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This article explicitly discusses Christianity. I’m not religious nor do I strongly believe in any sort singular higher power- It is important that you note my obvious bias because of this. I won’t go into the specifics of my beliefs here, so as to stay on topic, but am happy to elaborate in separate discussions.
When is a person really, truly healthy? I am a physically fit, twenty-something with an abnormal fondness of dark green vegetables and exercising, but in spite of all this, I still don’t feel healthy. My blood pressure is far higher than it should be and I experience anxiety so strong that sometimes it makes me physically sick. As I delve deeper into the world that is my blackness, I’m finding truths connected to my stress I can never unlearn.
The tragic death of Brown Girls creator, Karyn Washington has raised the long suppressed and painful discussion of black stress and how we have learned to cope, or in many ways avoid, the roots of our stress and anxiety. It’s time we discuss new and better ways of coping with stress, because right now, black people, stress is killing us- literally.
The Root writer, Lottie L. Joiner, revealed a 2010 study with the devastating fact that black people, mainly black women, suffer from higher blood pressure, more strokes, and heart disease, all due to the higher levels of stress experienced; a lot of which stem from simply being black.
“US blacks are more likely to experience stressful situations, such as material hardship, interpersonal discrimination, structural discrimination in housing and employment, and multiple care giving roles than whites,” wrote Dr. Michelle Gourdine, author of Reclaiming Our Health: A Guide to African American Wellness.
Historically, the church has been the place to relieve stress and find community for black people. We have found power through religion, from the liberating civil rights moment of the 1960s, led by peace leader and Christian pastor, Martin Luther King Jr. to Christianity as a catalyst of strength for black slaves during a time where no other hope could be found.
Christianity has become so closely intertwined with blackness, that even the fast-growing community of non religious black people cannot help but be influenced by it. For many black people, our church is our therapy, God is our mantra and pray is our meditation, but with the building proof that stress impacts the health of black people more than other ethnic groups, perhaps religion alone is no longer enough.
It is important to note my upbringing is far from typical of not just black culture, but American culture as a whole. In the middle of the day in our homeschooling courses, my mother would have my siblings and me sit in a circle and focus on our breaths in what I later learned was a form of meditation. We attended a ‘new thought’ church that was so progressive, it was actually called ‘a spiritual center.’ For the first eight years of my life, I understood meditation and spiritualism through humanity as normal.
Then, as a preteen my family left our spiritual center to attend a more traditional church. I remember asking my father why we left a place in which I’d grown to love and find such comfort;
“You need to get the black experience,” he expressed; a response I will never forget.
At our new church we were given sermons by a self-appointed Apostle who preached the gospel of prosperity and fear of our powerful Lord and Savior. The apostle told us to ‘do good’ for our God, to be strong in the presence of evil and to not let the devil bring us down.
In some ways, it was comforting to know that no matter what, I was protected by God. But on the other hand, in spite of the strength in community that was apparent at my new church, there was an overbearing sense of loneliness in accepting God as my only protector from the countless obstacles I would undoubtedly face. Not that all black people interpret Christian teachings as I did, but as an impressionable ten year old, this was my honest evaluation.
My background is unique in that I was given two separate philosophies in the most influential times of my upbringing. I have the unique perspective of a non affiliated mentality and later- a deeply religious, Christian mind; and I’m privileged to be able to analyze the implications of such a shift.
I learned from my time as a devout Christian that in particular, black Christians are taught to hold our own. We are taught to fight like hell so that we don’t go to hell, and God will reward us with prosperity; a goal for many black people because of the fact that we are an over represented group in the working class or under the poverty line.
Due to the major influence Christianity has had on the black American community, I believe that this is true even for non-religious black people- that we either turn to God, or go within to solve our mental issues. Encroaching our issues on anyone else is a sign of weakness and instability. Often times, the furthest we move towards seeking help from our community is asking for pray, usually a request so vague as asking to be blessed in your ‘time of struggle.’
Rarely do we actually speak about our issue.
I understand that discussing religion is frequently a lost cause. People have their beliefs that are usually static, and so it goes. I am not here to challenge Christianity. In fact, I believe that no path, spiritual or religious is better or worse a path than the other- so long as that path does not harm yourself or others ( as, unfortunately, many religions do).
