LTLU: ‘Living The Life Unexpected’ – Blog Tour
I remember the first time Jody and I had a conversation about this topic. Jody had asked me why black women were not connecting with her regarding being childless. At the time I couldn’t comprehend why this would be a ‘thing’, I mean what has colour or race got to do with my ability (or inability) to grieve the loss of motherhood??? Well over a year on I can say that I am no longer surprised at Jody’s experience.
Jody’s question was the start of my own awakening around this issue. In the new edition of her book, Living the Life Unexpected I am quoted as saying that ‘If we cannot trust white people to listen to us when we speak about our daily experiences involving cultural issues, how can we trust them with something as vulnerable as our childlessness?‘ I can so hear your “Uhhhhs” right now…. Well the more awakened I’ve became, the more I realise that being black has so many layers that impact on my (our) existence in the white communities we are trying (for the most part) to survive in. From the many conversations that I’ve had with other black women it is evident that we do not feel safe or protected in white spaces. We feel that we cannot fully be ourselves. We are seen as different (even though there is a denial (from white people) around this) and therefore are treated differently. We often face systemic racism and microagressions which leads to us to being stereotyped; ‘the angry black woman’ comes to mind, as well as hearing comments such as “I don’t see your colour” or “I’m not racist, I have black friends” – the list goes on and on and on….
In her book ‘White Spaces Missing Faces’ Catrice Jackson wrote, …”a large number of women of colour in predominately white spaces are surviving at best… WoC know it’s not safe to share her true experiences in white spaces and thus learns how to survive the environment while sacrificing her true value… black women, in particular, have been forced to minimise their existence, silence their voice, watch their tone all of it done for survival. Because of the stereotypes, discrimination and racism that black women face, many of them consciously and unconsciously sacrifice themselves to be accepted. They shift”. So much plays out in our work places, in these white spaces, albeit unconsciously, that there is a sense of us wanting to be our true selves without apology or explanation so is it a surprise that black women do not want to share their private selves in white spaces? Quite simply when we are discussing something sensitive we want to be in a place where we can feel safe to be fully vulnerable.
In the new edition of her book, Jody mentions that ‘For black British and American women, childlessness is often experienced in the context of a complex and traumatic legacy of slavery and disenfranchisement…. ‘ “But slavery ended a long time ago why are we still talking about it???” Yea whenever I bring up this topic with my friends this is one of the reactions that I receive. But without recognising our past and understanding the truth behind this we (both black and white people alike) will not be able to move forward and have the kind of conversations that are needed in order to fully heal our differences. But first we need to see the difference for what it is.
I came across Post traumatic slave syndrome after hearing about Dr. Joy DeGruy Leary’s talk on the subject. “Post traumatic slave syndrome is a condition that exists as a consequence of multigenerational oppression of Africans and their descendants resulting from centuries of chattel slavery, a form of slavery which was predicated on the belief that African Americans were inherently/genetically inferior to whites. This was then followed by institutionalised racism, which continues to perpetuate injury.” Let’s just take a moment here…. how can black people move on from this traumatic experience when we never had the space to process the hurt and mistrust (of white people) that was experienced during slavery? I mean we all found Gateway Women because we were looking for a others who could understand the pain to our childlessness. If you needed to be around women who understood what you were going through how do you think black people have healed from this traumatic past if that pain has never been acknowledged or witnessed by others? So can you understand that the experience therefore lives on in our genetic memory, which essentially means that we are still (somewhat) enslaved? I was brought up hearing statements such as “what will the neighbours think?”, “don’t bring shame on the family”, others were told “don’t talk about your problems outside of the home” – where do you think theses messages came from? Ohhh there’s that light bulb moment! Yep they got passed down from generation to generation – from slavery to our present day – they live in our genetic memory. I believe that if this experience lives on in my genetic memory then it lives on in yours (as a white person) too. Morvia Gorden mentions that “her belief is that black people have inherited internalised oppression from 400 years of slavery as we’ve been taught that white people are better than us. Even though no living white person is responsible for slavery, BAME people still bears the scars if it…” As a 40 something year old I can see how much my race has and continues’ to silence us, let alone how society silences us. The experiences we encounter are so subtle, they are very difficult to talk about and be heard or even accepted.
