“Femmes of color are the ultimate signs of survival. But the double-edged sword of that survival is the expectation to be perfect, have stable emotions and take care of everyone around us.”
Self-care is a fluid concept. It is vital and it looks different from person to person. Essentially, self-care means doing something kind for yourself, for your mental well-being, for your physical well-being.
Self-care is revolutionary for women of color and, as Audre Lorde said, “Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.”
I hold that sentence so close to my heart. When black women, especially queer or trans black women, nurture and love themselves, it is most definitely revolutionary.
I write so much about self-care in regard to race because of my own experiences as a multiracial, queer woman. I have come to understand the importance of decolonizing vulnerability and self-care because of our own internalized martyrdom when it is specific to non-white cultures.
I still battle this idea in my mind that I should feel guilty about my “guilty pleasures” and that prioritizing myself is somehow selfish or damaging. In reality, those harmful ideas are a part of us because we have internalized systems of oppression. Patriarchy, white supremacy and capitalism rely on us valuing paid and unpaid labor over ourselves and our happiness.
Every week, Wear Your Voice will be featuring an interview with a woman of color on what self-care means to her. Our hope is to provide our readers with a better look at what self-care looks like for different people so that we can help decolonize self-care for better resistance. This week I had the pleasure of interviewing Summer Sloane-Britt, Community Cluster Fellow at the Free Library of Philadelphia.
Wear Your Voice: What does self-care mean to you?
Summer Sloane-Britt: Self-care is the deliberate process of choosing to care for one’s self in a world that constantly demands for them to be at the service of others. I have realized that figuring out my own formulation of self-care is a process of uncovering the roots of who I am. And, it is fundamental for the things I am trying to accomplish — if I am not caring for myself, it is harder to do my work and feel good about it. Femmes of color are especially susceptible to letting self-care fall to the wayside for our work, partners, friends, family and even one another. It is exceptionally important for us to actively practice self-care.
To me, femmes of color are the ultimate signs of survival. But the double-edged sword of that survival is the expectation to be perfect, have stable emotions and take care of everyone around us. Thankfully, we are increasingly realizing that is not the case and does not have to be. We have to internalize this and not just say it to ourselves and friends. It’s okay to feel roller coasters of emotions, not identify with people around you, not want to go to work today, not want to see anyone.
Wear Your Voice: What are some of the things that you do for self-care?
SSB: Since graduating from college, I’ve actively given myself the space to think about self-care. I realized that it’s an amalgamation of big and small things. Small things like cleaning up my room every day and giving myself three nights a week where I have no plans whatsoever are instrumental for my mental state and productivity levels. Some days I just want to laugh while not talking about anything of “intellectual” substance.
While I was in college, my thoughts were always meant to be capitalized upon for a seminar, paper or discussion. Since graduating, I’ve been able to think about things important to me without an audience or a grade. The kind of journaling I’ve been doing tries to [turn] writing, graphic design, reading and photography into a really therapeutic process of considering the relationships between words and visual images. It’s funny, while thinking about “bigger” things, I can get away from my little things and relieve my anxiety.
But, a huge self-care tool has been trusting femmes of color to understand. My friends and I might not always feel the same way, but they always are there to listen, laugh, dance, whatever I need. I can easily fall into a vat of anxiety and isolation. They are the ones who pull me out and they can do it because I trust them. We are wading through life together and there’s something extremely comforting in knowing that. I recently called a friend of mine who dropped her shit for 20 minutes to talk about mine with care. Those are the keepers.
On the most macro-level, I feel increasingly blessed that I came of age with President [Barack] Obama, rather than the current political reality we live in. I was able to spend the ages between 14 and 22 learning how to politically engage around really difficult issues and watch a smart administration actively engage with hard conversations. During the 2016 election cycle and its aftermath, I really became engulfed in the whirlwind of information. I had to learn how to disengage in a way that would have been more difficult for me if I was 16 or 17. In order for me to be as present as possible in discussions, calling senators, or just dealing with people on a day-to day-basis, I have to deliberately disengage. This highlights how important self-care practices are in our current moment. While most of these political and social struggles aren’t new, they are very unstable, extreme and the show is being run by a group of clowns.
WYV: What advice would you give to womxn & femmes who are just learning to put themselves first?
SSB: The biggest part of developing healthy self-care habits is to be honest with yourself. Try your best to remove FOMO and/or imposter syndrome from your thinking and ask yourself: what do you want? This is a hard question to answer, but it gets easier with practice. When I am with honest with myself is when I feel the most well-balanced. We are taught that self-care and questions like these are self-indulgent. Nope. Nope. Nope. Nope. I can’t emphasize that enough. Selfishness is a concept meant to prevent people from choosing themselves and their needs.
For femmes of color in college, the most important part of that experience is to find the balance between product and sanity. Femmes of color are given an unspoken burden of representing themselves, their thoughts, their community’s thoughts, and everything in between. Just remember, your essay doesn’t have to change the world, it doesn’t even have to change your world. Your comment in class can, in fact, be 99 percent bullshit today. It’s fine. And, never, ever refer to your self or emotions as “crazy.” Don’t invalidate your feelings by dismissing yourself as crazy. You aren’t crazy! You’re probably feeling real things about the real world around you!