I am writing to propose a discussion that involves finding new ways of building mental peace and healthy mentalities for black people, that may go beyond our modern understanding of black culture so intertwined with conservative forms of Christianity: in forms of counseling, discussing our lives with trusted peers, meditation, mantras, yoga, ect..
The real issue now is that we, black people, have a detrimental communal understanding of what it means to be in control of your mind. To be really in control of ones mind is to understand that, just like the rest of our bodies, our brain needs constant maintenance. A mind in control is always present, not absent (absent in this case, meaning on default). Striving for mental health takes the sort of deliberate thinking that very few people recognize is even necessary. That is why we, as black Americans, understand the community that meditates to be a very small, elite group. I mean really, how often do you stop to think to breath?
Russell Simmons released a book recently advocating meditation for people from all walks of life. While a pioneer effort for a black man to advocate for meditation, I fear his millionaire status and lavish lifestyle may overshadow his efforts in persuading the black community that such a practice makes sense for the average person.
I used to believe that a strong mind meant I could handle anything on my own. I thought that never needing to talk to anyone about my problems meant I was resilient, a warrior of my circumstances. Holding in my emotions gave me a sense of pride. Black culture suggests a hard shell equals a sound mind, when really, a strong disposition may just be a coping mechanism for pain or stress.
So many in my community shared this belief to the point that it felt normal, expected even, to stay silent, even when I felt I might fall a part. I recognize that there is great privilege in being able to talk out your problems with a professional, but for those of us that cannot afford counseling, we must acknowledge that expressing our feelings to our peers is not a sign of weakness. Taking time out of our day to collect our thoughts does not mean we are retreating. It merely means we have made our mental health a priority- and I do hope that day comes soon for us all.
For black people, walls can kill, and so we have no choice but to break them down. An no, more silence is not the answer.
Fortunately, this difficult discussion of black stress is showing up more in our media than ever before. This piece was written simply as an additional perspective to a fresh forum that already exists, and I really hope it continues.
Fast Company recently released their 2013 “Smartest Women on Twitter” list in which you will find no, I repeat, no black women. At all. So, in honor of black-queer greatness, here’s a new series to present to you amazing, intelligent black, queer women that are smart enough to be on anyone’s “Smartest” list. These women have greatly impacted the fight towards black LGBT visibility,social justice, and all around wonderfulness- and as a nice touch, all will have Twitter accounts.
Janet Mock- Writer, Activist- Twitter/janetmock
Janet Mock is beautiful, quick, well spoken and elegant, and she is also a trans woman. She’s made a name for herself with her recent memoir. She founded the wonderful project #GirlsLikeUs that promoted diverse visibility of all trans women. She is board member of Arcus Foundation ( global foundation for social justice and conservation) as well as an advisor at Hetrick-Martin Institute for trans youth. Mock wrote a memoir called Redefining Realness: My Path to Womanhood, Identity, Love & So Much More, set to be published February 2014. In 2012, She was named one of The Grio’s top 100 Most Influential People in the African American Community. Janet was featured in Marie Claire and opened up about her many struggles and successes as a powerful trans woman.
Check out this inspirational interview in which Janet discusses her journey from a being born a boy named Charles, into how she became the strong woman she is today.
Ever pass those “nude” colored stockings meant for alabaster complexions, watch the ever-so-typical Black rappers with their music videos in which they only include fairer-skinned Black women as their “dime pieces” (while offensive in many other ways, still a low blow to dark-skinned women), put on one of those damned “skin-toned” band aids that forever clash against dark brown, paper-cut ridden fingers, and think “Being white is awesome?” Well, I can tell you there are about a bah-trillion young, black girls that probably obsessed on that very thought. Dark Girls, a documentary that recently aired on Own, introduces this phenomenon of desired whiteness to a nation that overwhelmingly, didn’t even realize this was a thing. In case you’re still wondering though…Yep, it’s a thing.
I used to be one of those dark girls. As a preteen I remember searching online for ways to lighten my skin. I saved up my well-earned allowance to buy skin lightening creams meant for dark, under-eye circles or minor discolorations. I would wish and dream and hope for the day I could be just a few shades lighter, because lighter, to me then, equaled beauty. Whiter was better. Now a proud Black, out, queer, I’m faced with a new element of dark-girl-hating. What’s that you ask? Well, apparently, Black women are scientifically the ugliest women ever in the world. Wonderful. In 2011, evolutionary psychologist Satoshi Kanazawa conducted a study that found Black women to be the least attractive of all races. There was immediate backlash from a number of media outlets claiming Kanazawa’s study had a racially biased undertone, forcing him to remove his article from Psychology Today.
