Can we talk about self care for a quick sec?
If you were to ask me: should we take care of ourselves? My answer would be, unequivocally, yes. Eat healthy, get some shut-eye, breathe. I was brought up by parents who worked hard AF and never complained a day in their life about it, and so I inherited some, well, let’s just call them (non-judgmentally, please) tendencies in that vein. But I also received from them the beautiful gift of living with a lot of joy and unapologetically loving myself, which means that I think taking care of The Me That Is On This Adventure (to quoth Martin Blank) is important. Not a bad combination, really.
Given this, why do I find some talk about self care helpful, and other talk about it low key annoying? For a long time, I did not know. I just thought maybe it was the fact that the activities that people talked about when they talked about self care were hella corny. Wine, bubble baths, walks on the beach, pampering. Who am I, Mariah Carey? I know, unfair, but I’m trying to say that when I listened to a lot of the convo about self care, I just was not vibing with it.
Recently, there was an article that was going around the bookfaces and other social medias that was talking about self care during these trying times, as people embrace activism with new or renewed fervor. I figured I would give it a read since, although I have been at the activism table for a while, if there was ever a time to make sure we are all healthy in our soul guts, it would be now. Shit be stressful as we near End Times, you may be surprised to hear. Thus, I re-opened my mind to the self care chitty chat.
Y’all, I still can’t get down widdit! Ugh! It kind of made me feel like a ninny all over again. And to be clear, I am not saying it’s not for you. Like, I don’t find it wrong. I just feel like it’s a conversation that alienates me. That’s the bad news. The good news is, I figured out what my deal is. I now know why come this convo isn’t my convo! Wanna hear about it? Allow me this navel gaze. Perhaps we have the same navel and this will help you too. (Sorry, look at me, always Making It Weird).
One premise of the dominant self care talk is that it’s about getting away from the things that are causing you stress. Unplug, tune out, netflix and chill. Basically, the theme is, think about something else. Give the old noggin a break. And listen, I am not going to sit up in here telling you that I don’t like to Hulu the shit out of an eve, because you have met me and you will object. But, the things that are usually stressing me out, as a woman of color in a public servant type career, living in these United States at any time but especially these times, are: well, being a woman of color in a public servant type career, living in these United States at any time but especially these times. And so, fundamentally speaking, I don’t really tune out much. Like, it doesn’t seem doable most of the time, even if I wanted to. When I am Netflix and Chilling? I am not unplugged, because, hi, have you met our entertainment industry at all? Oh pick anything. Mad Max, Fury Road. I am that person sitting there, enjoying the movie, while also thinking all the thoughts about representation. I can’t stop myself. You know this about me. Remember when I got mad about Game of Thrones? And it’s there even when I am not mad. When I am watching The Good Wife, part of my brain in on constant OMG KALINDA I LOVE YOU LOOK AT YOU GETTING IN EVERYONE’S FACE WITH YOUR BROWNESS I CANNOT BELIEVE THIS IS HAPPENING ON TV LOVE LOVE LOVE. If you think this is pathological, I have exactly uno thing to say back to you: it’s the system of racism that is pathological, actually, so don’t hate the player, hate the game.
There is an argument out there that, if we don’t learn how to unplug, to fall back into some state of comfy amnesia for just a little bit of time, that the result is that eventually, the awfulness of the world will be normalized. And that anti-normalization is foundational to opposition to the awfulness. Said in a less ridiculous way: if it becomes normal, we will stop fighting it. In response to this idea, my gut wants to Randy Jackson you and say: wow, dog. Wow. Let me get this straight. Experiencing something in an unrelenting way = normalizing it = getting comfortable in it = no more fighty fight? But the thing is! You know who experiences things in an unrelenting way? Marginalized people. You know who is not comfortable in it? Samesies. You know who keeps fighting anyway? Yeah, now you’re getting it.
So, why do marginalized people keep up the fight despite the historical and current normalization of systems of oppression? Because the stakes are different. That’s all. The power relationship between marginalized people and these systems is different. So, perhaps, the self care conversation needs to be different too.
Am I saying that the conversations about self care, as I see it happening in dominant culture, are wrong? Nope. Am I saying that people should feel bad about that walk in the woods, or their yoga class, or their manicure? Nope. Am I saying that marginalized people don’t feel refreshed by these things also? Nope. OMG GIRL WHAT ARE YOU SAYING THEN MAKE A POINT. My point, quite simply, is that I wish that conversations about self care would consistently acknowledge that stakes are different for different people, and that power is always in play in the ways we take care of ourselves. Yes, I want that in every self care conversation, every time. Because if it’s not said, we perpetuate the idea that power and positionality don’t matter. Which is an act of oppressive power in and of itself.
