As well as being involved in a number of conversations post George Floyd, the latest being on The Full Stop podcast with Michael Huges, Sarah Lawrence and Berenice Smith (watch out for the recording) I have also been reflecting on my experiences as a black woman. As much as I have been encouraging ‘white people’ todo the anti-racism work for themselves and also to learn our history I have also felt that it’s just as important for me (as a black person) to know my history too.
So that being said and on the back of me finishing ‘Ain’t I A Women’ by Bell Hooks, I thought that I’d take some time out to watch the film Imitation of Life. For those of you who are not familiar with the film, part of it is centered around a black housekeeper who faces the rejection of her own fair-skinned daughter, Sarah Jane, who abandons her (cultural) heritage for a chance to be accepted as white with the belief that she would get further in life (and have better chances than her mother did) if she were white.
Thinking back to my earlier years, I do not recall not wanting to be black – I guess I had more (although still pretty limited) opportunities than the originally written 1939 character Sarah Jane had – but I do remember favoring my friends long blonde hair, that they could toss over their shoulders, over my tough, wiry, stay-put hair (I now have a more loving relationship with my hair). I remember secretly playing at home placing one of my mum’s crocheted doily’s (it was the closest thing I had to a wig) over my head pretending that it was my hair, hair that I could then toss and flick over my shoulders. I remember that in my mind, white was better, white girls where slim and beautiful and nothing like how I looked with my big behind and tick (think) thighs – I really hated my thighs.
My earliest memory was of me in a pushchair. My dad had taken me to a market, I’m not sure if my mum was with us, and dad wanted to buy me a doll. He got to the required stall and pointed at the one he so desired me to have. As the lady took it down my dad proudly handed it to me and I screamed – it was not the doll I wanted, it was black and I wanted the pretty white one.
No I do not remember not wanting to be black but I had definite messages of what was good, successful and beautiful and that wasn’t represented in me. The messages I received growing up and into adulthood;
“Can you have less plaits in your hair next time”
“Have you considered being a shop assistant”
“You are not good enough to sit A levels”
“How did you get into Bristol Polytechnic? That course (HND in Biomedical Science) sounds too good for you”
“Is English your first language?”
“Do you have to wear your hair like that?”
“You are so mouthy”
“Black people don’t do that”
“Have you ever been to prison?”
“I nearly had to ask you to smile so that I could see you (in the dark)”
“I knew that you’d be a good dancer”
and this was what was said to my face let alone the unspoken messages fulfilling the stereotypes within the systems I existed in.
No I do not remember not wanting to be black but I remember the struggles to be heard, to be accepted. The longing to be see as the same and not as other. I remember feeling tired of having to constantly prove myself – that I wasn’t like the ones they saw in the news. I remember not knowing who I was…
Sadly these memories were born out of my experiences from both white and black people and reflecting on the books I’ve read, the conversations I’ve had, the podcasts I’ve listened to I see the (painful) history/ the trauma that we have been shaped from, that we all still bear the scars of. The history that is, unless faced, destined to recycle itself. To Quote Bell Hooks; “More often than not we bear our pain in silence, patiently waiting for change to come. But neither passive acceptance not stoic endurance lead to change. Change occurs only when there is action, movement, revolution”.
There has been a lot of media courage over the tragic and senseless death of George Floyd but watching the news on Wednesday 3 June, reporting on the protests in Hyde Park and Brixton was the first time I felt the tears rise up from my chest. Witnessing the outpouring of anger, bringing so many together brought up emotions that I found hard to contain. Undoubtedly the words “I can’t breathe” will live on in our memories for years to come…
I sit here as a black (childless) woman with so much fear for my brothers, my nephews and my friend’s sons knowing that our battles are not just on the streets but are within the systems we exist in, with not only those who are in positions of authority but with all white people we are in contact with. Yes the ones who do not want to hear our words, do not want to validate our experiences, who do not want to accept that racism exits – mainly because they do not want to see (or even acknowledge) their own basis that play out on a daily basis.