However, let’s move to the far less high-brow study from OKCupid’s blog to show that Kanazawa’s study may have been more of a reflection of America’s ideas of attraction that we like to let on. OkCupid has been a miniature savior for the queer community with it’s fresh and new ways of pairing up mates, with a clientele of supposedly progressive, well-educated young folks. But their study posted recently on how race affects the frequency OkCupid users get messaged shows clearly Black women don’t get too much love on the interwebs. It also showed that Black women respond almost two times more than the average, exemplifying Black women as far less selective than their non-Black female counterparts. In the predictable, non-twist of the century, the study also showed that white women and white men overwhelming showed interest in each other, while Asian and Latino people also preferred white OkCupiders.
And you wonder why little Black girls think whiter is better?
That, my friends is white privilege. I recently spoke with a close friend about being told that I “acted white,” and not being quite sure what “acting white” meant. To that she responded that she didn’t even see me as Black. Wait, what now? I was baffled by the implications of her statement. To say that you do not see my Blackness in a positive sense is to imply that Blackness is negative and therefore best left unnoticeable.
Being color blind in a symbolic sense does not make you racially conscious, but does just the opposite. Unless you are actually color blind (which only .4% of women are, by the way) then you see color, and you see Blackness. We do exist. Consciousness is the barrier between non-minority women and women of color that often goes unnoticed. Women of color forever look through a tinted lense where quite frankly, anything can be made to be seen from a racial standpoint. Dating as a Black queer means that you must unapologetically flaunt your minority flag.This means that you don’t have the privilege of forgetting what skin you’re in because whether you like it or not, Black skin comes with a little thing I like to call stereotypes. I mean, when you have to school a beautiful woman on why you feel weird eating watermelons, it tends to be a wee- bit of a damper on your lady-lovin’ parade.
I have encountered many women whom I found very attractive that after my advances, quickly express how they’re “ not into Black girls,” or as my witty, queer pal Nichelle puts it “not down with the brown.” I hate to use race here, because — let’s be real — sometimes a girl is just not that into me. It happens to the best of us. But as a Black queer, a woman’s openness to dating brown (race) is always a factor for me. My goal is not to only date other Black women or queers, as many would argue should be my plan of action anyway to avoid discrimination (though some Black women don’t even like dating other Black women). I look for other conscious queers of any race; queers who recognize their white privilege, or their ability to blend in white privilege (meaning minority women who blend effortlessly into whiteness though they may not be white-identified) and have made the active decision to see through an all-inclusive lense.
The question arises as to whether being unconscious to Blackness makes you racist. Mhmm, let me take a second on that. Yes…yes it does. In this modern day, progressing 2013 society, no queer (who are also minorities in our heteronormative society!) should be ignorant or forgetful of any other minorities within their community. The excuse of being raised conservatively is no longer acceptable. This idea parallels closely to the feminist fight in the United States, prevailing so strongly in the 1970s, in which women expressed the need for men to also claim feminism as it was a community effort, not just women’s war against our patriarchal society. Males are needed in the feminist fight if for nothing else, simply for their consciousness of women’s oppressions in the U.S. because if they are unconscious, as the majority, they would weaken women’s progression. For example, men that actively recognize women’s issues as significant would never argue against women’s birth control. In the LGBTQ community, white queers conscious of Black and minority queers, especially queers within lower income communities, would recognize the fact the Black queers living in poverty are probably not positively affected by the grand news of DOMA’s downfall, because they’re dealing with other classist or racial discriminations beyond DOMA. For example, imagine a young black queer living in the conservative south with low income and few queer-minded allies that has just come out to those close to them. Say that black queer is shunned by their family and forced to live on their own in the streets.The last thing on their mind will be the fact that they may one day be able to marry legally. This isn’t just a thought, it’s a real phenomenon for so many young minorities of the LGBT community.
