By Joyce Hounkanrin •
What is embedded in the language of Black women? What belongs exclusively within our mouths? Briefly translated, there are secrets we have transported from the Middle Passage and kept secreted beneath our tongues; in the folds of our spirits; in the curves of our smiles; and in the salt of our tears. Our language is revealed in our loving; our food; and our mothering.
But what are communicating and are we being heard? I question if I am heard. When I speak I feel I am a reduced by use of actual words and only increased when I utilize other forms of expression. Black women are consistently lost in translation. Our liberation movements have been usurped by Black men and white women; and in the steed of our struggles who are asked to remain strong. Less esoterically positioned how do we keep our backs straight in structurally racist society?
Researchers posit multiple experiences of racism have comprised the reproductive health of Black women (Prather et al, 2018) this would include discriminatory health practices from slavery through the Post Civil Rights Era (Prather et al, 2018), in this skein salient questions for discussion is the collective response of Black women to these consistent traumas on their bodies; spirit; and psyches? It suggested the impact healthcare disparities provided context and illumination for the disparities in healthcare for Black women today.
What remains absent from critical conversations and analysis is how do Black women care for themselves absent the nurturing of others and the archetype of being the bridge by which others make it to safety. Do the archetypes of “strong” Black woman distort our language and over season our loving of ourselves? Researchers have attempted to investigate the space between anger and strength as it is represented for Black women (Corbin, Smith & Garcia, 2018) explored the psychological tensions “the psychological tensions and silencing Black college women face as they navigate social constructions of their selfhood under a White gaze” (Corbin, Smith & Garcia, 2018). The study took measures took examine the voice of Black women through the non-traditional intellectual method, the place where our voices are often authentically residing. Key findings of the study found white institutional spaces in which Black women, work and study exacerbate repressive tensions by silencing through systematic and historical silencing (Corbin, Smith & Garcia, 2018).
Black women have knitted their own language from the arts to carve their own space that uplifts and expands our lives; however too often we are rendered mute or mistranslated. Shifting the paradigm of the “strong” Black women is essential for perseveration of intimate language to self.
Corbin, N.A, William A. Smith., W. A., & Garcia, R. J. (2018) Trapped between justified anger and being the strong black woman: Black college women coping with racial battle fatigue at historically and predominantly white institutions, International Journal of Qualitative Studies in Education, 31:7, doi: 10.1080/09518398.2018.1468045
Prather, C., Fuller, T. R., Jeffries, W. L., 4th, Marshall, K. J., Howell, A. V., Belyue-Umole, A., & King, W. (2018). Racism, African American Women, and Their Sexual and Reproductive Health: A Review of Historical and Contemporary Evidence and Implications for Health Equity. Health equity, 2(1), doi.org/10.1089/heq.2017.0045
Joyce Hounkanrin is a lawyer, and Ph.D student living in Bronx, NY. Her fifth book, When They Split My Soul Flowers Sprung Forth: A Black Womxn‘s Journey to Transformative Healing, was released in May 2020. She is the Director of Sis Our Space, an organization intentioned on uplifting and expanding the intellectual traditions of Black Women.