Disclaimer: I’m not an expert in this field. The information in this blog post is based on my own personal opinion drawn from the oppression and violence on black and brown bodies throughout the course of several centuries. Specifically as it relates to, and affects black women. In essence this is my unprofessional (and possibly unpopular opinion).
A few months ago I asked this question on my social media platform “do you think self-care should, can, or may look different for black women?” The response was literally 50/50. Meaning, 50% of my followers thought that self-care could look different for black women and the other 50% did not. In retrospect I’m wondering if more of the responses would’ve leaned towards “yes” if I explained what I meant by different. But I digress. I posed the question because for the last six months, I’ve actively posted on this blog about self-care and well-being; which means I think about self-care a lot and often times I have to be creative, look at the bigger picture, and challenge myself. To provide a bit more background information, my intentions with my blog is to create a space for everyone; but mainly for black women in their 40s to make self-care a daily priority; because I am a black woman in her 40s. And just like many of us, I have been exposed to most things that go on in this world, and have paid close attention to the the adversities that black people face; specifically the adversities and disadvantages of black women so I see a lot of benefits in writing about this topic.
The historical trauma that black and brown bodies have endured over the course of several centuries has been genetically passed down from generation to generation. Historical trauma has many definitions but for the sake of this blog, historical trauma is defined as the “cumulative psychological and emotional wounding across generations, from massive group trauma.” The effects of this trauma is so deeply ingrained, that most of us have become immune to its harmful effects. Its become our norm, it’s what we’re use to, it plays a role in our reactions to micro-aggressions, blatant racism, and not so blatant racist comments/remarks from those more privileged than us.
The “hidden” effects of historical trauma shows up through responses by way of strong emotions like anger and rage. It shows up when we hear about the mistreatment of black people in our society, victims like Sandra Bland, George Floyd, Travyvon Martin, Breonna Taylor, Eric Garner, the Charleston church shooting, and the names of those who were harmed and murdered but was not televised. Despite of all these tragic events, we are still expected to show up, not over react, or show intense emotions. Advice often given by those who may directly (or indirectly) play a role in the violence against black people.
The aforementioned are events that affects all black people but as black women, we have added pressure, stereotypes, and expectancies imposed on us. Some of which includes: the “angry black women” syndrome, the texture of; and the way we choose to wear the hair that grows naturally from our own heads, the shape of our bodies, we are often classified as being overly independent and aggressive, are seen as sex objects, and objectified in other ways. In a document produced by African American Policy Forum, the author states that black girls have higher incidents of emotional difficulties when compared to other girls (data from 2009 rated it at 67%) this includes depression. Let’s not forget that historically, mental health issues was not a topic that was discussed in the black community. Black women are incarcerated at three times the rate as White women, Black women have the highest rates of HIV when compared to other women, and we are more likely to die from breast cancer despite lower incidence overall. You can read more HERE.
In addition to societal statistics, we are at “war” with each other. In some instances there is a lack of support from our families and others in our community, there is the issue of colorism (dark skin vs. light skin), not being “black enough” for a plethora of reasons e.g. the way you talk, which schools you attended, making the decision to further your education, the grades you made in school, having a college degree, wanting better for yourself and your community, and people assuming “you’re better than” for many reasons. I could go on.
Because of these reasons and many others that’s too much to mention in a blog post, is the reason why I think that self-care can and should look different for black women. Before I move on, below are the responses to additional questions I asked when I thought about writing on this topic.
- Some issues that black women face are only unique to our race?
- The stereotypes that we face (e.g. “angry black women”) has an impact on our well-being?
- You ignore micro-aggressions to remain “professional” or to keep things peaceful?
- I’ve been a victim of denying sides of myself (e.g. natural hair, skin color, etc) because of shame?
- I have been the only one in the room before?
- I’ve “called out black” from work because of the effects of Black Lives Matter?
So what do I mean when I say that self-care can and should look different for black women? It means that our self-care activities at times, has to be extremely intentional. I’m calling it immediate self-care—self-care that takes precedence over everything. It may require more than just scheduling a massage at the spa or getting your nails done or a facial. Immediate self-care means setting some hard boundaries. For example, not being the spokeswoman for all black people when you’re the only minority in the room, unplugging from social media platforms, turning off the news, and being completely and unapologetically unavailable from friends, coworkers, and family in order to protect your emotional well-being; especially during times of unrest. Immediate self-care means “calling out black”—not showing up for work after another senseless murder of our own people (if you feel you need to). Because in society we are still expected to show up and “perform” as if nothing major is happening to the people in the community that look like us. By the way, “calling out black” is not my term, but I can’t remember where I heard it.
Immediate self-care is being extremely intentional about how you choose to take care of yourself based on what is happening around you in order to protect your overall wellbeing. Immediate self-care means sustaining your whole self; not just a part of you, and not putting self-care off to when it’s convenient, because you choose to tend to other things that will continue to drain you. This self-care act is literally intentionally immediate. And becomes prevalent, not only when we are dealing with the effects of the Black Lives Matter movement (that’s a result of the harm caused against those in the black community), but also when we feel the effects (or backlash) of being black, and because of our historical trauma.
I would like to add, please do not abuse the word “self-care” in reference to what’s discussed in this post, and by this I mean don’t call it “self-care” if you’re only using it to get out of doing something (or everything). That’s not the message I’m trying to convey. There’s a line between being lazy and engaging in self-care, we must learn the difference. I talk about self-care and laziness in this post.
Immediate self-care is not one size fits all. We are all different so the way you choose to engage in the act of self-care may look different when compared to someone else. The trick is to make sure you’re not using the “strong black woman” syndrome to get out of taking care of yourself. There’s nothing wrong with being strong, but we can’t all be strong all the time. I read somewhere that having that mindset in addition to refusing to ask for help is a response to trauma. There’s beauty in strength but don’t kill yourself trying to prove something to others (and “others” also includes you). There’s also great deal of beauty in allowing yourself to be vulnerable and giving in to what you need when you need it. That includes asking for help. I mentioned earlier that the depth of this topic is more than what I can provide in this blog post. But I felt it was important to create a platform to write about it. Often times I have to dig deep on the internet to find information that relates to me as a black woman, but Toni Morrison said “If there’s a book that you really want to read and it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.” So that’s what I did.
My goal was to leave you with somethings to think about, and I hope I achieved. Let’s chat!
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