As you can probably tell from the title, this year’s Black History Month theme focuses on the importance of Black Health and Wellness through acknowledging the legacy of Black scholars, but also other ways of knowing (e.g., birthworkers, doulas, midwives, naturopaths, herbalists, etc.) throughout the African diaspora. Activities, initiatives and rituals that Black communities have done to be well will be highlighted and celebrated. Examination of how healthcare has often underserved the Black community will also be done. So how can non-Black folks (like myself) help promote black health and wellness in our own lives?
The World Health Organization defines health as “a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.” So the question becomes, what can non-Black folks do to help promote Black physical, mental and social well-being?
Recognize internalized anti-Blackness. We all have it. Because how can we not when we live in a nation that is rooted in anti-Black/Brown racism and White supremacy? It can be difficult, uncomfortable and scary to recognize this but self-awareness is usually the first step towards change and growth. Don’t look away. Instead of shame or disgust, approach it with a sense of curiosity and an understanding that unpacking these thoughts and feelings will be a lifelong process. With this increased self-awareness, we decrease the chance of inflicting harm upon Black people through microaggressions and other subtle perpetuations of anti-Blackness.
Show up for Black people. And I’m not just talking about having a Black Lives Matter poster in the window. I mean showing up for the Black people in our lives, whether that be a friend, coworker or neighbor. If something insensitive or downright problematic is said during a work meeting and we notice that our Black coworker has stayed silent, maybe we can step in and say something; I can only imagine how exhausting it is to live as a Black person in America. And it doesn’t always have to be during “bad” situations. If a Black friend or neighbor shares about a job promotion or some other good news, celebrate with them! Celebrating and uplifting Black joy can be healing in and of itself.
Listen to and believe in Black people. I’m thinking particularly about those of us who work as care providers in some capacity relating to health. Health disparities between Black and White people in America are rampant. There are many, many factors that contribute to these differences, and one of them is the fact of unconscious bias within care providers. Recognizing internalized anti-Blackness and biases towards Black people are important to addressing this, but so is simply listening to and believing in Black people when they are describing what they are experiencing, feeling or thinking.
May Lam, Therapy Intern is a final year graduate student at Boston College's School of Social Work. Her style of therapy is client-centered, warm and relational. May seeks to foster an environment of compassion, trust and collaboration with her clients and believes in letting them guide the sessions.
May has had a range of clinical experiences, from working as a counselor on a crisis hotline to working as a social work intern with youth at a Boys & Girls' Club. She continues to be humbled by her clients' resiliency and honored by their willingness to be vulnerable with her.