Anit-racist and social justice work is hard for everyone. It can take its toll on those who have committed to being anti-racist and contribute to creating a more equitable world. Just because it’s hard doesn’t mean you should stop! Balancing your anti-racist work with self-care is paramount. You are making a long-term commitment where a breakup or burnout doesn’t contribute to the goal of equity or your well-being.
This statement is true for all people, in particular BIPOC individuals. Having to witness all the injustices happening around the world, of people who look like you, is exhausting. It’s even more tiring to have to fight, all the time, just to be heard, trusted, valued and not immediately judged, etc. All aspects of being BIPOC in a system designed to be racist, creating a state of white supremacy that most are willfully blind to, is an everyday battle from the cradle to the grave. As an ally, if you are having a hard time, imagine the stress and pain, yes pain, that BIPOC individuals are feeling?
How can we create self-care through the battle for a truly just society? First of all, realize that you can’t intellectualize your way out of racism. Admit and come to terms with the fact that it WILL be an emotional journey. Understand that you, as an individual, may not see the results of your labours within your lifetime. Remember that just because it’s going to be hard doesn’t take away from the fact that dismantling systemic racism must happen and is the right thing to do. Therefore, I recommend that you take the time to explore your implicit biases when it comes to race and examine how YOU have been affected by white supremacy. When you do this, you will experience emotional, growing pains. Don’t deny the pains. Embrace them, befriend them and work towards understanding them.
Self-exploration is the first step of self-care and anti-racist work. This is because if you have self-awareness regarding your true biases, you will be more open to learning and changing your behaviour. This also means taking the time to question and examine your true beliefs, warts and all, is the only way to change those beliefs or be aware that they have and will continue to influence your behaviour. What you resist persists, which will cause suffering until you come to terms with your true feelings.
Doing what you can to avoid suffering and embracing the issue of a racist system is the best kind of self-care. This is because you won’t be fighting yourself, keeping up the facade of disingenuous allyship. Here are some more basic steps to self-care.
- Limit your screen time on social media:
- Listen to podcasts, webinars, documentaries to educate yourself. But add a few comedies, etc., to keep the balance.
- Constant exposure can burn you out. It’s ok to watch cat videos that make you laugh. I actually recommend it!
- Learn to identify trolls, either in life or online: If someone cuts you off while you are speaking, starts screaming and/or twists your meaning and the facts to fit their narrative, don’t engage. They are not worth your time or energy because they are not ready to change their minds, let alone the world.
- Don’t forget your hobbies and to have fun
- Laughter and joy are necessary!
- Have the girls/boys night out, go dancing, dinner without having to talk about anti-racist work. (after covid or virtually at the moment)
- If you love reading, read 1 or 2 books to learn and one for joy.
- Find a community to share the work and emotional load.
- Join or create a grassroots organization working toward the same goal as you; dismantling systemic racism.
Here are a few more tips to make it easier to be anti-racist. Approach your self-discovery with curiosity, not shame or guilt. Listen to your body! If you, as a white person, feel uncomfortable with terms used in anti-racist work, ask yourself why? Do you get defensive when a BIPOC individual calls you out for racist behaviour or puts up a boundary regarding their time, experience and expertise and says “no” to educating you? Face your new learning, active listening and referring to BIPOC individuals with humility instead of making demands to justify their experience, especially if they are willing to be vulnerable and share.
As a BIPOC individual, do you shy away from calling your white friends out when they say or do something racist, you experience microaggressions or saying “no” when friends want to pick your brain about racism when you are tired? These are signs that you need to do more internal work. Take these signs as an invitation to further explore, rather than a condemnation of yourself.
As a mixed-race woman, I continue to examine how I have been affected by white supremacy, small things like changing how I speak, lowering my voice and laughter as not to be classified as loud, not dating at a young age so I wouldn’t get pregnant or be another single Black mother, pushing myself academically and professionally to gain respect from white people. Those are just a few of the things I have had to come to terms with, which have resulted in me hiding my authentic self to fit in a white world.
As with everything in life, none of these steps happen in isolation of each other or in a straight line. There is also no way to do anti-racist work without discomfort. There is no perfect way of doing or saying things that will appease everyone. You will make mistakes! People will call you out! You have to go with the flow of your learning, unlearning and self-discovery on the road to equity. If anything is worth doing, it’s worth doing poorly, rather than not at all.