I am currently reading Healthy Selfitude by NORMAL President Robyn Hussa and this month I am more aware of the shift toward mindfulness but also realize that as an African American that grew up in the Protestant church how foreign this concept may come across.
I would like to speak to you as you consider reaching out an audience that struggle underneath layers of oppression. I remember an innocent conversation I had with a young woman I spoke with at my first BEDA conference in which she expressed why bother with African American women (of slave decent) that think they have it all it all together, they love their bodies?
This is not the first time I have heard this argument and it is an important narrative for us to keep in mind. Please know that this is a socially constructed myth. For some women, it can serve as a defense mechanism while others may reach for the only sense of self esteem our social narratives offer, some even feel pressure to act out these narratives from their families and society, feeling it is an easy alternative to the truth they live with.
Healthy Selfitude opens up ways in which understanding our bodies through mindfulness meditation and the arts can uncover what lies deep beneath the layers of oppression and why we consciously or unconsciously perform or resist this that I named the B4 narrative in my doctoral dissertation or the big, beautiful body narrative society has constructed. The narratives are dominated in the US by mainstream media or more broadly the machine or mechanism by which all oppressive systems are created and reproduced.
Some of that oppression may be obvious as the part of our intellectual body (the brain) evolves as we study the historical, social, political, and financial underpinnings of slavery and production of the image of black bodies.
An interesting interpretation was discussed between Oprah Winfrey and Jamie Foxx. Oprah Winfrey’s OWN Network produces a show titled The Next Chapter and recently Interviewed Jamie Foxx for his role in a movie that portrays him as a slave renegade. During the interview they mentioned that African Americans are ironically survivors, the successful seeds of a mental holocaust, as they juxtaposition Hitler’s Death Camps to America’s inescapable inferiority belief system toward African Americans of slave decent sold to us through inferior imagery.
These negative images, so saturated, so ingrained in the imaginations of all through every system that can reproduce an image remain as stock characters in blockbuster films today. This system of mental oppression carried over the media to every nook of society obstructing the minds of us nationally and abroad such that a ‘normal’ representation of African Americans of slave decent does not exist. In other words, the fat, black woman, the b4 narrative is so acceptable and digestible, that to utter the opposite seems suspect.
Getting back to the idea of mindfulness and the fat, black body, I pose the question that if one has escaped the body through knowledge ones mind can bring by understanding the social constructions of race, class, gender, and weight: then why on earth would one want to re-connect the mind and body through mindfulness when there is still this disconnect between the fat, black and thus painful material body? In other words, we may have overcome in areas of race but where fat and black meet, the conversation is still in its infancy.
The following exert from Woman Poem written by Nikki Giovanni in 1968 can illustrate my point. This was the first time I read anything that resonated so succinctly with the way media and society reflected back to me how I feel in my female, large, black body:
“it’s a sex object if you’re pretty and no love or love and no sex if you’re fat get back fat black woman be a mother grandmother strong thing but not woman gameswoman romantic woman love needer man seeker dick eater sweat getter fuck needing love seeking woman”
This poem excerpt captures the complex nature of the embodied experience of fat and black body but also the painful and hurtful type of judgment that comes with it. It is not worse than or different from hurt another ethnicity or sex but similar. The problem is, when separating the two (fat and color); it weakens the fight against fat prejudice and discrimination. As such, if you just take the word black out of the poem, can you relate to the pain and experience of the woman that walked around in such a body?
If you are a counselor, can you help a woman that walked around with the weight this kind of socially constructed pain brings about even if you are uncomfortable with racism? If you are a yoga instructor teaching mindfulness and meditation, are you able explain the importance of the mind, body and spirit connection to a woman that wanted to stay the hell out of a body that felt this type of historically produced oppression socially embedded in the psychology of her mind that she believed her fate was to live an unhealthy lifestyle and never connect mind, body, and spirit? Can all of us withhold judgment and reach out to individuals that have fat, black bodies and that may not have escaped the mental holocaust? I certainly hope so.