The funny thing about stereotypes is that they often have some measure of truth to them. As black women in America, no group has been more stereotyped, or misunderstood, or more devalued than us. As we begin the countdown on the year that was 2013, it is time for us as black women to look toward our future in the New Year that is 2014.
As someone who has traveled the country for the last two years, talking and engaging almost exclusively with black women in corporate America, in universities, in our sororities, in industry, in our organizations, in the media and in our churches -- I think it is time that we, as black women, faced some challenging truths about ourselves. What I'm about to say will be hard. And it may offend some of you. But that is okay, because the truth always hurts us before it heals us. Years before I wrote my award-winning book Black Woman Redefined, I founded an organization: I Am My Sister's Keeper.
This organization, was dedicated to helping college-educated professional black women to better navigate their careers, their health and wellness, their spirit, their finances and their relationships. The organization took off and grew much greater than I ever expected, and was nationally recognized by media outlets like CNN and The Washington Post as the go-to organization for Black women's personal development and wellness for over six years. The organization was the catalyst for the book Black Woman Redefined: Dispelling Myths and Discovering Fulfillment in the Age of Michelle Obama.
One of the things that I have discovered about living life as a black woman in America, and by talking to and engaging with literally tens of thousands of black women throughout the United States, is that we have some very negative self-destructive patterns that we need to own, face and be courageous enough to fix if we want to have happy, healthy and healed lives. It is my goal in this column to challenge us as a sisterhood of women to take the necessary steps, to heal ourselves, both individually and collectively. Before we get into the steps that I believe are necessary for us to truly get to the places that we desire in our lives as black women, I ask you to keep an open mind, try not to get defensive, and share the steps in your sororities, clubs, and workplaces so that other black women can benefit. Sometimes it is as simple as people NOT knowing better so that they can do better.
The steps that I have outlined below, are based on qualitative and quantitative research, focus groups, coaching and speaking at large women's conferences, HBCUs and interactive workshops I have conducted throughout the country over the past several years:
1. We must deal with our unresolved pain, wounds and baggage that often result in angry eruptions, broken relationships, failed relationships and unrealized dreams. This is a huge stumbling block for us in our interpersonal relationships. We carry lots of stuff, and lots of people on our backs and in our spirits. It results in us being weary, tired and frustrated.
2. We must stop doing emotional violence and damage to other black women. Other black women are not the enemy. Other black women are struggling and fighting the same battles that we fight every day, no matter their station in life, no matter what you think they may possess in terms of wealth, status or lifestyle. We have to stop "hating" on other sisters. It is just wreaking havoc on our emotional wellness and sisterhood. "We are all we have," as First Lady Michelle Obama once said. Let's start acting like it!
3. We must love ourselves enough to take care of our physical bodies and learn to eat healthier, sleep better, exercise more, tend to our feet (for diabetics) and wean ourselves off of generations of destructive emotional eating (comfort foods) that has literally millions of black women in America stuck in a pattern of diabetes, hypertension, obesity, depression and heart disease.
4. We must learn to teach people how to treat us with value, respect, love, honor, dignity and peace by showing them that we live by a WOMAN CODE that honors the very same values in our own lives and in how we treat other people.
5. We must commit to engaging in healthy, functional, committed and loving relationships with the men in our lives. Where those relationships are unhealthy, abusive or destructive to our soul's landscape; we must be willing to put an end to those relationships immediately. We have got to stop making excuses for other people's abusive treatment of us and toward us. It is NOT acceptable, sisters. We have got to put an end to the pain we feel because our fathers left us or were absent. Or the pain that we feel because the men we love betrayed us, cheated on us, raped or beat us. We have to believe that there are still good, loving, healthy and functional men regardless of their race, who will see our value, our worth, our beauty and our possibilities. And when they find us, we must commit not to run away, push them away or punish them for what our fathers, brothers or uncles did to us.
The truth is, there is no magic checklist for getting any of us the life that we desire. But there are critical life steps that we can take starting right now, and right here to helping us as black women to heal. And sisters, we need to heal.
Far too many of us are walking around with a smile on our face, with beautiful clothing, with our hair perfectly coiffed and with expensive handbags and shoes to make us feel valuable. When deeply inside, we are simmering pots waiting to erupt. We look so good on the outside. But some of us are badly broken on the inside. And we are killing other black women with our venom.
And for those who have been courageous enough to do the work on themselves, it is time for us to be our sister's keeper. I am not asking you to burden your life with another woman's pain, I am not asking you to save another woman's life, what I am asking you to do, is to be kind to other black women. Reach out. Care. Show some empathy. Be a mentor. Be a friend. When other black women try to help you do not treat them as the enemy. When they are there for you say thank you. When they have stuck with you in the trenches and storms of life honor them. When they have your back, don't stab them in theirs. When they bless you with their gifts for free, support your causes, organizations, and the like or help you and your family in desperate times of need, don't later discard them because you believe that you no longer need them. It is just immoral. It violates the WOMAN CODE.
Sisters, this will be the last column that I will ever write on the issue of us as black women. I've grown tired and weary. I love us, but the world is bigger, more global, and sisterhood is about all women coming together to lift, heal, inspire and change the world. We need to do the work on us so that we can fully participate in that global sisterhood and all the benefits of it.
I have, like many others before me, devoted the last decade of my life to helping the rest of the world try to see us as the beautiful, fabulous, fierce, loyal, kind, nurturing, intelligent, committed and loving women that we are. But in the last year, in particular, I've experienced first hand, and heard far too many stories from good black women, from all walks of life, about other black women who have cursed them, cut them off, betrayed them, manipulated them, stolen from them, slept with their men, slandered them, ruined them, fired them and literally broken their hearts with treachery for the smallest of offenses, or for no offense at all.
We love to do what I call "The Go Off." It is what we do when anyone dares challenge us, correct us, upsets us, or in some cases, tries to love us. Sisters, you have no right despite whatever kind of pain you may be in, to heap abuse on another black woman. The most disturbing part of this "go off" mentality, is that we feel entitled to do it most of all against one another. We don't do it to the men in our lives who mistreat us and abuse us. We would never do it to the "other" people in our lives or at our workplaces. But we will do it to the sister in church, the sister who has taken us into her home, the sister who has been with us through hell, the sister who has lent us money, the sister who bathed us when we were too sick to bathe ourselves, or cared for us when we were sick. Sisters, it's time to heal (see my 2012/2013 series for essence.com: "Sisters Heal," it will bless you).
In the final analysis, each of us must determine her own journey for herself. Each of us must do the work that is required, for us to rise above the pain that was unfairly inflicted upon us as children, as young girls and women, and now as grown middle-aged or aging women. It is never too late to fix yourself, if you are willing to do the work. It is never too late to apologize, to make amends for the wrongs that we do and to forgive those who have wronged us. Sisters, it's time for us to stop pointing the finger at everyone else and take a long hard look in the mirror at the woman was looking back. If your life is not what you imagined it would be, or if you are unhappy. The change has to start within. You can never skip doing the work. It will destroy your destiny.
If you want 2014 to be different than 2013, then the work has to start now. Your life will only become what you want it to be, when you find the courage to love yourself. And when you learn to love yourself, I promise you that you will learn to love, respect and honor other black women.
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