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Healing and Hoping for Black Women: A Closing Thought to Women’s History Month 2022

Posted on
February 15, 2023

Entwined in this year’s Women’s History Month were several incredibly tough weeks for Black women in America.

Days of emotional bullying were hurdled at Supreme Court justice nominee Judge Ketanji Brown-Jackson. As she sat before a majority white male Senate, she endured a picking apart of her stature and worthiness for simply being an exceptionally accomplished Black woman.

Then there was the unfolding weight of Will Smith’s ‘slap heard around the world.’ It is a weight that Smith’s wife, Jada Pinkett-Smith has had to involuntarily shoulder as it is a weight that is sourced from a long history of abuse and neglect of Black women, their discomfort all too often reduced to a joke or meme.

This year’s Women’s History Month theme was Providing Healing, Promoting Hope. The intent was to honor those women who, in both public and private life, provide healing and promote hope for the betterment of all. Yet, considering these recent events and the historical requirements of “superwoman” endurance on the part of Black women, I can’t help but feel the theme lacks conviction. It lacks the accountability necessary to evolve our collective efforts to meet the emotional, physical, and mental health needs of our Black women, along with Indigenous women, and Women of Color in America and across the diaspora.

"And it is right to honor women as healers and holders of hope. This role harkens back to ancient times, with countless myths, legends, and historical stories feeding the woman-as-healer archetype."

-Kevin Dedner, MPH

Granted, themes of healing and hope have never been more relevant. Ninety percent of our frontline caregivers and nurses who have protected this nation during a two-year pandemic are women, 30 percent of whom are BIPOC. Then there are the women who, as counselors and clerics, politicians and judges, artists and teachers, doctors and CEOs, mothers, sisters, aunties, and grandmothers have listened, eased suffering, restored dignity, and dug deep to bring hope to their families, communities, and workplaces during some of our darkest days. Indeed, it is an urgent duty to give thanks to the women in our lives.

And it is right to honor women as healers and holders of hope. This role harkens back to ancient times, with countless myths, legends, and historical stories feeding the woman-as-healer archetype. In BIPOC communities, oftentimes women healers move beyond the rhetoric of "self-care," and explore the links between recovery, spirituality, activism, and self-determination to counteract the impact of oppression. I wrote about one such historical story in my book The Joy of the Disinherited:

“There was no counseling for Emmett Till’s family following his tortured death at the hands of two white men in 1955. Mamie Elizabeth Till-Mobley, Till’s mother, did not have a therapist to help her navigate the immense grief that comes from burying your child. Mamie pulled from her sacred well of pain to demand Till’s casket be fitted with a glass top. This way, the world might see the extent to which human fear turns children into men, and men and women into demons.

‘If the death of my son can mean something to the other unfortunate people all over the world,’ she  said, ‘then for him to have died a hero would mean more to me than for him just to have died.”

To invite the world into your pain as Mamie did is to invite strangers to dip from your sacred well. What was once just yours is now everyone’s, and there is no guarantee that your pain will be held charitably by all. Strangers to her hallowed place of fortitude, the world mistook Mamie’s pain as superhuman strength and drank their fill of it. It is said that Mamie Elizabeth Till-Mobley wept every day for her son until she passed away in 2003.”

Mamie’s story, while shaped by events that happened over six decades ago, carries the familiar markings of the internal emotional, and spiritual work that Black women have long had to do to heal themselves, save themselves, and then offer themselves back to the world as symbols of hope.

In Brittney Cooper’s book Eloquent Rage, she writes, “The unfair part is that folks are more concerned with policing how Black women carry the baggage than with reducing the load hoisted upon us in the first place.”

As this March’s Women’s History Month ends, I implore us to flip the script on the national theme. Let us deepen the conversation as we move through 2022. Let us evolve from expecting healing and hope from Black women – and all women, for that matter – to strengthening them where they stand and when they need it most.

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