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Earlier this year, I learned about the Tree of Forgetfulness.
It was located in modern-day Benin, a west African country that was part of the “Slave Coast.” Before Africans were kidnapped from their homeland, they were forced to forget their heritage through a disturbing ritual. Enslavers would brand men, women and children with their seals and then force the enslaved to march around the tree. Men nine times. Women seven. The goal was to make the enslaved feel powerless by erasing their identities.
It didn’t work.
Rhythm and song became the main method of communication during the Middle Passage. That legacy lives on to this day. Even when our culture is outlawed, tone policed or scrutinized, the fingerprints of our lineage stamp our food, fashion, hairstyles and other expressions of our identity. Listen to recently Grammy-nominated soundtracks and you may hear the echoes of our ancestors. Wordsmiths like Imani Perry and Kiese Lymon honor our kin in every sentence and syllable.
Our identity is a life force that cannot be snatched away. And we sure are unapologetic in showing it off. Just look at how we showed out during the premier of “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever.” Thanks to our followers who sent us pictures of their crew.
This week we’re diving into different ways to celebrate and protect our identities. Don’t forget to share this newsletter with your friends and fam!
Stay off my plate (and my body, too)
For some Thanksgiving can be a vibrant time with loved ones and for others a triggering time. Cue the TikTok pointing out how you can be bullied for eating too much and too healthy on the same day in Black households.
We all have some folks who don’t know how to drink their water (or wine) and mind their business – especially when it comes to food and body image. To prepare you for those uncomfortable conversations, I hit up Whitney Trotter, a clinician helping folks repair their relationship with food at Bluff City Health in Memphis, Tenn. Sis also co-founded the first BIPOC Eating Disorder Conference, where over 500 clinicians, dieticians, doctors, therapists and other professionals gathered in July to learn how to better diagnose and treat these diseases in communities of color.
“When we think about eating disorders, there is a disruption in the regulation of food and body,” Whitney said. “Particularly for young Black girls, we go through puberty differently than our white adolescent counterparts. With the history of young Black girls being overly sexualized, that really can lead to a risk factor for developing an eating disorder.”
Whitney and her colleague Angela Goens, a Minneapolis dietician, organized the conference in response to the erasure of Black experiences within the eating disorder space. The receipts are in the research. Black women are more likely to experience binge eating than any other eating disorder, but are underdiagnosed. Binge eating, which happens when you eat large quantities of food, looks different than anorexia, a disorder marked by an obsession about weight and exercise. Because most doctors associate eating disorders with a thin, white body image (Thanks, media.), Black people suffering from these illnesses are often overlooked. This problem perpetuates the myth that eating disorders are a “white people problem.”
“Eating disorders do happen in Black and brown communities. It’s not always about the desire to be thin. A lot of it is rooted in complex trauma,” Whitney said. “Like, when we think about food accessibility, we want to make sure that when we’re doing nutritional rehabilitation that somebody has the resources for the food that they need because there’s a risk factor with food scarcity. They were food insecure when they were younger. So now in adulthood, there’s this feast or famine response when they might binge eat for fear of not being able to have that food again.”
It doesn’t help that less than three percent of clinicians are Black. Whitney’s Black clients have expressed their relief in talking to someone who can relate to their struggles a Black person. Whitney said the holiday season has been a common trigger for her clients.
“Particularly in southern Black culture, weight is usually part of the greeting, like, ‘Oh, you’ve gained a couple pounds around them hips there,’” Whitney said. “Restricting breakfast on Thanksgiving Day to save room for lunch or dinner is another common denominator as well.”
If you are nervous about those conversations, Whitney’s got your back with some advice:
- Set that boundary early: Let folks know ahead of Thanksgiving festivities that you will not be entertaining conversations about weight or food. Period.
- Take care of your body: If your folks are restricting meals before Thanksgiving dinner, Whitney encourages you to bring a snack or eat breakfast beforehand. This may sound taboo in Black households during the holidays, Whitney warned. But you are free to take care of yourself.
- Know what you can control: “Sometimes families can be just really toxic,” Whitney said. “So maybe it’s a smaller Thanksgiving with just intimate people that you feel safe with.”
For y’all cycle breakers who wanna challenge diet myths within our own culture, Whitney has some tips for you, too. But before we get into that, I wanna say the first myth we putting to bed right now is this whole “low vibration” plates mess. Ain’t nothing low about the food of our ancestors. That’s colonized talk. In fact, send us a pic of your hefty plates of soul food to firstname.lastname@example.org so we can create a roundup of your HIGH VIBRATIONAL plates.
Ok, I’m done venting, y’all. Here are Whitney’s tips:
- “Deconstruct the myth that certain foods are bad, particularly foods that are carbohydrate based,” Whitney said. “We know that carbohydrates give us energy.”
- Rethink meal restrictions during the holidays. “We don’t bat an eye when we’re feeding a baby every two to three hours. Our body constantly needs energy throughout the day just for basic functioning. So why would we intentionally go into deprivation mode? Any type of intentional or unintentional restriction can cause so much stress on the body.”
