Category: Race and Ethnicity

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“Unfair and Lovely” Campaign Raises Shadeism Awareness

10Adolescence, Beauty, Featured news, Media, Race and Ethnicity, Self-Esteem April, 18

Source: Glenn Robinson at Flickr, Creative Commons

“Cover up your arms before you leave.”

Growing up, I heard this refrain a lot. But not out of fear of harmful sun, or out of concern that my clothes were too revealing. Rather, my parents were trying to prevent me from getting darker.

I am a second generation Canadian. My parents were born in Jaffna, Sri Lanka, and immigrated to Canada over 30 years ago. Almost immediately we were subject to a hierarchy of skin tone, a hierarchy rooted in colonialism that links whiteness to power and serves as a breeding ground for something called shadeism.

Shadeism is prejudice based on skin colour; it is predominantly seen as an intra-racial (within race) issue, based on one’s degree of skin tone or shade, rather than categories like “black” or “white.”

The issue has been in the news recently with the launch of a social media campaign called “Unfair and Lovely,” a photo series featuring images of two South Asian sisters named Mirusha and Yanusha Yogarajah.

In an interview with the BBC, Unfair and Lovely creator Pax Jones—a black student from the University of Texas—explains that the driving force behind the movement is to challenge shadeist beliefs:

“Our goal was to combat colourism and the under-representation of people of colour in the media. We were trying to challenge the way colourism permeates our lives.”

The name “Unfair and Lovely” is a take on the popular skin lightening cream Fair and Lovely. The movement calls on darker-skinned individuals to post images of themselves on social media using the hashtag #unfairandlovely. There are nearly 13,000 posts on Instagram citing the hashtag, and users have been sharing images along with descriptions of their personal experiences confronting shadeism.

During an interview with the BBC, one of the sisters Mirusha from the original photo series discussed her experiences with shadeism:

“In college, I was abused by a South Asian person who had lighter skin. And someone once threw a bleach balloon at me. At the time, it was really hard for me to see myself as valuable. It is difficult to understand why people will dehumanise you for the way you look. I felt very vulnerable.”

As a person of colour, it can be psychologically damaging to live with social stigma around having a darker complexion. The idea of darker skin being considered less beautiful and linked to lower status can result in lower self-esteem and feelings of inferiority.

Research by Maxine Thompson at North Carolina State University and Verna Keith at Arizona State University shows that dark-skinned Black women face issues of low self-worth and confidence as a result of shadeism.

Their data indicate that self-esteem increases as skin colour becomes lighter in African-American women judged as having “low and average levels of attractiveness.” Women who were “highly attractive” showed no correlation between self-esteem and skin colour. Black women also preferred lighter skin tones and believed lighter complexions were more attractive compared to Black males.

In my life, the influence of shadeism has not been limited to preventing dark skin. When I was younger, I also tried lightening my skin. With creams like Fair and Lovely, or home remedies like rubbing lime juice on my arms and face, I was in a constant battle with my skin.

When I was introduced to Tamil movies in my preteens, I was confused by the depictions of so-called Sri Lankan, Tamil-speaking women. Expecting to finally see people who looked like me, I saw only light-skinned women.

Often these films cast women of different backgrounds with lighter complexions to play the part of Sri Lankan women. Casting individuals of darker complexion is often restricted to those playing the role of villain. I grew to idealize those with lighter complexions, seeing them as more attractive and desirable.

The lack of dark-skinned representation is not limited to film and television. It also has a place in activist communities addressing race issues. Yogarajah explained how she and her sister decided to participate in the Unfair and Lovely campaign because of a lack of representation in advocacy circles:

“Pax asked us to take part after noticing that even many of the advocates/activists addressing racism in the black community who had a large following had light skin. We discussed it, and I noticed the same thing in the South Asian community: activists and advocates with a large audience against racism, sexism, fat-phobia, etc., usually were lighter skinned. So this photo shoot occurred, and then we created a hashtag.”

