Friday, October 16, 2015

Black Physical and Mental Health: Toward A Self-Help Paradigm

For my faithful readers who have wondered if I dropped off the face of the earth, this post is proof that I am still alive. That being said, it's been a rough year for me physically and mentally.  I had no idea how all-consuming it would be to finish the novel, and it has taken a toll on me: sleepless nights, fever blisters, non-stop colds--I'm basically drained. My predicament made me think about the travails of the health of Black folk, in general, which inspired me to write this blog post. 

Many articles have come out recently about the mental health of Americans, in general, which leads me to broach the topic of the mental health of Black Americans. The lives we live are not easy ones, despite all of our singing and dancing portrayed in the media. I know that dancing is therapeutic, and being in touch with one's body is a good thing. But we can't necessarily only dance  our way to better health. So, what do we do when we're at our wits end, fighting the fight: unemployment, food deserts, #blacklivesmatter protests -- just trying to stay alive?

Many of us may have better access to health care but still don't get the Cadillac services that other groups get. We are overlooked, under-diagnosed, over-drugged, and ignored. Many doctors don't know how to handle Black people, in general, as normal patients, which has inspired a term called, "cultural competency." It's another way of saying, "how to treat non-whites like humans."
If one looks at the history of government policies towards Black health, it's understandable that Blacks might have issues with trusting our health care system.  We were experimented on when we thought we were being treated, and our level of health attention is much poorer than in the mainstream, because our lives were never and are not now valued. The Nestle debacle in Africa and other developing countries is indicative of how the little babies of color's lives mattered:

[Companies such as Nestle] used to hire 'milk nurses' to visit patients in the maternity wards of hospitals to promote bottle feeding. The business of these "so-called nurses is to sell milk, not look after the health of the children," said Dr. Cicely D. Williams, a British doctor who worked in hospitals throughout the Third World. "In Africa, I wouldn't let them in. They came to me about it, but I said no, not as long as I'm here." Williams said she found the same thing in Singapore where Nestle used women dressed as nurses to convince new mothers to use infant formula.

Blacks have always been pitched to by stronger nicotine-content cigarette manufacturing brands, like Kools and Newport, and higher alcohol-content beers, creating consumers who would become addicted to products that harm them.  But that's the American way:  the consumer can stop, we're told. Of course, that's easier said than done, as Americans as a whole have a wider away of health problems than our parents and grandparents had back in the day.

There's a movement afoot led by scientists such as Jennifer Hutchison, who are encouraging Black Americans to "heal thyself." She's not just wishing or hoping, however.  She attended Agnes Scott College, an all-women’s liberal arts school in Georgia, where she received a Bachelor’s degree in Biology.  Subsequently, she earned two Masters degrees (Biology and Physiology). Her physiology Master's dissertation concerned the cellular and molecular pathways involved in metastatic colon cancer.
Jennifer Hutchison of Senebti Botanicals
Jennifer has always had a passion to help others and a keen interest in medicine. After taking a graduate course called Mechanisms of Disease and learning about how the body has a natural ability heal itself, she used what she learned to investigate her own health problems. Eventually, Jennifer decided to incorporate her passion for medicine and health with her love for plants (a product of her mother’s green thumb).

Jennifer also began studying the therapeutic ways of ancient Africans and other indigenous peoples that used the earth for healing and renewal as a natural supplement to health.  She became certified as a Clinical Master Herbalist, and started her company Senebti Botanicals. The word Senebti comes from the ancient African language of Medu Neter “Ankh Udja Seneb,” which means life, prosperity and health.

"We must realize that Mother Earth and our universe is a biological system in which we are innately connected. No laboratory drug can safely balance the internal energy of your bodies in the same way plant medicines can."

At the same time, Jennifer believes that society is not a healthy one for Black Americans. How does that translate to the care we get from our medical system in the U.S.?

"[Black Americans] are susceptible to more disease because we are not in our natural environment socially or geographically. In addition, the way we are treated by professionals has a tendency to weaken our system on a spiritual level, too. In other words, when African-Americans go to the doctor, which is usually late, chances are they are in a worsened condition. That means, not only [do] they have a lesser chance of recovery, but the negative energy about their condition is 'in the air', transferred to them by the doctors and nurses who treat them. So what happens is, instead of being encouraged that they can get better, they get a vibe that things are worse, and they take that on and actually do get worse. And we have worse outcomes."

This is why Jennifer believes that Black Americans should have "our own medical system in place to help Black people."

When asked how that "treatment" would take place, given America's health care system, which is still the envy of most nations, she explained further how African-based traditions and beliefs need to filter into how Blacks are treated, and that we need more Black health professionals with whom we can work.

"Allopathic medicine is treating a symptom, whereas African traditional medicine (and all other healing practices) are formed from a culture. America has no real culture of millennial or centuries' practices that they can culturally rely upon as medicine. Africans and many other cultures focus on energy and balance in the life as a whole."

When I asked Jennifer about the dilemma of Black Americans who are divorced from our African homeland, she defended that Black Americans do have traditional African beliefs even though we are very westernized.

"Our people are confused and brainwashed. That energy I speak of has been modified to only respond to low vibration stimulation whether that be foods, music, or other people." The American system, which is rooted in the historical subjugation of Black people, must be replaced by an emphasis on the earth, which provides healing and renewal. "The earth has everything you need to survive – and we should use its healing power!" There is a whole world of medicinal herbs that can heal almost any medical issue, from Arthritis to zits, she explained.

"There's so much negativity that bombards us," Jennifer believes. "Meditation, spirituality, and prayer are essential to our well-being."

She posits that Blacks need to reunite with our ancestors, and look outside of the traditional norms to heal ourselves. As a student of those traditions, Jennifer holds online classes to educate others about health and well-being. She serves the public, but is especially committed to helping Black Americans.

You can hear more about her thinking by visiting her website:; she also has a school; also features her on Saturday talks; you can also hear her in a more informative blogtalkradio post:


zubair ali said...

A great website with interesting and unique material what else would you need.

Melisa Marzett said...

I'm so thankful for this originally awesome piece of writing! Your blog is definitely interesting to go thru. In addition to my current project, I was able to find this entry - The topic is similar!

Why Reading Other Novelists Helps Improve One's Own Writing

A Conspiracy of Paper by David Liss My rating: 3 of 5 stars As someone who has written an in-depth novel with lots of characters and int...