While we are talking about positionality, let’s just go straight to the article that I mentioned earlier that was being passed around the sosh meeds, which made me balk six ways to Sunday as I was reading it. One of the things in pull quotes was “you don’t have to suffer to make a difference.” Although I understand the point that the writer was trying to make, and I agree with it in certain ways (if I can’t dance I don’t want to be part of your revolution and all that biznass), let’s think about this for a second. “You don’t have to suffer to make a difference” assumes that you are not suffering to begin with. That your suffering may be the very state that propels you to try to make a difference. Also said in the article: do not let anyone shame you for being new to activism. Again, I can see what the writer is going for, and the example used (if you didn’t protest Obama you shouldn’t be protesting that new guy is indeed dum dum talk) makes sense. But most of the “shaming” (a word I wouldn’t use in this context) that I have been around has been very real, very raw critiques from marginalized communities to newly arrived, more privileged activists, sharing how they have felt resentment over not being supported before now. These critiques are valid, and necessary, and are not about shaming. They are about honest feedback on how we can do better as we move forward. Maybe part of our self care should also be about building up our ability to not be so fragile.
So to wrap up this unplugging business. My problem was that I did not understand it, because the conversation isn’t talking to me. Y’all are talking about unplugging and I am all, where is the plug, even? This seems to me to be a fully integrated system from which there is no plug/outlet relationship. There is no off-switch type space for me to inhabit, and further, this is not something I seek, even if I could. And so when you are talking about the plug and unplugging, by all means, go for it. Just at least acknowledge who has plugs and who doesn’t.
What does all this mean for me and my own self care plan? For me (PLEASE UNDERSTAND THAT PHRASE “FOR ME” IN CASE YOU DIDN’T NOTICE IT MEANS IT IS FOR ME NOT NECESSARILY FOR YOU DO NOT GET MAD) what I need is reciprocal self care, which is a term I just made up. This style of self care has three parts.
- WHO’S GOT THE POWAH (please say this to the tune of the song by Snap, thank you)
My self care needs to be grounded, really overtly, in the power dynamics that are at play for me and others. This doesn’t mean that I have to live inside a mindset of deficit at all times. I hope I don’t need to remind us that residing in our current sitch means an awareness of oppression and privileges but it also means an awareness of our resilience, strength, and joy. Acknowledging power means acknowledging that power runs in many directions. Greater than the things lost to me because of intersectional racism by far is the love I feel for my own brown woman’s body/mind/heart.
2. DO YOU SEE WHAT I SEEEEEEEEEE (to the tune of Do You Hear What I Hear, Whitney Houston version only, please)
I need self care that is grounded in seeing. Much of my woc life consists of experiencing things that dominant culture either doesn’t want to acknowledge or actively gaslights, and I spend a lot of time simply demanding for those things to be seen AS THINGS. That’s why unplugging and/or “getting away” as the central idea of self care seems off to me. Not that I don’t need time to quiet my thoughts or be alone. But I can tell you this: every time there is a racialized incident, large or small, in my life, the first thing I do and have observed other poc do, is to find each other and say: well. That is a thing that happened, huh? Sometimes this occurs just via locking eyes across a room, or a nod on a crowded bus. It is resistance based on realizing that a fact is indeed, a fact. That just happened. Confirmed. Those instances feel more to me like self care than the most Gwyneth of strawberry facials one could get. In other words, stress isn’t interrupted, for me, from trying to create a neutral space. It’s interrupted by creating an oppositional space.
3. CAN YOU FEEL, THA LUV, TOO NAHHT (say it in that accent Elton John uses when he sings)
Most of all, my self care is centered in loving relationships. Living in a racist system is lonely, y’all. It is isolating. It seeks to break our bonds with each other. The work to oppose it is difficult, and heart wrenching, and full of so much weight. But, as I have done this work in the ways that feel the most right to me, what has come out of that are deep, soul nourishing communities of people that inspire me, make me think, and affirm everything that I am fighting for. Many of those communities face challenges that I have never had, and have so many more reasons to “burn out” than I could ever imagine. But I see, every day, how they meet those challenges with so much energy and vision. I do not feel fatigue when I am around these people. I feel the opposite of fatigue, because I feel accountable to them in a way that nourishes me. Rejuvenation means turning toward them whenever I feel low. I love them, and love is power.
All of that said, I will not say no to a Gwyneth strawberry facial. Just to be clear.