op-ed: how revolutionary self-care becomes an act of radical activism

July 26, 2016
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This year during Black History Month, a 23 year old Black Lives Matter activist, MarShawn M. McCarrell committed suicide on the steps of the Ohio State House. Hours before he took his life MarShawn posted on his Facebook saying “My demons won today, I’m sorry.” This reality breaks me. It made me think about how I talk about my dreams but never my nightmares. As millennial blacktivists we’re constantly throwing ourselves on the line for our causes not realizing the emotional impact. I would like to challenge and encourage more young black people like myself to practice the revolutionary art of self care.

By Alie Jones*, AFROPUNK contributor

“Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.” Audre Lorde reminds us that self care is revolutionary. Self care is not selfish.

Especially in these times of tragedy it is crucial that we are better practitioners of self-care. We need to continue to nurture ourselves and those around us. We must not get used to seeing a black person shot down by the police every day. I completely understand how it may seem easier to be numb out the pain. It is important that we do not become numb, that won’t solve anything. When you become numb to death you also become numb to life. We stand on so many shoulders of people who fought so hard for us to have the freedoms we hold dear. Their state of living was pure survival because that was their only option. Self medicating and repressing to survive has left our parents and grandparents exhausted. They are burnt out. So sick and tired they have become numb, saddened but not shocked. Generation after generation we are taught ways to survive. Submission to the condition doesn’t change it but it changes you. We cannot internalize that idea that this is how it’s always been. We have to understand that we cannot praise black love and shame black pain, they are both a part of our immense history. I’m challenging you to live your best life. It is time to grasp the reality that we are magical but not superhuman.

I understand that there are a lot of people in the Black community who have grown to believe the concept of mental health is a sham created for white people by white people. As a young black woman in graduate school battling anxiety and depression I know that it is not imaginary. It is time for us to address how we learn and talk about our mental wellbeing. Time for us to learn and model self care practices for ourselves and the next generation.We need to clearly understand that our relationship with ourselves impacts our relationships with others. Treat your mind the way you treat your body before you get a cold. When every headline is adding more weight on your already heavy heart.

Self care for me is taking a break from social media, usually to cry my eyes out about the state of the world and mourn the death of my people. I take time to do the things that I know make me happy. For example binge watching Jane the Virgin, reading The Alchemist, intentional journaling, or doing yoga I find on YouTube . Being that I’m usually in predominantly white spaces where no one seems to care at all. I realized that they don’t care but we still matter. You can be just as woke from a beach as you would reading headlines. You don’t stop believing in justice when you take care of yourself.

The journey of self care is the radical act of nurturing yourself. It is also important to build communities of those who understand your pain, celebrate your joy, and are advocates of healing practices. In the digital age, there are many online communities formed around hashtags like #BlackLivesMatter, #SayHerName , and #BlackGirlMagic. We have seen the birth of social movements. You might not find them at work, in your classroom, or in your home. Self care for you might be a Tai chi class, going on a walk with a friend, or enjoying the silence of a nearby forest. Whether you realize it or not someone is watching. I know it’s scary realizing you are influential but you are. It is vital that you continue to be unapologetically black. In speaking up and taking space you allow room for others to do the same. Our generation is already changing the narrative and challenging archaic world views. We are the creators and changemakers we admire. The only way we are going to be able to create and sustain any movement is to start with ourselves. Remember that #BlackWellnessMatters too. We must continue to fight our demons until we are able to Hulk smash them.

*Alie Jones is a California native graduate student pursuing a Masters in Public Administration, social change agent, body positive womanist, and proud blerd. Enjoy this piece? Feel free to follow her on twitter