Megan Ming Francis mentioned in her Tedx talk that the question ‘how do we solve this problem’ is the wrong question to ask. Megan states that we need to understand the root cause; we need to ask what are the underlying issues? I find myself being frustrated during conversations that focus on the trigger (the rate at which BAME people are dying because of Covid being one of them), conversations that do not get the to root of the matter. Those of you who follow me know that I have mentioned the genetic memory that we (both black and white descendants) carry from slavery in my talks so none of the issues that have been raised recently should be a surprise; yes we should be angry that it is happening, but why are we still surprised??? There are so many examples/ statistics showing that black people are being disproportionately treated and/or affected. The British singer Jamelia spoke of this in a recent post (I saw on FB) which starts with “Dear White people” where she talks about ways to help dismantle racism in our systems – I have quoted her speech here for those of you who are not able to access it on FB….
“Call it out
in our Education System
in the Curriculum (it needs to be decolonised)
in Healthcare where black people are 4x more likely to be detained under the mental health act, are 4x more likely to contract and die form Covid and are 5x more like to die in pregnancy and childbirth
in the Judicial System where black boys are 8x more likely to be stopped and searched, 4x more likely to have force used against them, 26% more likely to be remanded into custody and given harsher sentences than their white counterparts
in your place of work where black people experience microaggression upon microaggression on a daily basis…”
I was asked (by some white friends) how I felt about the recent news reports. I replied that as disgusted as I was to witness what happened to George Floyd I was not surprised. There are endless stories of black men being treated with such excessive force and black people being treated differently from their white colleagues. What I also mentioned to my friends was that I experience this treatment on a daily basis. I may not have someone physically retraining me or kneeling on my neck but I am constantly being vocally retrained, constantly being shown that I am less than, that I am wrong, I have experienced white women crying, lying (about something I’ve said), calling me a bully (white men have done this to me too) because they have not liked me, as their [black] manager, challenging their inappropriate behaviour.
We need to understand the root cause!
My fear with these conversations is that the focus is always on fixing the here and now; how do we stop more BAME people from dying of Covid for example but as Megan Ming Francis mentions “fixes that don’t address the root cause are not really fixes…. the problem is not just the few bad apples its that the whole tree is infected”
“Our past history can light a way out of the present darkness… Not only white people need to be held to account but we all need to held to account – we need to know our history”. We need to understand the root cause!!!
Well today, Tuesday 2nd June is day 14 post my hysterectomy… I sometimes feel like I should be whispering that “I had a hysterectomy” when I hear that I had ‘major abnormal surgery’.
It has been such a long journey to get here and now that I am here I expected to feel different to what I am actually feeling. On reflection I’m not really sure what I expected to feel; I did think that I’d be really sad, I was worried that others would take this sadness as me thinking that I had made a mistake or regretting having the operation. I was worried that my tears would be misunderstood. I was convinced that I’d be saddened by the finality of no longer being able to have a child – not that my 49 year old eggs and uterus were up to the job anyway – but you get where I’m coming from.
What I actually felt was ‘crap’, no sadness just crap!!!
My friend dropped off at the entrance to the hospital and left me to make my way to the pre-op unit. On arrival the nurse took my temperature and gave me a mask which I wore until I was in theatre being prepped for surgery. It all felt very cold and lonely, no one there to hold my hand, no one to reassure me that it will be ok or that I’ll see them when I wake up. Nope it was just me and my (at times) crazy thoughts.
The ward was just as cold, no visitors allowed with the few patients being looked after by the nurses who really didn’t have much to do. I spent my time sleeping, reading and barely touching my food – hospital food isn’t great at the best of times let alone trying to eat it when you don’t have an appetite. I was discharged after 2 nights and walked down to the entrance of the maternity wing (the irony of it all) so that I could be picked up by my parents who drove me to their house to convalesce. 3 days later my appetite recovered, much to my mum’s delight – she does worry.
I guess the hardest part of this for me (so far) was constantly feeling exhausted, dizzy and sore. My stomach felt so sore. For someone who is very active it was hard to feel so weak and physically in pain. I guess the most profound part of this for me was the disconnect that I felt with my stomach/ where I was cut. As part of my preparation work pre hysterectomy I wrote a letter to say goodbye to my womb. I remember feeling angry that my womb had let me down but now I was faced with not wanting to touch my stomach, I’m not even sure why but it was only at day 6 post surgery that I was able to bring myself to touch my scar. That night as I lay in the dark I allowed myself to explore my stomach;
I ran my fingers along my scar,
I felt the lump that I image is scar tissue,
I felt the hollow dip that was once filled by my womb,
I feel the numbness of my stomach and the tingling sensation left as my fingers ran across my skin.
