Meet Omisade Burney-Scott, creator of The Black Girl’s Guide to Surviving Menopause
Omisade Burney-Scott (Oh-me-SHAH-day) is a seventh generation, Black southern feminist, storyteller, social justice advocate and force to be reckoned with. Omisade has spent the last 25 years advocating for marginalised people in her community. She is also the creator of The Black Girls’ Guide to Surviving Menopause (BGG2SM), a multimedia project focused on normalising menopause and ageing by centering on the stories of Black women, women-identified and gender expansive people.
‘Black women are negotiating the different stages of menopause along with their ever evolving identifies, relationships, careers, responsibilities and societal tropes,’ says Omisade. BGG2SM is curated to be inclusive and open. This allows participants a safe space to explore and be vulnerable about issues around menopause, while feeling included and listened to. ‘It’s the things that you need to know, but were never told… the guide we wish we all had access to, no matter our age.’
While menopause is being discussed more than ever before, there is still much work to be done to make the narrative more culturally diverse and provide the same access to help and resources for everyone. According to the Study of Women’s Health Across the Nation (US), Black women reach menopause 8.5 months earlier than their white counterparts and experience more aggressive symptoms: hot flashes, depression and sleep disturbances.
Here Omisade shares her advice on getting help for menopausal symptoms and what she has learnt from talking to others about their experiences:
Please can you briefly describe your career?
I am a North Carolinian (born in New Bern) and I’ve worked as an organiser, trainer, advocate for non-profits focused on racial justice, economic justice, voting rights, reproductive justice and as a programme officer. In addition to curating the Black Girl’s Guide to Surviving Menopause, I consult by supporting social justice and philanthropic organisations around organisational development and healing justice.
You’ve said that when you were 51, you received community support to take a year off and start The Black Girl’s Guide – could you explain how that worked? How did the community support you?
In July of 2018, I lost my brother, Fred unexpectedly. That September, Hurricane Florence wreaked havoc on North Carolina, with the eye of the storm centering over my hometown in a ‘once-in-500-hundred-years flood.’ My eldest sister, Mary Anne, was displaced by the storm. I took time off from my work to assist with recovery efforts. When I returned to work that October, I was fired. I don’t think of it as being terminated now, but as being liberated so I could do the work I am doing.
At the end of 2018, with support from friends, people from my social justice community, and my sons, I decided to take a sabbatical to regroup. My eldest son Che, helped me launch a Patreon account to ask for financial support from my community. I did and the response was overwhelming. The Black Girl’s Guide to Surviving Menopause was born the following year.
Can you tell us about your own menopause journey?
My hot flashes started in 2012. I was 45. They started to coincide with anxiety in the form of panic attacks that I didn’t know were panic attacks. They included heart palpitations and sweaty shaky hands. And I was busy: going through a divorce. My eldest child was at Howard University in Washington, DC. I was the Trainer Director for a statewide voting rights organization in NC fighting new voter suppression laws in our state and I had a little one in daycare! So, I sought support from my Primary Care Physician who has been our family doctor for 18 years.
We always had a very positive rapport. It was he who diagnosed and prescribed me medication for the anxiety, and I also began therapy. Eventually, the hot flashes eased as did the anxiety. Then, I was diagnosed with clinical depression in 2016 when I was 49. I was very transparent with my best girlfriends, siblings, children, and spiritual community about my diagnosis, and what I was navigating, because I saw them as essential to my healing.
I don’t disassociate my journey with depression or my experience with anxiety from my menopausal journey. I see them all as my body giving me signals about the type of care I needed to be healthier.
There’s a lot of talk in the media (and parliament in the UK) about menopause, right now, but there is a massive discrepancy. Not all women get the care they need – particularly Black, Asian and minority ethnic women, and women on low incomes – how can we make this an inclusive conversation?
Individual menopause experiences are impacted by many things, including: misogyny, racism, the patriarchy… We don’t like to talk about and/or address systemic oppression on an individual or institutional level. It often makes people feel uncomfortable to talk candidly about systems that may have oppressed or privileged them. When you start to unpack ‘why’ Black and Latino women might experience more intense or longer symptoms because of racism, sexism, classism, etc. you are pushing up against more than bias or prejudice. You are pushing up against societal mindsets that are reinforced by institutionalised systems and policies that have the power to impact – sometimes lethally – the rights and liberties of a specific group of people.
When you take a more intersectional approach to menopause research, care and advocacy, these truisms are at the core of the story – data alone cannot provide the whole picture.
What is the best advice you could give to people going through the menopause?
The conversation about the changes that happen to our bodies over time, is tricky and dynamic. We live in a society that is youth-obsessed and even in open conversations around menopause, the voices or stories highlighted are often of heterosexual, white women.
The impact of racism, patriarchy, and misogyny on Black women – and our understanding and ownership of our bodies – is profound. It has shaped the way many of us see ourselves, understand our inherent value, and it has often muted our voices.
As a reproductive justice advocate – and with the Black Girl’s Guide to Surviving Menopause – I encourage Black, Indigenous, and all people of colour (POC); LGBTQ+ and gender-expansive people, to trust and know they have a right to access quality care from doctors who see them in their fullest personhood – with respect for all their intersectional identities. I want them to know that it shouldn’t be a luxury to have a doctor who understands that health disparities exist because of racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia and other forms of systemic oppression. It should be readily available and affordable. I want them to know that they have agency and choices around their care.
If you are not satisfied or feel disrespected, please don’t stay. The vast majority of people I know end up with a ‘trusted’ physician that treats you with respect and dignity, via word of mouth. In recent years, there has been an uptick in organisations that provide listings for doctors who have expressed commitment to providing quality care. Here are some resources (international and US-based):
Another important resource engaged in national policy Black Reproductive Justice advocacy work (menopause is definitely part of RJ). In 2021, they put together a Black Reproductive Justice Policy Agenda. Black Girl’s Guide to Surviving Menopause and 40 other Black-led reproductive justice organisations, consulted.
And what have you learned from the conversations you’ve had with women on your podcast?
We tend to find safety and solace in the people who we trust the most, as well as those folks who look like us or have similar shared lived experiences. This is important and complicated. If the information being shared between friends is rooted in the same systems that oppress us, we are then shamed for who we are, how we are shaped and the experiences we have. ‘We-don’t-talk-about-menopause’ becomes a taboo for Black women, pushing them to navigate this experience alone.
I am seeing a growing tide of Black women pushing back against stereotypes and tropes as it relates to menopause and ageing. People want to talk about it, openly without shame. In our conversations, I want to come from a place of understanding these systems; curiosity, openness, healing, non-judgement and wisdom, so that much more is possible for the individual navigating their own journey.
And finally, I like your style – please tell me about the ‘vibe you’ve created.’
I would say my style is a reflection of my culture and personality. I enjoy clothes, colours, and accessories that are an eclectic mix of brights, Boho chic, bold and funky patterns and jewellery mixed with timeless classic pieces. My style is also a reflection of the understanding that the goal is to treat your body and this life like it’s the only one you have and love it the best way you can.