Tag Archives: ASK JANICE

ASK JANICE SPECIAL: How Are You Celebrating JUNETEENTH 2020?

HAPPY JUNETEENTH!!

Juneteenth, celebrated on the 19th of June, commemorates the day in 1865 when enslaved people in Galveston, Texas FINALLY learned they were free. Presumably, they were the last ones to learn of their freedom in the aftermath of the Civil War, a full three years after the Emancipation Proclamation. Celebrated by African Americans for 155 years, the holiday is finally getting the “mainstream” attention and respect it so richly deserves in the wake of worldwide protests against police brutality and systemic racism. Major companies now offer paid time off to their employees to celebrate. Virtual and socially distant parties have been planned all over the country. And there’s even a call for an international celebration where NO ONE spends a single dime.

Full disclosure: I was a full-grown adult when I learned about Juneteenth. I never learned about it at the PWI schools I attended; and my family, which is largely in Michigan where I was raised, didn’t celebrate it. Even after I learned about it, I never really “celebrated” it. My friends didn’t plan cookouts or parties around the holiday. I never bought or received a Juneteenth card. Other than a few social media posts, I never personally celebrated the holiday.

But, for me, all that changes this year. Why? Because as “down” and “woke” as I profess to be, I finally get it. Juneteenth starkly reminds us of a simple truth: none of us are free until ALL of us are free. Chattel slavery in the United States did not really end until the enslaved souls in Galveston, Texas were finally freed.

I get it now.

Here in the United States of America, that self-proclaimed bastion of liberty, justice, and equality, we’re in the midst of a reckoning with our white supremacist beginnings that’s been centuries in the making. As I write these words, cities, towns and communities clamor to remove the racist symbols and statues that dot our landscape. After three straight weeks of protests, people demand greater accountability from not only the police, but from institutions and individuals (see all the “Karens” and “Chads” loosing their jobs over racist behavior). On the surface, we have much to celebrate.

However, Black folks partying on June 19th doesn’t mean we’ve forgotten all that still needs to be done to dismantle the structures and institutions that uphold patriarchal white supremacy in this country. In what’s likely the most important election of our lifetimes, voter suppression efforts threaten our ability to exercise our hard-won right to vote. Anti-Black violence and hate crimes run as rampant as ever. Black unemployment continues to rise, while Black wealth continues to drop. And COVID-19 still threatens us all.

But we’re going to celebrate Juneteenth anyway, because we’re still here, and we’re still fighting. We’ve reached a critical moment in our history, as a nation and as a people. Whether we’re marching, donating, teaching, or organizing, we’re working hard to ensure that America lives up to it’s promises to all of her citizens. And for that reason alone, we deserve to celebrate.

I may be late to the party, but I plan to celebrate Juneteenth 2020 with bells on. Well, maybe not bells. More like with a mask on and from the safety of my socially distant home. But I will celebrate.

Because NONE of us are free until ALL of us are free.

Happy Juneteenth, everyone! Stay safe and healthy.

#Juneteenth2020 #BlackLivesMatter #AskJanice

ASK JANICE SPECIAL: How Ya Doin’, Sis?

How ya doin’, Sis?

It’s been a rough few months, hasn’t it? It’s as though we’ve entered a weird, combination of 1918 (global pandemic), 1929 (economic crash), and 1968 (civil unrest) all at the same time. We opened with the untimely and tragic death of NBA star Kobe Bryant; saw the Republican-led Senate vote to acquit the current occupant of the White House on two counts of impeachment; became completely obsessed with the antics of Joe Exotic and his arch-nemesis, Carole Baskin (Netflix’s The Tiger King); and the ENTIRE world caught a deadly virus which shut down EVERYTHING.

As a result of the COVID-19 virus, the economy tanked, causing millions to lose their livelihoods; states issued “stay-at-home” orders to stem the spread of the deadly virus, forcing us all indoors; then, armed civilian militias stormed state capitols to protest the stay-at-home orders; murder hornets are headed to the U.S. and a giant asteroid is headed towards earth; and the deaths of Ahmaud Arbery at the hands of racists and George Floyd at the hands of (under the knee of) racist police officers sparked massive protests against anti-Black racism and police brutality WORLDWIDE.

And it’s only June! I mean, really, 2020 has been a wild ride!

So, I ask you again: how ya doin’, Sis?