So I am now at day 14 and feeling stronger although still sore. I have to keep reminding myself to take things slowly which is hard because I feel like I’m ok but as soon as I move my body reminds me that it’s still recovering and will be for some time to come. This has definitely been the longest period of stillness for me, which I am finding hard especially as I want to help my parents or get out and exercise but I am reminding myself this is a time of repair. For now I am going to use this time to be still and look inwards; this is now my time to explore a side of me that rarely gets to be seen.
Hearing Nova’s interview on the Project Love platform led me to come across her Ted Talk and training courses. As you know I talk about the BAME’s experience around infertility and have also started to have conversations, at the establishment I work in, about my (and other black people’s experiences) around racism. I am now noticing how scary and hard it is to be that vulnerable in white spaces – yep the spaces I haven’t necessarily invited me in to have these conversations, and even when they do (invite me in) I don’t think they are always ready to hear (the depth of) what I (or other people of colour) have to say.
I’ve noticed in the past that when talking, or attempting to talk, about racism white people expect me to have ‘facts’ to back up what I am saying. To be honest I have found this to be true on a number of, none race related, conversations. It’s those times where their ego will not allow them to hear that I am unhappy with something (they’ve done) that I am then trying to talk to them about – it’s like whatever I have to say or my lived experience is just not good enough. I think that everything comes down to race anyway so I am now wondering how much being a black woman in these (supposedly non-racial) situation’s makes it harder because I am a black woman talking to a white person about what they do not always want to hear or even see. I wonder how much people of colour rely on having the ‘facts or statistically data’ as a way of feeling more comfortable when being in these white spaces as a way of adding credibility to our experiences.
The Courageous courage – BME edition training event covered;
Meeting our needs, resilience and social location
which really brought together my thoughts around how racism shows up in our everyday interactions. For many of us, it’s those “did they really just say that???” or those head-slapping moments that we can’t believe just happened but if we try to addressed it we’d get dismissed as being ‘over sensitive’.
The training event is designed to empower people of colour to be our own advocates. For us to be able to talk about our experiences that require us to, firstly, feel safe enough to be able talk. It also requires us to have compassion for ourselves and for others. If we understand that the white spaces/ systems that we operate in want to keep us small and subservient in order to maintain it’s status quo (white supremacy) – albeit (on the most part) subconsciously; think about the genetic memories that we are all carrying – then we can start to understand that there are many layers of stuff that we need to peel back before white people are able to hear our hurt/ our experiences and also sit with their own un-comfortableness around this topic. It reminds me of a quote by Jody Day 2018 “When you’re accustomed to privilege equality can feel like oppression”. But it has to start with our healing and allowance to have these open and honest conversations.
I leant from the training event [using quotes from the event] that anti-racism work is about healing. This healing allows us to operate from a place of power and not pain/ it allows us to show up in the world differently. It allows us to set boundaries to help us maintain our well being, it teaches others how to treat ourselves and it allows us to reclaim our power.
“We have a lot of trauma in our history, until we intentionally start to heal this trauma and allow ourselves to feel like we deserve to heal, we will continue to pass down cycles of trauma, cycles of oppression, maintaining the status quo to generation upon generation and the system (white supremacy) remains upheld”
I am reminded that we as a race we often feel like we have to make ‘white people’ comfortable with our existence, we form our groups for example and use less provocative titles such as ‘multi-cultural society’ so that we appear to be inclusive and less threatening but at what cost??? – BAME only spaces are needed for us to experience a sense of worthiness and belonging – spaces were we feel that our needs (being seen, heard and understood) are being met. Nova mentioned to me that we can have white allies in our groups but they need to be able to hold the space for us to speak our truth.
Taking part in the training event reminded me that racism weaves through all aspects of our lives and if we can’t speak about our everyday stuff then we won’t be able to show the required level of vulnerability when it comes speaking up about racism. We won’t be able to show any level of vulnerability to face other issues (such as infertility) in our lives.
