Multiculturalism in Action: Black women & trauma

By: Kristin Helf, Associate Arts Editor

On Feb. 15, as part of the “Multiculturalism in Action Brown Bag Series,” assistant women’s and gender studies professor Jameta Barlow spoke to a crowded room of students and faculty about the importance of African American women’s mental health and well-being.

“I’m interested in how women, particularly black women, experience trauma,” Barlow said.

Much of the trauma that black women experience is intergenerational, she said, and stems from America’s culture of slavery, legal segregation, violence and sexual violence, and the marginalization of black women’s intersectional experiences.

Most of Barlow’s research is focused on obesity and heart disease, in which she seeks to understand the root of these physical health issues and mental health issues for black women.

“The manifestation of stress in black women is a major mediator rooted in trauma,” she said.

According to Barlow, of the 13.2 percent of African American or black-identified people in the United States, over 16 percent—or 6.8 million people—had a diagnosable mental illness within the past year.

When it comes to mental health issues like depression, Barlow said black women are understudied, underserved and often misdiagnosed. She emphasized the importance of recognizing these inherited traumas in order to heal, and how healing necessitates self-care.

One audience member asked about the stigma of self-care often being perceived as selfishness, and whether that stigma is changing.

“I see a lot of students involved in a lot of organizations because they feel they have to and I think that’s very common to the experience of black women, that we ‘have to,” Barlow said. “You can still be active, but you have to take care of yourself. It’s an act of political warfare, but it’s not self-indulgent in any way.”

Associate psychology professor and Brown Bag Series organizer Danice Brown said she wanted Barlow to host a lecture because she was generally amazed with her work.

“The series was created for the purpose of exposing the community to the faculty doing work that’s multicultural and social justice-oriented, and to open up [that] discussion with students, staff and faculty,” Brown said.

Barlow is currently heading the Saving Our Sisters project which promotes mental health and well-being among black women and shares videos that community members have made with the hashtag #WhenIFellInLoveWithMyself.

“Sometimes self care is taking a walk outside,” Barlow said. “Sometimes self care is saying no to other people so you can say yes to yourself. It doesn’t have to be expensive to do it. It is innovative. It is new.”

You can learn more about some of Barlow’s work here.

The next Multiculturalism in Action Brown Bag Series lecture will be March 1 to discuss race and cognitive bias in forensic sciences.

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