How Exploring Your Black Identity Can Improve Your Mental Health

By Tiffany Eve Lawrence

Exploring your identity can be a complex—and lifelong—process, especially if you’re Black. But when you start learning more about your racial identity, your self-awareness and confidence can grow. That helps protect your mental health when you’re confronted with racial bias or discrimination. 

For many Black people, race and identity go hand in hand. A recent survey by Pew Research showed that 76% of Black adults say their race is a “very” or “extremely” important part of their identity. It plays such a major role because, for years, the stories that have been told in mainstream media have been white-centered, with little attention given to the experiences of Black people. 

Black History Month is celebrated in February, but it barely scratches the surface of what it means to be Black in America. It can be hard to appreciate your cultural roots when they aren’t talked about enough or equally represented, especially in mass media. 

It’s helpful when you get to see even the most basic parts of Black folks represented, such as the different textures of curly hair, the beautiful variety of melanated skin, and the comfortable way of speaking known as African American Vernacular English (AAVE) that’s common in Black communities. But when the cultural features you identify with aren’t included on major platforms, such as television shows and books you’re required to read, it’s much harder to see your culture reflected and feel valued by society. It can leave you struggling to understand who you are and whether you matter.

Understanding your identity as a Black person gives you a tool to support your emotional well-being no matter the message you are getting—or not getting—from other people and places, and it can deepen your understanding that:

Black History Doesn’t Start With Enslavement

When Black people are referenced in pop culture or history classes, the go-to narrative is enslavement. We know slavery has a significant footprint in both American and Black history, but it is not your origin story. Expanding what you know of your racial identity allows you to understand who Black people are outside the ugly era of being bought and sold as property.

You’re Capable of Doing All Kinds of Great Things

There’s a long history of Black people accomplishing amazing things, but you may not have been taught about them in school because their achievements are often hidden behind the accomplishments of their white counterparts. 

Black professionals, artists, inventors, and creators are ingenious. The doorknob, alarm systems, the math that allowed humans to make it to the moon, and even the COVID vaccine were all created by members of the Black community. Black excellence is woven deeply into the fabric of American life, even though it often goes unrecognized.

Stereotypes in the Media Don’t Represent You

Representation in the media heavily influences how Blackness is seen by society, and negative portrayals of Black people are still present—from televised racial violence to the discriminatory language used in the news when reporting on Black people. The media even perpetuates negative stereotypes that aren’t relevant to Black youth today. When these implicit messages are on repeat, they can be damaging to your confidence, self-image, and emotional health, but it doesn’t have to define your self-view. When you’re secure in your identity, you aren’t as easily persuaded or damaged by these kinds of portrayals.  

Thankfully, there’s more inclusion of Black voices, including outspoken journalists like Joy-Ann Reid and creators like Amber Burns. With shows like “All American” and “Grown-ish,” Black representation in the media is increasing and diversifying.

How to Be Truly Yourself

Black people have spent years adjusting their behavior, speech, and appearance in predominantly white spaces to avoid being seen as threatening. Black people had to follow social rules in the Jim Crow era that determined how they should act around white people so they didn’t challenge them or make waves. And to prove they were worthy of civil treatment, many in the Black community worked hard to present themselves as acceptable and complying citizens. 

That is not a legacy that has to continue.

Knowing the worth of your identity helps you understand that who you are doesn’t change based on who’s in the room and whether they see the beauty in your racial identity. You can have the confidence to celebrate that your Blackness colors outside the lines. Instead of trying to blend in, create friendships with people who genuinely celebrate your culture and differences. 

How to Help a Friend Struggling With Their Racial Identity

You may have a friend dealing with low self-esteem or depression due to discrimination or comparing their identity with someone of a different race. As you get more in touch with your identity and the confidence it brings you, you can share it with other folks who are struggling. 

Having someone who relates to their experiences can make them feel supported on their journey to being confident in who they are—and the community that comes from that connection will benefit you both. You can share the knowledge you have been cultivating yourself!

Once you learn more about your racial identity, you develop a foundation that allows you to stand on the creativity, accomplishments, and resilience of other Black people in history, making you more self-assured and appreciative of your Blackness.

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If you or someone you know needs to talk to someone right now, text, call, or chat 988 for a free confidential conversation with a trained counselor 24/7. 

You can also contact the Crisis Text Line by texting HOME to 741-741.

If this is a medical emergency or if there is immediate danger of harm, call 911 and explain that you need support for a mental health crisis.