Nova taught me that social location (a new aspect for me) helps us identify who we are, who we’ve become, how outcomes & experiences are impacted us – helps us to have an awareness of how we are victims of oppression and how we hold privilege in certain settings. Social location impacts on how we see ourselves and can manifest where people start to dissociate from people at the bottom of the group eg having a better outcome if you’re closer to the white person in power.
I think my main takeaway from the event is that we need to stop seeing racism as a dirty word to be whispered in shame. There are several news headlines asking, “Why are BAME NHS workers dying as a higher rate than their white colleagues?” Its time to start recognising/ highlighting/ showing the impact that our years of discrimination is having on us. It’s time to start having those difficult conversations…
“We are one thought away from having a different experience”
“Owing our vulnerability and being in control of where our story goes allows us to no longer sit in the role of victim”
Covid-19 has definitely taken on a life of it’s own. Such a powerful, unseen force that has turned our lives upside down. This unprecedented, unplanned, unwelcomed virus brought destruction – changing our lives in a way that we could not have expected or predicted. But does that mean we have to let it control our lives, our beings or the essence of who we are? Yes there will be a new normal, an unknown that brings with it its own sense of uncertainty but we can stop and look at the here and now.
There are on-line posts where childless women are reflecting on their status and what this lockdown have brought – the quietness of their homes, weather it’s, the lack of children or the lack of a partner (as well as the lack of a child), for me it’s the place where I’ve felt my most unsettled. I couldn’t quite decide how I felt about what this virus brought into my life, all I could see were the things that were supposed to make my life better come to a sudden halt; my hysterectomy, my divorce, things at work that “will not be going ahead right now” – these things in my life, the things that would make a change when they ended were all, suddenly, put on hold with no ending in sight. I lost control of the future that I had been dreaming of and all at once I felt empty – sound familiar?
I also lost a part of my present, I lost a friend. No they didn’t die (my heart does go out to all those who have lost someone during this time) but their presence was suddenly removed from my life and that presence is one that I will miss. It’s like the un-written rules that we’ve lived by were changed without our consent, without us being able to agree or even negotiate what this change would look like. Human touch; a handshake, a hug, 1 on 1 interactions replaced with Zoom calls and unspoken needs urging me to give up even more of the little time that I have for myself. It felt like I was losing my privacy with the insistence to connect on a weekly basis when prior to lockdown we barely spoke at all with the exception of WhatsApp, text messages and/or email. It felt like I’d lost the ability to live my life how I wanted to live it, it felt like if I said “No” that there was something wrong with me. It’s funny, I actually thought that I’d have time on my hands to catch up on my to-do list, to do the stuff I’d been meaning to do for ages but was not finding the time to dedicate to it. Post lockdown I felt like I had less time for me than I had before.
On reflection I guess our world is grieving. We are grieving the loss of a life we once knew – we had hopes and dreams for this life; if we did A then B would happen. Ok I know it’s not that simple but the point is we were secure in a certain belief. Now that belief has been shaken and replaced with a ‘who knows what will happen next’? I’m pretty sure that we can all agree that there will be a new normal but what will that new normal look like? When will we get to that place, how will we even know when we are there?
I guess what I am trying to say here is that instead of rushing to find a different meaning to our existence, a new place of security or creating a new sense of security, maybe this is a time for us to stop and find some peace in the here and now. Maybe this is our time for reflection to review what really is important in our lives or even to simply clear out the things that do not serve a purpose anymore. Maybe it’s time to see what we need for ourselves. For me, until I allowed myself to stop getting swept up in what everyone around me needed I wasn’t able to put my needs first, I wasn’t able to feel the hurt or even deal with what had changed. When that friend left my life I kind of felt like this shouldn’t be happening at this time (people are dying at an accelerated rate for crying out loud we should be valuing the people in our lives shouldn’t we???). Again it was something that wasn’t allowed but the reality is, we were always allowed to make choices that suites us, the choice for me to be happy may mean that someone else is left feeling unhappy and at this time it seems like the wrong choice to make (because that person may be on their own and feeling lonely) but the one thing that Covid-19 has shown me is that life is to short not to look after ourselves and put us first. Life if too short for me to stop once in a while and ask myself what do I need now???
