"There are things you stand up for because it's right." - Nikki Giovanni
What is Black Consciousness?
The term Black Consciousness stems from W.E.B. Du Bois's "double consciousness" of black people in American. He describes "double consciousness" as something that forces blacks to not only a view themselves from their own unique perspective but to also view themselves as they might be perceived by the outside. Of course, the effects of this leads to conflict both internally for black folk as well as externally within black communities and beyond.
Code-switching is just one example of this. Black Consciousness is, therefore, as South African Steve Biko defined, is the "realization by the black man of the need to rally together with his brother around the cause of their oppression." That being black is not just a matter of pigmentation but also a reflection of mentality.
Addressing Mental Health
Nikki Giovanni's work spans multiple decades but her overall theme has always entailed the essence of blackness and how that informs a black women's experience in America. Nikki understands the importance of not internalizing emotions and finding a healthy outlet, which for her is of course in writing. Remembering the importance and impact of self- care is the first step to healing.
As women, especially women of color, there is not a lot of room given for this because the needs of others are prioritized. Self-care is more than a method of sustainability. It can also serve as a means to combat generational trauma. For Nikki, the abuse her mother suffered at the hands of her father meant Nikki lived with her grandparents. In "Baby West" she recalls:
All I knew then
Was the sound
Of my father hitting
My mother every Saturday
Night until I heard
Her say “Gus, please
don’t hit me”
And I knew my choice:
Leave or kill him.
But seeking the necessary health care services for most black people is still challenging. Studies indicate that people of color experience high rates of bias and racism in health care, as well as other areas. Compounded by the fact that people of color often lack access to accurate diagnoses and high-quality treatment, living with the daily stress of racism can negatively impact mental and physical well-being.
Nikki's work reminds us that sometimes all you need is "A Good Cry." That "Black Judgement" is real but ultimately you get to decide what to do with your story. Her works prove that we are always evolving and growing and that we should motivate all black people, especially black women to take ownership of their wellness.
We can acknowledge our sameness and differences in order to engage in the healing process. It is important think about how privilege informs how one moves through the world and to remember we all have the ability to make a change. Join us for a livetweet of our Snohomish County Luncheon, April 18 from 12-1:30 pm with keynote speaker Nikki Giovanni. Join our mental health and race conversation via FB live, April 26 from 12-1:30 pm.
Salma Siddick is the Social Media & Content Manager at YWCA Seattle | King | Snohomish. An immigrant from Zimbabwe, Salma has lived, worked, and attended school on three continents.
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