By: Imani Smallwood, LSW-Newark Program Associate and Jacelyn Matthews, MA, EdM- Newark Program Director
As Black women working in the field of grief support and from our own lived experience, we wanted to open up a conversation about Black grief during Black History Month. The truth we have discovered is that we can’t praise Black love and shame Black pain. The presence of Black love describes the unifying experience created by our shared losses, but the shaming of Black pain is sadly equally present in the Black community. The cultural norm of being strong, shames our pain and has led to our grief being unexpressed, unheard and unacknowledged.
Black history month is a time to honor the achievements of Black Americans but this year, when there has been so much loss, we need to acknowledge that, “We are in the middle of a black bereavement crisis.” This quote, from Marissa Evan’s recent article in The Atlantic entitled, “The Relentlessness of Black Grief”, speaks to the overwhelming and cumulative grief experienced by many in the Black community.
We have witnessed Black Americans live through and die in the Covid 19 pandemic and the ever-present experience of racial injustice. Covid 19 has disproportionately impacted the Black community. With each death, with each act of injustice, the weight of our grief feels unbearable. It is unrelenting and numbing. It has become second nature to steel ourselves for the inevitable next phone call or news report. In order to survive, we push down our feelings of grief, but in so doing, we also push down our ability to experience joy. Shaming our pain may help us survive but keeps us from fully living our lives. Grief is normal. Grief is painful but it is not a sign of weakness. It is a sign of our shared humanity.
The Brown Girl Self-Care website reminds us, “Our ancestors weren’t allowed to rest or make space for self-care. We honor them when we put ourselves first. We honor them when we willfully slow down.” We also honor them when we mourn individually and as a community. We honor them when we talk about, express and acknowledge our pain. We gather around each other. This way we can praise black love and give space for black pain. In the words of bell hooks, “Rarely, if ever, are any of us healed in isolation. Healing is an act of communion.” That is the work of Imagine, being in communion with one another as witnesses and companions on each of our unique journeys through grief.