By Lynx Sainte-Marie
This piece was inspired by the many conversations I’ve had with my wonderful friends of colour who push me to go on living even when I am feeling my worst. It was also inspired by Laverne Cox’s powerful words at The 2014 National Conference on LGBT Equality on the revolutionary act of loving ourselves as trans people.
This goes out all my fellow Black folk who are Sick, chronically ill, Spoonies, and all other names we self-identify with and (re)claim in order to negotiate the many ways we are perceived by ourselves and society.
Whether it’s Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, IBS or that “undiagnosed” illness medical specialists love to tell you doesn’t exist within their incomplete science of the Allopathic system, we as Sick, Black folk are often seen as walking contradictions under the white supremacist ideals of what Blackness should look, and feel, like in this world. We are seen by whiteness as weak; as not as strong or “fit” as our ancestors—those who toiled the fields and sang songs of freedom with hearty voices—were. And some of us, like myself, bought into these ideas not knowing how valuable and worthy we are just in our mere existence as People of Colour living in a society that believes we shouldn’t exist in the first place.
As a Black, (Gender)Queer person with non-visible physical and mental disabilities, I struggle with internal notions of what Blackness & Sickness should look like in my body and other Black bodies like my own. A great number of these notions are fueled by my memories of growing up in a community surrounded by other Afro-Jamaican families who determined their children’s worth by the amount of chores they could do. Many a child of the Jamaican Diaspora knows they are in perpetual competition with those industrious, well-behaved and “healthy” children baakayard when it comes to housework.
The word lazy echoes through these memories. It is laced and seasoned in sentences like “Lazy is sickness” and “If you’re lazy, the dogs will nyam your supper.” In our household, it was seen as a white thing to be “too sickly.” My parents worked hard to do well in Canada, barely taking any sick days at their jobs out of fear of being fired. So when The Sickness first coursed through my blood and brain several years ago, having received those messages of what makes me valuable loud and clear, all I could think was, “Love will never find me now.” Because accessing love in this ableist, capitalistic society means being able to go somewhere, to DO something. It means making money and meeting people. It was hard enough for me to get out of bed. I felt selfish and undesirable like the void of love I felt as a Black teenager watching the people around me die (I live in an area where violence against Black folks is very prevalent), unworthy because no one could understand why I was too anxious and weary to cry, much less clean my own room.
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I find that most of us Black folk are still ascribing to these harmful and dehumanizing notions of Blackness and Strength pushed on us by white supremacy. Archetypes like the “Strong, Independent Black Woman” leave many black women overworked and under-appreciated when they cannot be the emotionless work horses. Many Black masculine of centre folks refuse to seek care, love, or support from others as to not look weak and vulnerable; as to not have their masculinity questioned by those around them.
From my cishet Black friends telling me my light skin and thin frame convey sickness more easily than other Black bodies (light skin = feminine = weakness) to that queer/trans Black person telling me I look too butch to be whining about my emotions online; anti-black sentiments, misogynoir and cisheterosexism are some of the oppressive notions that pervade my experiences of ableism. As Black people, we have been fed the lie that the Black body is an “Always Able” body, with no time to rest, feel safe, or breathe easy. Though there isn’t one of us who can live up to these unrealistic expectation whiteness forces upon us, we still belittle and shame our kin.
Black People, it is time to reclaim our Black bodies as our own.
It is time to shed these harmful, white supremacist, capitalist, cishet, patriarchal, binaric notions of The Worthy and Unworthy under ableism. ALL Black bodies are lovable, beautiful, brilliant, and whole—whether or not they are dealing with mental health concerns or living with chronic pain. It is the stigma and prejudice associated with illness, the racist, anti-black ideals filling this systemic society with hatred and violence that makes no room for ALL of us who just want to rest and feel free. We don’t have to “do” anything or “go” anywhere to be revolutionary and worthy of love, family, and community. Our mere existence as people on the margins of society—as Black, Queer/Trans, Chronic, Poor, and all the other labels we use to define our unique intersections—IS revolutionary.
So let’s try to overstand our collective experiences as Black and Sick people.
Let’s be aware of the ways we treat each other and use accountability and empathy as tools when we speak to one another about our health. Let’s remember that we can be as strong and as soft as we want, that our feelings are valid and should be supported. Let’s remember that we are deserving of affordable and accessible medical, natural, spiritual, and emotional care; that we should be free from stigma to nourish our bodies and beings; and that we should not be ashamed when seeking these systems out. Let’s remember, we are not selfish when we treat ourselves to sick days from our places of employment or volunteer organizations; when we take breaks from social media; when practicing the self-care that is right for us; or when we need to say “no” to others who are asking too much of us.
And let’s never forget we are worthy of love, from our loved ones, from our partner/s, from our friends, and especially from ourselves. Because only in that collective love of our Black Bodies can we look to dismantle this system that wishes to render our lives, experiences, and existences as optional.
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Lynx Sainte-Marie is an AfroGoth, (Gender)Queer, Jamaican-Canadian Black Feminist, Poet and Survivor with chronic disabilities residing in the Greater Toronto Area. Lynx is the creator of QueerofGender.com, dedicated to People of Colour and Native/Indigenous folks with gender identities/expressions that go against the patriarchal gender binary. lynxsaintemarie.wordpress.com