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It goes without saying that the February 8, 2016, suicide of MarShawn McCarrel II, is beyond heartbreaking. Although the police reported that they are not clear why this Black Lives Matter activist took his own life, the fact that he shot himself on the front steps of the Ohio Statehouse indicates that there was a political motive behind this tragic act. We who are on the front lines of black activism must not ignore the psychological consequences of activism and seek ways to buffer ourselves from the trauma resulting from society's continuous denigration and dehumanization as we engage in the never ending struggle of social activism.

Suicide for Whites Only?—Arica L. Coleman

Suicide for Whites Only?—Arica L. Coleman

It is our responsibility to look out for the mental well being of ourselves and our fellow comrades. The media's looping ad nauseaum of the brutalization of black bodies by the police state coupled with our constant push back against the criminalization of what I call Breathing While Black, leaves us as a community forced to deal with the perpetual trauma of resistance to a society that refuses to accept blacks, and other people of color as human.

We who are on the front lines of black activism must not ignore the psychological consequences of activism and seek ways to buffer ourselves from the trauma resulting from society's continuous denigration and dehumanization

If we don't keep ourselves mentally and yes physically fit, we won't survive; and if we don't survive, oppression and the oppressor wins. McCarrel's untimely demise by his own hands must be a wake up call to mental health professionals and other healers that they must provide assistance to those activists on the front lines of the liberation of blacks and other people of color. The myth that suicide is a "white thing" must be dispelled. While death by suicide is higher for whites, nonetheless blacks are not immune. According to a 2010 CDC report:

"Although Black suicide rates are lower than the overall U.S. rates, suicide affects Black youth at a much higher rate than Black adults. Suicide is the third leading cause of death among Blacks ages 15-24. Since the Black community in the United States is disproportionately young, the number of deaths among youth may have a particularly strong impact on the Black community. Black Americans die by suicide a full decade earlier than White Americans. The average age of Black suicide decedents is 32, and that of White decedents is 44."

The numbers for American Indian youth are far more dismal.

McCarrel is not the first or only Black activist to lose to his demons brought on by the trauma of oppression. In her intriguing book Homelands and Waterways: The American Journey of the Bond Family, 1846-1926, historian Adele Logan Alexander writes about the December 12, 1915, suicide of black female Adella Hunt Logan, an ardent suffragist and devoted Tuskegee educator. Hunt Logan became disillusioned when Alabama legislators,"defeated a bill that summer that would have required a statewide referendum on women's suffrage," (338).

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Hunt Logan continued undeterred in her activism, but later became "noticeably disagreeable, increasingly irritable,and her emotional deterioration no longer could be ignored when she ignited a fire one night in her husband's office, " (338). She was placed in a mental facility which was of little help. Sadly, like MarShawn McCarrel, Adella Hunt Logan's demons won and she flung "herself from a top-floor window of an administrative building" and "jumped to her death as administrators, teachers, visitors, and many young people (including, most lamentably, two of her own children) watched in horror. A decade earlier, Hunt Logan prophetically had written that a woman's compound frustrations could lead her to 'cry, to swear, or to suicide, '" (339).

And lest we forget the young, awesomely beautiful and talented Karyn Washington, creator of the Brown Girls Blog "which sought to empower chocolate-complexioned black women." Washington committed suicide on April 8, 2014.

Of course these are just a few examples.

Suicide and mental illness remain a taboo and a stigma among African Americans; Many of us are simply walking around with our eyes wide shut refusing to engage with the problem of mental health issues within our own communities. The macho man and the myth of the super woman, to use the words of Michelle Wallace, is literally killing us. We Must take care of ourselves and each other by pushing back against the taboo and the stigma of mental illness. As comrades in struggle, checking in with one another to ask, "How you doing? Are you okay? This must become part and parcel to black activism.

Work cycles which provide activists space for some R&R so that they don't get mentally and physically burned out must be a central part of activism. We must also be able to recognize and ACT when a comrade is in distress and work toward getting him/her the help she/he needs. Activists who are having coping issues must be honest about how they are feeling and what is going on with them. They should be able to express when they are burned out and need a time out without fear or shame. This is not the time to go it alone. Everyone needs help every now and then. Seeking help is not a sign of weakness; it is a sign of strength and maturity!

As activists, we must work smarter, not harder. The liberation struggle is not a sprint, but a cross country marathon. It's a test of endurance. Aesop's Fables taught us the lesson of the hare and the tortoise. Slow and steady wins the race. It is a matter of life and death my friends. Choose life!


Arica L. Coleman