Being a superwoman, doesn’t mean you cannot cry sometimes.

From one brown woman, to thousands of brown girls

It’s been a while since the Strong Black Woman narrative has been exposed for its problematic nature. It robs women of the right of being vulnerable and denies the strength in vulnerability. Yet what happens when we have internalised this narrative, and it is no longer the world telling us to be strong all the time but ourselves?

Kamaria Fleary is a graduate with a Masters Degree and a Bachelors degree in Psychology. She is a millennial woman with a mission to get young women to talk about their mental health and wellbeing. Her company works to overcome regressive narratives such as the SBW by providing a series of fun and forward-thinking programs and workshops. Kamaria is passionate in helping women of colour achieve personal growth, self love and success. With her work she proves that strength comes in all different guises, and allowing ourselves to shed tears as brown women, can be as refreshing as a baptism.

Black feminism for me is saying that I do not have to choose between identifying with my race and identifying with my gender.

-Tell us a little bit about yourself and your company.

I decided to create this space as it was a way to share my love for psychology and personally help people in a fun, free and de-stigmatising way. It was born from a series of conversations that I was having with various friends whom I then realised were all talking about similar struggles stemming from the black experience. Having also worked in the NHS on an in-patient psychiatric ward, it suddenly dawned on me that such smaller problems – if gone untalked about and I acknowledged – could possibly result in much more problematic mental health and wellbeing.

-What made you decide to take up a career in psychology?

It all began with me studying psychology at A-Level. I was captivated by how broad the field is and how it draws on such a range of areas from neuroscience to child development to cognition to evolution. I was pretty much interested in the vast amount of perspectives to explain how we develop and behave as human beings and how these different approaches can be used to help people in a variety of areas in their life – from relationships, to childhood trauma to mental health, to learning disability.

I remember initially wanting to be a journalist, because I loved to write, but psychology provided me with all the interesting perspectives to write and talk about. That was kind of how my blog was born – writing about my own personal growth through psychological perspectives. Then I found out that you can also earn the title of “Dr” through becoming a charted psychologist and I knew that would be convincing enough to keep my education-passionate dad happy.

-Can you give us a brief explanation on black feminism and what it means to you?

For me, black feminism is the acknowledgement of intersectionality. Intersectionality is a term coined by the wonderful Kimberle Crenshaw (whom I had an opportunity to meet at BBC 100 women’s ‘does feminism include you’ event). It is the idea that our identities are multifaceted and nobody fits into any one box. I think for a long time the perception was that you are Black first before you are a woman. These ideas emerged due to racism taking such precedence in the history of the United States, the UK and many countries around the world.

Black feminism for me is saying that I do not have to choose between identifying with my race and identifying with my gender; and acknowledging that sometimes both of those elements often interact to create a unique experience of its own. It is acknowledging that there is inequality in the feminism movement which is supposed to be about fighting for equality.

kamaria 2.jpgimage from: kamariafleary

In my programs I share these psychology research findings in a simple and fun way to help other people see that there is science to support the ideas around “black girl magic.”

-How did you find out about black feminism?

I feel like I was always aware of black feminism, but it was only in the recent few years where I felt like I discovered a name for this thing I was experiencing. I would say that I got re-introduced to it through my women of colour coffee club when I was undertaking my Masters at UCL. I was the only black person in my whole faculty and I was looking for that space to meet other Black students.

Through this club put on by the Students Union, we all talked about our experiences and I was at first puzzled by a lot of the terminology thrown about such as “intersectionality” and then I did my research for myself and discovered Kimberle Crenshaw’s work. It was also the year where Beyoncé dropped the Lemonade Album which basically gave even more meaning and understanding to everything I had been reading.

-You are very much about empowering women and ‘helping them blossom into their best selves’, you say on your website ‘it’s time to start loving you…’ how did you get there yourself?

I am still getting there to be honest! It’s an on-going project. Life will throw things at you just when you think you got it all figured out. I was always brought up to have a strong sense of pride and to value natural beauty and have a high level of self-belief. But there were times when I doubted that, there were times when I questioned myself and let the inner critic get the best of me. I learned to get here by learning to stand up for myself, by believing in who I am and knowing that I am enough in everything I do.

I got tired of the code-switching – pretending to be one person at work and one person with my loved ones. I just decided that I was going to be Kamaria 100% of the time and whoever didn’t like it – oh well that would be their problem. Reading a lot of psychology literature helped me a lot too. Especially literature surrounding ethnic identity. I wrote my dissertation on the benefits and protective elements of ethnic identification and finding that it was positively associated with academic achievement, high self-esteem and being protective against race-related stress, I knew that this was something I had to stop being so afraid of showing off in the working world.

In my programs I share these psychology research findings in a simple and fun way to help other people see that there is science to support the ideas around “black girl magic.”

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We spend far too much time worrying about working for other people and meeting all these demands and we need to put as much of that effort into ourselves.

-Mental health is still a taboo in the black community, despite many efforts to change it, how do you tackle this?

I tackle this by simply talking to people about it in such a causal or even in a fun way. In my blog I’m very open about my own self-doubt, my own worries and fears and I talk openly about how these ways of thinking had affected the way I feel about myself. I recognise that my experiences may not have had such detrimental effects on my wellbeing as per say someone suffering with schizophrenia, but it’s letting people know that we all struggle in some way that helps to break down the barriers.

Many people are surprised that I talk so honestly and openly about personal experiences and I think that is the first step in removing stigma. In the Black community the idea of being “strong” has been well intended to be a positive attribute to us, but this hasn’t allowed people the space to be human and sometimes say -“today I cannot be strong, today I need to cry, I cannot do it today or tomorrow or even next week.”

However, I do feel that in the present movement we are creating these spaces and it is only a matter of time before the stigma has to stop. I also worked for a period of time in community psychiatric services in Ghana, West Africa and it opened me up to the way that mental health stigma manifests in different ways. For some, just being a mental health professional came with its own stigma, so we can only imagine the stigma placed upon the patients.

However I do think that we do have to also recognise our resilience as a people and be proud of how much adversity we have withstood and learn more about those coping strategies in our community that have also allowed us to have a strong sense of wellbeing and determination.

-What top tips can you give our readers on how to reach the best version of themselves?

Always make time to work on you. You have to be a project for your own self. We spend far too much time worrying about working for other people and meeting all these demands and we need to put as much of that effort into ourselves. Don’t be afraid of facing those inner troubles, experiences and deep rooted feelings. Once you unpack them and acknowledge them, then you can soon work out a way of managing them.

My second piece of advice would be to find out what it is you truly value and that will inform who you are and how you respond to things that are not in alignment with your values. Once you know who you are it’s so much easier to say no to things that do not serve you and focus on engaging yourself in the things that you deserve.

My last tip is to face your fears and stop being afraid. Challenge yourself, undertake new experiences that are going to help you think differently and give you the confidence to develop your passions and yourself. I feel that fear is one of the biggest causes self-defeat and everything always comes down to mindset first and foremost.

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