4. Healing and Hybridity in the Twenty-First Century
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4 Healing and Hybridity in the Twenty-First Century Don’t put your pocketbook on the floor; if you do, you will lose money. Don’t sweep someone across the feet with a broom or there will be illness. If it happens, the person whose feet were swept should spit on the broom. To determine the sex of an unborn baby, drop a pin on the table in front of the pregnant woman; if the head points toward her, she’s carrying a boy. If your right hand itches, it means money is coming. Scratch it toward you and thank God. To lower blood pressure, take some Spanish moss from a tree and put it into your drink. —Healing and protective concepts collected by author, 2003–2006 Introduction Discussions of African American folk healing today take significantly different twists than did past discussions. There were hints of the differences to come in the interviews of the Wayne State University Folk Archives. Folk healing reflects black cultural changes born of the civil rights, feminist, and Black Power movements. Each movement challenged the status quo to remove or lessen the barriers to greater social dialogue for those who had been completely shut out of full participation in public life. Each changed the landscape of social possibilities for African Americans, benefiting some and leaving others behind. Some of the changes in black American culture and social structures are evident in the contrast between the Slave Narratives and the WSU Folk Archives records. In the latter, black people were able to 77 take the lead in some aspects of scholarly methods and theories about themselves. Not all of the changes were welcomed or appreciated by the scholars who self-identified as classicists and opted to maintain the dominance of Western European thought as the only legitimate source of knowledge. The several scholarship camps created some tensions that have not yet been resolved. Nevertheless, African Americans today are able to use research in new ways in analyzing their identities. One way has been to read the subtexts or to identify subjugated voices of black people. But what is sometimes confusing to scholars is that these subtexts or voices are hidden in plain sight in black public spaces. New scholarship has begun to analyze what one scholar has called the black counterpublic: “In black public spaces, in black organizations, and through black information networks, African Americans enter into dialogue with one another . . . an everyday talk that helps black people to develop collective definitions of their political interests.”1 Black bodies continued to be politicized, through images of the media, work and education, and institutional medicine. As we have seen, the reasons for the continuation of African American healing practices into the current day are numerous. The need to resist oppressions was certainly as much for African Americans who lived during the 1970s Folk Archives era as for those who experienced slavery and the Great Migrations. When black people are compared with other groups in American society, no matter the measure, they are usually found to be in the lowest tier of social success. When considering the number of AIDS cases or the numbers in prison populations, for instance , some people blame African Americans for imprudent sex or criminal tendencies rather than recognizing the effect of structural inequalities that impact black lives. But resisting oppressions cannot be considered the singular motivation for folk healing’s continuance. Certainly, although racism is still experienced, black Americans proactively use religio-cultural forms such as folk healing to construct views of life that advance their own humanity. Black views of humanness can simultaneously be more positive and more complex. African American folk healing encompasses these nuances of resistance with construction, and this adds depth and texture to our study. Folk healing continues to provide a cultural place where African Americans can define health or illness, care for their bodies, and uti78 Healing and Hybridity in the Twenty-First Century lize their spiritual concepts of a holistic universe. The healing advisories at the head of this chapter are an indication of the persistence of ideas about self-care that continue to circulate in black folk healing. These ideas do not mean that other forms of medical care are not sought. Black folk healing in the twenty-first century has become an informal space in which to define self. As folk healing focuses on balancing and renewing life, adaptations take place to fit the present. Relationality...


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