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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 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:
It’s okay to rest your feet
But lay in gardens
warmed by sun
Not in spreading deserts
near convenient wells. ~ Audre Lorde
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.
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:
 H/t to Brittney Cooper from The Crunk Feminist Collective.