- Parents play a role, too. “Teach kids what it means to be satisfied and let them know they don’t have to finish their plate. They can come back later if they’re hungry and eat. And then too, make sure you’re not putting morality on food. There’s no ‘good’ or ‘bad’ foods.”
Black power ✊🏿 Black...waffles?
Speaking of food, we got a delicious treat for y’all. Ghetto Gastro, a collective of Black chefs who are making moves in the culinary space, gave us a peek into their new cookbook “Black Power Kitchen.” It’s more than just a collection of recipes. Vogue dubbed “Black Power Kitchen” the most important cookbook of the year for the way it tells the story of our culture by pairing recipes with spreads of Black art and a drizzle of celebrity interviews.
This cookbook is an ode to our culture and definitely matches the energy of a collective who never forgets their Bronx stomping grounds. Inspired by the Black Panther’s Free Breakfast Program, Ghetto Gastro made sure their community was fed during the pandemic.
To get you hungry for the cookbook, Ghetto Gastro slipped us their “Black Power Waffle.” As you whip up your own stack of Black power, you can listen to the “Soul Foodie” playlist, a collection of podcast episodes examining food from a Black lens that Daric pulled together during their Spotify days.
Big trans icon energy
Transgender Awareness Week is a time of commemoration and jubilation.
From Nov. 13 until Trans Day of Remembrance on Nov. 20, our trans family and their allies gather in the streets and on social media to honor victims of transphobic violence. But they’re also celebrating the joy pulsing throughout the trans community.
Earlier today, our social reporter Daric educated y’all about some of our favorite trans icons who are creating a better world. While admiring these legacies, I had a random thought: which crystals resonate with these icons the most?
I know. Weird turn of thought. But stay with me. I am no crystal expert, yet I know the basics. So after examining a few of these trans leaders’ energies, here is what I got:
✨Monica Roberts was an OG trans activist whose legacy resonates with an OG crystal like selenite. A staple in anyone’s spiritual arsenal, selenite has the ability to transform negative, stagnant energy. When mainstream media treated the trans community with disrespect and disregard, Monica rose from her hometown of Houston as a pioneer journalist who wrote about the trials and tribulations of trans people of color through her blog TransGriot. Selenite is powerful enough to both cleanse and charge other crystals. Even after Monica’s death in 2020, people look to her legacy to empower themselves and others in the trans community.
✨Raquel Willis gives off big carnelian energy. Creative and empowering (like Carnelian!), Raquel fought her way up from a community organizer to a groundbreaking trans writer, activist and media strategist. Her resume lays out her history making and trailblazing moves. She was the first trans executive director of OUT Magazine. She founded Black Trans Circles, a program that strengthened the leadership skills of Black trans women in the South and Midwest via healing justice spaces. As director of communications for the nation’s oldest women’s foundation, Raquel pushed to include trans women and nonbinary people of color in the feminist discourse.
Carnelian is the crystal you grab when you need a boost in self-confidence, self-esteem, or self-worth. Raquel embodies all of that as she amplifies the lives and stories of trans people through her journalistic works such as the “Trans Obituary Project” and the Trans Youth Town Hall, a three-part YouTube series that gave trans youth and activists the microphone at a time when anti-trans laws were - and still are - running rampant. She’s been featured in Forbes 30 under 30, The Root 100 and was tapped to be The Advocate’s Person of the Year. Raquel’s vibrant and radical legacy gives her plenty of experiences to document in her upcoming memoir “I Believe in Our Power.”
✨I paired trans actor Brian Michael Smith with fluorite because Brian’s journey to become the first trans man to secure a recurring role in a TV series aligned with the crystal’s inhibition-busting energy. Way before he became Paul Strickland on 9-1-1: Lone Star, Brian was a Michigan kid who didn’t have the verbiage to describe his trans masculine identity. Folx Health reported that Brian would daydream about being in the pages of People’s magazine and Teen People. He admired the art of performance and how it can transport people and the actors themselves.
Fluorite’s swirling, shimmering hues cut through the mental clutter of self-doubt so your mind and heart can align with your destiny. Brian pushed through a lot of hesitation from professors and other onlookers who tried to erase Brian’s trans identity during his acting classes. This fueled Brian’s uncertainty as he sheltered himself by doing more behind-the-scenes production roles. But fluorite encourages us to dream big. After watching trans actress Laverne Cox’s performance in “Orange is the New Black,” Brian decided to get back into the spotlight in the name of representation.
Along with 9-1-1: Lone Star, Brian has made appearances in HBO’s “Girls” and NBC’s “Chicago.” Just as Fluorite nudges us towards our true purpose, his role as trans police officer in “Queen Sugar” inspired Brian to publicly come out as a trans man. Last year, Brian became the first trans man to be in People’s annual “Sexiest Man Alive” issue. Now the boy who imagined himself in magazines no longer has to dream.
Express your identity by spreading your Black Joy. See y’all next time!