At a recent workshop for public scholars interested in writing for feminist outlets, I pitched an idea for a piece on self-care for women of color activists. A conversation that's desperately needed as (s)hero after (s)hero suffers injury for her/their advocacy efforts, the repeated wounding setting the stage for debilitation or early death.
The White woman moderator who represented a wide-reaching feminist magazine didn’t agree. “This is a time to step up not step back,” was her response.
I had two reactions to her statement in quick succession.
My first was agreement about the importance of activism to push against the rising tide of White patriarchal xenophobic imperialism. This initial reaction acknowledged the healing potential of collective advocacy.
My second reaction, more resonant then and now, was frustration about her dismissiveness (or ignorance) of the damage activism inflicts on the health, relationships, and spirit of women of color. Her critique, the lens through which she evaluated my pitch, appeared uncritically shaped by her positionality as a White woman of means.
The women of color in my communities step up and have done so for generations. We step up every time we enter the classroom to challenge the status quo in institutions happy to exploit our labor but not our calls for structural change. We step up every time we focus our scholarship on uplifting the voices of women of color that discipline gatekeepers often prefer to erase. We step up every time we send our earnings to family in our home countries, family trapped in poverty right here in the U.S., family caught in the prison industrial complex. We step up every time we are forced to face the world with protective armor whose weight bends us over making it difficult to breathe. We step up every time we choose to mother our children – biological and otherwise, our students, our elders, our communities with hopes that our love, our teaching, our bodies will protect against the state’s weapons of mass destruction.
No, we step up. Over and over and over and over and over and over.
And it’s killing us.
We don’t need to be told to step up. What we need is to give ourselves and each other permission to periodically step back before our bodies forcefully come to a violent stop.
Stepping back is not giving up. As Audre Lorde reminds us, our self-care is self-preservation, and that is the ultimate act of resistance.
Taking time to heal, reset, revivify enables us to reenter the fight renewed. We owe it to ourselves, to the revolution, to those who rely on us. Plus, it’s time for others to step up consistently so we can rest a bit.
In peace and solidarity,