Radical Self-Care is a Necessity for Black Women

Growing up, I was taught that black women are strong. That we are the pillars of community. That we raise and protect villages, and that we must uphold our men. We’re expected to this faultlessly and without rest. In activism, black women have been at the forefront of championing change. We’ve lead protests and initiatives in our community such as the “Black Lives Matter” Movement founded by three queer, black women. As much as we’re seen as resilient, fierce and powerful, we aren’t afforded the opportunity to be vulnerable, gentle and tender to ourselves.

Self-care is a vital practice for black women and women of colour.

It is about finding inner peace in a world of chaos. A world that is violent towards black bodies and identities. One that ignores and perpetuates black pain and suffering. Self-care is an act that is defiant because it is about putting your needs, expectations and wellbeing above others. It is about preservation and acting in resistance to societal expectations. As the great African-American feminist writer, Audre Lorde eloquently said:

“Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare”

Within that, self-care becomes a radical act. The idea of being “self-FULL” begins to matter more in the context of racist and sexist-based trauma and experiences that many black women face in their lives.

To say “I love myself unconditionally” in a world that has benefited on self-hatred of black bodies is revolutionary.

It disrupts systems of powers such as patriarchy and institutionalised racism. These systems seek to politicise and police black women’s bodies and existence. Self-care means we can validate our existence, needs and actions by honouring our wellbeing.

It’s important, more than ever for black women to practice self-care. It can start by simply distancing from potentially toxic scenarios or conversations. We need to protect our energy and ensure that we preserve it for our benefit and our wellbeing.

Self-care is black women giving themselves permission to express their emotions. We become open and honest about what we desire, crave, need and expect of ourselves and of those around us. We should not feel ashamed for struggling, for feeling hurt, sad, angry or lonely.

Self-care is black women putting their health first.

We need to look after, not only our physical health but emotional, mental and spiritual health. Our health must be cared for holistically as it has an impact on every area of our wellness.

For women who have been raised to be self-less and have been taught to repress emotion, self-care is a way for us to liberate ourselves from generations of historical and familial patterns of suppressed pain, trauma and hardship. It allows us to re-engage with ourselves in a manner that embraces and values our dignity and self-worth.

I would encourage black women to give time and consideration to the discipline of self-care. It can be approached in various ways but it’s important to learn what works and best serves you. Whether it’s taking time off from work, travelling, masturbating, spending time with loved ones or sipping on a glass of wine. To get more tips on radical self-care tips for black people, click here.

#SayHerName: An Intersectional and International Perspective on #BlackLivesMatter

In 2015, Sandra Bland died of asphyxiation in police custody.  However, her death was ruled as suicide by police authorities. Most people did not believe this and took to the streets. This was how the #SayHerName movement started.

Aiyana Stanley-Jones, Alesia Thomas, Atatiana Jefferson, Breonna Taylor, Darnisha Harris, Kathryn Johnston, Kendra James, Korryn, Malissa Williams, Miriam Carrey, Pamela Turner, Rekia Boyd, Sandra Bland, Shantel Davis, Shelley Frey, Shereese Francis, Tarika Wilson, Yvette Smith and many more. These are all Black women murdered by police in America.  These are a few of many names that did not get the same media attention as the Black men murdered by police. I only recognize two of those names: Sandra Bland and Breonna Taylor.

The HBO film Say Her Name: The Life and Death of Sandra Bland covers the story of Sandra Bland and the protests after her death.

Breonna Taylor was killed during a “no-knock” raid and was shot eight times. Her house was identified as part of a drug investigation but no drugs were found in her house. Because there is no video footage of her death and Sandra Bland’s death, they haven’t received the same attention as the murders of George Floyd and Ahmaud Arbery.

A case unrelated to police brutality is Monika Diamond’s. Monika Diamond was a transgender woman and LGBTQ activist who was shot and killed while being treated in an ambulance. The man who initially attacked her eventually murdered her while she was being treated by the paramedic staff.