Because we all know that Black women, in particular often bear the brunt of all the craziness going on in the world. For example, the racial disparities in health care alone make us more vulnerable to the ravages of COVID-19. We all know Black women who either couldn’t get tested or were denied quality care during this pandemic. And don’t even get me started on the covert and overt racism we experience on a daily basis. From the irritating microaggressions we grin and bear from our white colleagues to the “Karens” who want to call the manager/police/anyone-in-charge on us for simply existing in our Black skin, we catch Hell even during the good times. And these are not good times, are they, Sis?

So how are you? Are you taking care of yourself? Are you drinking enough water? Are you exercising and eating healthy? How are YOU?

I ask because I know you, Sis. I know how hard you work for your family and your people. I see you out there at these protests making sure people have enough water and masks, keeping track of everyone’s kids, putting yourself between the police and your husband, brother, son. I see YOU!

I see you driving around making sure your elderly relatives and friends have enough food, water, and toilet paper when they can’t go to the stores because of the virus. I know you’re helping the kids keep up with their schoolwork so that they don’t fall behind during the pandemic. I see you using what little spare time you have left to sew masks for your friends and to donate.  I see you out there taking care of everybody.

But, Sisters! If ever there was a time to make your own well-being a priority, it’s NOW! Because this is a marathon, not a sprint. We Black women already know that without us, this entire society that’s really a house of cards built on a shaky foundation would crumble. Or get burned to the ground. So we have to stay strong and be ready for the long haul.

That means you MUST take care of yourself. Drink more water. Exercise. Meditate and pray. Eat right. Laugh with friends. Make love. And take time out of every single day to center yourself and YOUR needs.

You can’t pour from an empty vessel, Sister. You’ll be no good to the people you love if you don’t take good care of yourself. So, if that means you have to skip the next march, then so be it. Let others march in your place. If you need to unplug from cable news and social media for a while, then do it. I promise, it’ll all be there when you get back. If you have to turn off your phone for a few hours every evening, then do so. Give yourself permission to stop, be still, and find some peace.

We’re only halfway through 2020, and there’s still so much work to do. Here in the U.S., we have an election coming that will determine what our country will look like for decades to come. We don’t know if our kids will be learning online or returning to the classroom. We have an economy to repair, deaths to properly mourn and funeralize, and a lot of healing to do. We’ve also got to keep the momentum from these protests going and set about making real and lasting policy changes. And that’s just a partial list.

So please take care of yourself, Sis. Put yourself first for a while. Take a break. Take a nap. Take a bath. Take a breath. Take care of you so that you can be battle-ready for the days, weeks, and months ahead.

I know 2020 has been a lot … but we got this. We will win.

Stay healthy and safe.

#BlackLivesMatter #JusticeForBreonna #SayHerName #BlackWomenMatter #BlackGirlMagic

 

ASK JANICE CORONAVIRUS SPECIAL: Black Women Already Understand Racial Bias In Medicine, Why Don’t You?

I just had a brief Facebook exchange with a white woman (a friend of a friend) that perfectly shows why Black women must always fight to keep our voices and experiences from being erased. Our mutual friend had posted yet another article about a Black woman who was denied COVID-19 testing THREE times, and ultimately died from the virus. These stories have been popping up all over the place, especially in the hardest hit areas. And they clearly show the rampant racial bias that has always existed in our health care system.

The conversation that followed the article was mostly about how this current pandemic has truly highlighted the huge disparities between the medical treatment of Black people, and Black women, in particular, and everyone else. We all lamented the fact that too often, Black women’s pain and symptoms are ignored because of the implicit bias of medical professionals; and how this happens to Black women regardless of their education levels or socioeconomic status.

In fact the original poster is one of my best friends, and is a highly educated physician who lives in a wealthy neighborhood. But when her COVID-19 symptoms became life-threatening and she had to call an ambulance, the EMTs tried their hardest to talk her out of going. They repeatedly dismissed her symptoms and kept telling her that the hospital would probably send her home. It took another physician friend who was on speakerphone to convince them to take my friend to the hospital, where she was admitted, after all. Thankfully, she was released after a few days, and is recovering comfortably home. Praise God.

Anyway, I pointed out how frustrating it is for Black women to basically have to submit a resume and bank statement when recounting these experiences. It’s as if, for the benefit of the white sympathy, we have to prove our “worth” as humans to get them to understand that we get discriminated against because we are Black and female, regardless of our backgrounds and income. As if it’s okay to discriminate against poor and uneducated Black women. Which, of course, it isn’t. No one should face discrimination when seeking medical care.

It’s the same thing that happens when a young Black, unarmed person is murdered by the police. We always feel compelled to point out that he was a good student with a promising future. In reality, no one deserves to be gunned down, regardless of how they do in school, or where they live, or how much money they have.

But I digress.

