The past few days have been very interesting for me. I’ve been paying attention to the discussion on social media about Black women only spaces and if they are necessary for healing. This is something that has come to my mind often as I developed my practice and as I decided to create R.A.W.: Real, Aware & Whole. This weekend I think I finally found the words to describe it.
I’ve toyed around with discussing this topic before but really didn’t have the language for it. Maybe it was fear about the reactions of others that stopped me from even trying to think it through. Exclusive spaces and therapy work goes against all my formal education. But as I committed to writing this over the past week, there have been events in my life that have shown me EXACTLY why Black women need spaces for us and by us that support us in our healing.
“Why’d you send me to this white school.”
On Friday, my daughter went to her first homecoming dance. Where we are from this is NOT a thing, but I want her to have new experiences and fully immerse herself in this new environment that we live in. She was actually pretty excited about it. She asked to go. She found a friend who would be going. She planned her whole look: outfit, shoes -not sneakers which is a big deal- and even a specific hairstyle. As the event got closer I noticed that she started to get nervous and question her decision to go. Her friend had found a date to go with and she hasn’t really developed a community in her school yet, so she wasn’t sure what it would be like. While some of these elements would likely be there no matter the demographic of her school, her fears are further compounded by the fact that she is one of the few Black students that attends a school with predominantly white and southeast Asian students. She asked me to wait in the parking lot for her (the dance was only two hours) and as I did so she began to text me profusely about what a horrible time she was having and how some of the behaviors of her peers were triggering (ex. kneeling like Colin Kaepernick when a song came on that they didn’t like). She left the dance an hour early and we commenced to talk throughout the next few days about how invisible she feels and how disconnected she feels from those around her everyday.
My daughter is someone who thrives in community and although she is very aware and proud of her Blackness, she does not believe in being exclusive in developing her community. Her tastes and interests span many cultures and she finds connection, when given the chance, with almost anyone - young or old. So to hear her say she feels invisible literally broke my heart.
Over the past few days I have seen so many references to Black women and our feelings of invisibility. Listening to Gabrielle Union’s newest book she talks about internalized beliefs that led to working for the acceptance of nonblack peers. In sessions with clients we’ve been talking about the impact of being Black at work, at church, in school and the harm of Black excellence. On IG I Don’t Do Clubs posted about the significance of Kelli being declared dead at their college reunion on the season opener of Insecure, while she is very clearly alive. And this is just a few of the places where this feeling of us being invisible is named out loud in the past few days alone.
Then I decided to watch The Color Purple with my daughter and I cried like it was my first time seeing it. My daughter, who never cries at movies (she’s the opposite of me and thinks hiding her feelings is essential) was so emotional it shocked me. When we talked about it we were able to identify that watching Black women who were looking for affection, affirmation and freedom from the world (Black men and white society) find themselves and learn to love themselves through their relationships with each other was what we felt connected to most in the story.
Perhaps the most pivotal scene that shows this to me is the kitchen scene. You know the one we all remember for its ending with Celie riding off after she has “cursed” Mister for all the pain he has put her through. But watching it again, what I saw was how all the women at the table were finding themselves through the support of each other, even with the complexity of the relationships. Shug allowing Celie and Squeak to travel to Memphis with her; Sofia seemingly finding her spunk again and recounting how Celie helped her; Celie finding her voice when talking about the pain of knowing her sister was kept from her and the joy and pride of knowing she was taking care of her children. Through their relationships with each other these women were able to embrace themselves.
You see, in a world where you don’t feel seen, where everyone has preconceived notions of who you are and who you need to be, there is something special, unique and infinitely defining about looking at someone like you, seeing their pain too, having them show up to support you through your pain and reflect to you that you deserve to be loved just as you are. There feels like an even playing field looking at another Black woman who is intentional about choosing to hold space for you. You feel like you are seeing yourself, albeit a different version, and in showing love to her and receiving her love you connect to a new truth. In this connection you get to see you and all that is possible. Being seen for you and the complexity of what that can mean in a world that only chooses to see parts of you is what makes room for you to dare to dream of something new. THIS is critical when healing, because so much of what we see is limited because of our pain.
Healing happens through connection.
There’s so much you have to wade through and understand for yourself as you heal from your lived (and intergenerational) experiences, that it feels amazing to not to also have to explain and justify your humanity. It’s freeing to be able to share some common ground regarding the “outside” world as you work through the challenges of your “inside world.”
While we work through the trauma of experiences that happen in our relationships (family, friends, intimate partnerships), we are also working through our fears of connection and all the pains that these connections have brought. We can not divorce our healing from the racist social constructs that we live in, exist in and that create traumatic experiences daily. Part of the healing process is being honest about and investigating the systems that hurt us and the people in those systems that are cloaked in the privilege that anti-blackness assures them they deserve. Part of the challenge of connecting to self in diverse spaces is you often have to also wade through the context of race and all the implicit biases that come with that BEFORE you allow yourself to be vulnerable and truly give and receive. We don't want to have to do the work of deconstructing our unique experiences for the benefit of others as we do the work for ourselves. This puts us, again, in spaces where we are not centered and where our needs are not prioritized and where our labor is required solely for the benefit of others.
Sharing space with other women who look like you, allows you to tell the deeper story and work through all of the layers without having to orient someone to fundamental truths of your world. Of course, we are not monolithic, but there are shared experiences in Blackness and shared experiences in Black womanhood, which allow us to dive deeper, build accountability and work through vulnerability in the safety of relationships with each other.
There is a time and place for everything and healing in spaces with other Black women is our opportunity to take off our armor, to give ourselves permission to be stripped down, open up and do the work we need to in a space where we are prioritized. For those who cannot see why that is needed or hold honor for what we are saying we need, I ask you to look at that as the EVIDENCE of why we need it and why that space is not for you.