Experiences with shadeism are wide-ranging from micro-aggressions and subtle jokes among family, to incidents like the abuse faced by Mirusha in college. Campaigns like Unfair and Lovely raise awareness.

–Abbiramy Sharvendiran, Contributing Writer, The Trauma and Mental Health Report.

–Chief Editor: Robert T. MullerThe Trauma and Mental Health Report.

Copyright Robert T. Muller.

This article was originally published on Psychology Today

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Documentary Film Tells Story of Race, Drugs and Baseball

00Addiction, Featured news, Personality, Psychopharmacology, Race and Ethnicity, Resilience, Therapy April, 16

Source: baseball971 on Flickr

Narratives surrounding professional sport often make stories about performance-enhancing drugs as common a spectacle as the sports themselves. As the story often goes, pressure to succeed and maintain peak physical form drives many professional athletes to substance abuse.

We hear this tale again in Jeffrey Radice’s biographical film, “No No: A Dockumentary,” titled as a play on the name of the story’s subject, Dock Ellis, a black Major League Baseball (MLB) pitcher famous for using drugs while on the mound. In the film, Radice examines Ellis’ struggle with drug abuse, digging deep into his life story and the environment in which he played.

Beginning his major league career in the late 1960s with the Pittsburgh Pirates, Ellis was no stranger to the racial stigmatization faced by many black Americans during this time. Through interviews with former teammates, family members, and childhood friends, Radice shows the pride Ellis had for his culture’s acceptance into MLB. In his time as a professional athlete, he became known for his strong verbosity – he was expressive, opinionated, and willing to disobey MLB rules.

He also established himself as an elite pitcher in the league. His success did not come easily or without a price. Of this experience, Ellis says:

“When you get to the major leagues, it’s easier coming up the ladder, but it’s hell to stay there.”

Ellis’ initial drug of choice was a stimulant called “dexamyl,” popularly known as “greenies” in the MLB. This type of drug is classified as an amphetamine; side effects include alertness, a decreased sense of fatigue, mood elevation, and increased self-confidence. According to Ellis, “greenies” made him feel sharper and allowed him to throw with pinpoint accuracy.

On the eve of June 12th, 1970, Ellis took LSD, a hallucinogen, which lead to his most memorable performance: throwing a perfect game.

In the first half of the documentary, Ellis’ life is described as erratic but exciting, colourful, and Hollywood-like. Radice depicts Ellis’ drug-abuse in a surprisingly lighthearted manner. Ellis chuckles as he reminisces about his high-flying lifestyle when he was at the top of his game. He is portrayed as a baseball superstar, his drug abuse merely a stepping-stone to his success.

In the second half of his film however, Radice shifts his perspective to view the film’s subject through the lens of mental health. While portraying Ellis as good at what he did, Radice asks whether his success in the MLB justified his drug and alcohol abuse.

At one point, Ellis is shown coming off drugs and tearfully admitting his dependence on them. After his retirement and an unfortunate drug-fueled spousal assault, he entered rehab and spent the rest of his life mentoring and counseling other drug-dependent individuals. He stayed sober up until his death in 2008.

The juxtaposition in the documentary – between an outlandish and erratic drug-using icon and a recovered, empathic individual – is moving and effective. It represents the highs and the lows drug users face when coming to terms with their addiction, and the fight to stay sober and live a more fulfilling life.

Toward the end of the film, Ellis reads a letter sent to him by Jackie Robinson, the first African American to play in the MLB:

“There will be times when you will ask yourself if it’s worth it all. I can only say, ‘Dock, it is’ and even though you will want to yield, in the long run your own feeling about yourself will be most important. Try not to be left alone.”

Although Robinson is referring to Ellis’ determination to gain equality in the MLB, his words also relate to the issue of drug-use and addiction in professional sports. The way “No No: A Dockumentary” approaches Ellis’ biography is unique: it idolizes a great baseball player, but also highlights his dark side and shows what Ellis ultimately lost because of drug dependence.