Where my doctor friend’s white friend (whom I’d met years ago when they were in medical school together – she’s very nice, btw) made me grit my teeth was when she said,”I think that women, in general, are often dismissed and being a woman of color magnifies that”.

Y’all.

She just “All Lives Mattered” the very specific discrimination that Black women face in health care! Not only that, but she lumped Black women in with all women of color, which is another HUGE pet peeve of mine (more on that in a second).

Listen. I will be the first to admit that all women face discrimination. Full stop. How-some-ever (as the aunties used to say) … there is absolutely no scenario, situation, or circumstance where white women face the same level of discrimination as Black women. Not here in the good ol’ U. S. of A., and not ANYWHERE else on this planet!! I don’t care how much Becky and Karen have to deal with, it pales (see what I did there?) in comparison to what Black women face EVERY SINGLE DAY.

(In fact, have y’all seen how, all across the internet, white women have been claiming that them being called Karen is the same as a Black person being called the n-word? Whew! The nerve! But that’s worthy of a whole separate post, because there is so much to unpack and discuss. Again, I digress.)

And people really need to stop saying “women of color” when they mean Black women. Because again, Black women face way more discrimination than women from any other racial or ethnic group. And more often than not, those other groups treat Black women like shit, too. All while appropriating our vernacular, our style, our swagger, and everything else that’s glorious about us.

That is why I never refer to myself as a woman of color, anymore. Not when those other colors treat me just as badly as some white folks do. No thank you. I am a Black woman. Period. And when you are referring to any kind of statistics, trends, studies, or whatever that measure how women are treated, you need to make sure you separate the experiences of Black women from every other category. Because our experiences are not that same.

That’s not to say that I don’t believe in solidarity with ALL women on many issues, like equal pay, reproductive freedom, and any number of important things. I’m all for gender solidarity as long as Black women’s voices are heard and heeded. But what I won’t do is allow for the erasure or dilution of Black women’s experiences. Nor will I let ANY comment, turn of phrase, or post that attempts to do so go unchallenged.

I’ll close with a quote from the late Malcolm X: “The most disrespected person in America is the Black woman. The most unprotected person in America is the Black woman. The most neglected person in America is the Black woman.” He said that in 1962, and it has never been more true than today.

Wash your hands and stay healthy!

 

ASK JANICE CORONAVIRUS SPECIAL: Have You Cyber-Partied With Your Girlfriends, Yet?

As we wrap up another Women’s History Month amidst a global pandemic that has us all doing some form of “social distancing”, I want to celebrate the tenacity and ingenuity of friendships between Black women. Even in the face of “shelter in place” and mandatory quarantines, sistas are gonna find a way to celebrate each other … together.

That’s because Black women have a long and storied history of “making a way out of no way”. So if we decide to co-opt various teleconferencing apps to have cocktails and dance parties with each other in the face of impending doom, then that’s what we’re gonna do!

Listen. We’re all stressed these days. This latest coronavirus, COVID-19 (or “the Rona”), has changed everything. Every single day, we’re losing our loved ones to this insidious disease. Here in the U.S., thanks to the abysmal response of the current occupant of the White House, we’re seeing our death toll rise exponentially every day. Of course it’s hitting Black communities especially hard. You know that old saying, “When America gets a cold, Black people get pneumonia?” Well, that’s never been more true than now.

At this point, I don’t even know anyone who hasn’t been personally touched by this virus. It’s bad, y’all. Really bad. And the fact that we haven’t even peaked yet is terrifying! So it’s more critical than ever that we all abide by the “shelter in place” rules so that we can stop the spread. Which means no Happy Hour meetups, no brunches, no in-person socializing with our favorite friends.

But … what that Rona NOT gone do is stop a sista from getting that all-important, rejuvenating, re-charging, gut-busting-laughter-filled time with her girlfriends! We have the technology to stay connected, even as we responsibly “social distance” ourselves from each other. And Black women everywhere are taking full advantage of it!

This past weekend, my social media was absolutely buzzing with women sharing pictures of their Zoom cocktail parties, their Skype brunches, and other online group events. Also, thanks to a few famous DJs going viral with hours-long Instagram and Facebook Live parties, folks were having full-blown dance parties with their friends, all from the safety of their own homes!

And boy, do we need some fun, right now! I mean, there’s only so much gloom and doom we can take. It’s been a relief to turn off the president’s lies and cyber-party with my girls. We’ve shared cocktails, danced, laughed, and cried together … even though we’re forced to be apart. These virtual get-togethers have given me LIFE, and I can’t imagine doing this quarantine thing without them.

