When people hear "self-care" some of the first images that pop into their minds are exercise, eating healthy, sleeping more, or meditating. Each of those examples are absolutely important types of self-care and imperative for overall well-being. Our minds and bodies require intentional care and attention to sustain our daily experiences of being black and all that entails in society. Our physical bodies are the primary holders of stress, which starts in our minds as we experiences racial trauma and stressors, in addition to life's daily stressors.
I want to specifically challenge the topic of self-care in a deeper manner. As black people, we have been socialized to not only try and stay safe, but to generally keep white people comfortable. The CROWN Act is a recent example of that; the mere existence of our natural hair became so controversial, individual states have begun to introduce legislation that would make it illegal for discrimination against natural hairstyles in education and employment settings. Over the years, black people have used toxic chemicals to straight their hair, spent thousands of dollars to wear weaves or wigs, as a means to conform to white professional standards. I'm not hating on my sisters who voluntarily choose to wear their hair in a variety of ways, as I'm all for a good protective style. However, it is a prime example of how black people have changed their very being to make white folks more comfortable. In this instance, self-care might look like setting boundaries when asked about varying hairstyles. It looks like not apologizing for saying 'no,' when we experience the age old inquiry, "can I touch your hair?"
A long history of experiencing racism and oppression has had other impacts on the way black people have been socialized. Discrimination experienced while trying to get a job, created a great deal of stress and pressure to therefore keep that job, by any means necessary. It meant putting up with overt racism, unequal pay, and not having a voice in any decision-making that pertained to their role. Similarly, in education settings black children have been more likely to be criticized, receive harsh punishment, and not taken seriously when meaningful contributions were offered or above average intellect was observed. In public settings, we are more likely to be followed around by store employees or security, denied loans at banks, or ignored at car dealerships. I could go on; however it is clear that each of these instances serves to silence the black voice. I will argue that in addition to commonly observed types of self-care, black people must reclaim our voice!
Reclaiming our voices, begins with the acknowledgement that all of the racism and stress we have internalized, is not about us. Racism is a result of nothing that we did. We must begin to learn how to separate and externalize those experiences, as a mean to care for our emotions and our souls. Similar to other types of trauma, such as abuse, it is an extremely painful experience, but does not define who we are. The psychological impact is heavy on the mind and soul, but we must learn to intentionally distance the pain and evil of others from ourselves.
Self-care requires acknowledgement of the 'self,' and worthiness to be acknowledged and respected as a whole person. Self-care for black people requires pushing the envelope as we must challenges ourselves to speak up and place our emotions, needs, and boundaries into the atmosphere, without worrying what others will think. We must challenge past generational patterns of not speaking up and sweeping hard topics under the rug. We must learn that it is okay to take the well-earned time off that we have earned on our jobs. We must learn to first be attuned to our bodies to know that we need more sleep, stretching, or exercise. Black people have a long history of "pushing through" or being in "superwoman/man" mode, only to overlook chronic illness, jeopardize relationships, or have unrealistic expectations of themselves. In some instances, these issues continue because it is a matter of lower-income needs, not having security of generational wealth, or taking care of a multi-generational family. In all instances, we must challenge ourselves to acknowledge our humanity and go deeper with our self-care efforts.
Reclaiming our voices many also involve becoming more aware of how we impact others. Self-care must start in the mirror. When we are stressed, we are likely to take it out on those closest to us. Self-care requires us to be intentional about our meditations, prayers, and therapy sessions to identify our trauma triggers that we have carried from past generations into our current daily lives. Engaging in a deeper level of self-care and reflection helps us to understand how to stop inflicting pain on ourselves and our loved ones. We are often guilt of taking our trauma out on the people closest to us, and I always say relationships are like mirrors. Intimacy and closeness have a way of showing us the great and not so great things that lie deep within. When we focus on our own healing, we are likely to be more free to set better boundaries, engage in healthier relationships, and have sharper discernment with less guilt when we find a person or situation does not work for us.
Hopefully this post as at least helped you to start thinking about ways to engage in deeper self-care for yourself. Maybe you will actually take a day to yourself to sleep in, schedule a therapy appointment, or schedule an appointment to explore the physical pain you have been ignoring. Perhaps you will speak up about a work conflict you have been having or perhaps you will start challenging your loved ones to have deeper, more authentic conversations with you. Perhaps you will stop dating and give yourself permission to heal and love yourself before dating again. Or, maybe you will finally advocate for that promotion you know you are due. In the current climate, protest may actually be a form of self-care as a means to activate your voice. Whatever it is, challenge yourself to remember that self-care from the black perspective is anything that brings us out of our state of numbness to survive. It is time to start thinking about self-care as a way to thrive!