Week after week I provide information on health, wealth, and well being. Week after week I wonder if it makes a difference. I’m not naive in the sense that people will read the words on this page and then will magically change their lives. Evolution occurs over time and revolutions build to a climax. Black women in this country are in the midst of an evolution that I like to call the Black EVEolution. We find ourselves to be the most educated demographic as a percentage of our population and a growing number of us are becoming entrepreneurs. Black women are beginning to occupy the C-Suite at corporations and hold seats on boards. At the same time we are increasingly the most unhealthy group in America. We are most likely to be overweight or obese and least likely to exercise.
I write on Black women’s health and wealth week after week because without revolution our EVEolution is in danger. If we’re not healthy how can we earn, maintain and grow the wealth to which we aspire and are moving toward? Yet, as a group, it appears we remain apathetic to our declining health status. Who cares if we’re wealthy if we’re dying? If we’re dying it’s hard to remain wealthy. Black women in this country are at a crucial time in history. We are at a tipping point of health, wealth and happiness. In order to tip in the right direction we must have a revolution.
It’s difficult to be a Black woman. That is not to take away from other groups. Unlike any other group, Black women are vilified in the media and in entertainment as angry, bitter and attitudinal. On top of this we are often portrayed as highly sexualized beings with children by multiple fathers. These images and stereotypes are often perpetuated in the workplace leading us to be revered as substandard to our colleagues where we are often praised for being “articulate” and surprise oft expressed at the mention of the prestigious schools we attended. This is a place where it is quite easy to ruin our careers by saying we “are difficult to work with”. These adjectives often describe us but not our white male counterparts. I have never heard that a man was “difficult to work with”. Ever. Even when he was. Further still, it carries into our social and home lives. Black males are the most likely to date outside of their race while Black women are the least likely to get married.
We, as a community, find ourselves at a crossroads. One of the roads leads us backwards (or keeps us stagnant) while the other one takes us toward Black EVEolution. There are several things we must do to ensure our burgeoning success in this country. This is our revolution.
1. Let our voices be heard. I often reflect on the movies The Help and Belle. When I read the book Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg what immediately struck me is that Black women have always worked outside the home and raised children. Prior to Black women enrolling in college and moving in corporate america, they made a living serving as maids in white households, even if the mother stayed at home. This was a distinct point made in The Help. Did this scenario later develop into tension between Black and White women in the workplace? Black women were subservient to White women now they are equal. Same with White men. Black women are more and more the head of household, just as educated and assertive. Does the rift in corporate america between White men and Black women stem more from our sameness than our differences? Either way, speaking up for ourselves as Belle did is how we continue to ensure our success in the workplace. This starts with negotiating our salaries and positions at work. This is a main contributor to why women make less than men. When asking for a promotion back it up with documented facts. As they say, closed mouths don’t get fed.
We must also vote with our dollars and remotes. Don’t buy products that exclude us or advertise to us in a series of stereotypes. Of course, we don’t have to watch these reality shows that depict Black women throwing wine bottles at people among other things. But also, don’t watch TV shows that exclude us as characters. Kudos to ABC television network for having the most diverse shows airing in prime time. Their lineup includes Scandal, How To Get Away With Murder, Black’ish, Modern Family, Fresh Off the Boat, Cristella, and Grey’s Anatomy. These shows boast a diverse cast many of which have strong Black female leads in positions of power. Now if they would just have a Black bachelor or bachelorette – newsflash, white people aren’t the only ones looking for love. I’ll throw a bone to NBC which was the first to cast a Black female president in prime time. And of course let’s give a collective “boooo” to the Academy Awards for failing to nominate a single black actor, actress and director (i.e. Ava DuVernay for Selma).
2. Get control of our health. The biggest threat against Black women today isn’t White people, it’s our declining health as a community. Black women have the highest rates of obesity, type II diabetes, HIV/AIDS, and heart disease. Black women are also more likely than white women to die from breast cancer even though we are diagnosed at the same rate. Part of this is us and part of this is systematic disenfranchisement when it comes to health care. The poor don’t have access to quality medical care and the middle class is slowly being squeezed out. Clinical trials for medications all but omit people of color from their studies making it impossible to understand the effects of medications and disease states on us. Food deserts prevent people in urban areas across the country from getting nutritious foods. We know the how. What we need is the collective inspiration to live. Much like anti-smoking commercials don’t make people quit, merely talking about the need for better health doesn’t make people get healthy. We all need our individual motivation and internal desire to change. What will you change for?
3. Generate, maintain and build wealth. I’m not talking about getting rich. Wealth is simply having more coming in than you have going out. Black women have the least amount of wealth in this country. This isn’t from a lack of desire to work but rather, maybe, to plan. Home ownership and retirement funds are the two main sources of wealth in those below 60 years of age. While more Black women own homes, they are still way behind in this statistic. Also, social security is the primary source of retirement funds for Black women. Many people who are wealthy learned about wealth creation in their homes growing up. It certainly isn’t taught in school. Those who didn’t learn about it at home got an education about it elsewhere. We need to learn about money and financial planning. Once we have wealth we need to protect it by having the proper insurance in place such as life, health and long-term. We must resist the urge to lend money out to take care of others or live beyond our means in the short term.
4. Help each other. In general boys and girls are socialized differently. Boys are taught to play together, as a team. They are taught to be tough, to be leaders and conquer the world. Girls are taught to be pretty and compete with one another. This carries on into adulthood. Look at the media. No one cares what President Obama is wearing but everything the First Lady wears is scrutinized. Models and celebrities in magazines are airbrushed to an unrealistic perfection and women across the country chastise themselves for not being pretty enough, tall enough, thin enough, or whatever enough. Men don’t do this. It’s time to stop competing and help each other. We need to uplift each other. Despite what we are told or led to believe there is room enough at the top for all of us. There is more than enough light to shine on all of us. Let us stop using our energy to block others’ light and use it to hold space for each other.
5. Be vulnerable and try new things. Can we please stop with the tough girl act. Everyone, absolutely everyone who is breathing and living on the planet Earth needs help at some point. We have been socialized since little girls that we don’t cry, that we’re tough, we don’t need a man, we don’t need help, God will do everything, etc. I have always heard platitudes for Black women that create solitude but I don’t think I have ever heard one that creates community and vulnerability. It’s a falsehood that we always have to be strong. If we make good decisions about our mates and our friends we don’t have to worry about protecting ourselves. Ask for help. Express your feelings. Submission isn’t a bad word. Everyone gives a little to gain a lot. Our constant need to be on the offensive is what gives us stress. And in being vulnerable let’s be open to trying new things. Instead of “I’m not doing that”, try it then at least you can “I tried it and didn’t like it”. Life begins at the ends of our comfort zone.
While we strive to bring about a change in our community let’s not forget those things we do well. Let us continue to embrace our unique and stunning beauty. Black women may be bigger but in general have a healthier self-image and embrace their bodies. Black women are reverting back to their natural hair. The relaxer market has been declining over the past three years and it’s expected to continue to decline. We’re smart and strong as more and more of us are getting advanced degrees, starting businesses, and moving up the chain at work. Not just in corporate america but in other fields as well. Lastly, Black women are the most religiously devout demographic in America. What this really says is that Black women are the most likely to have faith and believe in something beyond themselves and the greater good.
Comment below and share within your communities. What do you think Black women in this country need to do to secure their success?
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