As we are all enraged at the violence displayed against Black men in America, let us not forget Black women and Black transgender women. As Malcolm X said in 1962, “The most disrespected person in America is the Black woman. The most unprotected person in America is the Black woman. The most neglected person in America is the Black woman.” This rings true today for Black women and Black transgender women all over the world.

Violence against women is the fundamental form of patriarchy. Its effects is especially seen in Black communities.

In America, domestic violence is the main cause of death for Black women between the ages of 15-34. Not only that, it took a long time for Black girls and women to be taken seriously in terms of the multiple allegations against R. Kelly. My own country, South Africa is the femicide capital of the world. What I have observed about gender based violence here is that mainly white women and middle-class women get the media attention, as seen with Reeva Steenkamp and Uyinene Mrewetyana.

The impact of the COVID-19 Lockdown

Since this lockdown, gender based violence has escalated.  In the UK, an NGO called Refuge reported a 700% increase in calls from domestic abuse victims. Black women in Brazil are the ones who suffer the most under gender based violence.  In South Africa, it is reported that gender based violence cases increased by 500% since the lockdown was implemented at the end of March. I cannot help but worry about the Black and Coloured women in rural areas and townships of this country that are unable to call authorities.

What about the LGBTQI+ community?

Since we are also celebrating Pride Month, let us not forget the violence against the LGBTQI+ community all over the world. South Africa is the only country in Africa where same-sex marriage is legal. Despite this, there is still violent homophobia especially against Black lesbian women. Gender reaffirming surgery is very expensive and unaffordable to most transgender people in South Africa.  They are also shamed and discouraged when they go to Home Affairs to change their names. In the rest of Africa, homosexuality is taboo and sometimes punishable by death.

Be intersectional with your activism

My belief is that if you are anti-sexist, you should be anti-racist and anti-homophobic as well. You cannot want equal rights for women and not demand equal rights for Black people and LGBTQI people. Intersectionality is the only response to widespread inequality and oppression. Peace and justice is the only response to violence.

You do not have to be an expert but stay educated. Protest injustice as much as you can. Speak up as much as you can. If you are a part of a dominant culture, stop trying to control the narrative on behalf of oppressed people.

And if this final sentence applies to you, please, stop using your privilege as a weapon against historically oppressed people.

Learn more about racism and intersectionality in our campaign Antiracist Voices here.

Bellamy on Amplifying the Voices of Afroitalians

For the second episode of We Belong Podcast, we take you to Milan, Italy – the country currently worst affected by the coronavirus. We recorded a special remote interview with Bellamy, a model, blogger, activist and the founder of Afroitalian Souls.

Bellamy was born and raised in Italy in a half Ugandan and half Sudanese family. Her interests range from fashion and skincare to international politics. She became increasingly passionate about socio-cultural issues, particularly on the experience of the black body in different countries. While researching this, she felt called to take action in Italy.

With her friend Grazia, she created Afroitalian Souls: a digital platform that promotes the excellence of the African diaspora in Italy while simultaneously bringing awareness to the endless social and racial issues they face.

In our conversation with Bellamy, we discuss the impact of Covid-19 in Italy, the structural and cultural forms of violence that black Italians face, and how she uses sarcasm and style to amplify the voice of Afroitalians on social media.

Episode available on Apple Podcast, Spotify, Anchor, Youtube and at the bottom of this post.

We Belong is the podcast that gives a voice to the New Daughters of Europe.  Yasmine Ouirhrane, appointed expert by the European Union and the African Union, will host this series of conversations with young women representing the diversity of Europe. She will travel and meet women who are breaking stereotypes, navigating multiple identities, and challenging the conventional wisdom of what it means to belong. 

As an advocate for social and gender justice in Europe, Yasmine Ouirhrane was awarded Young European of the Year 2019 by the Schwarzkopf Foundation. She was also named EDD Young Leader by the European Commission and is an expert on Peace & Security at the AU-EU Youth Cooperation Hub, mandated by the EU and the AU. She is an award-winning fellow at Women Deliver and a member of the Gender Innovation Agora at UN Women.

