For the past year my emotions have vacillated somewhere between hopelessness, pride, joy, despair, happiness, and unmitigated rage. Like many, I watched in horror as Black folks’ lives were snuffed out by state violence, seemingly daily, only to become yet another hashtag and name added to the long list of those in need of justice.
After Aiyana, after Trayvon, after Jordan, after Rekia, after Renisha, after Ezel, after John, after Eric, after Tamir, after Mike, after Freddie, after Mya, and after so many others whose names and stories never bubble up to the national spotlight, I’m completely worn out.
When news of the massacre at Emanuel AME Church broke, I was heartbroken. As the granddaughter of a preacher who spent countless hours in Sunday school, Bible Study, church revivals, Vacation Bible School, and Sunday service, I couldn’t imagine someone shooting up the house of the Lord. That night, my son and I sat in our car listening to the radio as they reported possible fatalities, a bomb threat, and a crazed shooter on the loose, and he asked a question that pained me to answer.
“Mommy, is this in America?”
Sadly, I had to tell him yes.
In this America, “Black Lives Matter” has become both a mantra and a demand. It’s a reminder that our lives cannot be merely snuffed out by police, or the homies down the block, without somebody, somewhere speaking up on our behalf.
In this America, Black folks are both cool enough to be emulated by those who think they understand “the Black experience,” and harassed for daring to speak against practices like racial profiling, bias in the justice system, police violence, housing discrimination, unequal access to education, and straight up systematic white supremacy that continues to inform policies that oppress people of color.
In this America, if you think, talk, or write about race, as I do, you are either deemed a racist because folks cannot stand to be called out on their ish, or blamed for “keeping racism alive.”
In this America, Black women are often an afterthought, or worse, not mentioned at all. While #BlackLivesMatter was created by three Black women, the names of our sisters who have been killed at the hands of police barely garner a nod. And yet, in this America Black women continue to hit the streets to rally and protest and put ourselves on the line because our bothers, sons, fathers, lovers, and husbands remain at risk.
This America has me reeling from tragedy to tragedy, too upset to stay silent, but too hurt to want to keep engaging with the pain.
Still, I do it, because this America needs to change.
While I’ve chosen to continue to write, think, and advocate for issues relating to Black lives, one thing has become vitally clear: self-care matters.
I recently had the opportunity to interview an Afro-Colombian human rights activist who is under constant threat of being kidnapped, raped, and killed because she boldly advocates for her community. Upon hearing her story and the dangers she faces, I asked her why she keeps fighting for Black Colombians.
She laughed at my question. “It is very hard to think of ourselves outside of the communities and the people we’re apart of,” she said. “None of us want to leave.”
Her words brought me back to the work of Dr. King and Malcolm X, two men who gave their lives for the struggle of Black folks. Even though they knew the threats they faced, both men took time to laugh and smile and spend time with the ones they loved.
In the film Malcolm X: Make It Plain, historian John Henrik Clarke spoke of Malcolm X’s sense of humor, something the public rarely got to see.
“He had a beautiful sense of humor, especially when he was kidding me about pork,” Clarke recalled.
Malcolm X’s friend, Constance Mitchell, also spoke of his humorous nature.
“Malcolm was really two different people,” she said. “He was the fiery person you saw in public, but privately he was this very warm person who really had a tremendous sense of humor. We often laughed and kidded.”
Remembering Malcolm’s playful side, and listening to the Afro-Colombian activist say self-care is necessary to her work, brought me back to the Audre Lorde quote about the importance of taking care of yourself, especially in challenging times.
“Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation” Lorde said, “And that is an act of political warfare.”
On days when the world gets too overwhelming, too painful, and too angering I take a step back and take solace in good books, good wine, good music, and good times with my friends and family.
America will always be troubled and Black liberation will always be a struggle, but in order to fully confront all of the challenges we face, we must remember take care ourselves, because as Lorde taught us, it’s a political act.
How do you practice self-care in these difficult times?