Every black person has (or should have) an Auntie Fee in their lives. You know, that mother who is both profane and profound, who always forges something rich from small things. She who will cuss your ass out in a New York minute, especially if she’s hot off the brown, but still remains much beloved because she is so real, and talented in so many ways. She’s funny as hell, too.
My Aunt Gypsy was like that. Perhaps not as outspoken, but she could take the shoddiest home goods and turn them into Elle Décor. She lived off Kinney Street in the heart of Newark, New Jersey, and her house was ground zero for all manner of people . . . cousins, neighborhood children, grandchildren, goodfornaughts, crackheads… her front and back door always open, like we were in the heart of Mississippi. Sometimes there was ruckus if folks got to drinking, but Gypsy would summarily put your “black ass out” if things got too loose. Regardless, if you needed a place to stay, a hot plate, some conversation, or a smile that always made it to her warm brown eyes, she was your girl. She emanated love.
She died too young, too.
Like so many others before her, Aunt Gypsy was devoured by a country that has a ravenous appetite for black bodies. We work hard, love hard, give much, heart break from the constant injustice of it all and we die far too young. Poverty, addiction, disease, and violence are our banes. Food, too.
Felicia O’Dell, also known as Auntie Fee died on Saturday from a massive heart attack. She was 59 years old. She cussed like a sailor and spoke Black English like Shakespeare wrote the King’s. Watching her was a delight. She was authentic and obviously warm-hearted and baby she could burn in the kitchen.
In the last three years of her life, Auntie Fee became a YouTube sensation giving everyone from Steve Harvey to Jimmy Kimmel the business—a taste of her South Central L.A.-made mouth and some of her delectable vittles as well.
And you knew that food was hella good. Stuff like kitchen-sink chicken and “sweet ass treats for the kids” all looked delicious, but they were high in sodium (she would say to use less seasoning if you had issues), or doused in sugar, and oftimes fried; they were also cheap (see: how to feed a family of seven on $3.)
Auntie Fee, who admittedly used to have a drug addiction and spent “10 years in the pen,” died this week via the number one way to die in America. In fact, according to the American Heart Association, half of black women age 20 and over have heart disease (yes, you read that right) and only a third of us know that heart disease is our number one health risk. We don’t know know to mitigate the risks of heart disease, nor the signs of heart attack.
Case in point: one of Auntie Fee’s staples was a can of used grease next to her stove. She said if anyone had this, they were a G. Well, G might stand for “goner” if you keep f*cking with that grease (that line’s for you, Auntie Fee).
Did you know that recycling cooking oil is dangerous? The most common danger is that it becomes rancid or spoiled. Rancid oil may contain carcinogenic (cancer-causing) free radicals. There have also been studies that show that repeatedly heated frying oils is associated with increased risk of hypertension.
But damn near every black person I know re-uses oil. It’s like tradition. I also know a lot of black folks got “pressure” and “sugar.” Cancer, too.
Now before I am accused of being flip, and saying Auntie Fee should be blamed for her own death, there no shame in eating what is available to you and staying true to your cultural traditions, but we can’t have it all the damn time. The magic of black women is that we will take whatever turn it into a feast (I mean, look what we did to chitterlings). Auntie Fee’s videos were a testament to that.
But if you really look at what is available, it doesn’t look so good in many of our communities. Food deserts, the dearth of fresh, reasonable, healthy foods in African American and low-income communities— which have been directly linked to higher rates of diabetes —are rampant. In many urban areas, decent grocery stores are more than 10 miles away … but there always seems to be a chicken shack with high-salt, high-fat foods right around the every corner.
And because our diet affects all manner of our bodies leading to many health issues including diabetes, high blood pressure, high blood cholesterol and obesity, it could be said that black women need to go the doctor even more than the average.
But because of historical racism in the medical community (there was a recent report showing that even today oncologists spent the least amount of time with black patients ), we are not comfortable with doctors, or are mistrustful of the medical system. The dearth of black doctors in the U.S. doesn’t help matters.
We as black women are also underinsured or without any health insurance at higher rates than others. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, in 2013, a little over 20 percent of non-elderly African Americans were without health insurance, the majority of them in the South. And with the Trump Administration’s challenges to the Affordable Care Act, those numbers may be even worse in coming years.
So instead of seeking help, black women just soldier on, taking care of others, making feasts from scraps, crying, laughing and cussing, too. But eventually it all catches up. And we die too soon, leaving others to mourn those Aunties who gave us so much life.
Rest in power Aunt Gypsy and Auntie Fee.
In the name of our aunties, let’s do these three things:
- Learn the risks and symptoms of heart attack
- Learn more about food deserts and the Food Justice movement
- Learn about how you can advocate to keep the Affordable Care Act