Take Care: Notes on the Black (Academic) Women's Health Forum

November 12, 2012
By

By Aimee Meredith Cox, Aishah Shahidah Simmons and Tamura A. Lomax

With every piece I read, I felt like a layer of my skin was being pulled back, like more and more was finally revealed. I’ve spent so many years on the margins of this institution that I got used to making myself invisible, on purpose. I am seeing myself again. I will demand to be seen. Thank you. ~ Anonymous supporter of the Black (Academic) Women’s Health forum

Contrary to what many might envision or hope, the academy is a microcosm of the society that we all inhabit. For too many Black women, the academy is neither a safe nor sacred space.  Over the past two weeks, The Feminist Wire hosted a forum on Black (Academic) Women’s Health.  In those two weeks, the 26-featured pieces garnered 524 new likes and reached over 66,000 readers.  And, perhaps, most important, each article chiseled a much needed verse into what one Black feminist[1] referred to as a “Black Feminist Book of Psalms,” thus transforming our individual traumas into sacred texts that courageously spoke our truths while promising to commence what Audre Lorde referred to as “political warfare”: intentional, individual and concerted acts of self-care (in all its forms) going forward.

We exhaled into each “peace” and they breathed back into us.  We let the world know loud and clear: WE WANT TO BE WELL!  WE WILL BE WELL!! 

The words summoned in this forum traced trajectories that certainly implicated the peculiarities of the academy.  Simultaneously, they knotted up threads of silence, exclusion, illness, sexism, denigration, homophobia, racism…and still, fierce determination, collective healing and self-love.  Taken as a whole these articles—our voices, our truths—blanket every crevice, tightens every corner, and narrows every interstice within Black women’s lives.

The aggregate response to the forum was overwhelming.  However, individual responses from colleagues, friends and readers—from undergraduate students to full professors—struck us to the core.  What a powerful reminder of the vital importance of telling deeply personal stories that transcend the anecdotal to provide evidence of enduring structural oppressions!  With each narrative, each calling out, each naming of a “taken for granted” injustice, came the thorny dissolution of ossified cantankerous layers, each of which representing some aspect of the status quo.  “More and more was finally revealed”—about ourselves and the institutions we occupy…and that occupy us.

To be sure, Black (Academic) Women’s Health was right on time.  We are certain this was not lost on the writers or readers.  The authors wrote in the midst of one of the most vehemently contested presidential elections in the history of the United States.  Race, gender, sexuality and citizenship were, as always, on the table wrapped tightly in overtly racist, sexist, misogynistic and heterosexist rhetoric, dangerously translatable to dehumanizing policies and real life tragedies.  Women’s bodies – Black women’s bodies in particular – were and are at stake, again.  And, debates over reproductive health, the responsibility of the state, and welfare policy (just for starters), are the not so novel ways we are ALL challenged to define and redefine what it means to be not just citizens, but human.

The Black feminist tradition is and has always been designed for this very moment.  Black feminists, dating back to the fearless pre-Sojourner Truth women, lived fully so that we could survive.  They put their lives and bodies on the line so that we could recognize how threats to our collective humanity often show up in the guise of daily micro-aggressions and overt oppressions–against our well being.  The reflections, poetic musings and critical analyses in these 26 Psalms walk audaciously in the footsteps of our phenomenal foremothers.  They are…love in action.  Collectively and individually, they unearthed a creative sphere where cooperative works towards justice, truth seeking and speaking, deep self and communal love, and empowerment might be realized among Black women.

To this end, this life-giving exchange revealed something more: Black women thrive in loving communities seeking and doing collective action.  Our cyberspace community became holy ground for Black women to unapologetically call out dis-ease in higher ed. institutions—and between and within ourselves.  Alas!  The sacred space we’ve been searching for was born in community—among ourselves, not without.  It is true, we are indeed the one’s we’ve been waiting for.

These kinds of communities significantly depart from those that cross-pollinate and too often maintain the status quo in the university system. Sites like The Crunk Feminist Collective, Racialicious, TFW, and others, provide immediate loci from which we can connect, commune, share our stories quickly, organize, raise hell if we have to…and almost instantaneously receive healing from a critically loving amen chorus. Make no mistake about it, women centered cyber communities are vital.  And Black women centered cyber (and otherwise) communities are paramount.  We need them to survive.  And we especially need them while navigating the university system.  But more importantly, we need them because we want to be well.

