Photo courtesy of Harriet's Apothecary.
I recently traveled to upstate New York to participate in a four-day gathering in the name of “healing and wellness justice” that left me feeling perturbed, angry and disheartened. I couldn’t put my finger on it at the time, but I realize now that the organizers completely appropriated and misused the term healing justice. “Healing justice” is a term coined by Cara Page, founder of the Kindred Southern Healing Justice Collective, which “identifies how we can holistically respond to and intervene on generational trauma and violence, and bring collective practices that can impact and transform the consequences of oppression on our bodies, hearts and minds.” Page and her support of the 2010 Detroit United States Social Forum’s Healing Justice People’s Movement Assembly and Healing Justice Practice Spaces, the Black Lives Matter movement, and certain campaigns for criminal justice reform, have been attributed as the founders of the healing justice movement. Additionally, “Emotional Justice” is a term coined by Ghanaian award-winning journalist and radio host Esther Armah, which refers to the process of remedying untreated intergenerational trauma for Black people.
Why is healing justice so important for Black women?
Healing is necessary for our liberation. Black women experience overt trauma in the form actual and threats of bodily harm through violence, sexual assault, and homicide, at more frequent rates than other women. We are more than three times more likely to be murdered than white women. We face untreated inter-generational trauma—from slavery, the rape of our ancestors, and chronic poverty—that is inherited and lives in our genes and our bodies even if we did not personally experience it. And we are regularly exposed to more covert forms of trauma that come from navigating a racist and patriarchal society in a Black woman’s body, which impact the way we are perceived by others and thus the way we perceive ourselves. All of these forms of trauma manifest in our bodies and impact our sense of self and our overall well-being. This is why healing is necessary in order for us to be liberated and to be whole.
So, for Black women, what does healing really entail?
Healing involves collective care practices that aim to remedy our hearts and minds in a way that transcends traditional Western definitions of health and wellness. The term wellness is often used to refer to our physical and mental health and being free of disease or illness which can be treated using traditional Western approaches. But these definitions and approaches don’t take into account how we fully feel in our bodies, hearts and minds, how we see others and ourselves, and how we love others and ourselves. Wholeness extends far beyond the absence of disease or illness.
In addition, healing is different from self-care, which has become a buzzword often referring to bubble baths and face masks. While self-care—particularly in the form of maintaining boundaries, saying no, and protecting one’s energy—is important, it is inherently individualistic, whereas healing is often communal in practice.
Healing practices for Black women include a variety of modalities from across the globe, such as meditation, yoga, dance and movement, Reiki or energy work, crystals, herbalism, massage therapy, reflexology, acupuncture, nutrition, aromatherapy, sacred or ancestral ceremonies, and mystic or intuitive practices.
Where can we go to do Black-women centered healing work?
Healing collectives, like Healing by Choice in Detroit and Harriet’s Apothecary in New York City, are spaces for practicing healing justice that center Black, Indigenous and People of Color. Healing collectives offer safe, anti-oppressive spaces for Black cis, non-binary, queer, and trans women to enjoy healing services and offerings. If you don’t have access to a dedicated healing space in your community yet, then here are a few resources to support your healing journey:
The Black Girl’s Guide to Meditation – by Kendra Hill examines the systematic factors that contribute to chronic stress and higher incidences of heart disease in Black women and provides practical ways we can increase our quality of life through various forms of meditation and relaxation.
Black Emotional Mental Health (BEAM) Collective – offers professional development and educational trainings to remove the barriers that Black people experience in gaining access or staying connected to emotional health care and healing.
Healing Justice Podcast – is a virtual practice space, bridging conversations at the intersections of collective healing & social change. (The host, Kate Werning, is a white, middle class, able-bodied, cis gendered woman, but her podcast features healers of color and is well known in the healing justice space.)
Liberate Meditation App – is a meditation app to support the Black, Indigenous, and People of Color in healing to thrive with love.
Yoga Green Book – is a listing of Black yoga teachers and Black-owned studios in the U.S. and worldwide who provide health and wellness offerings through the healing art of yoga.
The gathering I attended in New York did not embody the practices of a healing justice practice space. It did not center Black, brown and Indigenous people, it was not accessible, the motives and intention of the space were not transparent, and the lead facilitator did not account for anti-Blackness, oppression and power dynamics in the space. This is why it’s so important for us to create and support spaces that center our healing needs as Black women. My hope is that we can normalize and develop a culture of healing for Black women, our families and our communities until we no longer have trauma and oppression to heal from.