“When you’re accustomed to privilege equality can feel like oppression”, Jody Day 2018
As you all know I’ve been having a lot of conversations around race so you won’t be surprised at how excited I was to come across the Project Love platform thanks to Sophia Andeh, where Selina Barker has a conversation with Nova Reid about race, white privilege and dismantling racism (you’ll understand once you listen to the podcast). Nova Reid she is an anti-racism educator – I just love that title – and runs courses on Race and White privilege.
From my own experience of talking about race, or should I say observing how white people react to me/ people of colour raising concerns about a potentially racist situation, I see the need (from said white people) to shut it down. To be fair not all white people I’ve spoken to are that unconformable talking about race which could be to do with the position they are in that particular conversation, however when you are in that uncomfortable moment, it’s as if they want to remove the awkwardness as well as any possibility of them being racist themselves – let’s not take a peek into the looking glass to see what lies within [insert sinister voice]. But as I’ve often said how can there be healing, how can this change if we are not willing to have these difficult and yes at times uncomfortable conversations?
I often wonder why we can’t talk about race without it being “shrouded in stigma, secrecy and silence”? I must admit I’ve found that I am starting to feel agitated when I hear about “inclusion and diversity” when the very people talking about it have not done the work to hear, let alone understand the voices/ stories from people of color let alone done the work to look deep into themselves and see what truly lies within. If we are not able to openly talk about race and our experiences of race how can we possible learn why we got here in the first place? As mentioned in the podcast “racism is insidious, unconscious, systemic…” we are no longer (just) looking at the stereotypical figures such as the aggressive KKK member or the football hooligan, racism (microaggression) is done by everyday people on a subconscious level that they are not even aware of – it’s not about a good or bad person. Unfortunately and unhelpfully the lack of conversation will hold us back from seeing the change that needs to happen. There are not just the obvious forms of racism anymore because racism is broader than what has traditional been defined but until this is recognized it will never change.
The hard truth is that we live with a history of legalized slavery, legalized as treating black people as sub-normal, where white is the default, where the message is that one is more superior than the other. Nova Reid teaches that;
We have unavoidable racist views programmed into us and
Children form racial bias from 3 years old, they learn their social queues from by what we do and don’t do – negative stereotypes leads to internalized racism and low self esteem.
To move away from this there needs to be some de-programing.
One of the problems is that there is an automatic response of defensiveness around the conversation (sound familiar??? yep this scenario is all around us, it’s with us everyday) but our defensiveness means that we have lost the capacity to listen which in turn shuts down our capacity for transformation of growth – change cannot happen without the difficult stuff!!!
I’ve heard white people say that they are “fearful of saying the wrong thing”, do they always ‘get it right’ in other areas of their lives? Do they have this fear of saying the wrong thing when they are talking with their white friends or colleagues??? What is the fear anyway? Is it about me or is it about you? Is the fear what you’ll find out about yourself??? Is the fear that you will have racism in you???? I did chuckle when I heard Selina mention this realization of herself.
To quote Nova; “release the judgment, guilt and shame around the conversation… we have been born and raised in a society that normalizes white supremacy and there are byproducts of this in all of us. The change won’t happen until individual people collectively start recognizing their power in that change. The silent majority recognizing they are part of the change by doing this work…. and to remove any guilt and fragility and fear around white privilege and recognizing that you can use your white privilege as a superpower and help be part of change…”
Thinking about this I can truly say that this is not just about racism. On reflection I am reminded of a number of scenarios’ (which had nothing to do with race), where I was fearful of saying the wrong thing. But it was those times when I got it wrong that I learnt the most about myself. I often say to people who tell me that they don’t like conflict (not sure who does really) that it is in those difficult situations where we learn. There is freedom in talking about this stuff and until we can get past the ego that doesn’t want to hear or acknowledge this we will remain in a defensive state and we will remain unchanged. If we remove our ego we operate from a place where we are more open and receptive – the work starts on the inside.
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.
If you’re outside the UK you can buy it online via Amazon or The Book Depository (which offers free international delivery).
