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Say No to Respectability Politics

 

 

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As a Black woman,  it has been implied  to me that because I “spoke so well” and “behaved myself”, I wouldn’t have it as bad as other Black people who “didn’t” however  despite all of that, I  have faced  microaggressions and been called the n word as I walked down the street on my way to lunch.  As a woman, I was told to not dress in certain ways so men wouldn’t harass me however I have been cat called on the street even when I was 9 months pregnant.

Respectability politics is a term coined by author and professor Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham in her 1993 book Righteous Discontent The Women’s Movement in the Black Baptist Church, 1880–1920. While the term is relatively new, the concept is old.  It is telling an oppressed group that in order to receive better treatment from the group in power, they must behave better.

 The practice of respectability politics is a problem because it shifts blame and responsibility from the oppressive group to the oppressed.  Respectability politics tells us that the oppressed group must police themselves in order to stop being harmed.  This is of course not true because no matter how you carry yourself there is a chance that someone will exhibit racist, sexist or negative  behavior towards you. I’m a Black woman who probably would be defined as respectable however I have experienced racism and sexism no matter what I’m wearing or how I’m speaking. Dressing a certain way or speaking a certain way won’t save you so just be yourself.

Social Media and Anxiety

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Do you get anxious when you cannot check your Facebook, Twitter or Instagram? Social media anxiety is a condition that is similar to social anxiety disorder and is estimated to affect up to 20% of social media users.   According to the experts, almost 20% of people with social media accounts cannot go more than three hours without checking them.  I used to have difficulty with constantly checking my social media but I have begun to spend less time online and I do feel my anxiety has lessened.

Comparing yourself to others on social media can often lead to anxiety.  This is referred  as the compare-and-despair factor.  Looking at pictures of people on fancy vacations and seeing posts where people seem to be happy and carefree all the time  may cause you to feel like your life is boring in comparison.  However remember what people post on social media is only a small part of their life, you don’t truly know  what’s going on from pictures and posts.

Comparing can also lead to anxiety when it relates to followers or friends. For example, some people are often trying to get the most followers or friends, remember that having lots of friends and followers doesn’t indicate your worth as a person.  I recently deleted over 200 people from Facebook.

Another social anxiety  sometimes triggered by social media is the fear of missing out, (FOMO).  This is “a pervasive apprehension that others might be having rewarding experiences from which you’re absent”. This is characterized by “a desire to stay continually connected with what others are doing”.

While there is nothing wrong with using social media, it is important to not neglect other areas in your life to be on Facebook, Twitter, etc.  A good technique is to set a specific amount of time when you will be on, for example 30 minutes per day.  Also if you delete the apps from your phone, you will probably spend less time on social media sites.  Cutting down can be difficult at first but once you do, you may find your anxiety lessened and you will also spend more time with others outside of the internet.

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To Be a Black Woman with Anxiety

 

 

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Anxiety is one of the most common reasons for women to seek therapy.  For Black women, anxiety is  often more chronic and the symptoms more intense than white women.

To understand anxiety and Black women,  you need to understand how Black women are viewed.    There are three basic images which we see of Black women, the Strong Black Womanthe Angry Black Woman, and the Overly Sexual Black woman.. These images affect how other people see Black women and how we see ourselves. They also play a role in the development of anxiety.

Strong Black Women -There are some  positive aspects about being a Strong Black Woman, but there are  also many negatives.   A Strong Black Woman  will keep going even when she knows she should stop, this places her mental and physical health at risk.

An Angry Black Woman  is perceived as a woman who is always ready to  “cuss” you out. I have found that many women who are perceived this way are actually very anxious.  The anger is often an outward expression of their discomfort with the negativity associated with anxiety.

The Overly Sexual Black Woman  used to be referred to as a Jezebel, which comes from the Biblical Queen who  was said to have turned her husband against God.  Since slavery, Black women have been sexualized in derogatory ways  Today  this is often seen  in rap and hip-hop videos.

Social Anxiety 

In workplaces, college and professional  settings around the country, Black women often find themselves to be  the only one.   In these situations, we  have  often been taught that we have to be twice as good, that we are representing the race and that we are being watched more closely than our white counterparts.  These beliefs along with the Strong Black Woman image often increases the risk for social anxiety.

PTSD

The rate of sexual assault among Black women is  reported to be 3.5 times higher than that of any other group in this country. Black women are also less likely to report their assault. Many never share with anyone what has happened to them. The trauma  will remain untreated and the symptoms  will worsen.

