Black Self Care in Racial Equity Work

My phone buzzed.  It was Jess.  I took a long stretch, yawned, and read the text.

"I am still in the bed at 2:30 PM on a Saturday."

"Well," I typed back, "at least I don't have to feel bad about doing absolutely nothing."

"I crashed as soon as I got home," she replied.

Bzzzz. "This email can forget it.  I am not opening a laptop till Monday."

No, we had not been out partying.  

We had just finished an intensive workshop called Exploring Racial Equity.  The goal was to practice common terminology, connect the systems of racism, and link systemic to interpersonal racism that happens daily.  It was good.  It was great. It was amazing.  So amazing that, a participant snuck $100 into my hand post-workshop and told me that I should definitely charge more.

So why were we talking to each other like one had just had a root canal and the other was Rip Van Winkle's twin?  Because this work is exhausting.  Let me tell you how exhausting this is. Any of you ever rake a pile of leaves in the wind, stare at the beautiful, clean result, go into the house, sit down, and then try to get back up?  Moving from one home to the next - what about that?  Have you done that?  Have any of you been to CrossFit and have a trainer basically kill you dead, then pump you full of electrolyte water and tell you to be back at it at 5:30 AM?  Yes, this work is that exhausting.  The emotional labor actually takes a physical toll!

I went into consulting being a bit cocky.  Somebody somewhere told me that I was a good teacher.  Then someone else told me I was a good facilitator.  A couple more somebodies in a couple more somewheres told me that I was funny, compassionate, insightful, thought provoking, even life changing.  It seems like everyone forgot to inform me of how draining this work is.  Nobody told me that, even after workshops and consults where no one gets upset, that I need at least 24 hours to recover.  Yes. 24 hours. No one told me about the shoulder and neck stiffness, the legs that feel like stones, or the letdown that induces urges to binge watch Netflix, like I am about to do after I finish this post.

Racial equity work is tense for most people.  But for Black women in particular, even the work that feels good will drain you dry and cold.  Every human body carries an "allostatic load" at some point - the type of stress that occurs in fight-or-flight.  After the threat is over, that load dissipates, and our bodies return to normal.  However, for black women who have experienced interpersonal and systemic racism in nearly every facet of their lives, that load never fully dissipates.  We are waiting for the next offense to fight off - not because we want to, but because it is a means of survival that has been imprinted into our DNA due to historical trauma of slavery, and beyond.

 Where white folks can let go, get rest, seek refuge, we cannot.  Even in our own homes.  Even though I'm about to watch Netflix to let off steam, I'm not going to see bodies, skins, voices, hair, cultures like mine.  Even in my rest and leisure, I'm reminded that I'm inferior.  That, and other racist subtleties, carry a load that black women bear daily.  And that emotional and intellectual load manifests physically.  

And being in front of a crowd, balancing THEIR emotions AND mine, THEIR needs AND mine - is like adding stone blocks to a plow that's already not moving.  But I move it anyway.  And Jess, as a white woman doing the work alongside me, moves it.  And then we rest.  Intentionally.

In whatever capacity that you stand for antiracist systems and people, I am going to give you this bit of wisdom that my pushers-forward did not.  Rest.  And I mean, REST.  Like, don't cook.  Don't go out and have drinks with pals.  Don't clean your home from top to bottom.  Take a blazing hot shower, put on sweats and a tee, and do nothing.  Let the load dissipate, and feel no guilt about it.  You can't keep going if you don't recover.