“We would be missing a critical moment," says Dr. Wizdom Powell, "for us to look at the systems that we have set up and ask ourselves, are we serving every person who has a mental health need well, and if we’re not, what are we going to do about it?”
Director of the Health Disparities Institute and associate professor of psychiatry at UConn Health, Dr. Powell studies the impact of modern racism and gender norms on African American male health outcomes and healthcare inequities.
In a recent interview with the Amsterdam News following a mass shooting incident involving an alleged Black suspect, Dr. Powell weighed in the ways in which implicit racism can frame how law enforcement classifies shootings, the importance of deconstructing harmful racial and gender stereotypes, and the delivery of mental health services to communities and individuals in need:
“When you call something gang violence, I think people’s empathy goes down to zero because they think those people are killing themselves,” said Powell. “You know, it’s their problem. Nevermind the victims.”
Powell said that in the event of a mass shooting incident there is usually a “sympathy” conveyed for a person as a “complicated human” as opposed to a person of color who was involved in a gang shooting. “When do you get a full picture of that person? Who they were as a child, all of the traumas they experienced, their lack of resources,” said Powell.
Powell thinks there’s a conflation in general between individuals who are mentally ill and those who commit mass shootings. She said mass shootings are a massive public health crisis with many factors contributing, with mental illness being one of many.
Powell said that the emotionality or interior lives of Black men are always spoken about with an undue amount of concentrated attention on their anger. She strives to deconstruct the stereotype of the ‘angry Black male.’ She said that there is a prevailing presumption that anger is somehow bad or pathological when it’s actually a legitimate response to emotional suffering and injustice. So when an incident that fits the stereotype of the ‘angry Black male’ occurs, people hyper focus on it because it confirms their bias.
“I think there is a disproportionality in our reporting about these incidents by race,” said Powell, “we also tend to paint the picture of these shooters more sympathetically, when the shooters are non-Hispanic white males as opposed to males from other socially marginalized groups.”
In the 1960s, said Powell, there was a shift in the way that the field of psychology and psychiatry viewed Black men and their symptomatology while civil rights protests were erupting around the country. Prior to the ’60s “middle class, white housewives” were diagnosed with schizophrenia more often, but there was a sharp uptick among Black males afterwards. “Again, reminiscent of an earlier time where Black people’s quest for liberation was pathologized,” said Powell.
Powell said that health and science is still at the “tip of the iceberg” in identifying symptoms of depression in Black men. She said her studies have found that societal racism or experiencing racism or secondary traumas of racial reckoning is definitively at the root of Black and Brown male depression.
Dr. Powell is available to speak with media – simply click on her icon now to arrange an interview today.
Wizdom Powell, Ph.D. Associate Professor of Psychiatry at UConn Health
Expert on the role of racism and gender norms in African American male health and healthcare inequities.