Photo: Pedro Ribeiro Simões

Women We Read This Week

Jenna Wortham’s “Black Health Matters” in The New York Times

What I love about this article, in which Jenna Wortham explores racism, brutalities and the body, is this idea that fear can be—and is—writ on the body, and that pain unacknowledged is pain nonetheless. The article begins when Wortham develops a rash that has no evident cause, that doctors cannot diagnose, and an acupuncturist’s suggestion that it may be stress related.

Wortham flashes back to recent events: the Orlando massacre, the murders of Philando Castile and Alton Sterling. She writes,“These slayings obey no humane logic. They force you to reconcile your own helplessness in the face of such brutal injustice, and the terrifying reality that it could happen to you, or someone you hold dear.”

She finds a form of understanding in the work of Simone Leigh, who explains that “holistic health care is not a luxury, but rather an act of resilience, survival and disobedience — a necessity.” But also, she explains, wholistic health is not to be seen as a confluence of different forms of personal health—psychological, diet, illness—but further, as an acknowledgement of the intersections of social and physical health.

Ms. Leigh said she was troubled by studies that found racism to be as damaging as environmental hazards like pollution, and data showing health disparities between black and white women. …But she was most disturbed at research demonstrating that black pain was deprioritized over white pain.

But more than social pains manifesting as physical ailments, Wortham suggests that the solutions, too, have to acknowledge this intersection of physical and social, describing a yoga studio that dedicated several classes to recognizing and reducing racism. “The class I attended was overflowing with black and brown bodies of all types, and began with a small ceremony to acknowledge those whose lives were lost. That recognition nearly brought me to tears. And the relief came from the affirmation that I wasn’t the only person suffering.”


Jessica Pishko’s “The FBI accused him of terrorism. He couldn’t tie his shoes.” in Esquire

There’s so much to be upset about in Jessica Pishko’s thoroughly reported narrative about an autistic, severely mentally impaired teen who is in prison, charged with aiding ISIS, that it’s hard to know where to start: maybe with the lack of services and support for families that are struggling to raise children with conditions like Peyton Pruitt’s, or with the justice system that lets a young man who can’t tie his own shoelaces be interrogated, alone, without a lawyer or parent present, by federal investigators? Or with the too-common isolation and alienation that might lead a troubled teen to be attracted to an organization like ISIS? With the fact that we don’t know what to do with any such troubled teens, apart from throwing them in solitary confinement?

The only good news is in the update, added at the top of the story a few hours after it was published.


Naomi Rosenberg’s “How to Tell a Mother Her Child is Dead” in The New York Times Sunday Review

We see the headlines every day, read the grim statistics, note the growing tally of all the Americans killed by guns so far this year. What those stories are often missing, though, is humanity. Because we are so accustomed to hearing about gun violence in our country on a daily basis, we have grown numb to the realities of what families go through for each and every one of these senseless deaths. Sometimes, hard facts and data are easier to stomach than raw emotions. But as a nation, if we are to make any changes with regards to our feelings about guns, we must spend some time immersed in the parts that make us queasy, those emotional, human parts that we try so hard to turn away from. In this truly phenomenal opinion essay, Naomi Rosenberg pulls the monster out from under the bed and forces us to confront it.

In the piece, we spend a few minutes inside Rosenberg’s experience as an emergency room doctor at Temple University Hospital in Philadelphia. On a daily basis, she has to deliver news of a death to that person’s loved ones. She is clearly used to giving this horrific news all too often, but apparently it never gets any easier, and the reader can find some measure of solace in her lack of numbness despite this perpetual exposure to violence.

Now you explode the world. Yes, you have to. You say something like: “Mrs. Booker. I have terrible, terrible news. Ernest died today.” Then you wait. You will not stand up. You may leave yourself in the heaviness of your breath or the racing of your pulse or the sight of your shoelaces on your shoe, but you will not stand up. You are here for her. She is his mother. Do not ever say he was lucky that he did not feel pain. He was not lucky. She is not lucky. Don’t make that face. … You do not ever say “the body.” It is not a body. It is her son. The depth of the stupidity of the things you will say sometimes is unimaginable.

Rosenberg provides a sorely missing piece to the conversation about our nation’s gun violence epidemic, a window into a world we are rarely privy to, and hopefully never have to be on the other side of. The piece is incredibly unsettling because it puts a face on each and every one of those statistics.



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