I will never be proud to say it, but I used to be a firm believer in stigmas. To be specific, since I grew up in a household where everyone believed in white supremacy, I was afraid to be around people of other ethnicities. I could not take the school bus because of that when I was younger. It did not help that my parents insisted that I would only be educated with other white kids; otherwise, they would stop all their donations to the school.
Back in the day, I also believed my grandparents went they said that gay people were sinful. I heard it so often that I tried my best not to be associated with any of them. It was hard to do that even when I studied in an all-girls school, but I somehow did it.
Then, the most prominent stigma that my family taught me believed that there was no such thing as a mental illness. They told me that the people who claim to have such a disorder were merely looking for attention. They were furious at psychiatrists, psychologists, and counselors for riding the mental health wagon and pushing others to believe those posers.
When I Realized How Awful Stigmas Were
As you may have realized at this point, holding on to such stigmas turned me into a social pariah. No kid at school wanted to play with me in fear of being ridiculed by my family.
Their parents were also mad about the things that my family believed in, specifically since they involved racial discrimination, gender inequality, and mental health issues. Because of that, I felt sad for many years.
It became evident to me how awful stigmas were when I saw one of my Nigerian schoolmates get picked on in the playground because of her skin color. For the record, I had never done that. I had only stayed away from people of color, but I had never bullied anyone. Seeing someone experience that even when I knew that their only crime was joining the rest of the students outside during recess was upsetting.
I did not know what got to me, but I came up to my schoolmate to comfort her. I thought she would accept me warmly, but she looked at me with sharp eyes and sad, “Are you here to rub more salt in my wound, Miss KKK?”
That stung. My family had never been involved in that terrorist group. However, I could see why people would think that way, considering they were against me studying with people of other colors. I knew that my parents would get mad at me in that instant, but I went against their rules and sat next to my Nigerian schoolmate. I tried to console her even if she did not want to because it felt like the right thing to do.
From then on, I began to question my family’s stereotypical beliefs. Although I was still slightly apprehensive initially, I introduced myself to kids of all races at school. They did not want to talk to me at first, but Bella – my new Nigerian friend – helped me win them over. And when I got my parents to let me attend a co-ed high school, I also befriended some members of the LGBT community, who all proved that there’s nothing wrong about living their truth.
But the last stigma that I managed to debunk revolved around mental health. You see, my closest cousin died in a tragic car accident when I was away in college. She was only 17 years old – full of dreams and hopes. No matter how much my family said that the culprit was already paying for his sins behind bars, I could not get over my grief. After two months, I decided to ask my parents to let me seek counseling.
Why ask for permission, you might ask? That’s because counseling was not free, like befriending people of all genders and colors. I needed my parents to get on board with the idea.
Of course, mom and dad said no initially. In their minds, I was insinuating that I was crazy or something. I got so frustrated that I yelled, “If you keep up this nonsense, you should just let me die like my cousin!”
The horror on my parents’ faces at that moment was unforgettable. But I also saw in their eyes that they were willing to give mental help a chance for my sake. The only thing they asked was for either or both of them to be present during the sessions to ensure that I would never be in harm’s way.
I wanted to protest, but that must be a blessing in disguise. My parents held their chins up so high during the first consultation. However, the more sessions we attended, the more they lowered their chins. It signified that they no longer thought counseling was a waste of time. That’s especially true when they realized that my happiness returned. Soon enough, they were encouraging our other relatives to try counseling, too.
My family does not consist of white supremacists anymore. That tradition died with my grandparents, and none of the remaining adults wanted any part of it. More importantly, they have grown to accept everyone – all thanks to counseling.