On a daily basis, Black women have to confront the dual forces of race and gender discrimination in almost every facet of life — and it’s taking its toll on our health.
Based on a report by the National Women’s Law Center, Black women earn 65 cents for every dollar paid to white, non-Hispanic men. And research reveals that regardless of our education or experience, we still earn less than white men, resulting in a staggering loss of more than $840,000 over the course of a 40-year career.
Actress Taraji P. Henson shined a light on this issue during an emotional interview while promoting her latest film, The Color Purple this past December. She acknowledged that she had thought about quitting acting due to the extreme racial pay discrepancies in her industry. Having struggled with her own mental health, Henson shared [with Women’s Wear Daily] that “Black women, we suffer from a myriad of disparities and health, pay, social injustices. No one really hears us when we’re saying we don’t feel well or we’re not doing well mentally today, so we want to provide safe spaces for these young women.”
Henson is playing a vital role in bringing access to mental health assistance through her Boris Lawrence Henson Foundation. She partnered with Kate Spade New York on the She Care Wellness Pods—a groundbreaking initiative to provide 25,000 Black women on HBCU campuses with accessible mental wellness care. Her efforts to reduce the stigma around mental health in the African-American community are encouraging more Black women to prioritize self-care.
Why Safe Spaces Matter
After the tragic passing of Dr. Antoinette Candia-Bailey on January 8, there has been a growing call for institutions to undergo significant changes in their policies and support systems. Serving as the Vice President for Student Affairs at Lincoln University in Missouri, ironically an HBCU, Candia-Bailey disclosed being subjected to bullying by school leadership and experienced a lack of support and empathy for her mental health challenges. Tragically, she took her own life weeks after reporting deteriorating relationships with university leadership. It was reported that on the Monday before her death, she sent an email to several people, including the university president, in which she referred to him as a “bully” with a “callous and evil soul” who joked about her mental health.
Dr. Candia-Bailey felt isolated and unsupported by the school’s administration, lacking the assistance and compassion she sought. Had there been formal mediation channels, allowing her to express her concerns and seek resolution this tragedy might have been prevented.
Sadly, this account is just one of many in our communities, emphasizing the urgency of offering essential support and establishing safe spaces for Black women. These safe spaces provide community, validation, and opportunities for collective action against discrimination. In these environments, women can openly share experiences of racism and sexism without fearing they will be dismissed or minimized. These spaces bring connection with others who have faced similar challenges, preventing Black women from internalizing unfair treatment as personal failures.
Building Inclusive Communities
To address challenges faced by women of color, it’s crucial to increase mental health resources, with some of these resources specifically focused on enhancing the well-being of Black women in high-profile positions. Additionally, workplaces should enforce mandatory bias training to combat racism and sexism, and significant investment in research is needed to address systemic issues affecting the health of women of color. Building and investing in community support networks tailored to the unique needs of Black women is now more critical than ever.
Several organizations offer vital safe spaces for Black women on a journey of healing from trauma. The Loveland Foundationoffers therapy for Black women and girls, ensuring nationwide access to therapy through fellowships, residency programs, and more. GirlTrek is actively pioneering a health movement for African-American women and girls, promoting self-care and empowering Black women to reclaim the streets of their neighborhoods through walking campaigns, community leadership, and health advocacy. Established in 1983, the Black Women’s Health Imperative is committed exclusively to advancing health equity for Black women in the United States, focusing on health policy, education, research, and leadership development. Therapy for Black Girls offers an online space dedicated to encouraging the mental wellness of Black women and girls.
In the words of Michelle Obama, “You don’t have to be somebody different to be important. You’re important in your own right.” Every Black woman deserves access to a safe space where she can speak her truth and receive support around issues impacting her well-being and that of her community. Understanding and addressing these experiences with empathy and policy changes won’t just help us — it will make society better as a whole.
This article is part of the EMERGE Live! series highlighting Black women and their stories, successes and overcoming challenges. EMERGE Live! is a transformative experience designed to elevate and uplift visionary Black women in a safe environment that cultivates healing, learning, growth, connection, transformation and JOY. For more on this life-changing event happening April 19-21, 2024 at the Gaylord National Resort in Maryland, visit www.emergeliveexp.com.