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Bearing the Burden of Being a Black Woman in America

Five women went out to do what thousands of women do on a nice spring day—grab their clubs and go out for a round of golf. What makes this different is that these five women are Black. They are dues-paying members of the golf club. And they were threatened with police action if they didn’t leave. The men who called the police said, they were playing too slowly.

If you think this is an isolated incident in America, you’d be wrong.

In 2016, a Black women’s book club was kicked off a Napa Valley, California wine tour train for laughing a little too loud. These women filed an $11 million lawsuit and won.

Think about Sandra Bland, who in 2015 was excited about the next chapter in her life. She was heading to a job interview at Prairie View University in Texas (her alma mater) when she was arrested and days later she died in police custody. Contrary to reports from people who knew her, authorities declared the case which included police brutality, a suicide. She won’t get a settlement, and there is no way to bring back her hopes and dreams for her life.

The burden of being a Black woman in America gets heavy. It gets hard. It gets old. And it takes its toll on the health and well-being of Black women.  Imagine, your day starting out with joy and excitement over spending the afternoon on the golf course, exploring wine country with sister-friends or making your way toward a wonderful new opportunity only to have it end with insult, humiliation or death.

The lives of these women and their families will be forever impacted by their experiences. And for many Black women, there are repeated insults and humiliations resulting from discrimination and outright racism. The effects stay with us forever.  The effects as Arline Geronimus has discovered, cause Black women to age faster, a phenomenon called weathering.  The effects as Tené T Lewis has noted can be seen in the fraying of telomeres at the ends of our DNA for generations. The effects as the authors of the Black Women’s Health Study have found cause uterine fibroid tumors which lead to premature deliveries and, tragically noted by Fleda Mask Jackson, to a Black maternal mortality rate nearly three times that of white women. Serena Williams was lucky, Kira Johnson was not.

We’ve seen these stories repeatedly in the press and on our small screens over the past few years. There is no denying the reality of what Black women experience every day. Racism kills moms and babies. We at the Black Women’s Health Imperative (BWHI) connect women with resources, tools, and strategies they can use every day to reduce the trauma and effects of racism.  But we must do more. And we can’t do it alone. We must have a national conversation on how the current toxic environment is taking its toll on Black women’s health and we must commit to changing the policies, systems, and structures that promote inequality and discrimination. We owe it to ourselves, our daughters and their daughters.

Learn more about and stay connected with BWHI here.

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Black womanLinda Goler Blount joined the Black Women’s Health Imperative (BWHI) as the president and chief executive officer in February 2014. Linda oversees BWHI’s strategic direction and is responsible for directing the organization toward achieving its mission of leading efforts to solve the most pressing health issues that affect Black women and girls in the United States.