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Freedom, Labor and Exercise: A Black Woman’s Ultimate Pardon

Posted Jan 03 2010 7:00am
Photo Art by Luciano Castelli
By Morgan, The Rebel
OurHealth Staff Writer

I can’t tell if I’m about to be deep or ridiculous.

Bear with me.

It dawned on me early this morning that exercise feels like work. Simple minded, I know. But exploring this feeling may open an important door.

Several years ago, Vanessa and I jotted down ideas for an organization called GirlTrek. It was a health organization inspired by the life of Harriet Tubman. We thought of kitschy phrases, like “health is liberating!”, “what would Harriet do?”, and “get gangsta about freedom”. Somewhere deep inside we both knew that health reform would require a grassroots freedom movement. It would be mind-shifting, spirit altering freedom-work. But for some reason, we could not – for the broader public – explain what Harriet Tubman had to do with the health in black communities today.

I think I may have found a link.

Exercise is work.

For more time than not, African American women were chattel slaves. Our bodies were property. We were owned; and forced to work and breed. Our concept of work and slavery is deeply and inextricably connected to physical labor. Conversely, freedom – to us - is having it all without a lot of exertion. Freedom is the lack of physical work. Think about it…what is your image of freedom? Laying on the beach, eating a banana split in bed, laughing with friends and family, sitting prayerfully in church. Freedom has nothing t do with working hard. We don’t think of hiking to the top of a mountain, tilling a garden, or running on a beach as freeing. Every black woman I know wants it all – without apology– the career, the home, the gourmet dinners, the vacations. But every black woman I know rejects the “working like a slave” strategy to get it.

This imbalance – having it all, but not working too hard to get it – is compounded by the fact the 70% of our households are lead by single Black women. So we want it all, without over-exerting ourselves – and we’re doing it while raising our families alone.

Now, we own our bodies – we are physically free - and look at how we use our freedom.

When I wake up in the morning… exercise doesn’t feel liberating. At 7am, I don’t value physical activity. It is not my gateway to freedom. Laying in the bed is. So instead of doing sun salutations A and B, like I’m supposed to be doing, I’m writing…pontificating…crafting another clever excuse.

Lately, my concept of freedom is lazing around, which spirals into emotional sickness, lethargy, self-loathing and ultimately a lack of personal discipline and control. But here is the kicker.
I’ve noticed that once I get into the practice of living an active lifestyle, it not longer feels like a chore, but it starts to feel joyous, addictive, empowering, and dare I say freeing…

Time to re-craft my daily habits…again… to establish a little discipline…to become my own that I can live the life I want, which is the definition of true freedom.

(Dang...become my own master! I wonder if Black folks were physically healthier during slavery or now!? Sorry. Somebody has to ask these questions.)

Bottom-line, we are enslaving ourselves in our bodies.

What would Harriet do?

She would take the first step (note to self: “get out of bed”). She would begin a prayerful daily practice of freedom-work (“make exercise a part of what I do, not an option!”). She would establish a support network (“OurHealth...that new underground movement baby! boo-yeah...check”) and she would take as many people along with her as possible (“bring our friends and family along!”) In an interview, Mrs. Tubman said that she freed a lot of slaves, but could have freed a lot more if she could have convinced them they were slaves. Oddly enough, this sentiment is true for our movement; our first step is convincing black women that we are unhealthy...but now... I just need to convince myself that freedom lies beyond the couch.

I'm up...

- Morgan

P.S. Slavery was a bitch. Don't get it twisted.

P.P.S. In fact...there is a hotly debated scientific theory called "The Slavery Hypertension Hypothesis". This theory, proposed by Wilson and Grim claims that "African Americans possess genetic predisposition for life-threatening elevated blood pressure that was the consequence of intense selection during the Middle Passage and the period of enslavement. The biological changes resulted from a genetic bottleneck that was marked by mechanisms that conserved salt in those that survived the infectious diseases that caused diarrhea and vomiting". (Armelagos, 2005) Opponents argue that there is not enough evidence. Others question whether race is a reliable genetic construct for any scientific study. Oprah recieved a lot of criticism when Dr. Mehmet Oz asked her "Do you know why African Americans have high blood pressure?" She said "African Americans who survived were those who could hold more salt in their body." He said "Perfect!"
This group of dedicated Black women are committed to getting healthier, one goal at a time! Our Health challenges women to set ambitious physical goals for a good cause - to inspire our girls, our families, our churches, our communities to get moving! We believe ordinary woman can, and should become the faces of healthy living! Join us! For more information, visit our website at
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