For the last 12 years, July has been designated as Minority Mental Health Awareness Month to highlight the unique challenges communities of color face when it comes to mental well-being. Not only are minorities less likely to have access to mental health resources, and to seek treatment for mental well-being, they are also less likely to find a therapist that is culturally competent, sensitive to their realities and the microaggressions they face, every day.
Randi-Mae Stanford-Liebold is a clinical social worker and therapist in Ontario, Canada. We “met” Stanford in a Zoom call sponsored by the Global Wellness Summit. On the call, Standford-Liebold commented that it’s important for people of color to have access to mental health providers who can relate to what they’re going through but that, unfortunately, there are too few Black psychotherapists.
Because our recent focus has been on spotlighting those working to erase the racial divide in our professional beauty industry, and help stylists overcome misunderstanding when it comes to textured hair through education and outreach, we talked to Stanford about her own experience, and that of her clients, around hair bias and all that entails.
Don't Touch My Crown
“I’ve definitely had clients come to me who have been told they needed to change their hairstyle for their workplace, or they were made uncomfortable by comments from a colleague about their natural hair,” Stanford-Liebold shares. “These microaggressions—comments or behaviors that communicate a negative slight or insult to people of color—can impacts someone’s mental health, their confidence, and even their feeling of safety. Suppose someone decides they want to touch my hair because they want to know what my textured hair feels like. Their intention may not be to make me feel uncomfortable, but I didn’t give them permission and, believe, me, it does make me uncomfortable.”
These unintentional aggressions (and, also, those that are more overt) often stem from an ignorance or misunderstanding about Black hair. “Whether we like it or not, hair has become political, and people have been discriminated based on how it looks and how it is styled,” Stanford-Liebold says. Legislation in the US in the form of the CROWN (Create a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair) Act has been put forth to protect persons of color against prejudice or exclusion based on their hairstyle.
“I remember being a little girl and being told that I can’t get my hair done at that place, at that salon, because they won’t do my hair. We had to drive 90 minutes away for someone to do my hair. Because Black hair hasn’t been tended to in white spaces we can see our hair as an extension of our Blackness and when I am in a space where I (and my hair) feel understood, I can let go and feel safe.
“But even in our own cultural community, we have developed this idea based on the white hair standard of what is good hair and what is not good hair. Those stories become real and they make you think that there is something wrong with you."
Becoming conscious about unconscious bias
The notion that one kind of hair is the preferred type needs to be challenged. We do this, Stanford-Leobold says, by understanding the structural racism that is built into systems like salons and also the culture of many organizations.
“I’m conscious about how people will see me if I walk into a predominantly white, corporate space. As a Black woman, I have been taught that I must show up twice as good because people already expect me to fail. There can be a resistance, a challenge of, ‘What are you here to teach me about that I don’t already know?’ So I have to navigate through my own emotions to do what I’m qualified to do. I have to read the room, and then determine that I won’t be angry at them for expecting me to fail. I go through all this in my head before I even begin, and then I also am thinking about the usual things, like, how’s my hair?”
In her practice, Stanford-Liebold’s role is to support clients in their discovery that they are enough, in a space of compassion, non-judgment and kindness. “Healing from trauma starts with mindfulness.”
Here's to compassion, kindness, and mindfulness.
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