2020 Took a Heavy Toll on Black Mental Health

We spoke to Yasmine Jameelah, CEO of wellness company the Transparent and Black Collective, about what happened this past year—and how to cope.
January 14, 2021, 4:29pm
​Yasmine Jameelah (Photo courtesy of her)
Yasmine Jameelah (Photo courtesy of her)
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The people fighting to end systemic inequality have been talking to VICE for years. Now we're catching up with them to find out what's changed.

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When Yasmine Jameelah started her Black wellness company, the Transparent and Black Collective, one of her main goals was helping people who look like her navigate their experiences with racism and generational trauma. 

“Unfortunately, no other race of people knows what it's like to have to, on a daily basis, watch themselves being murdered online,” Jameelah told VICE News. “We have to understand that refusing to engage with those videos is also a form of wellness and taking care of yourself.” 

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The 27-year-old wellness advocate knows that the Black community—which has a history of distrust in therapy and other forms of mental self-care—is unique in its needs. That’s why her company offers free mental health resources and group therapy sessions with licensed Black professionals. In the last two years, Transparent and Black has amassed tens of thousands of followers across social media, in a space traditionally dominated by white people. 

VICE News first spoke to Jameelah last spring, just weeks after the police killing of George Floyd. At the time, she and other people in the Black wellness space saw a notable increase in interest in their services. 

But over the last several months, Jameelah says that curiosity has declined—even though the level of trauma in the Black community hasn’t. Several more high-profile shootings of Black men and women have continued to traumatize Black Americans. The pandemic, which has disproportionately impacted the community, also forced Jameelah to find new strategies for outreach and healing. 

We caught up with Jameelah to talk about how the Black mental health movement in the U.S. has changed over the last six months—and how she’s been coping herself. 

This interview has been edited for length and clarity. 

VICE News: The last time we spoke, you noted a considerable uptick in Black men and women concerned about their own wellness. Did that continue through the summer and into the rest of the year?

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Jameelah: If I'm honest, it's tapered off quite a bit. And that’s been an opportunity for me to just go deeper and work with my community. Where we were a few months ago with everyday people reposting resources like ours, unfortunately, we're not there anymore. 

And so that's why again, it's important for people that are positioned in these spaces to remember to support their communities long after everybody else stops. And that's what I've just been challenging myself to do, really working on things that will help our community in the long term.

VN: Throughout 2020, we continued to see more tragic events play out in the Black community: Daniel Prude in Rochester, Dijon Kizzee in LA, Jacob Blake in Wisconsin, Casey Goodson in Ohio, and so on. Did that impact your mission?

Jameelah: It did. So one of the things that I had a conversation about last year that I didn’t see many other platforms having was this idea of disengaging with trauma porn. That was one of our biggest posts that we created last year. No, you don't have to continue to watch these videos in order to support or be informed. These videos that are being captured are ultimately meant for seeking justice. They are not for Black people to continue to ingest on a daily basis on social media.

VN: What did you make of the attempted coup in Washington, D.C.?

Jameelah: Unfortunately, most things do not surprise me anymore. Ultimately, that day was an opportunity for white people to see their privilege. Black people are beyond aware of the privilege that it is to be white in America, the privilege of being able to maneuver in this world however you want. What happened last Wednesday was just a clear indication of that.

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The hardest part about it was the overwhelming amount of people on social media that continued to say, “If they were Black people, they would have been dead.” All I saw mentally every time I read that was Black people being slaughtered, because that's what would have happened. 

Even seeing photos from D.C. in comparison to a Black Lives Matter protest at the Capitol last summer, seeing authorities remove the gates, seeing Trump’s response yesterday versus [Trump’s tweet about a protest following Floyd’s death], “When the looting starts, the shooting starts.” It was just, again, a clear indication of what this country feels about us.

After that, I decided I was going to protect my peace. I got off the internet, and for the rest of the evening, I decided to look inward and take care of myself. 

VN: I want to turn to you. What have the last six months been like for you as someone advocating for Black wellness and aware of the importance of your own wellbeing?

Jameelah: The last six months have definitely been affirming. When I started the first branch of Transparent and Black, I got a lot of nasty messages—people saying that because I was doing work specifically for Black people, that I was a racist, and that wellness was something that mattered to all people. And while I 100% agree with that, I looked at my community and I felt like the people who were at a greater disadvantage, people who lacked resources, were people who look like me.

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So now to be centered in conversations with so many notable Black people within the wellness space, it's just affirming that this work was not by accident. And that when I wasn't always confident and worried about what people would say about me explicitly saying, “I do what I do for Black people,” it's given me the confidence to know that it was truly from a place of love.

“Unfortunately, no other race of people knows what it's like to have to, on a daily basis, watch themselves being murdered online.”

I've had people reach out to say, you know, “I'm not a Black woman” or “I'm not a Black man” “but your content has helped me, too.” And so that's really awesome to know that even though I center Black people in my content, that other people have been able to resonate with what we share.

VN: How has the collective adjusted to the pandemic?

Jameelah: We had to be really intentional about how we were going to have conversations with our audience online. It was difficult at first, trying to get folks to engage. But I think as time went on, and we started to have conversations and session recaps online, people were really excited about it. 

2021 will continue to let communities know that we’re there for them, but also give them grace. While they want to absorb the information, at least from what I've seen, they are also exhausted. So we've been pivoting our content to introduce more conversations of gentleness, of rest and of support, versus requiring them to show up for strenuous workouts and conversations about things that might be a little bit too traumatizing for them right now.

We have to understand that refusing to engage with those videos is also a form of wellness and taking care of yourself. Unfortunately, no other race of people knows what it's like to have to, on a daily basis, watch themselves being murdered online. I made a decision a long time ago that we wouldn’t even share that type of information because this is a space for wellness and for healing.

VN: You mentioned last time that “intergenerational trauma” was one of the key aspects of what makes addressing Black wellness so unique here in the U.S. Are young Black men and women now more aware of the long-lasting effects that the country’s racial inequities have had on their lives decades, even centuries later?

Jameelah: I think so. So many people now are realizing the necessity because we've had time to have conversations about systemic racism and redlining and the effects it had, not even as far back as your great, great, great, great grandmother, but your grandmother and how she had to maneuver in this world.

I think this past year has made us not only look at the media but also look at ourselves, look at our families, to see that the days of us looking at history books to see riots and racial violence and things like that are long gone. We're seeing them now, and we realize that we're not as far removed from slavery as we thought we were.