Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Blame for Black Obesity: a Culture of Disowned Bodies

I read and responded to this article on FaceBook. When I realized it was nearly 500 words I decided that is should also be a blog post:

The subject of African-Americans and their relationship to their bodies is something that I have been wondering about for some time. I am not so sociologist, however a friend said that if ever I needed a PhD topic this might be it. It is my opinion that many of the lasting problems faced by African-Americans stems from not really relating to our own bodies. We made a culture of separation from the corporeal to protect ourselves from the legal reality that others “owned” our bodies. I think it is crucial for us to reconnect within this generation.

This is the “comment” I left:

This article is a little thin on reasoning, but I think that it is not entirely wrong in its assertion. The scientist among you will agree that environment and heredity work together to make a person obese and one's culture is a big part of their environment. Christian or not the black church is part of black culture.

What I would be more interested to hear is if obesity is, in fact, one if the lasting effects of slavery. I mean more than soul food. I assert that within a reality where ones' very body was not their own African American resorted to a culture that created a buffer from that harsh inhumane reality. The black church is an institution of this culture. Obesity is just a single symptom of this hold over.

The church seems to emphasize the disembodied afterlife of the soul, King appealed to our hearts, Dubois advised us to develop our minds. I know so many spiritual, living & educated blacks who would never think twice about their corporeal existence. 

In fact, the only persistent media image of a physically focused black person is in jail or sports, and the only fit women pictured are sexual objects. (That is another topic for another day.) I'm sure you want people to think of you as only a jock, criminal or prostitute. This is the often the image that African-Americans feel they have to fight against.

I am not a sociologist but I wonder if obesity is only one symptom, violence in the home towards children is another. Anyone ever heard the phase, "Give your heart to Jesus, because your behind is mine." it is a completely ridiculous thing to say, ones body is intact their own! And the justification the that what the sheriff (read: lynch mob) would do to a disobedient black child  would be far worse than a beating at the hands of a parent is out of date logic. Base again on the idea that the 'law' has rights to brown bodies. How does this effect violence in the community? For those of you who are blessed not to know this, you can't go jogging in a violent neighborhood.

Our disgust, disdain, closeted distance from all things sexual is yet another symptom of a culture that has yet to take full ownership our bodies. The result is HIV infection rates much higher than the general population. (Granted, incarceration also figures prominently) Why teach your son or daughter to negotiate for good-to-you good-for-you, safe(r) sex, with appropriate birth control, when you have trouble with even talking about the desires of your own beautiful blessed sacred body. Could this disembodiment be at least partially responsible for low breastfeeding rates? By the way, breastfeeding can be linked to healthier weight for mom and baby down the road.

We have trouble advocating for, protecting, and LOVING a thing with which we do not completely connect. The black body is not celebrated it is watched, raped, hunted, singled out, over sexualized, misunderstood, maligned and made fun of by the popular culture every day. No wonder we, work on our souls, and brains and communities rather than put on some shorts and go effen jog, for jogging sake. Moreover, we have cannot demand a stop to this until we ourselves value the blessing of vessels we have been given. To this end mindful eating, exercise, non-violent home life for everyone, sex education and a return of the black is beautiful mantra.
<Steps down from soap box>

Of course, I pride myself on having a non-violent home. I make it a daily point to celebrate my children everyday, especially their tangled curly hair, golden skin and brown eyes. I make sure they get to run, climb, jump and make the most of the bodies they have been given. I know they will not always eat organic food, heck, they may decide not to be vegetarian. I think that it is particularly important that they love, respect and nurture their bodies because history has not.  Do you think that there is more to African-American obesity than fried chicken and macaroni and cheese? Tell me about it.
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