Racism is bad for health: Black women and men speak of importance of ‘care’, respecting pain & infirmities, to cope with imposition of struggle and resilience



Note from BW of Brazil: I must say, although this article was short, it was profound and very thought-provoking. In the daily lives of black people we often talk about and denounce living in societies in which we treated are always treated as less than, where we always said to be such and such “even though they’re black”, or “__________ for a black man/woman”, an attitude that can eventually wear you down if you don’t slow down, take a step back, analyze its effects and then take time out for “me time” or to “unplug” and “detox”. We spend a lot of time defining racism and racists incidents we’ve experienced, but we don’t spend enough time exploring ways to cope with it. The Amma Psyche and Negritude Institute, for example, is a group of black professionals that care for the mental health of those who are oppressed by racism. As ingrained as racism is in Brazilian society, this organization should be full of consultations. Below, we meet a small group of black Brazilians who share their own methods for coping in a society that is a constant assault on one’s physical, emotional and psychological energies. 

Racism is bad for health

Black women and men speak of the importance of ‘care’ and to respect their pain and infirmities, to cope with the imposition of struggle and resilience, without truce

By Gilberto Porcidonio

Racism directly affects the health of the população negra (black population), resulting in problems such as depression, anxiety and cardiovascular diseases. It is not an exaggeration. It’s a fact proven empirically. So much so that, in recent years, a term has been increasingly used by groups, collectives and brotherhoods dedicated to combating preconceito racial (racial prejudice): self-care. The writer and journalist Ana Paula Lisbon knows very well what this is. In 2016, the young woman went through a very strong crisis of anxiety. She’d already had a  diagnosis of depression, after going through a process of separation, coupled with a strong self-demand and the excess of work. At the same time, she didn’t want to go back to doing therapy in traditional molds. “Hence, I began to seek what would be therapy for me, to alleviate something that has no cure. I needed to listen to my body. So, I went to yoga and to the candomblé, which revolutionized my life. I was really treating my mind and spirit,” she says.

“It is obvious to everyone that the murder of Marielle unleashed this wave of self-care, which meant that I stopped to listen to myself and take better care of myself.” – Ana Paula Lisboa, writer and journalist

The writer, who currently lives in Luanda, alert of the risk of emotional triggers, that is, different situations that can trigger past trauma. “It is obvious to everyone that the murder of Marielle (Franco) triggered this wave of self-care, which meant that I stopped to listen to myself and take better care of myself. But it was good that, even before that happened, I already knew they needed this path. It is possible to get out, to live in a different manner and with less demand,” says the young woman, who had been with Marielle at her last meeting, in the Casa das Pretas (House of Black Women), in the Lapa region of Rio.

Ana Paula Lisboa, à esquerda
Ana Paula Lisboa, at left, participated in black women’s event at Casa das Pretas with Marielle Franco (with mic) shortly before the Rio councilwoman was murdered

“The black woman is seen as strong for work, to endure physical and emotional pain. Many of them absorb this idea and begin to obligate themselves to this resiliency” –  Nany Kipenzi Vieira, Psychologist

Nany Kipenzi
Nany Kipenzi Vieira

According to psychologist and specialist in a psychoanalytic clinic Nany Kipenzi Vieira, self-care is a form of resistance or “re-existence”. That is, to mark a possibility of life beyond what racism imposes on these women, re-signifying their body image. “Looking at black women around me, being people who I tend to, family and friends, I believe that one of the biggest myths is the mulher forte (strong woman). The black woman is seen as strong for work, to endure physical and emotional pain. Many of them absorb this idea and begin to obligate themselves to this imposed resiliency. On account of this myth, black women receive less anesthesia in childbirth. This is something questioned since the speech (“E não sou uma mulher?” – “And ain’t I a woman?”) by Soujourner Truth, African American abolitionist and activist for women’s rights, that contested the idea of the fragility of the woman when she and other black women were never seen as fragile, while they were enslaved and forced to work,” she details.

Ana Paula Lisbon had depression and an anxiety crisis: she healed herself with yoga and candomblé, “to treat the mind and the spirit”. Photo: Personal Collection

For Nany, who also study race relations, gender, secularism and religious freedom, the myth of the “negra forte” (strong black woman) plasters these women into a place of eternal struggle and overcoming that makes their pain and vulnerabilities invisible. Thus, she becomes a “woman object”, someone who has a usefulness, which approximates her to another myth, because, in place of the object, she will also serve as a sexual fetish. In this way, the woman’s body is brought to that place of “different”, and their shapes are to be seen as exotic. “I had the pleasure of listening to Azoilda Loretto da Trindade, a black pedagogue and psychologist, saying that a black woman taking care of herself is a revolutionary act. This sentence touched me, because how we experience relations in society makes us realize that we are all traversed by racism, and in that logic, there is space for self-care. Many women seek me to talk about it. Some men also, but with black men, machismo is also cruel, in the sense that they cannot claim the fragility, because it is confused for weakness,” he says.

fernando timba
The visual artist Fernando Timba participates in groups of men: “It is a time dedicated to speaking collectively on our individual issues.” Photo: Personal Collection

It was within this concern with the so-called masculinidade tóxica (toxic masculinity) that the visual artist Fernando Timba learned a little more about self-care, through feminist experiences, such as the a Iniciativa Mesoamericana de Defensoras de Direitos Humanos (Mesoamerican Initiative of Women Human Rights Defenders or IM-Defensoras) (IM-Defenders). Timba realized that, in his life, he prioritized work or other activities that came from the demands of other people, and destined very little time to himself, to read a book or to schedule a medical appointment. “I participate, with some regularity, in men’s groups. It is a time dedicated to speaking collectively on our individual issues and there we see how much they reverberate in all. After attending groups like these, I saw that, most of the time, when I was meeting with other men, we didn’t talk about ourselves, but always some external subject: futebol, mulheres, trabalho (soccer, women, work). Never feelings,” says Timba.

Alberto Pereira Jr
The journalist Alberto Pereira Jr.: “Choosing the battles and going ahead is vital and, sometimes, transposes the limits of what would be safe and comfortable.” Photo: José Diego Gasques

The journalist Alberto Pereira Jr.: ‘self-care’ against risks to physical and mental integrity. Photo: José Diego Gasques/Dissemination

With the journalist Alberto Pereira Jr., the theme arose with the passing of the years, mainly, entering college and appropriating more of who he was and wanted to be. Thus, he realized that confronting and occupying that space it was necessary, to let his hair – before, close cropped – grow, accepting a black power crespo (afro) and without taming it to an estética padrão (aesthetic standard): branca (white). “I believe that self-caring is thinking about practices that can reduce the possibilities of risk to my physical and mental integrity, by being a black man and homosexual, who lives in a big city and in a country in which, although the black population is majority, it’s the one that most dies. Choose the battles and going ahead is vital and, sometimes, transposes the limits of what would be safe and comfortable. Today, I try to use the voice that I have, my trajectory, accesses and spaces for dialog, to place myself, listen to others, establishing debate and exchange,” he emphasizes.

Then, melaninados (melanated ones), the invitation is: before repairing the planet, let’s put our inner world in order.

Source: Projeto Colabora

About Marques Travae 3747 Articles
Marques Travae. For more on the creator and editor of BLACK WOMEN OF BRAZIL, see the interview here.

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