Black dissociation is a requirement of capitalism
I cannot separate out the ways that capitalism has devastated my body and the history of what it has done to my ancestors’ bodies.
CW: mention of body changes, dissociation and dysmorphia.
As a Black person who has survived trauma and poverty, I assumed that I could handle anything, including what has been a physically debilitating matrix of illnesses. But in less than 8 months I started experiencing dissociation.
I moved from a body I fought to learn to love and that I genuinely enjoyed, into a body I couldn’t understand or recognize. I couldn’t look in the mirror without having a momentary wave of confusion because the person staring back at me wasn’t me. Worst of all, I went from feeling empowered by what my body could do to terrified of what would happen next. I pushed myself to diet, stay consistent with treatments and work harder, thinking that was the path to healing.
Every day became a struggle. As I made the decision to fight to “get my body back” from the grips of this disease, I started to disassociate from my body. I dove into scientific studies and found ways to treat my symptoms while uninsured. The more I fought though, the more it felt like my body fought back, which further deepened the schism within myself. With each new illness, and symptom, and issue that developed I started to see my body less as me and more as an object I needed to subdue.
I developed severe anemia after significant blood loss and needed emergency iron infusions. My iron levels went from 6 to just under 12, and I was terrified that this symptom would require an expensive infusion again.
I broke down.
I was hysterical. I frantically begged my partner to drive across state lines to hopefully get medication that may have possibly helped just for it to ultimately be a waste of limited gas money. I was angry, and struck by how intimately my experience with illness, bodily changes and seeking care were intertwined with my navigation of capitalism. I decided to document my experiences with a photo series titled, The Body. It helped me make sense of what was going on.
Through the series I learned, the dissociation required for me to see myself as separate from my body, and to see my body as antagonistic of my identity is a requirement of capitalism. When my body “failed”, I continued to work and study. In a way, I also participated in dehumanizing my body by leaning in to the dominate white supremacist understanding / representation of it. My body became a tool of production, a “Black body” requiring strict control.
I spent the first two years being sick not telling anyone, or even fully grasping, that I was sick. I spent the next year on a strict regimen, trying to do everything in my power to heal myself. Finally, the weight of this white supremacist internalized dehumanization started to get to me. I continuously tried to navigate this dissociation and schism within myself while also trying to pull myself together in an attempt to get back to “The Work of Surviving”. But what is the point of surviving if I lost myself in the process?
The foundation of the issue for me is the way capitalism requires Black people to dissociate from their bodies, which further allows and supports a culture where Black bodies become its tools. This has been true for centuries, and our bodies and labor were especially impacted during slavery. Therefore, I cannot separate out the ways that capitalism has devastated my body and the history of what it has done to my ancestors’ bodies.
Even Black folks’ ability to perform labor is linked to our supposed freedom. We are expected to earn our keep and work twice as hard for half as much.
I now take comfort in knowing that our history is rich. Black disabled, mentally ill, and traumatized ancestors were cared for by other folks in the community. For centuries we have worked collectively to ensure our most marginalized could have their needs met. Healing may not have been possible, but they still worked to honor their grief, pain and trauma.
I think of one of my great grand aunt’s favorite song We Are Soldiers In The Army:
We are Soldiers,
In the army,
We have to fight,
Although we have to cry
We have to hold up the bloodstained banner
We have to hold it up
Until we Die!
In honor of my ancestors and elders who made time to honor their grief as they worked towards their liberation, I choose to do the same. After years of dehumanizing trauma and abuse, and after years of forcing myself to thrive under the boot of capitalist exploitation, my body craves reprieve.
I choose to give those moments to myself. Like my ancestors who worked to create safer spaces for those in need, I worked with my mentor to create a space, even if only within myself, that allows me the opportunity to honor my grief and overwhelming frustration. By honoring my emotional complexity instead of suppressing it, I ensure that my body stays mine in spite of the trauma of being Black and Queer and Trans and Disabled.
Healing for me is both a destination and a journey, especially as I continue to navigate scary and uncomfortable manifestations of dis-ease. Thankfully, I am learning that I love myself dearly, even if I didn’t always know how to do so in the right ways. My desire to survive by any means necessary in spite of my fear is a manifestation of my love for myself.
In the same way, my commitment to honoring complexity, grief, hurt and hopelessness is a form of self love too. Capitalism’s desire to dehumanize my Black body and bodies like mine will not win.Everyday that I love myself, I reclaim my humanity and redefine it outside of white supremacist capitalism. That is a win to me and for that I am thankful.
Join me on the journey to radically reclaiming our bodies.
Imani is a strategist, Consultant, and philosopher. Sometimes they write about STEM, Blackness, and afrofuturism, but they are mostly taking some time to enjoy being femme + black. You can support them via cashapp or their fundraiser here. Join their mailing list to get exclusive access to their upcoming eBook, Fear is a Weapon.