So if you haven’t done so yet, check out platforms like Zoom or other web conferencing options, and gather your girls for a cyber-party! They’re easy to use and totally worth the effort. We need our girlfriends, ladies! Remember … in today’s world, sometimes “we all we got”!

Stay home, stay safe, and stay healthy!

#datrona #COVID19 #sistafriends #girlfriends #cyberparty #getyourgrooveon #blackwomen

ASK JANICE: Reflections on Black History Month 2020

It’s the last day of Black History Month 2020, and what a month it’s been! We started the month with the much debated Gayle King/Snoop Dogg kerfuffle following the untimely death of NBA legend Kobe Bryant in late January. I won’t rehash the whole thing here, but suffice it to say, “misogynoir” was in full effect, as were the ongoing debates about celebrity, legacy, and redemption.

We’re ending the month facing a global pandemic in the form of a deadly new coronavirus which, if it spreads as fast as some experts predict, may prove to be the end of us all. Countries are issuing travel bans, Japan has closed all its schools for a month, they’re talking about postponing the 2020 Olympics, and even the stock market is freaking out. Wash your hands thoroughly and often, folks!

Amidst all the drama and fear, the looming U.S. Presidential election is on everyone’s mind. Despite what the current occupant of the White House’s propagandists and minions would have us believe, the majority of African Americans fear another four years of this Administration almost as much as the coronavirus. Except for a few outliers like Diamond and Silk (or as I like to call them: Cubic Zirconia and Polyester), and the 14% of self-hating Black dudes who voted for him, most African Americans want to send that orange menace back to the swamp from whence he came.

Which brings me to the point of this Black History Month reflection: the right and responsibility to VOTE.

It’s fitting that this year’s Black History Month theme is “African Americans and the Vote”, which recognizes the struggle for voting rights among Black men and women throughout American history. I know we say this during every election cycle, but the 2020 Presidential election really is one of the most important elections in our nation’s history. Especially for Black people.

Especially for Black people.

From the time the first stolen Africans were brought to the U.S. in 1619 to now, any rights and privilege of citizenship have had to be violently wrestled from the hands of the white supremacists who’ve ruled. This is especially true when it comes to voting rights. Following the Civil War and the emancipation of enslaved persons, Black men were constitutionally given the right to vote by the 15th Amendment in 1870. The Amendment stated that “voting rights could not be denied or abridged by the United States or any state on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.” Of course, we know that even though Black men could vote legally, there were violent forces in place that suppressed their votes, effectively silencing their voices.

It would be another 50 years before women were allowed to vote with the passage of the 19th Amendment. However that Amendment did not initially include any women of color, and most certainly not Black women. It wasn’t until the Voting Rights Act was passed 45 years later in 1965 that Black women were officially allowed to vote in the U.S., a full 95 years after Black men got the vote. NINETY-FIVE YEARS!

1965 wasn’t that long ago, y’all.

Anyway, that brings me back to this very important 2020 Presidential election, and how it’s more critical than ever for Black people to exercise their hard-won right to vote. I know Black women will turn out in droves to vote, because we always do. And when we do vote, we tend to vote in our best interests (96% of us voted for 45’s opponent in 2016 – a statistic that is forever burned into my brain).

What I’m worried about is voter suppression. Several states have been purging their rolls of legitimate, eligible voters in record numbers. Deliberate misinformation and propaganda from everyone from Russian bots to Republican operatives are being fed to Black and brown communities via social media, television, and radio. And I fear we’ll see the same slippery and violent tactics used during Reconstruction come election day.

So we must remain vigilant, watchful, and deliberate in making our voices heard. We need to double and triple check our voter registration status, and encourage our friends and families to do the same. We need to keep up our voter registration efforts and educate as many young people as we can, so that they will become engaged and participate.

And most importantly, we cannot forget our history when it comes to having the legal right to vote. Black women were only officially allowed to vote in 1965. Think about how hard our foremothers had to fight so that you and I could have a say in how we’re governed. Think about the voter intimidation, literacy tests, and other obstacles our foremothers faced even after the the Voting Rights Act was passed. And think about how even in the 21st century, there are strong forces out there seeking to take this fundamental right away from us.

Think about it and VOTE.

And wash your hands.

 

 

ASK JANICE: Have You Fully Embraced the New Year or Decade, Yet?

So, we’re about a month into the new year and the new decade … how are y’all doing? If you’re anything like me, you were really looking forward to making BIG changes in this new decade: better health, greater wealth, and a whole lot of happiness. After all, it’s the 20s again, the second decade of the 21st century! Anything’s possible, right?

Meh.

