Akaash Tumuluri: I’m struggling with July

Wednesday, July 10, 2019 - 7:05pm

Happy July, everyone. Hot take: the Fourth of July sucks. Before the comments section swells with beer-drunk, barbecue-stained American spirit to chastise me, I am a patriot. I love pigging out on burgers and lathering on suntan lotion to celebrate the soldiers that fought in the dead cold with little to no food for our freedom. Sorry, I gave no warning — that was sarcasm. And burgers and suntan lotion might not be dangerously ironic, but this is: Our national holiday of independence centers around the biggest post traumatic stress disorder trigger imaginable — fireworks — in the same month that we are supposedly celebrating minority mental health awareness and veterans, a group of people highly susceptible to developing post traumatic stress disorder. Yes, July is Minority Mental Health Awareness Month. Surprise!

The final twist of the ironic blade — admittedly, a personal one — is that as a fourth grader, on Independence Day, a classmate of mine named Billy Brown told me I was not an American because I’m brown. I said, “You’re Brown, too,” though I didn’t realize last names wasn’t what he was talking about. Now I know, screw Billy Brown. But as a fourth grader, that realization sent me spiraling and shaped how I view myself today. And today I’m validated by what? A July dedicated to awareness about the mental health issues of someone like me — issues that, personally, arose in July on a day that is supposed to celebrate all Americans, but left me feeling as un-American as ever? No, I’m validated by the fact that Billy Brown went to jail on cocaine possession nine years later. Catharsis never felt so good. 

Let’s talk about more facts. The Fourth of July used to be a holiday celebrating American diversity, not American patriotism or freedom or whatever we claim it celebrates now. Post-Civil War freed slaves claimed the holiday in 1865, at the end of the Civil War. And so, for a few years, the Fourth of July was a Black holiday, celebrating emancipation and equality. But sadly, during the post-war period in which Black Americans were grappling for a sense of unity, community and equality, segregationists began to reclaim the holiday, barring public celebrations in predominantly African American communities. By 1902, the spectacle that took place on the Fourth in Atlanta was filled with white floats and white speakers to place an emphasis on what kind of American the Fourth was celebrating — an ideal that doesn’t exactly describe those that look like me. 

Back to Minority Mental Health Month. The necessity of formalizing a month to focus on issues of mental health in minority communities cannot be overstated, so I’m stating it. I’ll offer a trigger warning before my quick digression, as much of this stuff needs to be said but doesn’t necessarily need to be heard: LGTBQ+ persons are 2.5 times more likely to experience depression, anxiety or a mental disorder than heterosexual persons. One in six gay men attempt suicide at least once in their lifetime. 30.8 percent of transgender-identifying persons have considered suicide. Non-whites actually report lower levels of depression than their white counterparts, but that’s a fact that can easily be misconstrued. A staggering 48 percent of white people, compared to 31 percent of African Americans and Hispanics, and 22 percent of Asians, receive mental health care. And to be diagnosed with a mental disorder, one has to receive care first, so MMHAM is clearly a necessity that must be promoted further — especially because the self-care and #thrivingnotsurviving movements that have swept through this country in the past 10 years seem to be disproportionately representative. 

And finally, why July? The Fourth of July is a day marred by a history of discriminatory tension and violence, so why, four days into the awareness month, do we want to undermine minority sense of self-belonging with a holiday that hasn’t historically reflected everyone’s values? Because the Fourth of July doesn’t seem like a holiday particularly inclined to date-related changes, then perhaps we should think about moving MMHAM. Or at least think about providing and, more importantly, advertising adequate and affordable support systems for those on the Fourth of July who may feel outcast, misrepresented or subjugated. In order to keep up with the equality and health ideals we’re supposed to be able to uphold for at least one month. Maybe all the other months are already taken, so MMHAM took the only remaining cell in the government’s “What can this month be for?” Excel spreadsheet. But adequate resources and awareness campaigns can’t afford to be hindered by bureaucratic bottlenecks like the slightly more arbitrary designation of which month we should “be aware” in. 

So if MMHAM is going to stay July, we need to put more effort into actually making people aware of the resources that are available to them, because I’ve had this metallic umami of “another thing done just to placate the electorate” settling onto my taste buds since this month started. This is in addition to the sharp sour of “little Billy Brown is trying to take my crown” that starts to wax nostalgic around the Fourth of July. Huh, ironic. Tastes like bleach. 

Final note on Billy Brown: He’s fine. He’s a white male from a suburb of Milwaukee. Nothing was ever going to happen to him. He got a day in “jail,” then was released. It’s not even on the books. He did a month of community service. He is currently going to UCSB. But I’m over it.

Akaash Tumuluri can be reached at tumula@umich.edu.