By Alexa Santory
There’s a stigma in the POC community that wellness is a luxury. We’re here to tell you that it isn’t — wellness is a right. Regardless of race, skin tone, or socioeconomic status, health and wellness are two things that absolutely everyone deserves full access to. So why is it that people of color are so often left out of wellness spaces? Why is it that healthcare access in communities of color is abysmal? Why are mothers of color dying in childbirth at astonishingly high rates compared to those of white women? We want to change that narrative and introduce the idea that health and wellness aren’t bougie, they’re just something most people of color haven’t had as much access to--things we’re told aren’t for us. With an ever-shifting world and mountains of information in the palms of our hands, health and wellness are being talked about more and more in communities of color. The conversation of holistic and natural healing is finally being opened up to include us more, even if we have to create the spaces ourselves. Even further, it’s finally being recognized as a viable option for the health and healing of our minds and bodies.
How have we been left out of the conversation?
Holistic living goes beyond using natural products and eating a healthier, more wholesome diet. To live holistically means to recognize yourself as a whole, not just a bunch of parts — there is a connection between the mind and the body. This tenant is the foundation for holistic medicine and the sooner we all embrace it, the easier the healing process becomes. Think about it — how physically healthy do you truly feel when you’re mentally and emotionally stressed out? How strong does your mind feel when you’re suffering from a cold? For centuries, people of color have only been taught to care for one and not the other, even though they inherently go hand in hand. If we’re talking just mental health, it’s become more common knowledge that it’s something that’s considered taboo to talk about in communities of color. Access to good health care in communities of color has become such a challenge that people aren’t even going to the doctor anymore. Bearing this in mind, people of color, especially Black people, are more likely to suffer from serious illnesses like heart disease, diabetes, stroke, fibroids, cervical and breast cancer, as well as premature childbirth. Racial bias in the medical field is also a major issue and the maternal mortality rate is disproportionately high for Black women.
On top of all of the physical ailments, women of color are 10% more likely to suffer from a mental illness than white women. Why are these numbers so disproportionate? For one thing, generational trauma is a very real thing and it’s been found that trauma experienced by our ancestors can be carried down through generations, manifesting itself as a form of PTSD. There are also the factors of race and socioeconomic status, which so often go hand in hand. Financial insecurity, poverty, and racism can all have a profound impact on our mental state. Still though, the conversation of mental health in households and communities of color is almost impossible to have. Speaking from personal experience, mental health issues have plagued my family for generations and nearly every single one of my friends (all of which are POC) suffer from some level of mental illness. It’s extremely common in our community and yet even our parents don’t wanna touch the subject. Even further still, access to proper nutrition in communities of color is super low and poor nutrition can also play a role in poor mental health. Granted, people of color have a lot to be angry about. But how then are we supposed to function in this society that very obviously wants to keep us down if we don’t have access to the things that keep us healthy? Why is natural and holistic healing such a privilege and why have people of color been purposefully pushed out of the conversation surrounding it?
In her article for The New York Times, “Black Health Matters,” Jenna Wortham makes an interesting statement that harkens back to the words of Audre Lorde regarding self care. After visiting a Black holistic doctor, she realizes that holistic health care isn’t “a luxury, but rather an act of resilience, survival, and disobedience — a necessity” in communities of color. Much like self care, holistic health access is a form of self preservation. Because of the inherent connection between the mind and body, this makes holistic health an absolute necessity for the healing (and advancement) of communities of color. But in a time and place where people of color are continuously disenfranchised, discriminated against, and have little to no access to these resources, the healing of our minds and bodies is slowed down to near full stop. It doesn’t have to continue to be this way though — the cycle can stop right here, right now.
Why is holistic health so important for people of color?
As Jenna Wortham put it, holistic health is a means on survival for our community. We need it just as badly, if not more, than privileged communities for self preservation purposes. After generations of exposure to poverty, racism, financial insecurity and inequality having a major impact on our mental health, as well as being more likely to develop serious health issues like heart disease, cancer, and diabetes, the time has come for people to gain greater access to holistic methods of healing. People of color as a whole need to start making their health a priority, and not just their physical but their mental health as well. I believe that the lack of accessibility to holistic healing is just another way to keep people of color from advancing further in a society that doesn’t truly care about them. We can put a stop to this though, and we are.
Women of color are blazing trails in the wellness community to get the word out about why it’s so important for us to incorporate it into our lives. There are wellness retreats being created by women of color for women of color where you’re surrounded by individuals who are a lot like you in their desire to heal their minds and bodies naturally. Yoga studios like Green Tree Yoga in southern Los Angeles serves as a safe haven for people of color living in an underprivileged, underserved neighborhood. The creation of safe spaces like this is just one of the ways people of color can gain access to the world of holistic health and start on their journey to a healthier mind and body. Websites like Black Girl In Om give women of color a digital platform to learn about holistic living and express themselves freely in a space that understands the issues felt only by women of color. These are just a couple of the incredible, inspiring ways women of color are changing the wellness narrative. If you’re left out of an important discourse, sometimes you have to create the space yourself, you know? If there’s one thing we want you all to take away from this, it’s this: wellness, and your path to a healthy, sound mind and body, is not a privilege. It’s a right.