bhm: audre lorde and the blueprint to navigating mental health

February 18, 2019
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Since discovering Audre Lorde’s work, I have believed that she wasn’t simply a writer, but someone who prescribed various quotes and ideologies in her work to help Black people center wellness as a means of self-efficacy. As someone who has been very open about their own mental health struggles and how difficult it is to find a therapist who practices from an intersectional lens, it has been comforting to know that the work Audre Lorde left behind can be used as an aid in navigating mental health. Her work and life not only shine a light on the power of reclaiming one’s mental health, but continue to serve as reminders to Black people that there is something powerful in centering one’s mental health, something that is often rarely done in the Black community.

Audre was well aware of what Black people faced, and encouraged them to speak from a place of truth — not because it’s healing, but because of how vital it is to processing the pain we often encounter. She wrote and spoke about what it means to be self-aware of one’s own needs to survive structural oppression and concepts related to navigating these oppositional systems. It began with conceptualizing said systems — something that Black people often rarely get time to do.

She saw what was physically happening to us and understood the mental ramifications that such experiences had on Black people’s well-being. For that, Audre Lorde’s work serves as a blueprint, and why mental health for Black people is more important than ever.

Consider how many stories we hear related to the assault, murders and injustices that Black people see both online and off. Lorde’s work points to the idea that Black people taking care of their mental health is not just political, but revolutionary. Her amazing books foreshadowed a conversation that continues to grow louder about the needs Black people have beyond justice, and how the justice system has actively worked to mentally disable the Black community.

Knowing that many of these events have been normalized and are publicized on the daily, one can understand why she was adamant about Black people taking care of their own mental health. One’s heart and body can’t be whole if the minds are in disarray.  Especially when it comes to doing liberation and restorative justice work.

To Lorde, the need for Black people to engage mental health wellness was a radical notion because she was aware of how whiteness played into our stigma. She comprehended how insidious white supremacy could be, and continued to use her own story to remind us that speaking about the injustice we face was not a burden, but the gateway to healing a community that’s often hidden away the inequities we experience through our lives.

A marker for this is her writing in the book, Zami: A New Spelling of My Name, where she  spoken openly about her own family’s battle with mental health and how often, in which she likens silence as the master’s greatest weapon. In an excerpt, she writes about the passing of her sister, Gennie, and how her silent struggles with pain and despair would eventually become her pain. She continued to write about the the anger that both her and her sister carried, sharing how easy it is for us to be blind and deaf to the struggles our “others” face, especially in a world that has never cared or centered our pain.

In focusing on why Lorde posits this story in her work, it became a way for her to model how speaking truth to power in relation to mental health is a direct way to fight back against the systems that often keep us oppressed.

Making the statement later in her work that “caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self preservation — and that is an act of political warfare,’ reminds us that she comprehended how systems use Black mental health and distress as a way to de-mobilize us in the fight for liberation. Audre Lorde’s words and thoughts in this context speaks to her knowing and comprehending the emotional anger and pain that is often put on Black people and how we are taught to be silent about the pain that we incur. But, said statement above reminds us that Audre knew and comprehended how powerful and liberating Black people centering their mental health could be, specifically in a world that benefits profoundly on keeping Black voices silenced.

As someone who has been working actively with a therapist for almost two years, I can say that many of our meetings are not just about how I am feeling, but actively naming and examining why I feel the way I do about my oppression and who might be at the source of it. While I am aware that not many of my problems will not go away by simply having a therapist, going to therapy and taking care of my mental health allows me to be much more present. Engaging Audre’s work in my own practice of self care not only helped me balance my own personal needs, but allows me to advocate for others who may not possess the same tenacity or capacity to be on the front lines.

This should serve as a reminder for all Black people that centering mental health not only provides one agency, but provides one with space to actively engage conversations around who the oppressor is and how one regains power in moments where we might feel powerless. As we celebrate Audre and her work on this day and everyday going forward, let us be reminded that centering our mental health is and will and will always be the means of full self-sustenance.