– Alessandro Perri, Contributing Writer, The Trauma and Mental Health Report

– Chief Editor: Robert T. Muller, The Trauma and Mental Health Report

Copyright Robert T. Muller

This article was originally published on Psychology Today

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Book Review: Becoming Trauma Informed

00Addiction, Anxiety, Child Development, Cognition, Empathy, Environment, Featured news, Health, Leadership, Parenting, Psychopharmacology, Race and Ethnicity, Stress, Therapy, Trauma, Treatment December, 14

Red, and your heart starts to race. Red, and your palms sweat. Red, and the sounds around you blur together. Imagine becoming emotionally aroused or distressed at the sight of simple stimuli, like the colour red, without knowing why.

Because triggers like this can take the form of harmless, everyday stimuli, trauma survivors are often unaware of them and the distress they cause in their lives. And clinicians who practice without the benefit of a trauma-informed lens are less able to help clients make the connection.

To address this and other concerns, researchers Nancy Poole and Lorraine Greaves in conjunction with the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) in Toronto recently published Becoming Trauma Informed, a book focused on the need for service providers working in the substance abuse and mental health fields to practice using a trauma informed lens.

Becoming Trauma Informed provides insight into the experiences, effects, and complexity of treating individuals who have a history of trauma. Without a clear understanding of the effect traumatic experiences have on development, it is challenging for practitioners to make important connections in diagnosis and treatment.

The authors describe how someone who self-harms may be diagnosed with bipolar disorder, possibly insufficiently treated with only medication and behaviour management. But using a trauma informed lens, the practitioner would more likely identify the self-harming patient as using a coping mechanism common to trauma survivors, giving rise to trauma informed care.

Such care involves helping survivors recognize their emotions as reactions to trauma. And helping clients discover the connection between their traumatic experiences and their emotional reactions can reduce feelings of distress. 

Throughout the text, the authors describe an array of treatment options, pointing to ways they can be put into practice; for example, motivational interviewing to provide guidance during sensitive conversations, cognitive behavioural therapy for trauma and psychosis, and body centred interventions to allow clients to make connections between the mind and body, an approach that has become increasingly popular in recent years. 

Importantly, the authors emphasize that a single approach to trauma-informed care is unrealistic and insufficient. While all treatments should include sensitivity, compassion, and a trusting relationship between therapist and client, specific groups require unique approaches. 

The authors devote chapters to specific groups, including men, women, parents and children involved with child welfare, those with developmental disabilities, and refugees. They outline different approaches necessary for trauma informed care in various contexts, such as when working in outpatient treatment settings, in the treatment of families, and when working with women on inpatient units, where treatment requires sensitivity to both the individual’s lived experiences and environment

A unique and compelling feature of this book is the focus on reducing risk of re-traumatization, an often neglected topic. Responding to the need for trauma survivors to feel safe, the authors outline how trauma informed care minimizes the use of restraints and seclusion (practices that can be re-traumatizing), and they offer ways to reduce the risk of re-traumatization by placing trauma survivors in less threatening situations, where they are less likely to feel dominated. This may involve matching female clients to female therapists or support groups comprised of only females. 

The numerous case studies help illustrate specific scenarios, challenges, and outcomes of trauma informed care and highlight the growing recognition of the link between substance abuse, mental illness and traumatic experiences.

While the text is theoretically grounded, the authors convey information in a way that is accessible to wider audiences. It provides critical information for those working in the field by underscoring the relationship between past experiences and current functioning.

Becoming Trauma Informed delivers a deeply informative look into the field of trauma therapy.

– Contributing Writer: Janany Jayanthikumar, The Trauma and Mental Health Report

– Chief Editor: Robert T. Muller, The Trauma and Mental Health Report

Copyright Robert T. Muller

Photo Credit: https://www.flickr.com/photos/auntiep/4450279893/

This article was originally published on Psychology Today