Arguably, I find these phases of self-empowerment might also be notions of systemic racism and oppression that in my case almost killed me.
In the summer of 2016, I realized that I was in pain. The pain was dull. It burned in my neck, traveled up my jaw and sat in my lower back. It squeezed my body like the tight grip of death and pressed down on my chest. The pain was not sudden. It’s lasted for weeks and with increased exertion, it got worse. All those weeks I ignored it because I was a “Strong & Magical Black Woman” who’s supernatural pursuit of life would keep me going forever.
I ignored the pain when I was called to Washington, D.C. to assist at the Department of Justice & the Vera Institute on a new project aimed at better-capturing data for trust building between historically oppressed communities and police officers. I recall leaving the meeting to go take a walk down the Capitol Mall. I attempted to walk to each monument but found that the pain dwindled my tolerance to move forward.
And so, I instead chose to walk to each one then lay down on the warm grass under the hot sun. I was still going to complete my ordained journey of exploration – but first I just needed to rest to gain the energy.
I don’t want to die so early because I still have things to do for others.
I ignored the pain that night I went to bed alone in my hotel room. After hearing the voice of God whisper and warn that I was going to die. You see I was wearing a night shirt that said “Stu-dying” that depicted a college student under the pressure of academic achievement. I spoke the words to the Lord that night before falling asleep, “I don’t want to die so early because I still have things to do for others.” You see, I suffered the pain for others, like Jesus….. (smdh)
I ignored the pain when I got back home to Austin, right in time to organize a community gathering that addressed the traumatic situation involving a Black man whose murder by an officer was captured on Facebook Live by his girlfriend and in front of his child. As I climbed up and down the stairs to clean up after the event, I held my body. I breathed laboring to take in enough air. Just deep enough to be able to carry the load of items to my car in time for security to lock up after a successful event.
The next day, I called my parents and said these few words, “I just don’t feel well.” My Dad, who I swear is prophetic, told me that I was having a heart attack and that I needed to go to the emergency room right away. He then told me about our family history. A history smeared with family members that also had a heart attack in their 30’s. Each one of his sisters, his brothers… his own finicky heart. I think this was our very first conversation about family health history – and I was 35.
I immediately drove myself to the Heart Hospital. It was very rainy that day. Once given a bed, I called my then husband who didn’t believe me. I begged him to come anyway.
The emergency room doctor – a White man believed me but after being admitted to the heart hospital, the doctor on shift – A Black man did not. He told me that I was too young to be in this part of the hospital and that my levels looked fine. He told me that I was just doing too much. I pushed back. I told him that my Dad said it was signs of a heart attack and that he needed to do more tests. After self-advocating with my magical vigor – he agreed to a stress test.
He found that this major artery was 98% blocked.
The test went horribly wrong and I almost died. I was immediately taken into emergency heart surgery where Dr. Manish Chauahan performed an angioplasty and placed a stent in my widow’s maker artery. He found that this major artery was 98% blocked. Later Dr. Chauahan told me that I was the walking dead and couldn’t understand how I didn’t have heart damage or continued to operate with only 2% blood flow to my heart. I explained that it was my strength and my glitter that got me though.
I resent the fact that I almost had to die to live.
Even after my heart attack, I still felt obligated to the “community”. I posted pictures from my hospital bed of the event that I put on a couple of nights before as a “late-post”. 👎🏽
It’s taken until now that I have finally realized how detrimental it is to lean on this imaginary power – that I am not even designed to withstand. This power that has given White people the additional privilege to throw even more boulders onto the backs of Black women because we have a “higher pain tolerance” or because we are “built to endure”.
This magic that has excused so many Black men from the duty of protection, providing, opening the door for us, grabbing grocery bags as we come through the door, working hard enough to exceed our contribution or maintaining the intentional fortitude to minimize our stress…rub our back or massage the day away.
I’ve yet to hear the saying “I’m a strong White Woman” or “White Girl Magic”. I’m sick of it and it’s damn there killing us!
Today – I say I’m human. I’m not magical. I’m not some Marvel superhero that wants to save everyone. I am regular and you are too. Void of the expectation of sorcery and omens. Anything extraordinary or crazy amazing that comes from my Black body – is only from which the Lord allows.Jameila “Meme” Styles is the visionary Founder and CEO behind MEASURE Austin. MEASURE believes in the power of solid research to solve entrenched community problems.