I’ll be honest. I’ve gotten off to a pretty slow start when it comes to making those BIG changes.  For me, this brand new decade feels eerily like the last one, and that’s a bit of a letdown.

I can only blame myself, though. I just haven’t fully embraced this new year or this new decade. I’ve been stuck in a twenty-tens mentality, looking at things through 2019 lenses.  All that’s about to change, though. I’m ready to start looking at the world with 2020 vision! (See what I did there?)

Making BIG changes in your life always starts with perspective and attitude, and adjusting those are up to you (or me, in my case). It all starts with being open to change and being ready to try new things. Then you set your goals, make concrete plans to achieve those goals, and off you go to a newer and better version of YOU!

Being open to change is important because a new attitude and new ideas can help you heal from past hurts. And it’s usually our past that keeps us from embracing our future. We get so mired in our same old ways of seeing and doing things, we get stuck. And being stuck ain’t no place to be when you’re looking to change. Opening yourself up to new possibilities and embracing a new attitude will start you on your new journey. And your new journey will get you past that old pain and lead you to the BIG changes you seek.

A new journey doesn’t have to be something radical like a new career or relocating to a new state. It can be as simple as discovering a new park near your home, so that you get out and walk more. This can help you achieve your goal of getting healthier.

Or you can set out to find 5 Black businesses to support and promote, which will help you reach your goal of keeping more Black dollars circulating within the Black community. Speaking of dollars, if your goal is greater wealth, you can start researching investment opportunities, open a new savings account, or look for a part-time job.

Maybe your goal is to give back, so you start volunteering a couple days a month at a local shelter or soup kitchen. Or you can join the one of the dozens of other organizations doing good work in the community, and lend them your time and talents. The possibilities are endless!

The point is to open your mind, set some goals, and start planning. We can do this, y’all! We may have gotten off to a slow start, but with renewed energy and open minds, it’s not too late to take this new decade by storm. Here’s to living better and happier going forward.

Here’s to a great decade!

#newdecadewhodis #2020vision #2020 #newyearnewyou #ASKJanice #SuzyNew

Photo Source: Pixabay

ASK JANICE SPECIAL: It’s World AIDS Day 2019 – Do You Know Your Status?

December 1st is World AIDS Day – do you know your status? If you don’t, you really should get tested, especially if you’re a Black woman. No, really. You should!

This year’s theme for World AIDS Day is “Ending the HIV/AIDS Epidemic: Community by Community”. This couldn’t be a more fitting theme, because as a community of Black women, we still have much work to do.

The good news is, according to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), between 2010 and 2016, new HIV diagnoses have declined by 25% for African American women. This is a better decline than seen globally, where new HIV diagnoses overall have declined by 16% since 2010.

But, like I said, we still have work to do. Consider that while HIV diagnoses have declined, in 2017 (the most recent year statistics are available), women in the U.S. made up 19% of the new HIV diagnoses. Of that number, 86% were infected by heterosexual contact, compared to only 14% infected by injection drug use. Half of the women infected that year were 25-44 years of age. What’s especially troubling for our community is that 59% of the newly infected women were African American. That’s more than half!

Even scarier, the CDC says that 1 in 9 women with HIV don’t even know they have it. That’s not surprising, considering HIV testing rates among women are alarmingly low. With 86% of new infections coming from heterosexual contact, that means that nearly 4 decades after HIV/AIDS was first discovered, there are still far too many Black women out here having unprotected sex with men!

The CDC says that in general, receptive sex is riskier than insertive sex. That means that women have a higher risk of getting HIV through vaginal and anal sex than their male partners. And, while we may not want to admit it, too many of us don’t know the risk factors of our male sex partners. When you then add the fact that women are less likely to get tested, it’s no wonder we’re still seeing so many new HIV diagnoses among Black women.

Here’s what I need you to do: GET TESTED AND LEARN YOUR STATUS! 1 in 9 of y’all are walking around out here infected and missing out on life-saving medications and treatments! If you’re 25-44 years of age and engage in heterosexual sex, then you’re at an even higher risk.

First thing tomorrow morning, make an appointment with your doctor or plan to visit a clinic. Consider it a form of self-care, if you will. And remember, an HIV diagnosis isn’t the death sentence it used to be. But you MUST get tested to get the treatment you need to prolong your life.

So get tested and know your status. Let’s end the HIV/AIDS epidemic in our community now!

HAPPY WORLD AIDS DAY 2019!

#WorldAIDSDay #GetTestedKnowYourStatus #GetTested #KnowYourStatus #WorldAIDSDay2019 #EndTheEpidemicNow

ASK JANICE SPECIAL: Wanna Know Why I Never Told You He Was Beating Me?