And “our work can’t be healthier than we are.”~Aishah Shahidah Simmons

The past two weeks have been nothing short of transformative. We revealed our darkest hearts and highest aspirations in the midst of a merciless storm and vitriolic political election.  Still, the words of our forum participants reverberated loud and strong from person to person and community to community.  The rippling echoes of our forceful ensemble of voices were not extraneous in the least.  No.  This ringing—loud, sharp and biting as it was—was intrinsically tied to context.

We live in a political economy where we are continuously faced with matters of life and death.  The university system, the same place where we get paid to think and give birth to new ideas, is a reflection of that economy.  Still, we want to be well!  We refuse to continue sacrificing our literal lives for the sake of academic or any work.  So for the sake of our mental, emotional, psychological, psychic and physical selves, we will not continue to give our innate power away–as a result of various forms of vicious and atrocious forms oppression.  We.  Won’t.  Do.  It.  The work that we must carry on has to be rooted in our own self-care and holistic health.  Otherwise, it is not our work.

So we leave you with this:

Reminding you

Sister

It’s okay to rest your feet

from battles

But lay in gardens

warmed by sun

Not in spreading deserts

near convenient wells. ~ Audre Lorde

OOO

Take care of yourself. No. Really. Take care. We need you.

 

We hope to follow the Black (Academic)Women’s Health forum with other collective works and forums on health and well-being. We have several ideas in mind.  Please continue to send us your recommendations and comments in this regard.

Finally, we would like to thank TFW community for supporting this forum.  We’d also like to thank TFW Collective for meticulously laboring over every single sign, symbol and signification in the submission pool.   And a special thanks to our online comrades and other allies at The Crunk Feminist Collective, Racialicious, Sociologists for Women in Society and The OpEd Project.  A thousand thanks for cross posting, forwarding and generally spreading the word about this forum.

 

With Love,

Aimee Meredith Cox, Aishah Shahidah Simmons and Tamura A. Lomax

(With support from The Feminist Wire Collective)

 

Below are links to all of the “peaces” from the forum:

  1. Black (Academic) Women’s Health: To Be in Context  by Tressie McMillan Cottom
  2. Can I Live? by Analena Hope
  3. Under Ivory-Tower Eyes: Influence of Womanist Warriors as Public Intellectuals by Lindah Mhando
  4. The Shape of My Impact by Alexis Pauline Gumbs
  5. Good Night Women by Evie Shockley
  6. I’m Exhausted but I Do Want to Be Well: Raising Womanish Girls, the Performance of Mothering and Wading in Murky Waters by Melva L. Sampson
  7. With Audre as My Guide: Teaching and Surviving in Post Katrina New Orleans by Sandra E. Weissinger
  8. Occupying Myself: Resisting the Colonial Voices Within and Accepting My Heaviness by Erin “Mari” Morales-Williams
  9. It’s Not The Load That Breaks You Down; It’s The Way You Carry It by Kamilah Aisha Moon
  10. It is not worth the grief: A recovering work addict tries to model self-care by J. Victoria Sanders
  11. Out of the Shadows: A Conversation with Evelyn C. White by Monica J. Casper
  12. Black, Female and Buddhist in Academia: Threats to Wellness and Opportunities for Healing by Kamilah Majied
  13. Should-ing All Over Ourselves by Koritha Mitchell
  14. Dead Center by LeConté J. Dill
  15. Black Women, Black Criticism, and the Unremovable Veil of Jezebel  by  Tamura A. Lomax
  16. Ballet Macabre  by Traci-Ann Wint
  17. Ten to Twelve Days by Liz A.
  18. A Black Academic Woman’s Self-Care Manifesto by Erica Lorraine Williams
  19. On My Terms: A Personal Reflection and Declaration for Being Well by Khahlia Sanders
  20. Black (Academic) Women’s Health – A Graduate Student’s Perspective by Whitney Laster
  21. Sojourner Truth Meets Medusa: Toward a Fulbright Revisioning of the Black Woman Academic’s Inheritance of “Doin Too Much” by Teresa Gilliams, Ph.D.
  22. The Frenemy Project by  Catherine Packer-Williams  and Wendi Williams
  23. “Is That Healthy?” Experiences of Microagressions by Black Women at Historically Black Institutions by Marcia Allen Owens
  24. I Ain’t Your Girl: Controlling Identities and Acts of Isolation in the Academy by Shannon Gibney & Anonymous
  25. Hanging up the Cape: Practicing the Ethic of Self Care by Natalie T. J. Tindall and Markesha S. McWilliams
  26. Subversive Self-Care: Centering Black Women’s Wellness by Shanesha Brooks-Tatum

[1] H/t to Brittney Cooper from The Crunk Feminist Collective.

