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Tuesday, November 29, 2022
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Black women’s mental health highlighted at UHS panel

“What does Black Girl Magic mean to you?”

To conclude Black History Month, University of Wisconsin-Madison’s mental health services hosted a discussion panel, “Beyond Black Girl Magic: Normalizing and Centering Black Women’s Mental Health,” covering topics ranging from the mental health of Black women, to defining oneself and embracing imperfection. 

The panel was composed of six women who pulled on their own experiences to describe life as a Black woman in today’s society. The women — Rianna Bailey, Carol Griggs, Amanda Ngola, DeOnna Garrison, Irene Katana and Tena Madison — took time to answer audience questions and consider what Black Girl Magic means to them. 

Bailey is a mental health provider focused on students of color at University Health Services while Griggs acts as the associate director and director of operations at UHS as well as a social and behavioral health scientist. Ngola is a clinical associate professor and associate field director in the Rosenbaum School of Social Work on campus. Madison is an internal consultant at the university

Garrison is a first-year student and Katana is a masters student at UW-Madison. 

The women came to the common consensus that Black Girl Magic can have different meanings for everyone, but in general, it’s about the power, strength and “the added spark” that allows all Black women to embrace and show their true selves. 

The women went on to explain how a part of power and strength is allowing yourself to show vulnerability, emotion and weakness, breaking away from traditional stereotypes of Black women.

This notion mixed with rising social media usage led to the creation of the 2022 Black History Month theme of “Melanin in Media: The People, The Culture, The Blackprint.” 

One consideration throughout the panel was the connection between blackness, media and mental health. Griggs mentioned how she refrains from joining social media platforms because of the “image of perfection that is wanted to be achieved” for Black women as well as the “harsh judgment that can be found” across platforms. 

The women all agreed that representation in both race and body types should be showcased within different media outlets. 

Conversely, through the use of social media algorithms, Madison has “curated [her] Instagram to look like [herself].” 

“I want to see beautiful blackness and dark skin; it just fills me,” Madison said. “I’ve deliberately changed what I’m looking at so that I see myself represented in social media.”

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In an interview with The Daily Cardinal, Ngola mentioned ideas similar to both Griggs and Madison about social media, but went on to discuss some of its positive aspects. 

“Social media is challenging because it can create a false sense of comparison to unrealistic perfection,” Ngola emphasized. “On the other hand, there are so many resources and influencers posting about mental wellness, community support, our history of strength and resilience … and these are very positive effects of social media.”

The women went on to discuss the most pressing issues found in day-to-day life for Black women today. 

The overarching issue is that many Black women feel as though they do not have a safe outlet where they can be fully themselves, the group said. For years, the panelists searched to find places where they could comfortably express themselves. 

Katana took the initiative to create her own safe space for other Black women through an activity that centers her physically, mentally and spiritually. 

“I started teaching yoga two years ago and that’s when I actually realized this is what a safe space is,” Katana said. “It’s hard being in predominantly white spaces so I wanted to create my own safe space.”

Later in the evening, an audience member asked how white allies can better support Black women. 

Garrison mentioned that one of the biggest things that can be done is for white people to hold themselves and those around them accountable. She requested that people ask themselves: “Does this sound wrong? Or is it going to come off as wrong?”

All the women agreed one of the most effective things you can do is educate yourself and “put in the work.” 

Meaning, take the time to learn about Black history through the lens of a Black person while avoiding the whitewashed version. In conjunction with this idea, Bailey asks for white people to “be able to take feedback” and Katana reiterated this sense of “[active] listening.”

The evening concluded with the panel discussing major takeaways of the event. 

“Being Black in a predominantly white society is hard enough, so don’t make people feel like ‘the others,” Griggs said. 

Ngola agreed and mentioned that people should actively try being the first to approach Black women at events as opposed to waiting for them to come up to you. 

Katana simply asked that attendees be accepting of everyone even if they are not the same as you. 

The takeaways concluded with Garrison asking the audience not to be allies because they feel as though society is telling them it is the right thing to do, but instead, show true passion and care for others who are different from you, and put in the work to help make a change.

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