Non- black queers conscious of black issues are able to work as advocates in queer discussions, and allies amongst the black queer community. They are able to speak on minority issues with a level of knowledge that may break that awkward line we cross when discussing race. Race relations are often avoided in discussions, even by the most liberal of queers, because of fear of offending or saying something inaccurate about a community you aren’t a part of. The crazy irony is our fear of offending only leads to more offense, because we wallow in ignorance in hopes of “playing it safe.” So next time you have a question for your queer, black friend, lover or otherwise about why their hair is so kinky, or where that stereotype came from that black people love chicken (Fun fact; I was raised vegan) , or even what Dark Girls and this whole dark-skinned/light-skinned thing is about, don’t be afraid to ask. No matter how offensive you think it might be, go for it. Because as queer weirdos in this hetero-normative world, we’re all in this together.
First Published 7/21/13
After killing an unarmed teenage boy whom he provoked, Zimmerman roams free. This is a truth of our nation. Though I assure you, this is not a truth our nation will pride itself in when we look back on history. My loved ones cried and I tried to comfort them in the midst of a storm that I knew all too well would come. I didn’t cry.Not because I felt nothing, but because the horrid truth of the matter is I was not remotely surprised. Zimmerman’s verdict only validated thoughts I have had for years, unable to unthink them because they’re all around me every day. Racism is real, injustice is real, and the worst part is, our culture has evolved into one that likes to ignore this fact.
Racism is no longer in the style of the KKK; blatant and disgustingly obvious. It is now hidden in our drug laws, and our justice system.
We live in a world where five teenage boys of black and Hispanic descent can be wrongfully charged with the murder and rape of Trisha Meili, the Central Park Jogger based on far less evidence than Zimmerman’s case. In an America where black boys and young men are stopped and frisked each day on the basis of “seeming suspicious.” In this same world we live in, a man named George Zimmerman shot an unarmed black teenager and is released on the grounds of self defense. We dare call this United States a “post-racial” society? It’s harder to see the prejudice when we have come so far as a nation. Optimistically, look at the improvement from separate schools and water fountains to a black president. You can’t deny improvements there. But to say that we live in a post-racial society in a world with Trayvon Martin, is a complete and utter lie. Racism is no longer in the style of the KKK; blatant and disgustingly obvious. It is now hidden in our drug laws, and our justice system.
The majority white, female jury should not be blamed for their decision, as they are not in control of the justice system that chose them, but had they at all been exposed to varieties of blackness, they may not have assumed such aggression from Trayvon in his attempt to defend himself from Zimmerman. This interview with Jury B-37 (who has since signed a book deal, by the way) makes it clear the tone of the majority of her fellow jurors was Zimmerman as victim, Martin as aggressor (See interview Below).
According to her logic, any time a teenager of “suspicious” descent walks in the dark in their own parent’s neighborhood with, dare I say- iced tea, skittles, skinny jeans and a tight hoodie,-don’t hesitate to practice your racism and kill them to “protect yourself,” since this teen is of course a natural threat for simply existing in their presence.We cannot pretend this is not racial. It is racial, in the loudest, most epic fashion. Because it illustrates the fact that young black men must expect to be assumed criminals in our society, without so much as one crime done.
According to Geraldo Rivera, the absurdity of the previous statement is completely validated. Apparently, it’s necessary for black young men to refrain from dressing in any attire that is at all associated with “gangsters.” Is that gangsters, Rivera, or dressing in our societies perception of blackness? For the record, these graphic photos show Trayvon Martin lying dead at the scene of the crime, dressed in an undersized hoodie and khaki skinny jeans. If you have ever come across a “gangster” with khaki skinny jeans, please inform me at once, because there must also be a leprechaun and small bucket of gold by a rainbow nearby. The sad fact is, the way Trayvon was dressed should not have been a factor. It should not be acceptable to assume that if a black man is wearing baggy pants, it’s somehow okay to profile him as a threat.
Are we really saying that if Trayvon Martin was Trevor Martin, a 6’2, 160 pound white teenage boy with iced tea and skittles khaki skinny jeans, that Zimmerman would have found this young, white, boy threatening? Would he have felt his life were in danger? I’m going to take a hunch and say that’s a definite no. This same tone rears it’s ugly head in laws like stop-and-risk, in which innocent young men are criminalized for appearing to cops to be possible criminals. Our drug war practices the same tone in which studies show that while blacks and whites consume almost equal amounts of marijuana, blacks are four times more likely to be arrested for pot possession.. I suppose they just look more criminal.