The Podcast is produced by Les Cavalcades.

Follow us on InstagramTwitter and Facebook.

Intersectionality: from Theory to Practice

You’ve probably heard the word ‘intersectionality’. You’ve maybe heard people call themselves ‘an intersectional feminist’. In a lot of feminist media, culture and conversation, intersectionality has become a buzzword. But what does it actually mean, and how does it relate to gender equality?

To understand more, we spoke to Mpho Elizabeth Mpofu. Mpho is a development practitioner and philanthropist from Zimbabwe. She’s also the founder of Voice of Africa. Here’s what she had to say.

“It’s one of those words that we keep bringing up, but then the question is, is it really happening on the ground?”

An important thing to know about intersectionality is that the legacy of the whole concept is rooted within black feminst movements. It can be traced back to at least 1852, and the idea was explored by women of colour throughout succeeding decades. In 1989, the word intersectionality was coined by Kimberle Crenshaw.

As Crenshaw explains it, intersectionality is a way of looking at the world. It draws our attention to the ways points of difference (such as gender, race, class, sexuality, ability) create overlapping and compounding inequalities. It’s like a lens that allows us to see that the many forms and sources of inequality are interwoven. Intersectionality is something you do, not something you are, and everyone shares the responsibility of taking the theory and using it in practice. If you’d like to learn more, Kimberle Crenshaw has a great podcast – Intersectionality Matters.

Girls’ Globe attended the Women in Dev Conference in March 2020. You can watch highlights from the event or join the conversation online. If you’d like to share your perspective, personal experience or work on intersectionality, you can amplify your voice with Girls’ Globe.

Cyntoia Brown: 15 Years On – Free At Last?

In 2006, Cyntoia Brown was convicted of shooting and killing Johnny Allen, a 43-year-old man who had “bought her for sex” for $150. She was sentenced to 51 years in prison.

Earlier this month, Governor Haslam granted her clemency as one of his final acts in office. She has survived 15 years of her sentence already but will now be released to parole supervision in August this year.

Cyntoia Brown has received a lot of media attention due to the specifics of her case. She was only 16-years-old when sentenced yet she was tried as an adult. She argued against her sentence by citing a 2012 ruling which stated that to give a child a life sentence without parole is unconstitutional.

The case raised an enormous number of questions and issues – why was a young girl so scared for her life that she shot a man dead? Why was she tried as an adult when she was only 16? And most uncomfortable of all – would this sort of sentencing have happened to a 16-year-old white girl?

There is no point hiding from these questions anymore. Silence on these horrific issues allows for them to continue.

It could be argued that the high profile celebrities such as Kim Kardashian, Rihanna and Ashely Judd who shared messages of support for Cyntoia Brown on social media brought her case into the public eye. Of course, this did help, but in reality there has been a huge amount of grassroots support and momentum – raised predominantly by women of colour.

Democrat Stacey Abrams tweeted: “Justice has finally been served … This victory belongs to Cyntoia Brown & to the Tennessee human trafficking activists, especially Black women, who refused to concede to injustice & instead organized to create change.”

Although this change took 15 years to push through, cases like Brown’s show the influence the general public can have when they refuse to be silent on an issue.

But what happens when people do stay silent on an uncomfortable issue, such as race? Black women and girls are not being kept safe, and not only that, their voices are not valued as highly as their white counterparts’.

To put this into perspective, the docuseries ‘Surviving R Kelly’ aired in the US this month, documenting the life and alleged abuses of the global megastar. (Another documentary, ‘R Kelly: Sexy, Girls & Videotapes’, was broadcast in the UK in 2018).

Why have this man’s actions been allowed to continue for so long? Is it merely because of his money and influence, or it is because his victims have all been young black women? Had R. Kelly been abusing and violating young white women, would this have been allowed to go on for so long, with the same ‘out of sight out of mind’ attitude?

It’s vital, although massively depressing, to remember that Cyntoia’s story is not unique. Since 2007, a national hotline for sex trafficking operated by Polaris has received reports of 34,700 sex trafficking cases inside the United States.