The Womens Health Mag and Oprah Mag surveyed more than 1,000 women and reported that Infertility affects at least 12 percent of all women up to the age of 44. Yet only about 8 percent of Black women between the ages of 25 and 44 seek medical help to get pregnant, compared to 15 percent of white women. Black women were more than twice as likely as white women to say that they wouldn’t feel comfortable talking about their fertility issues with friends, family, a partner, their doctor, or even a support group. The stereotype that Black women don’t have fertility issues is real where fertility in black women is rarely discussed or acknowledged as a problem. Breeding myths from slavery perpetuate the stereotype that black women do not have problems conceiving. Apparently black people ‘bred like rabbits’. If fertility is such a problem for black people then why is this not being addressed by the professionals who are meant to be there to help us???
The Guardian newspaper (June 2019) highlighted the topic of colourism when they wrote that dark skinned women are less likely to be married than lighter skinned women, dark skinned girls are three times more likely to be suspended from school than their light skinned peers and that lighter skinned black people are perceived to be more intelligent educated black people. Arline Geronimus (public health researcher and professor at the University of Michigan’s Population Studies Centre) wrote; “…what I’ve seen over the years of my research and lifetime is that the stressors that impact people of colour are chronic and repeated through their whole life course… and that increases a general health vulnerability which is what cultural weathering is.” Arline used the metaphor of ‘playing the game Jenga’. They pull out one piece at a time, and another piece and another piece, until you sort of collapse. You start losing pieces of your health and well-being, but you still try to go on as long as you can. Arline mentioned there’s a point where enough pieces have been pulled out of you, that you can no longer withstand, and you collapse. Tom Jacobs, a senior staff writer at Pacific Standard, wrote an article at the time when Serena Williams was penalised at the U.S. Open for allegedly cheating and then expressing anger over the accusation. There are reports (of Objectification) that show, at least under certain circumstances, that black women are more likely than whites to be both sexually objectified and perceived as less than fully human. These unconscious biases on the part of whites can, of course, guide their beliefs and behaviours. Another study demonstrated that “Black women were more strongly implicitly associated with animal and object concepts, which indicates their greater dehumanisation compared to white women”. More recently I came across the Honey Pot commercial (Target created ad spots for different black-owned brands as part of their celebrations for Black History Month). White people saw the ad as being divisive and exclusive. Go onto YouTube and search for ‘the science agenda to exterminate blacks’ you will see an array of videos on this topic, which are quite disturbing.
We know that childlessness is not exclusive to race and it’s safe to say that we all agree that colour (or our culture) does not exempt us from pain – let’s face it we all feel and experience grief and loss. But the absence of being able to talk about my experiences as a black woman means that, as I mentioned at the start of my blog, I have to protect my vulnerable side especially if you are unable to show an understanding or acceptance of what I face on a daily basis. As I said if we cannot trust white people to listen to us when we speak about our daily experiences involving cultural issues, how can we trust them with something as vulnerable as our childlessness? Our experiences of race are often dismissed in our everyday interactions where it’s not readily accepted that our unique contextual experiences are intertwined with our daily-lived experiences as black women.
I love that Jody starts the new edition of Living the Life Unexpected with the words “This is a book about hope.” My hope is that we can recognise that everything starts and finishes with race.
My hope is that you can get past your white privilege and white fragility and hear that we need to talk about race, that it is ok to talk about race.
My hope is that my words will be accepted so that we can then start to have conversations where we are able to be openly uncomfortable to hear the truths that have been denied us for so many years.
I am so glad that Jody recognised a truth, from her experience that lead her to ask me why black women are not connecting with her. Jody was willing to not let her ‘privilege’ get in the way of, not only black voices being heard but also opening up a space for black women/ women of colour to reach out and know that they too can get the help and support that they so need. I wrote Dreaming of a Life Unlived to give women the hope that they could have a fulfilling life without children with the hope that other childless women would find their voices. Living the Life Unexpected gives me the hope that women of colour have a voice and a place where they can be heard and understood, where they can feel safe to be present too.
A brand new 2nd edition of Jody’s book, fully revised with fresh perspectives for a new decade, is coming out on 19th March 2020, and I have a free, personally dedicated and signed copy to give away. If you want your name to go into the draw, then comment on this post and I’ll pull out the winning name on Friday 13th March.
Don’t worry if you miss out, there are over 25 copies up for grabs across the rest of the blog tour between now and 20th March, or by signing up for Jody’s free webinar on ‘Coping with Mother’s Day‘ on 14th March for a chance to win.
If you’re in the UK, you can pre-order a copy of the book (paperback or ebook) here.