We are not a country that should stand for injustice. With the results of this Zimmerman trial, we as a country made the statement that it is OK to profile based on race. We should expect it. To that I say no. If Trayvon were alive today, he would be the same age as my brother. Almost two years ago, my brother could have been Trayvon. Tomorrow, my brother could be Trayvon. And I don’t know about you, but that just doesn’t sit right. Justice for all means justice for Trayvon, and in this case, he got none. Until justice is won, I am Trayvon. And for any American that believes in justice for all, you are Trayvon, too.
I was eight years old and my two sisters and I where “helping” my mom do her weekly grocery shopping. You know, how eight year old’s “help” by sneaking biased- candy-based-food products into the cart and hoping mom doesn’t notice until the cashier swipes it at check-out. Well we were in the isle with all the cereal and such, and we passed by a lovely dark skinned woman that seemed quite excited to see us. She stopped my mom and her eyes brightened as she gleamed,
“You have such beautiful little girls!”
My sisters and I puffed up until the woman continued,
“Are you all mixed with something? Especially the young one she is very light.So pretty.”
Stop right there. It was as if the woman implied that my light-skinned sister was the prettiest because she was lighter than my sister and me. It was as if she only complimented us in the first place because we might have been mixed with something other than black.As if the non-black part of ourselves was what made us so pretty. Light-skinned, a term thrown around the black community quite often with usually positive undertones. It is the sad, sad light-skinned/dark-skinned dichotomy that the new film “Dark Girls” builds itself.
Dark Girls originally premiered at the Toronto Film Festival and after great reviews and grapevine chatter, made it’s way to OWN. The dark-skinned/ light skinned dichotomy is an issue that stems all the way back to the slavery, where the light-skinned slaves where deemed “good enough” to work in the house while the dark-skinned slaves were left to tend the fields. Over four hundred years later, the black community is still dealing with the backlash of this value system, and Dark Girls takes on the the difficult job of introducing this struggle to a nation that doesn’t seem to notice this is even a thing.We live in a society where black skin is scientifically the most unattractive of all the races, a society where an all American girl is quickly presumed to be blonde and blue. Of course it’s not surprising young girls of the darker persuasion feel like outsiders.
I was one of those girls. As a preteen I remember searching online for ways to lighten my skin. I saved up my well-earned allowance to buy skin lightening creams meant for dark, under eye circles or minor discolorations. I would wish and dream and hope for the day I could be just a few shades lighter. I wasn’t bullied because of my skin color and it wasn’t even mentioned or discussed. No, it was the subliminal messages of our society, those little tiny signs in our everyday lives that tell us that white is better. The “nude” colored stockings meant for alabaster complexions, black rappers with their music videos in which they only include fairer-skinned black women as their “dime pieces” (while offensive in many other ways, still a low blow to dark-skinned women), those damned “skin tone” band aids that forever clash against my dark brown, paper-cut ridden fingers. Our society is white-centric, and as Dark Girls mentioned, this is not just a black issue. There are far too many non-white societies of our world that face this desire to be more and more pale.
The United States are the monarch of media for all of the world and as such, we have a responsibility to stop with the Euro-centric representations of beauty. Yes, it’s too ambitious to assume that the U.S. has the power to completely alter the world’s ideas of beauty. Many of our concepts of beauty are biological and therefore innate. However, let’s be mindful of the power of media. Subliminal messaging is a real thing. Dark skinned,young black girls that don’t even know the term “subliminal messaging” know to pick the white doll over the black one. That, my friends, is not innate, that is learned.
So call me greedy but I found myself wanting more of this. Dark Girls began a conversation our nation should have started a while ago and we should use it as a catalyst for more discussion. I do feel the black community is quite aware of shade preferences, and I’m extremely thankful for this film for bringing it to the attention of non-black people that may have been in the dark, so to speak. I must say, I am proud of my skin now. I’m beyond the wish of being white because I feel special and different in this skin now, rather than an unattractive outsider. But there are many young girls out there that are nowhere near as comfortable. We’ve gotta help them out. I wonder, were you aware of the dark-skinned dilemma before learning about this film? I’d love to know your thoughts!