Healing unlocks the joy held captive inside of us.
“You’re so happy all the time.”
I get that a lot from people. To this day, my mom shares her recollections of me being a happy baby.
But as I entered my 20s, the reality of systemic racism and police brutality began to slowly wipe the smile off my face.
Not much has changed since the Civil Rights Movement. It’s 2021, and we’re still faced with traumas like those our ancestors endured. They’re just repackaged and delivered to us in a different way.
Despite the bigotry, prejudice, and microaggressions that African American people have to deal with on a daily basis, we’re expected to carry on and not make a big fuss about our grievances.
Sure, we may get a little news coverage from protests and political events. Other races may stand with us in solidarity during visible moments of hate, but it’s what happens after the cameras are off and the crowd goes away that makes the impact.
While everyone else can move on with their lives without a care in the world, we still have to live with the pain.
I eventually came to terms with the fact that this is the world that we live in. I can only make the best of it while here. I knew that I had a choice to spend the rest of my life in misery, or to heal and keep choosing happiness.
In the end, I chose to get my happy back.
Black women deserve joy like everyone else. Getting to that place requires confronting our battlefield of emotions. Often, they’re a crossfire between anger and grief.
The unfortunate thing for black women is that the world has magnified our anger more than anything else. As a result, society perpetuates the stereotype that black women are always angry.
Oh, yes. We’re going there.
The infamous “angry black woman” stereotype stems from the ignorance of past generations. It officially became a thing in the 19th century in what was a conscious effort to demean black women.
White entertainers painted their faces and portrayed Black people as stereotypical caricatures, including the angry black woman. This stereotype suggests that all black women are sassy, hostile, and aggressive.
The history of portraying black women as “angry” in movies, TV shows, and other mediums has had harmful effects on us over time.
“This trope is dehumanizing, disrespectful, and racist. It doesn’t provide black women with the space to express the full spectrum of human emotions,” says JaNaé Taylor, PhD, LPC, and founder of Taylor Counseling and Consulting Services in Virginia Beach, Virginia.
“[This stereotype] is an unfair assessment on how people might experience a black woman who is expressing herself passionately or choosing to disengage from an unhealthy experience.”
Shena Tubbs is a licensed professional counselor and founder of Black Girls Heal.
“I think this stereotype is very damaging to us as a people, because it villainizes the ability for black women to have feelings that are anything other than docile, subservient, and grateful that she is even existing,” says Tubbs.
White men, and even white women, can express their anger without judgment. When a black woman does it, we’re ridiculed rather than celebrated. This form of implicit bias is unfair to black women across the board.
“The “Angry Black Woman” stereotype is applied as a weapon to discredit our voice and intentions in an attempt to reduce it down to just background noise that can and should be ignored,” says Tubbs.
Let’s be clear: As black women, we are justified in our anger. We’re entitled to expressing our feelings just like any other woman. It’s not right to shame us when we actually express them.
“Being angry is a normal human emotion, and quite frankly, black women have a lot to be angry about,” says Ashley McGirt, MSW. “Masking our emotions and pretending not to feel anger causes more harm than good, as we need to feel all of our emotions and process through them in a healthy way so we can be free to feel something else.”
What society has failed to realize is that there’s more to us than anger.
I used to be super conscious of the way I interacted with people of other races. I overextended my kindness in an effort to be less intimidating. I felt I had to hide who I was to make the people around me comfortable.
Then I realized how ridiculous that was. Some people are going to find fault in you whether you’re “nice” or not. It’s more important to be real.
Black women are not a monolith. We come from different walks of life, and we’re profoundly diverse as a people.
We also have our own individual journeys to happiness and healing. It isn’t always simple, and it doesn’t look the same for everyone.
“The idea that I can name 5–10 steps to healing is harmful, and it doesn’t take into account our unique and diverse needs as black women,” says McGirt.
The healing process is as diverse as the individuals being healed.
“For some women, identifying, acknowledging, and working toward solutions leads to healing. For some, it will be processing through racialized trauma and healing the body from somatic experiences. For many it’s therapy,” McGirt says.
