Reflection, Introspection, and Cultural Humility

Tamar Harrison

Tamar Harrison

2nd Year, MPH, Health Behavior Health Education Candidate

Black American woman. The previous adjectives describe only three positions I possess. I am an intersectional being with many positions and identities. Youngest child, low-income, first-generation student, cis gender, cat lady, and graduate student at the University of Michigan are a few more positions that I hold in my life and existence. However, as I prepare to embark on a journey to Grenada, I reflect on positions that have been societally subscribed to me, largely based on my phenomenological features and not my attitudes, thoughts or lived experiences. In the discipline of public health when we reference “Black or African American” populations we often refer to historically disenfranchised, overburdened, and underserved communities. Communities that have been exploited and abused in the name of capital gain and greed. Unfortunately, many global communities of color have shared similar stories, however I focus on the African diaspora, or the mass dispersion of peoples from Africa during the Transatlantic Slave Trades, from the 1500s to the 1800s, because this is a community I call home. For many non-Black people, possessing a Black positionality may seem undesirable because it is often associated with marginalization and disadvantage. However, as a native of Atlanta, Georgia USA, whose family knows our enslaved ancestors by name, a Black positionality is one of power and privilege to me. The resiliency of my ancestors, my family, kinfolk, and self bring me immense joy. In the words of the late American singer, dancer, and musician, James Joseph Brown, I am Black and I am proud! Contrary to what others may think in the popular imagination (i.e. peers, colleagues, non-Black folk, etc.) in all settings and situations do I carry this sentiment of pride. In informal, family, and community settings I allow this belief to illuminate unapologetically. When surrounded by those who share this identity and positionality I feel a sense of belonging, safety, and peace. I feel a sense of indescribable belonging. It is in this feeling that my Black position is a source of power and privilege. In this feeling I have access to social capital, networks, resources, and opportunities that non-Black folk do not. The impact of this position is evident in the “nod” or smile that many Black people exchange in passing. Whether it be a sister or stranger, I acknowledge other Black folk because we have long lived in larger societies that render us invisible and actively practice and employ Black erasure tactics to enforce their placement of our race in the nadir. On the contrary, my Black positionality in some educational and professional practice spaces may frame my Blackness as a source of disadvantage because institutions are often mere reflections of the larger societies and social structures that produce them. The impact of this position is evident in the looks of paternalistic pity casted, or the acts violence inflicted upon Black bodies and psyches in non-Black spaces. 

This position informs the professional lens through which I approach our partnership with Grenada because through my lived experience, I understand that many Black, Indigenous, and people of color want power to decide what environmental and economic conditions they live, work, and play in, and resources to adapt to inevitable environmental, socio-economic, and political changes that threaten their livelihoods. My Black positionality impacts my roles and behaviors as a public health professional because it informs the projects and tasks I dedicate my resources to (i.e. time, money, physical, emotional, and mental labor, etc). Everything I do often strives to be an advocate for change and pursuer of justice for those of the African diaspora. Thus, some non-Black practitioners may see my work as discriminatory, inequitable, or unethical because I have decided to meet the needs of marginalized groups first (Israel et al., 1994). 

Furthermore, other identities I hold possess different value, and have other implications. Thus, calling me to reflect on how I will be perceived and received in Grenada. My positionality as an American cis gendered woman is one of privilege and disadvantage in national and global contexts. I lump these two positions together because I contend my desire to self-identity with these positions. Americanhood and womanhood (as we know it in Euro-Western context) recently (and subjectively) became available to me and others like me. The impact of this position is evident in arguably all settings: informal, formal and those that exist in between. In many settings, my cis gender woman positionality may grant me safety from indirect and direct aggressions many trans and queer folx face every day, while in an international context my woman positionality may pose imminent danger to my health and safety because a country’s laws, constitutions, and governing doctrine may not view a woman as a citizen with rights or privileges. My United States of America(n) positionality allows me to exist in a reality where hyper-conspicuous consumption is my reality or sole life purpose (i.e. the American Dream) and grants me the opportunity to be ignorant of the international exploitative practices (i.e. low wages, hazardous work conditions, etc.) that afford me such mental and material luxuries. Dubious’ theory on dualism or double consciousness provides a framework for the positionalities I present before you (Du Bois, 1968). As a Black American cis gendered woman, I can be the oppressor and the oppressed, depending on the environment, circumstance, and context. My American cisgendered woman position informs the professional lens through which I approach environmental health promotion because I understand that in many ways I come from a position of power and privilege and I will be prepared to share my power, privilege, and resources to those that may need my allyship, advocacy, empowerment, support, and coalition.  

My American woman positionality impacts my role and behaviors as a public health professional because it may skew the ways I perceive and prioritize injustice. These positionalities can also act as points of coalition, community, capacity, and rapport building because these identities are shared and can transcend socioeconomic politics, with a strong emphasis on can.* 

In Grenada, I want to practice cultural humility to create a more just, equitable, and healthier world. I am specifically interested in how to advocate and implement policies and practices that help reconcile historical and present day injustices. I want to learn how to persuade decision makers to enact and maintain policies that work to create restorative and regenerative practices for our generations and those that may come after us through planning and redesigning our built environment. I have this learning objective because as I Black woman, I have witnessed the destruction that comes from non-intentional actions and greed. Frankly, I am physically sick of being a part of a world that is complacent with dysfunction and inefficiency. I specifically want to work with low-income BIPOC communities because these are communities that I am a part of and share history with. I have this radical belief that I am the hope and the dream of my ancestors: African villagers, deities, gods and goddesses of involuntary bondage. I share many commonalities, identities, and experiences with members of BIPOC communities. I want to work with these populations not for ego, achievement, or pride but because I am tired of seeing suffering every time I return home from the ivory tower. 


Du Bois, W. E. B. (William Edward Burghardt), 1868-1963. (1968). The souls of black   folk; essays and sketches. Chicago, A. G. McClurg, 1903. New York :Johnson Reprint Corp.,

Israel, B. A., Checkoway, B., Schulz, A. J., & Zimmerman, M. A. (1994). Health Education and Community Empowerment: Conceptualizing and Measuring Perceptions of Individual, Organizational, and Community Control.