I’m sure most of you have seen Jesse Williams’s powerful acceptance speech after winning the Humanitarian Award at the BET Awards on Sunday (6/26/16). He made two statements that I want to address in this post and both speak to the experiences of black women.
“Just because we’re magic doesn’t mean we’re not real”
#BlackGirlMagic has been a wonderful; it empowers black women to embrace our power, beauty, strength, and ability to make something out of nothing. It is inspiring to look through the #BlackGirlMagic Tweets, Instagram, and Facebook posts and feel affirmed and inspired by other black women and proud of being a black woman. And, what William’s captured in his speech was the importance of recognizing that being magical does not make us any less real. As black women we bleed, hurt, feel pain, get anxious, depressed, and stressed like all other humans. “Don’t air your dirty laundry” has been a prevailing directive in the black community. This mandate was aimed at countering the negative portrayals of black people in order to help prevent violence and discrimination against us. However, we are still being treated poorly and continue to be portrayed in dehumanizing ways. One negative consequence of believing it is unacceptable to show signs of vulnerability or suffering is that some of us have internalized ideas that experiencing depression, anxiety, mood swings, etc. means that we are weak or worthless. In response, we feel shame about the difficult aspects of our human experience and are less likely to seek the help and support we need.
When was the last time you experienced a difficult emotion? Was it a break up? Losing your job or being passed over for a promotion? Your child acting out or being hurt? Learning that a close family member is not well? Whatever caused the emotional difficulty, think about how you responded to this experience. Did you suppress the emotions that arose and try to move forward like nothing was wrong? Did you get overwhelmed by what you were feeling and do something that you regretted later?
With the exception of anger, Black women are often socialized not to express our emotions. Many of us were scolded if we cried or showed that we were upset as children. There may not have been room to express our frustration or disagreements with parents or siblings in a healthy way. As we got older people we dated may have communicated that our emotional responses were not okay. In addition to those experiences, we may have been traumatized by emotional, physical, or sexual abuse. All of these things can cause us to have a complicated relationship with our emotions. Continue reading “4 Healthy Ways to Respond to Emotions”→
Anxiety is one of the most common mental health concerns that people experience and black women are no exception. The pressures that black women face related to handling responsibilities at work and home, with family and friends can lead to anxiety. Feeling like you have to work twice as hard to be recognized or that you have to do everything perfectly for fear that a mistake will not only reflect badly on you but on the entire race is anxiety provoking. Further, worrying about your physical and emotional safety and weathering the jabs of microagressions is exhausting and can lead us to be on edge. While anxiety is an understandable response to these difficult circumstances, it is associated with increases in cortisol (stress hormone), which can cause our bodies to function poorly over time. Understanding our anxiety and learning to manage it while we work to change the systems and circumstances that make us more likely to experience stress is essential for our health and well being. Continue reading “Understanding & Managing Anxiety”→
I felt emotionally distressed while watching Confirmation, which re-tells the story of the hearing on Anita Hill’s accusations that Clarence Thomas sexually harassed her. I was angered while watching the all-white, all male, senate judiciary committee imply that Hill’s story was untrue because she did not express a formal complaint sooner. I cringed at seeing black women protesting Anita Hill because we have been socialized to protect and support our black men, even at the cost of the well being of ourselves and our sisters. I was frustrated with the implication that because some people had positive experiences with Clarence Thomas, this meant that there was no way he could do something harmful. Overall, I was saddened as I was reminded of how common it is for sexual harassment to be dismissed as insignificant and how often we as women are forced to grin and bear it in order to keep our jobs, our reputations, and ourselves safe. Continue reading “Confirmation: Lessons about Sexual Harassment from Anita Hill’s Story”→
The last time I was really depressed was in response to a break up; unexpected heartbreak sent me into a depressive episode that took a few months to pass. I was crying frequently, my appetite was low and I started to lose weight, I’m usually an outgoing and sociable person but I didn’t want to spend time with my friends, my energy and mood were low, and I felt sad most of the time.
Sometimes depression comes in response to a difficult experience like a break up, the loss of a friendship, or a loved one passing away. Other times, depression emerges unexpectedly and without a clear trigger. No matter what prompts depression, it seems to roll in like a heavy thundercloud, weighing on us, making the air thick and hard to move through, blocking out the sun and warmth, and causing us to question what life was like without this cloud of depression and to wonder whether whether this storm will ever pass. Continue reading “Black Women & Depression: Signs & Strategies”→
Boundaries are important. I’m not talking about defensive walls or impenetrable barriers. I’m talking about the things that allow you to know what your limits are, what types of relationships you are comfortable with, and how far you are willing to go in various situations. As black women we may vacillate between having boundaries that let everything and everyone in and putting up emotionally concrete walls for protection. This dynamic reflects the tension that many of us feel between wanting to be loved and cared for and feeling the need to proactively or re-actively defend ourselves against being hurt emotionally. Unfortunately, too many of us have experienced the pain of heartbreak and betrayal that prompt us to build emotional walls which may be moderately successful at keeping us from getting hurt again but also prevent us from experiencing joy and connection. Continue reading “Establishing Healthy Boundaries”→
Silent suffering wears on the soul. It starts with quieting the cry that wants to leap from your throat threatening to expose your pain and vulnerability. We tell ourselves we are protecting our loved ones from worrying about us or needing to step up and support us as we support them. Silent suffering continues with self-denial; judging and questioning ourselves for feeling upset, hurt, disappointed, because “we should have known better” than to get our hopes up for love, acceptance, and affirmation. Eventually, it becomes hard to connect with the parts of ourselves that are soft and vulnerable, the parts of ourselves that need love and tenderness. Silent suffering wears on the soul. Continue reading “4 Ways to Stop Silent Suffering”→