When I fled my abusive relationship for the last time (yes, I left and went back), one of the first things my well-meaning friends and family asked was why I never told them what was happening to me.

“Why didn’t you say something,” they’d ask, looking concerned and confused.  “I could have helped you. I could have done something!”

And I believe them. Had they known how horrible my life had become, I have no doubt that they would have done their best to help me. But all this happened more than twenty-five years ago. Today, I’m healed, emotionally healthy, and over it—and have the clarity of hindsight to see that my friends and family would have helped me.

But back then, not so much. Because when you’re in the thick of things, in the middle of a Hell that you’re convinced is of your own making, you can’t see anything clearly. Fear and shame consume you—they’re your constant companions. And when you look at your family and friends, you often can only see judgment and derision. You know their opinions about women who stay in abusive relationships.

Here’s the thing, though: 1 in 4 women will experience domestic violence in their lifetime. 1 in 4! And Black women experience domestic/intimate partner violence at rates 35% higher than white women. In other words, it’s is happening more often that you realize because we don’t talk about it enough!

Consider this scenario: You have a childhood friend with whom you’ve always been close. Lately, she’s not around as much as she used to be. You assume it’s because she’s all wrapped up in her new relationship. And at first she was. When things were new, she couldn’t get enough of him. They spent nearly every waking moment together.

But back then, you still heard from her—she called you. And even though she mostly just bragged about her new love, it didn’t matter. She was happy.

Then the calls became less frequent. And when you called her, she’d rush off the phone, sounding hurried and distracted. Mutual friends casually mentioned that they hadn’t seen her in a while. “It’s her new guy,” you’d tell each other. “They’re never apart these days.”

Soon you get used to her absence, to not talking to her as often. You miss her, but you don’t want to be that friend who seems like she’s trying to sabotage her new love.

One day you bump into her at the grocery store, and you’re shocked by her appearance. She’d always been so meticulous about how she dressed, especially in public. And now she’s wearing sweat pants—she’d never be caught dead wearing those outside of the house or gym! Yet here she is, not only in sweats, but they’re stained, and she’s wearing a baggy T-shirt, her hair, usually perfectly coiffed, now pulled into a sloppy ponytail. Her fingernails are ragged and unpolished.

She looks tired.

But you’re so happy to see her you pull her into a tight hug. She stiffens in your arms, as though she’s in pain. You let go—surprised. And then you take a really good look at her face.

She won’t meet your eyes.  Her mouth trembles a little, and her lips are chapped. Is that a fading bruise on her cheek? You’re thinking. No, it must be the lighting.

You exchange pleasantries, but you can tell she’s not really engaged in the conversation. You get the feeling that she wants to leave … that she’s not really happy to see you.  You feel uncomfortable, but you can’t exactly put your finger on why.

“How are you?” You ask again, only this time you mean it.

“Fine,” she answers briskly. “Really, I’m fine. Just in a hurry. I need to get home.”

“I won’t keep you, then.”

Something tells you she isn’t fine at all. You have an inexplicable urge to pull her into your arms again, but you don’t. Against your better judgment, you ignore your instincts and send her on her way. And in your gut you know that something is terribly wrong with your once outgoing, vivacious, beautiful friend.

Here’s what you don’t know: Your friend would love nothing more than to fall into your arms and ask for help. But she won’t. She can’t. She’s too ashamed. As awful as you think she looks, she believes she looks even worse. In a relatively short period of time, her boyfriend has gotten into her head and convinced her that she’s ugly, stupid, and worthless.

Your friend no longer puts any effort into her looks because he’ll either accuse her of dressing up for some “other man,” or he’ll just tell her she looks like crap anyway—so there’s no point in trying anymore.

Sweatpants are her new best friend.

She doesn’t call anymore because she’s embarrassed by her life. That wonderful guy she bragged about in the beginning has turned into a monster. And she knows that if her friends knew how bad things were, they’d think she was just as stupid as he says she is—and maybe she is. After all, she still loves him. So maybe she’s getting exactly what she deserves. At least that’s what she thinks.

You don’t see her as much because that’s what abusers do: They isolate their victims from friends and family. They do it subtly, though. He’d never go so far as to say that she isn’t allowed to see you—that’s too direct and he’s much smarter than that. Instead he manipulates her into staying away by doing things like picking a fight with her when she comes home.  That way, the next time you invite her out, she’ll decline in order to avoid another fight. Or he’ll accuse her of loving her friends more than him. So that she’ll stay home instead of upsetting him. He uses her love for him like a weapon.

