Self-Care: A Form of Activism

Path to Beach“Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.” – Audrey Lorde

We are in the midst of troubling times and it’s not clear when we will get relief. In my last post I talked about the trauma many of us are experiencing in response to the killing of black and brown people in the US. After I shared my post, many of us witnessed the shooting of 11 people, most of whom were police officers, by a black man who stated that he was angry at police and white people, and seemingly fed up by the frequent and disproportional killings of black people by police. This has heightened already elevated tensions between black people and police. No matter where you fall in the context of this debate, as black people it is essential that we take care of ourselves during these trying times. Continue reading “Self-Care: A Form of Activism”

Trauma: The Effect of Police Violence

Noblesville elite policmen conduct live fire shoot house training at Camp Atterbury, Ind.I have to admit that I felt numb when I learned about Alton Sterling being killed by police in Louisiana. Emotional numbness is an understandable response to being overloaded with emotionally difficult information. Numbness occurs when our body and brain decide to conserve our energy and emotional resources by limiting our response. When I read the news about Philando Castile being murdered in Minneapolis the numbness could no longer hold. I think we all are feeling a complex combination of emotions including: anger, rage, fear, sadness, exhaustion, heartbreak, denial, and hopelessness. All of these feelings are understandable; none should be judged.

So what is happening? Why are we reacting so strongly? Why is there an outpouring of emotion on social media following yet another police murder? My answer: we are being traumatized. Continue reading “Trauma: The Effect of Police Violence”

Sankofa: Drawing Strength from Our Ancestors

Sankofa is a Ghanaian term that signifies the importance of drawing on our past in order to move forward. While some of the current struggles that we experience as black women are unique to our time, there are similarities to the challenges that our female ancestors faced. I believe that reflecting on the strengths and experiences of black women who came before us can give us insights into how to endure what we face today. In particular, one common challenge involves balancing our identities as women and black people in a social environment that often pushes us to prioritize one identity over another. In this post, I will review the experiences of three black women and highlight the lessons we can draw from their lives.

Sojourner Truth

In her famous speech “Ar’n’t I a Woman?” Truth argues that women and men should be treated equally because they can perform the same tasks as men and at times endure more than them. In her argument she calls upon her experiences from slavery saying that she has “plowed, and planted, and gathered into barns, and no man could head me.”[1] In this statement she is countering a common narrative about women being feeble and arguing that we are just as capable as men.

Lessons from Sojourner Truth: Assert Your Value

It is important for us to acknowledge and assert our strengths. Truth gave that speech in 1851 and unfortunately, the need to articulate the value of black women continues today. I encourage you to be outspoken about what you can do as a black woman. Whether you’re taking the lead as an organizer, negotiating for a raise or higher salary, or making sure you get appropriate acknowledgment for supporting your family, don’t shy away from highlighting your strengths. Let’s strive to communicate our value with finesse and grace so that others can hear and acknowledge what we bring to the table.

[2] In spite of this, Height advocated for the voices of women and young people to be heard. In addition to her unique position as a female leader in the civil rights movement, Height was unusual in her explicit push for women’s rights.

Lessons from Dorothy Height: Advocate for Your Rights as a Woman

We should not be ashamed or afraid of advocating for our rights as a women. While Height’s legacy is not adequately captured in many history books, she did have an important impact on the world. Remember that whatever you are doing to further the rights of black women whether that be speaking out on social media, marching, or asserting yourself at your job, your efforts are significant and you too are helping to pave the way for future generations of black women. Valuing yourself and your work helps to relieve feelings of stress and hopelessness.

Alice Walker
Photo Credit: The American Library Association (License)

Alice Walker

Alice Walker (the author of the The Color Purple) has rebelled against the idea of suppressing her female identity and defined herself through her personal pain and struggle rather than through the pain and struggle of the men in her life. In her powerful poem “On Stripping Bark from Myself”Alice Walker fights against the idea that Black women should have to live for the other people in their lives instead of pursuing their own dreams.

Lessons from Alice Walker: Be Your Own Woman

I encourage you to read the poem linked above and just sit with the feelings it stirs in you. Through this poem and other writings, Walker pushes us to think about what we want for ourselves. To take a step back, look at our lives, and examine whether we are really living for ourselves or simply motivated by fulfilling the desires of our loved ones. I encourage you to follow Walker’s lead, consider how you spend most your time and whether or not at least some of the things you do bring you joy. If not, it may be time to change something to make sure that the life you are living is your own.

Concluding Thoughts 

I highlight the great work and accomplishments of these women not as signals that we need to do more but as encouragement that the efforts of black women make a significant difference. We can see that today as black women are leading the contemporary efforts to change policing and advocating for human rights for black people. I hope that the lives and work of the women who came before us will serve as reminders that what we do is important even if it is not acknowledged by the people surrounding us right now.

[1] Gates, Henry Louis Jr., Nellie Y. McKay, editors. 2004. The Norton Anthology of African American Literature. Sojourner Truth, “Ar’n’t I a Woman?” 248 p.

[2] Height, Dorothy. “‘We wanted the voice of a woman to be heard’ Black Women in the 1963 March on Washington.” Sisters in the Struggle: African American Women in the Civil Rights-Black Power Movement. Ed. Bettye Collier-Thomas, V.P. Franklin. (New York: New York University Press, 2001), 86 p.

Why Go to Therapy?

IMG_0516It was my third year of graduate school and my occasional anxiety was becoming more pervasive. At the start of grad school I committed myself to finishing in 5 years; the pressure to meet this goal came to a head as I tried to balance my classes, clinical training, research and teaching assistance-ships, and work on my own research. My thoughts were racing, my stomach was frequently upset, and I was exhausted so I decided to go to therapy to get help. I have to admit that it was easier for me to take this step than it is for many people; I had access to low-cost therapy at my university’s counseling center, I was surrounded by clinical psychologists who affirmed the utility of going to therapy, and both of my parents are clinical psychologists (I know!). I am writing this post and doing this blog in part because I have experienced the power of therapy – as a client and a clinician – and I know that for many black women therapy does not seem like an option or something that could help.  Continue reading “Why Go to Therapy?”

Black Women and Stress

IMG_0372Being at the intersection of blackness and womanhood comes with unique stressors and pressures. One important step towards positive mental health is acknowledging the things that make life more difficult for us and then engaging in coping strategies to address this stress. This post will share an overview of unique challenges that black women contend with; many of these topics will be explored in depth in future blog posts. I grouped these stressors into a few common categories and include suggested coping mechanisms. Continue reading “Black Women and Stress”