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  • Black Pain: It Just Looks Like We’re Not Hurting
  • Shanene Pinder (bio)
Black Pain: It Just Looks Like We’re Not Hurting. Terrie M. Williams. New York: Simon & Schuster Adult Publishing Group, January 2008. 368 pp.

Black Pain: It Just Looks Like We’re Not Hurting throws down the gauntlet with one of the boldest, most personal dares ever presented: Take off your mask and get your mind right. In addition to presenting this ultimate challenge, reading the book effectively turns upside-down our assumptions about each other. You will never look at people the same way again.

Written by Terrie M. Williams, a successful public relations entrepreneur and author who is also a credentialed clinical social worker (who was herself diagnosed with depression) the book calls out a secret that often lies at the root of many of Black America’s problems: depression and mental illness. Taking a 360-degree look at depressive disorders, Black Pain illuminates the factors that lead to depression among African Americans; it dives into the depths of inner pain through the raw first-person narratives of celebrities, business executives, athletes, and everyday people whose detailed experiences with mental disorders reveal that so many in our midst are walking around like ticking time bombs on the verge of either self-destruction or exploding in some way toward others. After carefully guiding us through the profound journeys of depression throughout the text, the book comes up for air to round out its presentation with information, research, and resources from health care professionals on the facts surrounding mental illnesses.

Ms. Williams, who presides with the genuinely caring spirit of a trusted confidante over others’ stories, writes with loving urgency. Black Pain speaks directly to African Americans about a common problem that cripples many, and plagues the community at large. Black Pain begins with the harrowing account of how Ms. Williams, at the pinnacle of her career, found her world crashing down around her, leaving her in an empty, dark place with no clue what the problem was and completely unequipped to resolve it on her own. A superwoman who wielded her power in the business world to change lives, call the shots, and help many others achieve on a daily basis, Williams reached a point where she could barely gather the strength to get out of bed and face a new day. After struggling through her work, it was all she could do to make it back home where she would collapse back into her misery. Ms. Williams, though, recognized that she was not alone, that her experience was shared by many. This first-hand experience of depression, she says, was what motivated her to write Black Pain. She calls what she and countless others manage to do so masterfully wearing the mask. In the book she exposes the mask, the happy, “everything is alright” game-face that conceals the despair lurking beneath for what it is: Black America’s dirty secret—its pain.

As much as Black Pain is about Ms. Williams it is even more about the rest of us. It is a wake-up call, a conversation starter for the thousands, if not millions, of Black [End Page 931] people who fight to make it through one day into the next while enduring constant harassment from a bully they cannot see. But the battle is real; it has noticeable effects, and generates tangible consequences. With its riveting testimonies, the book compels us to understand the connection between one’s state of mind and the resulting behavior. Divided into nine chapters aimed at men, youth, women, even the Black church, Black Pain leaves no stone unturned.

The book delineates how trauma—physical, emotional, and mental—creates behavioral tendencies in individuals that often render them violent, lacking self-esteem, sexually promiscuous, addicted to a range of vices, criminal, and chronically unemployed. Among the accounts are those of executives who have always felt less than others and who work themselves into the ground, neglecting their families, trying to prove that they are good enough. You will read about boys who watched their fathers beat their mothers and later became violent men themselves. And there...