and not ridicule.
I was at a table with 4 other people sharing our own personal stories. They were curious about the way I was in my ‘remixed’ appearance and way. So I talked about how my dad and mom met. How my mom fell in love with this Indian man from another country and how he introduced her to everything otherwise called orthodox in her family and how she introduced him to other parts of life. In between my storytelling a comment was passed: ‘…and they all make love once a year’ followed by a burst of laughter by that one man while others had a smile.
At first I kept quiet and carried on with my story since I was telling it with food in my mouth and I didn’t want to lose the flow. But when I was done being a storyteller I noticed how angry I was at that one comment. What gave him the right to say such a thing? What the fuck does he know about my country or my parents to have said that? And even if it was true about many couples in India – it doesn’t give him the right to ridicule it. My voices were angry. So I gulped the morsel in my mouth and said ‘Actually, my dad was the one who spoke about kamasutra to us as kids and has explained patriarchy existing in sex and religion. They even kiss and hug in front of us’ This time there was silence on the table and the conversation went elsewhere.
The conversation went to how cheap he bargained for a painting of an Afghani woman. And wow… I saw another highlight of racism. Amongst all the other paintings in that place, why did buying this one make him feel good? Maybe I was over-reacting to that particular day, but I couldn’t help notice. Do we talk about purchasing a painting of some ‘American’ or ‘Brit’ the same way or do we remember their names and stories and importance in history and speak of them as people and not colour? Does the currency and exchange rates of Dollars and Pounds speak about how lesser humans we are and how our art has no value? I am beginning to question all of this. Will we bargain for a Van Gogh or we’d ask the Indian to reduce price for a Sher Gill? (* everyone knows Van Gogh…how many of you reading this knows Sher Gill?)
I can’t help but ask is this really what ‘white skinned’ folks still think of us? I am not speaking of my list of friends and people who have likely been exposed to the world and people outside their skin colour and race. But this has become personal for me. I could criticize the same but I rather not because it doesn’t make me any less. However, the fact that I have to learn the same language in order to validate my argument and race? WTF
So coming back to Mental health:
Can someone please enlighten me as to why we are still living with colonial mindsets? Why are you waiting for those stories to come out first in order to validate yours?
Where are the Indian stories on Mental Health?
Where are the Asian stories on recovery?
Are we not here to change the very way experiences of mental illness and health have been written because there is a generational dna dating back to the way our personal society, cultural make up, family backgrounds, religious and spiritual conditionings that make our voices different?
I don’t have a problem with the West but I do have a problem with how we are constantly adopting every other way including what we share on social media. Try google analytics. Check other people’s pages and you will see what I am trying to point out. You will only see their stories of their colour and history being shared. And when one brown colour is shared by them amongst the hundreds, Indians will clap and think of it being awesome. Might I remind you that we have the 2nd largest population in the world – how about clapping for your own stories that are shared every day?
I do not subscribe to the way diagnosis and psychology has even been written – because recovery models themselves is based on recovery ideas and healing borne out of a response to a colonial framework.
Why are we constantly making comparative stories?
We have the Plath, the Woolf, the Fitzgerald, the Salinger, Joanne Greenberg, Richard Yates, Judith Gates, Wally Lamb, Michael Cunningham, Stephanie Grant, Jeffrey Eugenides, ….but I don’t see anything different to what I’ve stated above.
I am not trying to sound patriotic…I’m not a citizen of this country and my citizenship and stand has been in question even amongst other Indians. (*beep racism). It has been in question even in my own country since I don’t look ‘Indian’. Nor am I trying to invalidate ‘white’ voices. To me everything in Mental Health in India is no different of a practicing colonial patriarchy. And if you practice it – you are equally a part of the problem and this amounts to a legal, existential, civil, gender, sexual, political, racial, religious, spiritual bullying.
Voices are important. But I am an Indian Asian woman with an alternate gender and sexual identity, and a range of medical labels put on to me for being different. Many Indian men who practice patriarchy cannot stand me nor many Indian women who practice it can’t. Leave aside non-Indians practicing patriarchy and white colonialism. I am not interested in the origin of psychiatry and psychology having roots to Germany. That is not my story. I am not interested in the anti-psychiatry movements drawing its roots back to Freud and Jung – they are not Indian and they are not women and they are not Indian women.
Our stories are very different. And until Indian Asian women decide to own themselves and their rights and their truth – I will be painting away and trying not to give a shit to my critics.
The politics in Mental Health is a lot more than meets our eye. Gosh I am already tired by having to restate it.