IS SELF CARE OPPRESSIVE? (OR, HOW TO BE A GOOD ACTIVIST BY TAKING A BUBBLE BATH)

I had an interesting conversation with a friend yesterday that opened up a lot to me. Parts of it dealt with self care, and other parts of it was just me screaming about how the majority of the activist community just aren’t shit.

The wonderful, caring, amazing sweet friend of mine (Wonderful Friend for short!) had me thinking a lot about self-care and the way it relates to activism. Wonderful Friend is a long time activist, but is not in a place right now where they can actively engage in activism in the way that they want to. Which is totally understandable of course, and a good sign that a nice self-care day (or week or month!) is in order—but although that seemed to be the next logical step, Wonderful Friend felt concerned. Were they being oppressive by proxy in stepping back from the community to take care of themselves? Was self-caring the same as being apathetic or indifferent to the many issues out there in the world?

I angrily replied to Wonderful Friend that hell no it wasn’t.

(My anger wasn’t and isn’t directed at Wonderful Friend and their concerns, but at the idea behind them. I’ve considered myself a part of the activist community for a few years now, and there seems to be a budding trend of “slacktivist” bullshit running around, which tends to get really annoying and racist/classist/ableist pretty quick. Slacktivism is the bullshit idea that there are only certain parts or things in activism that are true and real. It creates an “ideal activist,” usually someone white, able-bodied/minded and in good financial standing who is able to picket line and protest and create rallies and do all these wonderful things that only “real” activists can do. Wonderful Friend’s concerns seemed to stem from this thinking, which upset me in ways I did not realize. How could such a great person feel for a second that they were not true or real because they were not (supposedly) “active?”)

The gist of it is this: activism is not a zero sum game, and self-care is a radical act. Anyone who questions this is an asshole.

Self-care is always something people should do, as activists or as people. Self-caring is important! But because there seems to be a prevailing idea that activism is a thing that requires 24/7, constant giving. You must always be on, or you are immediately cut off. Solidarity must always be shown or you are lazy/oppressive/inauthentic. Time and time again, I’ve seen these ideals thrown around with little disregard for those who are not able to live up to these “standards” for varied reasons. I explained to Wonderful Friend that I was and would never be the “perfect activist” because I was black, broke and not in stable mental health. My black ass has no business being at rallies with police officers, my broke ass can’t afford to make signs or organize rallies or buy pins or whatever and my depression sucks my energy and focus dry. Why should I pander to the idea of the perfect activist when I know it will never happen?

Activism is not all or nothing. It is as complex as people, can be affected in many different ways, demands intersectionality and often doesn’t receive even that. There are plenty of reasons why you will never seen an assortment of people on the sidelines. That shit just doesn’t work for us. Instead, we might create art, or write books, make music, dress loud, speak soft or fuck hard. Activism comes in so many flavors and colors that the idea of restricting it to a couple of picket lines and tree-chainings is so fucking ridiculous that it almost hurts.

Self care, for me, makes for good activism in that it shows the world that 1) you’re willing to take care of yourself in a society that does not call for it or make it easy to do so and 2) it’s not over, bitches. I explained to Wonderful Friend that self-care becomes activism by allowing to do your fucking job as an activist. What’s better than sitting down a few minutes to heal, train and come back harder, fists swinging? Self care takes us out of the game so that we can rest, learn, enjoy, and feel so that we may work even harder, stronger, tougher and more amazing. I don’t know about anyone else, but I like upgrades. I like being better and faster. And even if you don’t feel like any of these things when the self-care is over, you have still done enough by just tending to yourself.

If anyone has any shit to say to that, fuck ‘em. The day self-care becomes oppressive is the I day will march my ass down to the nearest police station and have myself arrested.

Let no one judge the way you fight, less they be masters themselves. And trust me, there is no one true “activism master.” This isn’t fucking Highlander. You do what you can in the spaces that you can do it, and that will always, always be enough.

(Originally posted on June 10, 2012.)

ST