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On Black Lightning, black superheroines need therapy too

Contributed by
Aug 20, 2018

In Season 1 of The CW’s Black Lightning, Jennifer Pierce (China Anne McClain) learned that she had superpowers and spent a good amount of the season trying to deal with pressures that came with such a tremendous revelation. According to reports, the second season of the series will involve Jennifer getting the help of a therapist to help manage unwanted stress and feeling like an outsider in her family of superheroes.

With this news about Season 2, Black Lightning continues to inject important issues into its storylines, including the treatment of mental health. This topic couldn’t be more timely, especially in a world that wants black women to be superhuman on a day-to-day basis but often leaves them to deal with the stress that comes with such a tall order by themselves. A young black woman with superpowers getting therapy to help cope feels cathartic.

Jennifer reacting so differently to her powers, at least compared to her sister Anissa (Nafessa Williams), was quite a significant plot point in the first season. While Anissa embraced her powers and followed in her father’s footsteps, Jennifer tried to subdue her abilities and sought out a cure for them, a choice which caused some friction between the sisters. Black women are not monolithic. Jennifer's reluctance to embrace her superpowers is similar to the way some of us don’t want to save the world, even though we are often encouraged to do so.

Life is hard and can be a lot to deal with all by itself. One can only imagine the additional baggage that would come with having superpowers and feeling as though you have to use them for the greater good. As a young woman in high school, Jennifer was already dealing with the stresses that come with that in addition to being the daughter of the high school principal. When you add in unwanted superpowers and the expectations to use them, it's a lot for anyone to process, even if they have loving and supporting parents. Sometimes those family ties aren't sufficient.

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Credit: The CW

Often within the black community, family and the rhetoric of taking your problems to God is considered to be enough, but the reality is those two things aren’t always sufficient and sometimes can be more harmful than helpful. Therapy provides one with the unbiased support that family and religion can’t always give. With someone like Jennifer getting the help of a therapist, even with such a supportive family in her corner, audiences could see how vital that assistance can be and what it means to have access to it in Season 2.

There's also the factor of distrust that often keeps many black people from seeking help for their mental health. It is no secret that historically, black people have been negatively affected by prejudice and inequity in the health care system. In fact, it’s still going on today. The inadequate treatment and the often lack of cultural understanding by health professionals sometimes prevent many from seeking or staying in treatment. It will be interesting to see how Black Lightning brings this into the narrative, especially since the show is no stranger to the topic already.

Jennifer comes from what most would consider an upper-middle-class black family, so her ability to seek professional help could be more realistic in comparison to someone who is living check to check and without adequate health insurance. It’s very important to keep that in mind, since those factors are a large part of why some people don't often have the financial means to get professional help in spite of a desire to seek it out.

A show like Black Lighting tackling an evergreen topic like mental health will hopefully add to the ongoing conversation, specifically as it deals with black women and their mental health. While the topic of therapy doesn’t seem to be as taboo as it has been in the recent past, it doesn’t hurt to keep the conversation going via a young black woman trying to cope with unwelcomed superpowers.

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