And those fights she’s so eager to avoid? “Fight” isn’t exactly the right word, not when she always ends up sprawled on the floor. At first, it was more yelling than anything. She could hold her own back then. She always did have an acid tongue. But then he became cruel, saying things that cut her to her core. And he twisted her words and used them against her.  And all the while, he was playing the wounded one who couldn’t understand how she could treat him so badly when he loved her so much. There were the accusations and recriminations, wild scenarios forged in the deep valleys of his twisted mind. Her smart mouth never stood a chance against his emotional brutality.

By the time the first punch landed on her jaw, her psyche had been beaten to a pulp. And don’t be fooled by the shell of a woman you just saw at the grocery store. She used to fight back. She even got a few good punches in, especially that first time. But he’s stronger than her. Bigger than her. He’s been throwing punches all his life and she never even got a spanking as a child, so she never stood a chance against him physically, either.

You ask yourself, If it’s so bad for her, why didn’t she say something to me? I was right there! We’ve been friends since childhood. Surely she knows that I would help her!

Does she know that, though? Does she really? Or does she look at you, her childhood friend, and remember the time you said, “I don’t understand why women stay with men who hit them”?

Remember when the Ray Rice abuse story first broke a few years ago, and you all were having drinks? Remember what you said? You said, “If a man beats me once, shame on him; if he beats me twice, shame on me. That woman was an idiot for marrying him after what he did to her in that elevator!”

Your friend remembers those words. And even though she knows you love and support her, she can’t help but wonder how she’d change in your eyes if you knew what was really happening. Understand that she wants desperately to leave her current situation, but doesn’t know how. She may also be convinced her abuser will hurt whoever does try to help her. Remember, he’s in her head, even when he’s not beating her.

Trust your instincts, though. You know your friend. And from that encounter in the store, you know that something is definitely wrong. So please, don’t be afraid to follow up with her.

Start with a phone call. But ease into it: Don’t immediately launch into how you think she’s being abused, or anything like that. If her abuser’s at home when you call, she won’t say anything of substance, anyway. You simply want to convey the message that you’re concerned and want to help. Keep your words loving and gentle—and pressure-free.

Say something like, “I know you’re busy now. But when you have a few minutes to yourself, give me a call. I’m worried about you and want to help. I love you.”  Keep the call brief, but be clear: You’re worried, you want to help, and you love her.

If she doesn’t call back right away, call her again. Keep reaching out to her, but try to reach her when you know she’s away from him. Remember, your goal is to help, not endanger her any further.

Be prepared for her denials. Shame, guilt, fear, and even worry for your safety will keep her from opening up to you. Just gently remind her that if she’s in the kind of trouble you suspect, she has no reason to be ashamed. You love and respect her, and just want to help.

The reality is that professional intervention, possibly involving law enforcement will likely be required. If that’s the case, don’t attempt to handle this on your own. The deadliest time for a woman trying to leave an abusive relationship is from the moment she thinks about leaving, up to a year after she leaves. So you must seek professional guidance from the experts. Call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-779-7233. Let the experts help you help her.

You need to know that an abuse victim leaves her abuser on average seven times before she leaves for good. So, even if your friend leaves this time, she may go back. This is where your friendship will really be tested. You’ll be disappointed and even angry that, after all the work you did to help her escape, she willingly goes back. And your anger is understandable.

But an abuser’s most lethal weapon is his ability to manipulate his victim’s mind. Breaking his hold on your friend will take time, patience, professional help, and a whole lot of hard work on her part. You just have to keep loving and supporting her, even when she disappoints you. 
Try to resist judging her: It will only make things worse.

It’s painful to watch someone you love suffer domestic abuse. It’s also hard to understand why women stay with or return to the men that hurt them. But leaving is far more difficult than people think. Fear, lack of financial resources, and shame are just a few of the reasons women stay (or return). If children are involved, it’s even more complicated. Many women truly have nowhere to go. Shelters fill up fast and are few and far between. And sadly, as far as we’ve come in this country with regards to strengthening laws to protect women, it’s still way too easy for abusers to track down their victims and murder them. So some women just stay, hoping to survive another day.

As friends and supporters of abuse victims, we need to be more educated about the dynamics and mechanics of domestic violence. And most of all, we need to shed our own preconceived notions about the victims. They need our support and empathy. I learned that the hard way. I used to sit in judgment of women who stayed with their abusers, too. And I stayed on that high horse until the man I loved knocked me off with a punch.

Photo Credits: Black Doctor dot com, Elixher dot com, Jet Mag dot com.

(Janice first published this article in Dame Magazine on October 29, 2014. She updated it for this publication.)