Racism is another   form of trauma that  affects Black women.  Trauma in the form of racism can be directly or indirectly experienced. Driving while Black, shopping while Black, and racial micoraggressions are direct examples of racial trauma.  Indirect examples are videos of unarmed Black women and men being killed.

Thankfully, the stigma associated with seeking help for anxiety  and other mental health issues is disappearing.  Remember that with the help of a good therapist you can reclaim your life from anxiety.  I was able to reclaim my life and so can you.

 

Beginning Therapy

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It’s not too difficult to  find a therapist but it can be difficult to know if you’ve found one who is right for you.  The first step is often going on the internet and looking at Psychology Today, Therapy for Black Girls or other therapist directories.  After you find a therapist it’s important to see if they are the right fit for you.  Here are some questions to ask yourself  to see if you’ve found the right therapist for yourself.

1. What does it feel like for you to sit with the therapist? Do you feel safe and comfortable?  Is the person down-to-earth and easy to relate to or does he or she feel cold and emotionally removed?  Is the therapist arrogant?   If a therapist  doesn’t feel like a good fit for you, that’s okay; there’s absolutely no contract or rule requiring you to continue working with any therapist. However,  If you find yourself reacting negatively to every therapist you see, then the issue could be yours and may warrant your sticking it out with a therapist in an effort to work through your fears  of beginning therapy.

2. What’s the therapist’s general philosophy and approach to helping? Does your therapist  approach people in a compassionate and optimistic way? Does he or she believe humans are born loving and lovable?

3. Can the therapist clearly define how he or she can help you to solve whatever issue or concern has brought you to therapy?  A therapist should be able to  explain how they can help and  be able  to give you a basic “road map,” to their approach.

4. Can your  therapist accept feedback and admit mistakes? A good therapist  is open to feedback and to learning that something he or she said hurt or offended you. Good therapists are willing to look at themselves and to honestly and openly admit mistakes.

5. Does the therapist  encourage dependence or independence? Therapy doesn’t solve your problems; it helps you to solve your own.  Therapy doesn’t soothe your overwhelming feelings; it helps you learn to soothe your own feelings.  If your therapist never encourages you to access your own resources, it is more likely you will become dependent on your therapist to help you feel better, rather than learning to depend on yourself.

6. Does the therapist have experience helping others with the particular issues for which you are seeking therapy? The more experience a therapist has addressing a particular issue, concern, or problem area, the more expertise they have developed.

9. Does the therapist make guarantees or promises? It’s important for a therapist to provide hope but not give  absolute unconditional guarantees.

10. Is the therapist  licensed? Licensure means  that a therapist has engaged in postgraduate counseling experience which, depending on the state of licensure, may include up to 3,000 hours of required supervised experience. It also means the therapist has passed a licensing exam. There are many unlicensed therapists who have years of experience and do excellent work, but licensed therapists  have (generally but not always) undergone more extensive supervision than unlicensed counselors. You can contact your state professional licensing board to verify the licensure of a provider.

11. Have any complaints been filed with the board? To see if a therapist has a record or is under investigation, you can check with your state licensing board for their profession.

Remember the most important thing is the relationship, if you feel comfortable and have a good rapport with your therapist then you know you’ve found the one for you.

Dealing with Trauma Triggers

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The news has been full recently of stories about sexual assault.  Watching the news can bring back  difficult memories and make you feel overwhelmed. Understanding that traumatic triggers can come  at any time is a good reminder of the importance of practicing consistent self-care.   I have made a list to help you with self care when you’re feeling triggered.

  1. Have a self care plan  for when unexpected trauma reminders happen.  It’s a good idea to  write down some strategies that have helped you in the past when you were feeling stressed or overwhelmed.  Save a copy of the strategies on your phone so they’re easily accessible to you.
  2. If you are feeling triggered, look around the space where you are and remind yourself that you’re safe at that moment.   Repeat to yourself, “I am safe right now.”  Say this over and over again in your mind until you feel calm.
  3. Use grounding techniques such as meditation and deep breathing exercises. to regulate strong emotions under stress. This will help you connect with your body and your five senses.  Grounding is very helpful with trauma because it helps you stay in the moment  in order to help you separate from past trauma.
  4. Seek out feelings of safety.  Try to   find spaces that make you feel safe.  This  can be found with people you trust or a comfortable environment.
  5. Slowly and gently confront trauma reminders.  When reminders happen,  try to take them in small doses.  You can take breaks, get support, and take deep breaths,
  6. Know that trauma symptoms will pass.    Remember you are strong enough to survive reminders of past trauma.
  7. Go to Therapy. A therapist can teach you skills for managing trauma symptoms, and offer you comfort when you feel overwhelmed.    I know therapy can be expensive however Open Path Collective has a comprehensive list of therapists who offer therapy for lower cost.
  8. If you feel triggered and need to talk to someone right away, call 1800-656-HOPE for support and linkage to local resources.

