Photo Courtesy of Stephanie Younger. Flowers grown in Teresa Younger’s Garden.
By Joyce Angela Jellison Hounkanrin •
I hate mornings, yet I make a promise to myself to be up early. This morning I have no choice in the matter; someone is incessant in their attempts to reach me. The phone, which I keep under my pillow, wakes me and I see it is my therapist calling, reluctantly I answer and he greets me in a rush of words I imagine tumbling over his tongue and crashing over his teeth. I imagine he is somehow grateful I have answered and this makes me feel guilty and I don’t know why. This white man and his guilt are like a tightly fitted t-shirt I must fit on underneath my clothes. He tells me is prepared to listen and I ask him why now; Why now after George Floyd? After Breonna Taylor? Why our deaths? Weren’t our births worth fighting for? I muse that in the midst of riots that we have given our daughters to God and gone to fight for our black kings. In the struggle I am lost on the altar of someone’s lips.
Researchers posit that sociologists have increasingly adopted an intersectionality framework to “explore and explain the complex and interconnected nature of inequalities in the areas of race, class, and gender” (Perry, Harp & Oser, 2013). Utilizing an inclusion-centered approach and a sample of 204 low-socioeconomic status African American women, scholars theorized on the roles of race and gender on the stress process (Perry, Harp & Oser, 2013). Researchers took measures to examine the relationships between social stressors and individuals in six distinct social contexts. Key findings of the study revealed that racial and gender discrimination increases risk for poor health and low well being (Perry, Harp & Oser, 2013).
Quite literally, racism and sexism is killing Black women. It is a lethal cocktail we are forced to drink. In fact, this is how I have adjusted to white people in my spaces since quarantine by not being forced by my daily racism macchiato. I have been relieved to be tucked away, safe. My anxiety that has raged for decades has crept beneath my bed and hidden in kitchen cabinets. I don’t dare give her voice or exclusionary space again. The biological consequences of racism are real. I am on a daily diet of antidepressants that disrupt my digestive system and sleep patterns.
Etiologies of stressors for Black women are multifarious and should not be aggregated with the causes of stressors for non blacks. “Sources of stress may be either discrete adverse events or chronic strains, and these may work in conjunction such that major life events exacerbate pre-existing strains or introduce new ones” (Pearlin et al, 1981; Williams & Mohammed, 2009 as cited in Perry, Harp & Oser, 2013) It is a general consensus that the majority of stress research is centered around these topics,” Recent research suggests that comprehensive conceptualizations of stress that include both individual and social stressors provide a more powerful explanation for racial/ethnic, gender, and socioeconomic health disparities (Turner & Avison 2003 as cited in cited in Perry, Harp & Oser, 2013)
I am a veteran of the United States Army, a bar passed Lawyer and a PhD student, yet racism has stripped my life to the gleaming white bone. I am not alone and Black women are especially vulnerable to institutionalized racism. These systems work in tandem to devalue us in our skin; our mothering; our loving; our education and our homes.
I have stood with an assortment of pills in my trembling hand and a glass of lukewarm water in the other; this was after the Commonwealth of Massachusetts had taken my daughter into custody deeming me as an unfit mother; after attending law school while homeless; after medications ravaged my body and white doctors refused to listen to my pleas for help. Yet Black women are consistently told to be strong and endure as opposed to radicalize systems that are deconstructionist to our well being. We are taught to survive those systems, not dismantle them. This is a radical silencing that is costing us our collective mental health and our lives.
Dismantling of systems that are destructive to Black women’s live is self-care; naming those systems is radical self loving. The language for liberation is often translated for mourning when it is an actual call for mobility. Black women deserve more than we have been getting from several systems that are colonized against our best interests as Blacks and women; the educational system; the health care system; the criminal justice organization system; and the places where we work and reside. Most salient, decolonization must occur within the most reside our most intimate space, the bodies in which our spirits must find peace.
Perry, B. L., Harp, K. L., & Oser, C. B. (2013). Racial and gender discrimination in the stress process: implications for african american women’s health and well-being. Sociological perspectives : SP : official publication of the Pacific Sociological Association, 56(1), 25–48.
Joyce Angela 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.