The core health issues facing Black women are racism, sexism, classism. These issues are at their core related to resource scarcity, kept in place by not only violence, but the threat of violence. These oppressive social forces create a complex dynamic of chronic stressors, which are mirrored in the bodies of Black women as a variety of chronic diseases and patterns of unhealthy behavior. In order for these systems of oppression to have impact, they must influence the choices that Black women make in relation to their health. Choice in this instance is complex and layered.
Oppressive hierarchies are maintained so that certain humans may rationalize denying certain other humans full access to the resources necessary to thrive. Justification for the hoarding of resources must be widely accepted by those in the position to oppress and internalized by those oppressed. These justifications are naturalized through stereotypes. These stereotypes depoliticize this power imbalance and create an environment of victim blaming. The choices Black women make about their health are carefully controlled by political representatives ignoring policies that obstruct Black women’s access to care; community leaders disregarding the needs of physical and emotional safety for Black women; and health service providers communicating through their practices that Black women deserve poor health.
I think it is impossible to be a Black American woman and not have an interest in Black women’s health. It is impossible to ignore how cancer, diabetes and heart disease seem to inevitably plague the women among our families and friends. There is, perhaps not an expectation, but a lack of surprise when sexist and racist portrayals of us as rightfully overworked and under resourced, follow us into our homes and intimate relationships. We are expected to conform to the rigid and heavily policed expectations on our lives. All Black women are in the middle of a delicate balancing act – between offering up our intelligence, creativity, bodies, and resources for supposed safety in traditional hierarchies; and the vilified search for authentic expression, pleasure and vibrant health. My interest in Black women’s health is a dedication to dismantling this dichotomy of self vs. safety – invisibility and silence vs. affirmation and community support. I am committed to venture into these unsafe territories of self discovery, to uncover new modes of relating to the world around us so that we can safely exist. This interest is first personal, and essential to my own liberation. However, I feel a sense of vocational call to do this liberatory work in a manner that is visible and public, so that the brilliance uncovered may be shared among all Black women.
A leader in the field of Black women’s health is an outspoken advocate for black women, whose core belief is that all Black women are fully human, brilliant, capable and simply in need of support and resources to improve their lives. Leadership requires a consistent commitment to challenge internalized oppressive messages in the daily fight against the misinformation suggesting that only some Black women are worthy of their human rights. A leader must analyze her boundaries and biases to seek opportunities to strengthen women’s intraracial relationships, inclusive of queer women and women across age, ability, class, and regional differences. She must have an unrelenting belief in the abundance of resources and a vigilance for scarcity based ideologies that drive all forms of oppression.
Being a leader in the field of black women’s health, demands an understanding of social movements relevant to black women’s well being and how these created change through legislation, policy, and the resulting service providing agencies. While valuing these advances, a leader in Black women’s health will also have a sharp analysis of how tokenism, assimilation and homophobia have hindered Black leadership in the past and undermined the efficacy of resources and services that might address the totality of black women’s experiences. A leader in black women’s health, with a vision for the future, will be willing to explore and promote alternative organizing strategies. She will incorporate new media formats and social marketing as viable opportunities for organizing, network building and cross community information sharing. Most importantly a leader in black women’s health will understand the importance of sharing power horizontally, and knows lasting change is made when the full range of experience of Black women’s live are acknowledged and their human rights respected.