I am so proud to announce that Jody Day is having a ‘Living the Life Unexpected: World Blog tour to celebrate the release of the 2nd edition of her book Living the Life Unexpected, which I was fortunate to have the opportunity to also contribute to. The recent edition has not only helped me to work through my grief but it has reached and touched the hearts of so many other, not just childless women but the people in our lives that have found it difficult to understand the journey that we are on which is why I am so exited that Jody is releasing a new and updated version of her work.
The tour is from the 1-19th March 2020 comprising of a series of guest bloggers including yours truly… yes that’s me :). Visit the Gateway Women website for more details of how the tour will works.
And that’s not even the best part…. one of my lucky blog subscribers also gets a chance to win a free copy. All you have to do is to leave a comment (saying that you’d like to win today’s free copy) on my blog post on the 18th March. I will choose a winner at random and Jody will email you on 20th March with the good news. So mark the date in your diaries and look out for my post…
Now I know that you are all excited to read Jody’s 2nd edition you can pre-order a copy for despatch/collection on 19 March here’s the link for UK bookstores/online retailers.
Well the hospital have not called me today so my operation is defiantly going ahead….
I’ve been on this journey for about 2, 2 ½ years and remember bursting into tears when the consultant in front of my told me that my only chose for dealing with my fibroids (and very painfully heavy periods) was to have a hysterectomy. At that time I couldn’t comprehend losing my womb – yes I know it hasn’t served me in the way that it should have and I was angry that it didn’t let me bear the children that I had so longed for but even with all that anger towards her, losing her was just not an option. So I said HELL NO!
2 years on, after having further investigations around why I was becoming so anaemic (due to the heavy bleeding), it was discovered that I had Adenomyosis – a condition in which the inner lining of the uterus breaks through the muscle wall of the uterus. It helped to finally understand why I was suffering with my periods to the extent that I was but realising that this condition may have also prevented me from conceiving was a difficult pill to swallow – “if only I’d known sooner maybe I something could have been done to help me conceive a child”. To be honest I do not know what would have been possible only that the feeling of being let down by a system that was meant to help me was overwhelming at that time.
At the end of 2019 and several therapy sessions later, I sat in front of another consultant and pretty much insisted that she perform my hysterectomy. I was at the point where I was fed up of the pain (I was unable to function without painkillers), the anxiety (thoughts of ‘have I leaked???’ running through my mind during every meeting, on the train, at the restaurant and then the embarrassment of having to clean myself up when I had leaked) along with the sleepless nights (I either woke up in pain or had to change) was all too much. I wanted my life back; I needed to take control of this. A friend told me not to think of the hysterectomy as losing my womb but as saying goodbye to the pain. Those words really helped me to look at my situation differently; it helped to face my fears and work through the pain of losing my womb as well as what this step would mean for me.
Being able to work through my thoughts and feelings with my therapist really helped me to stand strong with my decision, especially as there were others who thought that I was crazy for even considering this, drastic no turning back, procedure. The turning point for me on this journey was when I was in Croatia, sitting in a hotel room, looking out over the beautiful city. I took out my journal and wrote a letter to say goodbye to my womb…
After writing this I was able to let go of the feeling betrayed I by my womb. I felt like it had constantly let me down -my womb allowed me to conceive when that was the last thing that I wanted and it wouldn’t let me conceive when it was my hearts desire.
So as I sit here with 3 hours until I am not allowed to eat anymore (I’m so enjoying the taste of chocolate right now) and 10 hours before I am due to arrive at the hospital I can honesty say that I know I am doing the right thing for me. It has been a long and painful journey up to this point and I am sure that post op tomorrow will bring more challenges than I care to think about right now, but for now I go with the peace that I am re-claiming my joy. Here’s to my new, period-free, existence…
I connected with Ruth Levy Abramson recently after reading her article for World Childless week. Her article, Dear Rabbi’s (and other well-meaning religious Jews):Please Stop with the Miracle Baby Stories. They’re not Helping. Thanks, really spoke to me as a black woman and I could see our shared experiences with religion through her words. So I reached out to Ruth who agreed to have a conversation with me about her experience as a childless Jewish woman. Through her writing I could feel Ruth’s hurt and frustrations, some of which I share, and wanted to know what inspired her to write the article as well as what she has learnt on her childless journey. I won’t say anymore here as it’s all in our conversation but I wanted to just leave you these words from Ruth …. “if we change the language we can have a different conversation”….