“Take No Tea for the Fever”:
Tea in Black Women’s Mental Health History and Traditions of Self-Care as Resistance
Phylon Journal, Summer 2023, vol. 60, no. 1. pp 91-115.
Stress remains a global health challenge. Self-care is an essential element but has been defined too narrowly in popular discourse. This article explores Africana tea traditions as a way to demonstrate the connection of self-care to collective care. I define the concept of “historical wellness” as Black women’s self-care practices that are once individual and communal. I argue that self-care is a historical strategy that Black women have used to resist oppression. Memoirs by Black women in Africa, Asia, Europe, the Caribbean, and the Americas offer instruction about the practice of care for self and others as well as how to learn, create, and teach effective stress management.
This research project surveys 320 narratives that highlight tea as a practice in Black women’s wellness traditions. Accessing the Africana memoirs database of international authors, I illustrate how stories reveal tea as a wellness tool. While tea is not a panacea, it is part of an essential integrative tool kit that many African Americans have used to maintain their own mental health as well as contribute to community health. Methodologically, I operationalize Anna Julia Cooper’s idea of regeneration—looking backward, inward, and forward. Through narrative analysis I emphasize the imperative to apply lessons learned from intellectual history. Black women have historically used tea (camellia sinensis) and tisanes (herb teas) to engender health, including sassafras (Susie King Taylor), oolong (Anna Julia Cooper), pekoe (Wangari Maathai), and cannabis (Rita Marley). Narratives reinforce how individual mental health practices inherently have social, political, and economic implications.
This article builds on prior histories of Black women’s enjoyment of yoga and wine to offer another means to more deeply understand and practice mental health, with a focus on wellness rather than illness. I treat the use of tea narratives as case studies to define nuances of Black women’s historical wellness and conclude that tea is one of the most widespread mental health strategies in the African diaspora. Historical narratives reveal that drinking or sharing tea is an effective way to practice stress management and collective self-care is a means to resist individual and structural violence.
Annie Lee's "Tea Party," (C) Annie F. Lee Foundation, used with permission.
Many stories exist about plagiarism and lack of ethics regarding Black women's research. To prevent a continuation of questionable practices and cooptation of ideas about historical wellness, here is a sample citation folks may use for this work. Though publications are forthcoming, citations about tea can be used below from the Black Women's Yoga History book or from this website itself. #CiteBlackWomen #CiteASista.
Evans, Stephanie. “Africana Tea: A Global History of Black Women's Health." AfricanaTea.net. Published February 22, 2022. Access date XXX https://africanatea.net/.
BLACK WOMEN'S YOGA HISTORY CITATION
"Put in more complex terms, Black women’s yoga traditions are a kaleidoscope of conscious nonactivity and consciousness-raising activity. The reflections of authors who mention yoga or meditation in their memoirs offer resounding support for the practices of contemplative thought and mindful living rooted in standpoints of race and gender. We lay down, sit, stretch, chant, walk, and practice tai chi and qigong. We write, read, play the piano, listen to Motown and ride a bus, train, or airplane. We scuba dive in the Indian Ocean. We luxuriate in red velvet rooms, pray in churches and mosques and ashrams, breathe in private sanctuaries, and love freely in hippie communes. We sit in Paris coffee shops and on our back porches, ride horses, and contemplate rocks and sand in Japanese gardens in Tokyo. We meditate to heal from debilitating illness and to gain strength for athletic victory. We sip tea, drink wine, and smoke herb. We fast, purify with water, eat vegan, or embrace vegetarianism. We cook and we eat. We draw, paint, dance, and sing. We meditate to remember, to forget, to honor God, and to honor loved ones. We practice yoga. We meditate to relax and to live. And, we relax and live to resist the forces that have been trying to kill us for centuries."
Evans, Stephanie Y.. Black Women's Yoga History (SUNY series in Black Women's Wellness) (p. 405-406). State University of New York Press.
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