Remember to take care of yourself and it’s not your fault.

Loving Yourself as a Black Woman

 

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

 

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Black women we are often portrayed as being unworthy of love.  This is a message we get in media and also larger society.  It’s difficult to not internalize the words of others and believe that you are worthy of love like everyone else.  I’ve struggled with my self esteem and have felt that I wasn’t as pretty or smart as other people however I was lucky to be praised often in my home and that protected me from a larger society where I was always led to think I wouldn’t be the one who was chosen and considered beautiful. When a woman turns on the television or opens a magazine and does not see herself represented or only represented in a negative way, it can leave her feeling like she isn’t beautiful, or maybe she just isn’t worth loving.

A first step to achieving self-love is to acknowledge and list all of the things you love about yourself.  We often spend so much time being critical of ourselves that we forget that there are things that we love about ourselves.  It can be helpful to write a list of things that you love about yourself, and create a list of all of the Black women in your life that inspire you.

Another step is to educate yourself on the Black women who inspire you and/or have changed the course of history.  Remember there are some amazing Black women who have been trailblazers in history. Another step  s is to create goals for yourself and work on achieving those goals.   Remember you deserve success just as much as anyone else.

 

Finally  it is important to find a space, and create platforms dedicated to you.  This is why it’s important to have spaces dedicated to the upliftment of Black women.   Remember we’re our sister’s keeper.

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To Tell or Not To Tell

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The beginning of a new relationship  can be a time of discovery,  a time when you get to learn the good, the bad, and sometimes the  ugly about the new person in your life.

But when it comes to  the number of people you have had sex with, – how much do we really want to know?  And does sharing (or not sharing) make a difference for a happy future?  How ever much you chose to share with your new partner is completely your decision.   Remember what  you’re comfortable sharing  is influenced by many things, including: your culture or religious beliefs; the degree of security in your relationship and your own feelings about your sexual history.  I’ve complied a list of the benefits and potential negatives you may want to consider before you discuss your sexual history.

 

Positives of telling your partner

You don’t have to waste energy keeping it secret.

When you are regularly sharing intimate aspects of your life, it might feel like withholding this one piece of personal information is using up a lot of mental energy.

Your past experiences are part of who you are today.

Your past romantic and sexual experiences play a part in shaping who you are as a person, and how you behave in relationships, so it might provide important context or understanding for your partner.

 

Honesty is the usually the  best policy in relationships.

It’s a  cliché, but honesty is  often the best policy. And although withholding doesn’t necessarily mean you are being dishonest with your partner, you might find it means you have to tell a few lies in different situations.

 

 Negatives of telling your partner

It might change how you perceive each other.

While the number of people your partner has had sex with shouldn’t make a difference to your current relationship, sometimes you might feel that if they’ve had many partners you might have negative feelings about this and wonder if your partner is too experienced for you.    Remember if  you ask your partner how many people they’ve slept with and they tell you,  you have to try not to judge them.

Remember if  they’d rather not tell you, try not to  push them into it and respect their privacy if they say they’d rather not.

Remember if  your partner judges you for the number of people you’ve had sex with , this says a lot more about them and their own insecurities and prejudices than it does about you.

It could be a sign that your partner is too controlling.

When you are making the decision about whether to open up, remember that you don’t owe your partner this information and you have a right to keep it private.

If your partner casually asks  about this, then there is no need to be concerned, but if they pressure you into telling them, there may be an hidden agenda.

If the question  feels intrusive or makes you uncomfortable, you’ll know instinctively. If they push you into answering,  this can be the sign of a controlling relationship.

Remember a sign of a healthy relationship is feeling like you can tell your partner if you want to, but not feeling like you have to.

Giving a number means nothing.

At the end of the day, a number is a number, so make sure you don’t torture yourself too much with this marker of ‘sexual experience’, because we all know that how many partners  you have been with doesn’t determine how good you are sexually.

 

To tell the number of past partners is completely up to you.  Don’t feel pressured to tell and remember being experienced sexually or not sexually experienced has no bearing on you as a person.