Between 2019 and 2020, there were more than 31,700 reports of missing Black people. In London, this figure gets worse. In London, Black people accounted for 36 per cent of missing people — nearly three times their population. And yet, there has been sparse media coverage. Society seems to readily sweep the concerns of the black community under the carpet. From apathetic policemen in response to missing black people, to a lack of culturally competent mental health services, the overwhelming message appears to be that black lives still do not matter.


Missing Black Lives

Joy Morgan. Richard Okorogheye. Blessing Olesugun. Abdi Ali. Bibba Henry. How many of these people have you heard of? Like me, it’s probably the case that none of them are familiar. They are just names of black missing people.

There is an argument that racism occurs due to a subconscious dehumanisation of black people originating in the Transatlantic slave trade. This affects many societal institutions including the police, the  media, and mental health services.

The Importance of the Media

The media remains the most accessible and popular form of consuming information. According to Ofcom, 75 per cent of adults accessed news via television in 2019. For such a popular news source, it’s interesting to note that black employees constitute a meagre 1 per cent of senior management roles.

Resultantly, black voices are perceptibly lacking in boardrooms which explains the lack of attention given to black missing lives on the big screen. I am not asking to start naming 31,700 names of missing black people on national TV. But there ought to be clear recognition and understanding of the structural issues affecting media coverage of the black community.

The importance of naming missing black lives is understated, to say the least. In some ways, it seems shallow to want media attention on this issue. However, for a people that have often been depicted as aggressive, hostile and threatening to the status quo, it is vital that we show them in a more vulnerable light to challenge these implicit and troubling stereotypes that affect how black people are treated by the police and beyond.

Police Apathy

The media’s typically negative portrayal of black people influences their treatment by the police. Though black missing persons are not looked on as ‘suspects’, their cases are not prioritised in the same way had they been white.

Richard Okorogheye was a 19-year-old boy found dead in Epping Forest in March. The police told Joel Evidence, his mother, that if she cannot find her son how can she expect them to do so.

The sense of being abandoned by the police is a familiar story within the black community that have had family members go missing. The victim/villain dichotomy is another example of pre-existing institutional bias towards black people. More often than not, if you’re black, you’re not given the benefit of the doubt or due attention.

The fact that the UK police force predominantly consists of white people, at 92.7 per cent, helps explain why so many cases are inadvertently subjected to a biased racial and cultural filter. The apathy, ignorance and hostility that have become so characteristic when dealing with black cases, in part, owe their presence to this historic racial bias.

The Black Mental Health Crisis

In the black community, mental health is the fifth reason for black under 18s going missing. In adults, this becomes the first reason. The cause of this is no mystery. Having to dodge the bullets of micro-aggression whilst breaking through the wall of structural racism, and, simultaneously having to carry the burden of historic oppression is just, well, plain old tiring.

Although many black people successfully overcome these factors, it’s often at the expense of mental and physical health. Even writing this now is emotionally tasking!

There is, of course, no known inherent (genetic) biological reason for why black people are more susceptible to developing mental health issues. Rather, black mental health ‘must be understood within the context of structural racism’, as Jacqui Dyer MBE writes.

Therefore, it is vital to have a diverse range of qualified psychologists. And yet, only 9.6 per cent of clinical psychologists in the UK are Black, Asian or Minority Ethnic (BAME). This figure gets invariably smaller when looking at black qualified clinical psychologists in the domain.

For some black people, this can present a barrier when it comes to seeking mental health support. A black person may feel reluctant to see a white clinician, fearing that their problem will not be sufficiently understood or taken seriously.

Although developing a more culturally responsive and sensitive mental health practice can go some way to resolving the problem, there is another to consider: stigma surrounding mental health in the black community. This stigma, which too often is seen as a sign of weakness, can prevent black people from even approaching psychologists in the first place. So the challenge is twofold. There is the external, racial one. And the internal, cultural obstacles that exist within black communities to getting mental health issues treated.

Community Outreach

There is now increasing support from community groups. 100 Black Men, is one. It offers mental health support by discussing the triggers, partnering with mental health organisations, and addressing the subject head-on through workshops. This form of community involvement also sends a message that battling mental health is not a solitary battle, but a collective one.

Self-care

Mental health support from professionals is not the only way. Self-care is also vital to achieving good mental health. Some people may overlook this because there is often an expectation within the black community of having to be ‘switched on’ at all times. Whether because of work, study or familial responsibilities, it can seem that the only legitimate time to rest is when you’re sleeping. But a moment’s … pause mustn’t ever be overlooked.

I am currently in my first year of university. Lunch is usually at 12, but I’m not thinking about food or entertainment. No. I’m busy worrying about the essays due tomorrow, the next week and the next month.

It may be easy for me to say that taking a break is important, after all, I don’t have a full-time job or family obligations. But making time for those breaks can change your day from being a roller coaster to a relatively smooth, albeit travel sick, train journey. Playing video games or football, or just having some popcorn while watching your favourite movie, are all forms of simple and essential ways to support your mental health.

As Audre Lord once said:

‘Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation’.