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8 Responses to Take Care: Notes on the Black (Academic) Women's Health Forum

  1. Koritha Mitchell on November 12, 2012 at 4:56 pm

    First, CONGRATULATIONS on an extraordinarily robust, successful forum! “Black Feminist Book of Psalms”–Yes, that sounds about right to me! So, THANK YOU for creating this forum and addressing these important issues. As you say here, these various online spaces have indeed proven to be life-sustaining. They exemplify our determination to use the new tools at our disposal to continue the traditions of those who came before us. I am honored that my essay was allowed to join such amazing company. And it has been a real gift to hear from people, both publicly and privately, that my piece helped them (re)commit to being good to themselves, not just to everyone else.

    Humbled & truly encouraged,
    Koritha

  2. Koritha Mitchell on November 12, 2012 at 4:56 pm

    First, CONGRATULATIONS on an extraordinarily robust, successful forum! “Black Feminist Book of Psalms”–Yes, that sounds about right to me! So, THANK YOU for creating this forum and addressing these important issues. As you say here, these various online spaces have indeed proven to be life-sustaining. They exemplify our determination to use the new tools at our disposal to continue the traditions of those who came before us. I am honored that my essay was allowed to join such amazing company. And it has been a real gift to hear from people, both publicly and privately, that my piece helped them (re)commit to being good to themselves, not just to everyone else.

    Humbled & truly encouraged,
    Koritha

  3. Koritha Mitchell on November 12, 2012 at 4:56 pm

    First, CONGRATULATIONS on an extraordinarily robust, successful forum! “Black Feminist Book of Psalms”–Yes, that sounds about right to me! So, THANK YOU for creating this forum and addressing these important issues. As you say here, these various online spaces have indeed proven to be life-sustaining. They exemplify our determination to use the new tools at our disposal to continue the traditions of those who came before us. I am honored that my essay was allowed to join such amazing company. And it has been a real gift to hear from people, both publicly and privately, that my piece helped them (re)commit to being good to themselves, not just to everyone else.

    Humbled & truly encouraged,
    Koritha

  4. Koritha Mitchell on November 12, 2012 at 4:56 pm

    First, CONGRATULATIONS on an extraordinarily robust, successful forum! “Black Feminist Book of Psalms”–Yes, that sounds about right to me! So, THANK YOU for creating this forum and addressing these important issues. As you say here, these various online spaces have indeed proven to be life-sustaining. They exemplify our determination to use the new tools at our disposal to continue the traditions of those who came before us. I am honored that my essay was allowed to join such amazing company. And it has been a real gift to hear from people, both publicly and privately, that my piece helped them (re)commit to being good to themselves, not just to everyone else.

    Humbled & truly encouraged,
    Koritha

  5. Crystal Fleming on November 13, 2012 at 6:59 pm

    Thank you once again for this fabulous forum! I am so grateful for the energy, strategies, stories and ideas that were shared here and I hope we’ll continue to share with each other.

    Warm wishes,
    Crystal

  6. Crystal Fleming on November 13, 2012 at 6:59 pm

    Thank you once again for this fabulous forum! I am so grateful for the energy, strategies, stories and ideas that were shared here and I hope we’ll continue to share with each other.

    Warm wishes,
    Crystal

  7. Crystal Fleming on November 13, 2012 at 6:59 pm

    Thank you once again for this fabulous forum! I am so grateful for the energy, strategies, stories and ideas that were shared here and I hope we’ll continue to share with each other.

    Warm wishes,
    Crystal

  8. Crystal Fleming on November 13, 2012 at 6:59 pm

    Thank you once again for this fabulous forum! I am so grateful for the energy, strategies, stories and ideas that were shared here and I hope we’ll continue to share with each other.

    Warm wishes,
    Crystal

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