“Today we are faced with a challenge that calls for a shift in our thinking, so that humanity stops threatening its life-support system. We are called to assist the Earth to heal her wounds and in the process, heal our own.” -Wangari Maathai
The Black body has endured more than the growth-halting grip of former enslavement. We have suffered trauma to the African trinity of health (mental, physical, and spiritual), which greatly affects how we interact in the world, “post enslavement.” With media messages telling us to eat this sugary saturated fat to feel good, and drink that 80-proof poison to be as cool as our favorite rappers, the abuse to our bodies and overall well beings live on. Faced with limited access to life-sustaining foods due to socioeconomic status, the burden of low self-esteem from living in a racist society, and a general lack of knowledge about “living well,” a comprehensive timeline comes to mind about exactly how we have landed in the reality we are in today. Best believe this exclusion is systematic and purposely enacted. Though unfair, it is no one’s responsibility but ours to undo the mass confusion around health in the Black community and begin the journey towards healing from post-traumatic slave syndrome.
At the best moments of the Black freedom struggle we recognized that we did not just need to change laws, we also needed to change our living patterns. Organizations like the Black Panthers not only told us to change our diets, they also imposed breakfast programs and other sort of community-oriented food programs so that people would have healthy living options and they understood the relationship between healthy living and a community, they understood the relation to building a Black nation and having healthy diets. – Marc Lamont Hill
Taking control of our lifestyles is not a new concept in the Black community. As Marc Lamont Hill suggested in the above quote from 2012 documentary “Soul Food Junkies,” we have always stressed the importance of proper nutrition and lifestyle in our movements in the past and can do so once again. The same fervor Black Panthers displayed in picking up guns to protect themselves from the quick bullet of the racist can also be used to pick up plant foods, herbs, and spices to aid in the body’s defense against diseases.
With the rise of genetically modified foods, mineral-depleted soils, and processed foods being more affordable and available, many of the traditional foods we are eating today in our soul food dishes look like what our ancestors ate growing up, but chemically are not the same. Altered genetic makeup of foods and the addition of sugars, salts, and harmful preservatives aid in the development of chronic diseases Blacks are dying from in droves today. Food-related diseases which plague the community like heart disease, hypertension, obesity, and diabetes hold us back from being the fully functional beings were born to be. These many health issues act as blockades to our struggles towards freedom. Instead of actively working to defeat white supremacist oppression and earn back our rights as human beings, we’re fighting against our sickly bodies, and worrying heavily for our lives. This will change. It has to.
By embracing an attitude of “self-care as healthcare” (Queen Afua), we can operate on an optimal level. Centering the importance of clean eating with whole foods, healing herbs, and antioxidant-rich spices, we can refocus our energies to where they need to be. By feeding ourselves well, we can expect a boost in self-esteem and a fulfilling sense of purpose, two things we, as a whole, lack for various reasons. Hope is not yet lost when we trust in our own capabilities and utilize the resources here on this planet to fuel us on our unique journey.
I propose purifying oneself through proper nutrition and a lifestyle that caters specifically to the Black body, promoting sound mental health, and welcoming a more freeing approach to spiritualism that pays homage to ancestors. As acts of self care as means of liberation and fortification to be pushed to the forefront of the many movements towards Black freedom.