The Washington Post describes research showing that “black girls accused of crimes find less leniency in the criminal justice system.” A study by Georgetown University found that prosecutors dismissed an average of three out of every 10 cases involving black girls, but seven of 10 cases involving white girls. 

Now a 30-year-old woman, Cyntoia Brown is still not ‘free’. She won’t be able to vote, or apply for many jobs. She will be on parole for the next 10 years, and she will have to live with the horrors of what has happened to her.

But, she is one module away from completing a bachelor’s degree, and plans to set up an organisation to help stop other young girls ending up in her situation. Essentially, Cyntoia Brown is freeing herself, and hopefully she will feel some of the love that is pouring her way from all over the world.

If you’re interested in learning more about Cyontia Brown’s case, there is a documentary called ‘Me Facing Life: Cyntoia’s Story’. If you want write to Cyntoia, you can send letters to “Miss Cyntoia Brown #410593, Tennessee Prison for Women, Unit 1 West, D- 49, 3881 Stewarts Lane Nashville, TN 37218.

Nia Wilson: Say Her Name

On Sunday 22 July, an 18-year-old woman was fatally stabbed on a Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) station platform in Oakland, California.

Her name was Nia Wilson. 

The following day, John Cowell (27) was arrested for the attack, which killed Nia and seriously wounded her sister, Latifah. He has been charged with murder and attempted murder.

Credit: Nichelle Stephens

In the days since, thousands of people have gathered to mourn Nia’s death and honour her life, and tens of thousands of social media posts tagged #NiaWilson, #JusticeForNia and #SayHerName have swept the internet.

Although the BART Police Chief has reportedly said that there is currently no evidence to suggest that Cowell is part of any terrorist or white supremacist group, Nia’s murder – along with the subsequent police and media response – have reignited national and international debates on race.

Celebrities, artists and all those horrified by the brutal, unprovoked murder of a young woman have been speaking out against the racism, white supremacy and misogyny that – as writer Elizabeth Gilbert posted“is so deeply embedded within our culture that we marinate in it at every level.”

In the past, when #SayHerName has been used to shine a light on murders of black women, I am ashamed to say that I have stayed silent. I’ve worried that it was not my time to speak, not my space to occupy – worried that I’d say the wrong thing. But I see now that those worries are privileges in themselves, and that the choice to remain silent is one that many women do not share with me when violence and fear remain threads woven tightly through the fabric of their daily lives.

As a white young woman, I cannot call myself a feminist if I don’t express the sorrow and disgust I feel about what happened to Nia with the same outrage, and at the same volume, as I would if a white 18-year-old was murdered where I live. Feminism that is not intersectional is irrelevant, and in this instance, silence is compliance.

What can I do? What can you do?

Firstly, you can donate to the Wilson family’s ‘Justice for Nia’ page. Then…

– Ask yourself what you are doing to disrupt systemic racism, answer honestly.

– Challenge yourself to acknowledge the ways you have personally benefited, and will continue to benefit in the future, from that racism.

– Think about how, as a white person, you can use your words and actions and networks and finances to help make the world a safer place for black people.

– Call out people around you who demonstrate hateful or oppressive behaviour. Stop ignoring racist comments or laughing at racist jokes.

– Read and learn and be willing to change. Listen to people when they tell you about their experiences, while remembering that asking black people to explain racism, or for guidance on how you can help, is asking those already doing the majority of the emotional work to dismantle white supremacy to work even harder and carry an even heavier burden. Do your own work, challenge yourself and those around you.

– Notice when the media uses language to vilify black people, or to excuse white people.

– Educate yourself on the intricacies of white supremacy. Admit to yourself if you find it uncomfortable and difficult then carry on anyway.

– Remember that good intentions are not enough.

We have to do better. We have to stand with black women. Please share any other suggestions you have! None of us are free until all of us are free. 

Nia was 18. She deserved a full and long and safe and joyful life. Say her name.