This year has been marked by a global uprising. As more names became hashtags, the collective rage of Black America flooded into the streets and social media in protest. As celebrated Black queer essayist and poet, Audre Lorde wrote, “anger is loaded with information and energy.”
My anger during those weeks could not be processed through writing, my normal coping mechanism. The influx of violence and rage living in my body, instead, exploded out of my body as art — illustrations, card making, paper dolls, and comics.
These activities helped me redirect my energy instead of transforming it into a gentler feeling.
I spoke to other Black folks dealing with the trauma of highly publicized murders of Black people. They have also found a need for more actively transformative forms of comfort, like crafting, baking, and somatic practices, instead of gentler practices, like meditation.
When news of the COVID quarantine was announced, Dr. Autumn A. Griffin, a yoga teacher in training and postdoctoral fellow who specializes in Black girls’ literacies and wellness, knew she needed to find something to do with her hands. Inspired by the ankara print cloth she purchased as souvenirs from her occasional school and personal trips to Africa, she decided to make a bookmark. Then her friends asked if she would sell them. To date, Griffin has made and sold well over 350 bookmarks.
“Making bookmarks are usually my best days,” Griffin says. The meditative state that serious crafting brings gives her a sense of peace and accomplishment. She has donated the proceeds to various community organizations, including Vanessa Ananyaso’s supply runs for protests in Minneapolis.
“[This] gives me a connection to the work I do and a freedom from it,” she says. A creative at heart, Griffin felt her time in graduate school took away the comfort, joy, and pleasure writing and reading formerly gave her. “It […] hasn’t been co-opted by the Academy at this point.”
For Jameelah Jones, a writer and graduate student based in Atlanta, the murders of George Floyd, Tony McDade, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery inspired her to create new messages for her handmade cards.
Designed with the help of a Cricut machine, her cards are emblazoned with Black feminist quotes and vernacular calls for joy, love, and support. Jones, who describes herself as “rooted in the politics of creating new things,” found comfort in making these cards.
“There are just some things you’re not going to find in traditional Black card lines,” she says, referring to the way Hallmark’s Mahogany card line has yet to expand and diversify to represent the heterogeneity of our people.
“[Black people] were feeling a collective something that wasn’t expressed on a card yet,” Jones says, noting how mainstream cards didn’t have any that spoke to the emotions brought on by current events. “This seems like an occasion when you would send a sympathy card. I feel like I can hold something in my hand that represents who I am and what I feel.”
Aya Eltahir, a budding social worker based in New York, had never baked before this spring. She began with banana bread, trying to make productive use of newfound idle time, and moved into everything from brownies and cupcakes, to macaroons and ca’ak (a Sudani Eid sugar cookie). Over baked goods, her family had difficult conversations about everything from the current protests to the insidious nature of capitalism.
“Those conversations,” Eltahir says, “have brought a lot of growth and transformation to me and my family in a short period of time.” The action also helped her learn to rest, a feat she finds difficult and has been trying to redefine for herself these last few months. Baking, for her, “provides a nice balance of resting and yet still feeling productive.”
Like Griffin and Jones, Eltahir finds a sense of accomplishment in taking her energy and using it to create something tangible she can then share with her family.
“There’s a liberatory feeling of wanting to do something that takes time that’s not an obligation,” she says. “I’m doing something because I want to and because I want to enjoy something for myself and my family.”
While somatic therapy is often thought of as physical techniques like mediation, tapping, or deep breathing, the concept explains why so many of us find healing in creative activities. The act of bodily motion, like crafting, allows us to raise awareness of our intense emotions. Expressing ourselves helps keep us in a “flow” state and fuels a positive, active state of consciousness.
“Somatic work is a deep reclamation of how we are innately meant to be expressing ourselves,” says transformational coach Olivia Howard. Her approach to somatic practices is an intuitive blend of inherited cultural guidance and formal training as a movement practitioner. According to Howard, our minds tend to be overcontrolling of our body. “[It is] a huge result of capitalism and colonialism, and it erases the deep wisdom our body holds.”
With more time to ourselves, the energy our bodies carry, our collective rage, needs us to find release. Having a somatic practice shows us how to let the body be the guide.
“When we express ourselves creatively, we’re healing our energy body,” Howard explains. “We inherit trauma and the tools for healing.” Though Howard believes creative energy shouldn’t feel revolutionary, she believes that the somatic aspect Black folks are tapping into, through their crafts, is very much so.
Because Black people are feeling a lot of everything right now — and even our most difficult emotions are important. The tactile nature of activities like crafting or baking raises our awareness of physical sensations in our body. These somatic-based activities give us a chance to move that energy through our bodies, rather than letting it sit stagnant and stew.
Even as I struggled to feel anything but pain, I made a short comic. When starting, I thought nothing of it. I choose to focus on the pen in my hand and to admire the bold strokes I made; how I turned my energy and feelings into art on a page. The act was meant to loosen the pit of anger and anxiety I was carrying in my stomach, and when I finished it, I shared the piece to show others how I was feeling. And to see if anyone was feeling the same, because if they were, they would then know they were not alone.
That particular piece ended up resonating with many people on Twitter and Instagram, including novelist Tayari Jones. Creating this comic, making and sharing a collective feeling through a tangible object, is at its core a Black feminist project. Griffins, Jones, Elthair, and Howard’s creative practices are too.
As Black feminist writer Brittney Cooper tells us, our rage is a “superpower.” And while that’s all true, we can’t let it consume us. We still have to be able to live our lives and care for ourselves. Figuring out how to redirect this energy, make it yield to my will rather than consume me, could more than save my life. It could transform it.
Ravynn is a Virginia-based scholar, writer, and hazelnut latte enthusiast. You can learn more about her work at her website or by following her on Twitter.