This process is far from easy. It takes work, support, and radical self-compassion. Healing isn’t a linear process, and it can take years to heal a hurt that happened in one instant. When you factor in generational trauma, we have our work cut out for us.
“I find that women are stunted in their healing process not because they aren’t clear on the things that happened in their past, but there’s a part of them that goes into their logical brain and thinks that because it happened years ago, they should be over it,” says Tubbs.
“The truth is, you can feel just as much pain now about something that happened to you 30 or 40 years ago as the day it happened. You can’t heal the wounds if you act like they’re not there.”
When we heal, it unlocks all the joy that’s held captive inside of us. Preserving that joy requires effort too.
“Joy in these times requires fully exercising radical self-care,” says Taylor.
The main goal of self-care is to maintain mental, physical, and spiritual balance in your daily life. Talking with a licensed psychotherapist can be an effective way to keep your mental health in check.
The Black community has been known to avoid therapy for a multitude of reasons. Considering that I used to be included in that bunch, I can definitely understand why.
“The therapy space has been home to some pretty scary and discriminatory practices for Black women and other BIPOC communities,” says McGirt.
I personally have trust issues myself, so in the beginning, I wasn’t too thrilled about the idea of seeking therapy.
What I will say is that it’s best to find a safe place to land when you go this route. By that, I mean finding a female, Black therapist who knows firsthand about the black woman’s plight.
Don’t let society’s views of Black women trick you into thinking that you aren’t beautiful or that you aren’t worthy of love.
True love begins with self-love. You must learn to love the skin that you’re in while embracing every flaw and imperfection.
I also recommend finding Black role models, influences, and content that represents Black women in a positive light.
“It’s important to find things that connect you to you. That can be movies that make you feel good about being a Black woman. It can be music or talking to friends,” Brittany A. Johnson, LMHC.
Loving yourself also means treating yourself. It’s OK to splurge a little from time to time.
“Black women deserve all the roses. Give yourself permission to take in all the luxury your heart can hold. Luxury certainly can include expensive tagged items,” says Taylor.
You don’t have to spend a lot of money to care for yourself. But if you can and want to, there’s nothing wrong with that.
Protect your peace
You have every right to choose who you will and won’t allow in your life.
I’m a socially selective person by nature. In other words, I’m cautious of who I let into my space. This contributes to my happiness and peace of mind.
“Make use of your boundaries and eliminate people, places, and things that don’t feel good to you or for you,” says Taylor. “Protecting your peace means maintaining a healthy environment for growth and also guarding your state of mind.”
One thing I’m loving is the fact that more Black women are cultivating safe spaces where other Black women can find community, feel comfortable being themselves, and work together to reach a common goal. Black Girls Heal is one example of many.
I encourage you to find a tribe that not only suits your interests but also stretches you to grow mentally, physically, or spiritually.
Laugh to keep from crying
Happiness requires having a sense of humor. They say that laughter is good for the soul, and quite honestly, I couldn’t agree more.
Try not to take yourself so seriously. Learn to brush things off when they’re not that deep.
Read lighthearted books. Watch funny movies and TV shows. When you get the chance to laugh a little, take the opportunity.
I start my day with prayer and devotion to lift my spirits and get my mind on the right track. From a personal standpoint, this changes the course of my day. I feel much more at ease after checking this off my morning to-do list.
You can also take quick breaks throughout the day to pause and realign your focus. I do this while listening to meditation music on apps like Calm.
Your thoughts are like water. You can’t hold them all in. If you try, you’ll eventually explode. I highly suggest making a habit of journaling. Writing can be therapeutic and support the healing process.
Start documenting the chapters of your life so you can have memories of the progress you’ve made over the years.
Who knows? Years down the line, you may want to write a book and share your story with the world.
I’m a living testament that you can find joy as a black woman in a racially unjust world. Being happy, healthy, and whole is a daily effort.
Just know this: It’s possible, and you deserve it.
Johnaé De Felicis is a writer, wanderer, and wellness junkie from California. She covers a variety of topics that are relevant to the health and wellness space, from mental health to natural living.