The pundits and social media spaces are abuzz with talk of the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement and organization. Obviously BLM’s exposure has increased with their recent disruptions of Bernie Sanders and now Hillary Clinton’s campaign events. For all the critics and talk, regardless of how one may feel about BLM as a movement and organization, BLM in my mind serves as a much-needed declaration for Black people ourselves.
To be Black in America is to truly live in a state of “double consciousness” as W.E.B. DuBois wrote many years ago. It is to learn far too early in life that the color of your skin renders you as “other” and to be viewed with suspicion in damn near every setting. It is to learn that you have very few friends and that the “helpers” are rarely there to help you but they will gladly help to send you to an early grave…sometimes for nothing more than being a child on a playground playing with a toy gun.
People tell us that race doesn’t matter and that it is class and financial inequity that plagues the Black community and that access to a solid education and good jobs will equalize the racial disparities. Yet a recent study that any college educated Black person, including yours truly, knows all too well is that playing by the rules that govern white culture don’t play out equally for Black bodies. It turns out that even when Black people are college educated, they still face a racialized wealth gap. In other words, far too many Black college-educated people are not living the same life that their white peers are living. Lower paying jobs, higher loan burdens and a host of factors mean that even the “good” Black people (as determined by the standards of white culture) are still getting the short end of the stick. And a poke in the eye with a sharp stick to follow it up.
Blackness comes at a cost and it takes a toll on Black people. I am firmly convinced that the cumulative effects of racism over a lifetime is one of the greatest reasons why Black people don’t live as long as their white counterparts. More than 40% of African Americans have high blood pressure. It tends to be more severe in Blacks and develop earlier in life. On a personal note, my own blood pressure has been teetering in the higher-than-normal (but not hypertension) zone for well over a year now. I wasn’t surprised when I found out; hypertension runs in my family and in my immediate family there was no diabetes or obesity, which are often used as markers for why Blacks develop hypertension.
I will tell you what was in my family and what is in my own life. Stress. The unrelenting stress of living in a country that is yours but is not yours, The stress of living and loving in a space that would prefer you to shut up and die. The stress of chronic underemployment, the stress of a lifetime of robbing Peter to pay Paul because no matter how many degrees you hold, you still earn less than your white counterparts and your debt load is higher because dear ole Mom and Dad had no nickels to salt away to help with your education. The stress of raising kids who must be raised to be compassionate and loving people in a world where their very presence means to wear a target on their body and essence. The stress of speaking up and speaking out against injustice and achieving some level of “success” that leaves your humanity invisible to many who decide that you are, as a fellow writer friend calls, a “race portal” whose job is to “help” white people. The stress of never being allowed to just be a woman but a Black woman. These are just some of the stresses that I know keep my blood pressure elevated and body tense.
For my fellow Black brothers and sisters, we all have stressors of various degrees that keep us in a chronic state of fight or flight as we are fighting to live every day of our lives. The problem with nonstop wars though is that you never have an opportunity to rest, to recalibrate or to heal. I fear that for Black people we are in a place where we are dangerously on the edge. White supremacy affects us on such a deep level that we have never had a chance to heal as a collective. I think the lack of ability to heal the psychic scars of our ancestors brutal enslavement and subsequent history in the US have been passed from generation to generation and at times has made it hard for us to love not only ourselves but each other. That the Black collective conscience is in need of tender loving to breakdown the mental and emotional baggage that overwhelms us. The fight for full equality and humanity is being waged on a national and international level but the deep healing must start in our own spaces and lives. Black Lives Matter is many things at this moment in time but for me, I hear a call for healing and loving myself as a Black woman and for all the Black people who touch my life.
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