ASK JANICE SPECIAL: How Will You Celebrate World Mental Health Day?

October 10th is World Mental Health Day, a day for all of us to raise awareness of mental health issues and advocate against social stigma. The primary focus for this year’s World Mental Health Day is suicide prevention. Every suicide is a tragedy that affects families and entire communities, and profoundly impacts those left behind.

Worldwide, every 40 seconds, someone dies by suicide. That adds up to close to 800,000 people per year, and doesn’t even include all the people who unsuccessfully attempt to end their lives. That is why the World Health Organization (WHO) is calling for today to be about “40 seconds of action” devoted to suicide prevention. Experts believe that, with the right intervention and help, many suicides can be stopped before they happen.

You can do your part by using your social media platforms to raise awareness of mental health issues and the importance of suicide prevention. You can also encourage your churches, mosques, clubs and organizations to include mental health awareness programming throughout the year. And most importantly, you can lead by example, and make your own mental wellness as big a priority as you make your physical fitness.

For far too long, mental health issues have been ignored, swept under the rug, and deliberately misinterpreted as weakness of character. This needs to stop. Seeking and accepting professional help for your mental well-being takes real strength. So if you need help, please talk to someone.

If you or someone you know is considering suicide, and you live in the United States, the suicide hotline number is 1-800-273-8255. Help is available 24/7/365.

ASK JANICE SPECIAL: Can We PLEASE Redefine the Strong Black Woman?

Sisters, we really need to redefine what it means to be a Strong Black Woman.

Listen.

I long for the day when a Black woman’s strength isn’t only measured by how much mistreatment she can endure. When you’re strong because you have to be, people tend to forget that you’re only human: fallible, vulnerable, and capable of feeling pain.

I’d love for people to recognize the strength it takes to be vulnerable and ask for help. It isn’t easy to let your guard down and bare your soul. It’s hard to be open and raw and deeply honest about who you are or how you feel. To do so takes real guts.

I want to redefine the Strong Black Woman image to include not just our resiliency in the face of oppression, but also our beauty when we’re broken and our joy when we’re ecstatic. I want it to include the full range of what it means to be human. We’re as complex and confusing and confounding as anyone else, and should be allowed to be our full selves without being considered “weak”.

The image of the Strong Black Woman as society’s “mule” persists, most certainly because it serves both white supremacy and the patriarchy to do so. But it persists also because we, as Black women, allow it to.

Consider the way we praise the long-suffering Black girlfriend who puts up with her man’s cheating, beating, or whatever, only to finally “get the ring” years later when the guy finally settles down and proposes.  This sister is celebrated, by men and women alike, as “strong” and “loyal” and “deserving”.

I call bullshit.

She was “deserving” before she spent the best years of her life waiting for that man-child to grow up. She would have still been “strong” had she kicked him to the curb, even if it meant being alone. “Loyalty” in the face of mistreatment isn’t commendable, it’s just sad. And we need to recognize that a woman’s strength has nothing to do with her ability to endure heartache from her romantic relationships.

Further proof of how this unhealthy notion of the Strong Black Woman is so deeply entrenched in our culture is how medical professionals treat us compared to how they treat white women. For example, studies have shown that in the U.S., Black women are prescribed opioid painkillers far less often than our white counterparts. On the one hand, this has resulted in fewer opioid overdoses among Black women than have occurred among white women. On the other hand, this also proves that Black women are expected to be able to endure more pain.

And it goes beyond pain management, too. I mean, don’t even get me started on the ridiculously high Black maternal mortality rate in the United States. But that’s a topic for another day. The bottom line is that this outdated, misogynistic notion of the Strong Black Woman is literally killing us!

When you’re seen as impervious to pain and abuse, you’re easy to hurt and abuse. When you’re strong because you have to be, people tend to forget you’re still human. And it’s easy to ignore your humanity because they think you can take it.

Sure, we can take it. Black women can take whatever life dishes out, and look damned good doing it, too. After all, we embody Black Girl Magic in spite of our oppression. We continue to show up and show out for the people we love; we run successful businesses and build empires; we’re the backbone of our places of worship; we enrich our culture with our art and talent; we dominate sports that a few decades ago were completely closed off to us; we serve our communities from the grassroots to the military to elected office; and we change the world with our scientific and technological genius.

In spite of everything thrown at us, we rise, we conquer, and we flourish! So yeah, Black women can take it.

But we shouldn’t always have to.

#NotYourMuleAnymore #StrongButHuman #BelieveBlackWomen #RespectBlackWomen#ListenToBlackWomen

Photo: Pixabay