Black and Brown Success and Mental Health

Many BIPOC professionals struggle with the mental health burden of having more access to resources and becoming successful. In some cases, they may be one of the first people in their family to have reached a certain level of social mobility.

The black tax stands out as one such mental health stressor of achieving more social mobility. BIPOC professionals often find themselves paying to either support struggling family members domestically or abroad. This support doesn’t necessarily have to be material or financial, as it can also take the form of time donated to be caregivers or first responders for multigenerational or extended family. It’s also (with exceptions) usually not the type of support that’s the result of any coercive cultural expectation that a reactive individualism will solve.

It’s essential to note everybody has a different relationship to the cultural norms they grew up with. Some people may help family members because they feel they have to (and may not want to), and others may help them because there are some collectivistic cultural norms that resonate with them.

Negotiating Cultural Norms

Individualism and collectivism are not necessarily binary “good vs. bad” concepts and are often internalized to different degrees. For example, one of the mental health benefits of collectivistic values is the custom of many Latin cultures to have extended family members move in with widowers or someone who has gone through loss for an extended period of time. This allows them to accompany the mourner in their grieving and to also help them with the practical and emotional needs grief can immobilize in people.

Your family history, judgment, boundaries, and internal negotiation of which cultural values resonate and which don’t will all come into play in that decision. There is also room for historical memory and empathy for larger sociopolitical forces that put everyone in this position and left you plugging in the gaps for where history has failed.

However, this black and brown tax impacts BIPOC mental health when this role of supporter becomes an all-encompassing one-dimensional one. This looks like ignoring your own bandwidth, needs, and resources at every turn. It can quickly lead to burnout, resentment, and feelings of invisibility (institutional and familial). It can become a dehumanization under the guise of “strength” and the pressure of being the only column which can only sustainable for so long.

Addressing BIPOC Mental Health

As a psychotherapist trained in social work, many of these problems are undeniably systemic and historical. They are also the reason successful BIPOC professionals still have a harder time building generational wealth. However, I also believe that there can be a psychological route to start loosening the burden. These questions and thoughts below can start the conversation.

  1. Negotiate or renegotiate your own cultural narrative: What stories informed family expectations growing up? Were you the oldest child? The youngest child? How did that impact the caregiving expectations put on you? Which roles do you resonate with? Which roles don’t? Is there a personal version of a role you would rather have? (e.g., These are the ways I can and want to be available, versus ways I cannot)
  2. Name your boundaries and needs: What needs can you ask for in professional and family spaces? What nonnegotiable requirements (e.g., time and compensation) need to govern having a good quality of life that includes resources and rest? What’s your relationship with saying “no”?
  3. Community: People in a community will have different perspectives and ways of navigating similar experiences and struggles. Communities also have a way of helping and validating you making your personal choices with the two dimensions above.

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Image credit: Licensed under creative commons via Flickr. Women in tech (Microsoft).

Published by Raymond Batista, LCSW

Psychodynamic and humanistic clinical social worker and educator.