February is Black History Month in the U.S. and Canada, and it’s also observed in the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, and other nations. This month is often used to look back at prominent black civil rights activists and highlight the accomplishments of black leaders throughout history, but it’s also a reminder to take stock of where we are today—at this moment in history.
We’re at a place where 22% of black Americans live at or below the poverty line, the effects of which are compounded by the everyday forms of oppression, discrimination, and microaggressions black people experience. As a recent article suggests, black Americans may experience disproportionately high levels of stress because of these experiences, which can lead to physical and mental health problems. Chronic stress can also negatively impact the way we think about, value, and treat ourselves. In other words, stress can seriously undermine self-esteem.
At the same time, we’re also at a place where positive representations of black people in the media are at a high point:
- The movie Black Panther features an overwhelmingly black cast and a has been applauded for its politically relevant storyline and portraying a the main character in a way that has reimagined how black superheroes are depicted in film. This week, The New York Times described the film as “a defining moment for black America.”
- The TV show Black-ish, which routinely takes on sensitive and politically relevant topics, has garnered numerous awards and recognitions.
- For his role on This is Us, Sterling K. Brown was the first black actor in 19 years to win the Emmy for Lead Actor in a Drama and the first black actor ever to win a Golden Globe for Best Actor in a TV Drama Series and a Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Drama Series.
- And, just this week, the official portraits of our first black President and black First Lady were revealed, both painted by black artists.
Seeing positive representations in media of people who look like you can increase self-esteem and reinforce a healthy self-image. As Sterling K. Brown said to This is Us creator Dan Fogelman in his Golden Globes acceptance speech:
“You wrote a role for a black man that can only be played by a black man, and so what I appreciate so much about this thing, is that I’m being seen for who I am, and I’m being appreciated for who I am. That makes it that much more difficult to dismiss me or dismiss anyone who looks like me.”
Self-esteem is important for all of us. In fact, it’s a recurring theme in all our WRAP books and resources. For example, WRAP for Life devotes an entire chapter to improving self-esteem. It offers specific techniques to help you move on from past regrets, set achievable goals, and avoid external influences that bring you down.
Reflect on your own self-esteem—where it’s been in the past and where it is today. Has it been influenced by someone in the TV, film, literary, or art world? Is there someone who inspires you or who has become a role model? If so, tell us on Facebook.