Why Self-Care Is a Critical Component to Racial Justice For Black People

Published on: 01 Jul 2020
Clinically Reviewed by Ashley Ertel, LCSW, BCD
Black self care

When you think of self-care, you probably think about $8,000 all-inclusive retreats to Costa Rica, realigning your chakras in Sedona, or a candlelit bath with an over-priced bubble bath from your favorite editor’s must-have list. These are all ways to practice self-care, and we encourage you to indulge in whatever makes you feel good, but the origin of self-care reveals a much deeper meaning.

Civil rights activist, writer, and feminist Audre Lorde coined the term “self-care,” when she proclaimed, “Caring for myself is not self-indulgence. It is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.” Although self-care has become a trend in the wellness industry, now more than ever, it’s important that Black people and people from marginalized communities return to the roots of self-care — both as a form of resistance and integral to the continuation of Black-led resistance and the Civil Rights Movement.

What Is Self-Care?

“I see self-care very simply as just doing things very intentionally to take care of yourself,” Mikah Maly-Karros, LMFT, said. “That can be very easily misconstrued as something that is superficial, but I think as a therapist, I see that the most important part of self-care is really doing that internal work. Because that’s really the only way you can know what your needs are and then find ways to provide for those needs,” she explained. Examples of internal work can be developing better self-awareness, self-compassion, self-forgiveness, understanding your own identity, and learning what is good for you and what’s not, Maly-Karros said. Self-care is necessary to live our fullest lives and it’s more important than ever.

When we hear traumatic stories, see images, or watch videos of people being murdered and harassed because of their race, we can experience vicarious trauma, symptoms that are similar to post-traumatic stress, simply by seeing these things happen to another person. “I think in this specific climate, there are more pressing needs for self-care in the Black community because, what we’re seeing on TV and in social media and pretty much everywhere we look, are very traumatizing images. I don’t think a lot of people fully understand the psychological impact of that,” Maly-Karros said.

How to Practice Self-Care

To ensure that Black people stay healthy both physically and mentally, it is imperative to make self-care a top priority. “For some, in the past, self-care has been seen as a ‘luxury.’ However, it’s imperative to practice healthy self-care strategies, now more than ever, and to be intentional about integrating these practices into daily routines,” Dakota King-White, Ph.D., LPC, said.

There’s still a stigma in the Black community around taking care of our mental health, but Dr. King-White said more people are beginning to place an emphasis on taking care of themselves —not just their family and loved ones, as is so often the case. “It’s great to be able to help take care of our family and our friends, but if we’re not well physically, mentally, and emotionally, we’re not going to be well for other people and we’re not going to be at our best,” she said. A few self-care strategies Dr. King-White recommends include:

Maly-Karros also recommends taking occasional breaks from triggers such as the news and social media “because we need that space to restore ourselves.” She also stressed the importance of setting boundaries. “Boundaries, I think, are a hugely important part of self-care,” Maly-Karros said. If you’ve been feeling emotionally exhausted over the past weeks, you’re not alone, which is why Maly-Karros stresses implementing boundaries for your non-white associates, friends, and family. She encourages you to ask yourself what your responsibility is in situations (for example, explaining anti-racism to someone) and what is not.

Additionally, understanding when you’re beginning to run low on energy is another way to practice self-care. Low energy looks different for everyone and tends to reveal itself as irritability. Physical manifestations include things such as the inability to sleep, a loss of appetite, nausea, and headaches, Maly-Karros explained. “Generally, taking care of yourself on a baseline level is really, really important. Making sure that you’re sleeping enough, eating healthy, and exercising on a daily basis because stress and extremely stressful situations are very much connected to our physical body as well,” she said.

Reimagining Self-Care For the Future

Self-care should be an everyday act of nurturing and loving yourself. It can look like relaxing in a bath or spending time with loved ones — whatever you need to pour into yourself to nurture your body and mind. When the demonstrations begin to die down and the news cycle shifts, it’s imperative that the Black community continues to practice self-care.

“I think if people are intentional about self-care now, hopefully, those practices will carry over and not just for ourselves but for generations that are coming after us,” King-White said. Her hope is that people begin to talk about self-care and mental health and teach the children in their lives self-care strategies — this way these techniques can continue to be passed down from generation to generation. “Hopefully in the future, we can have these conversations and we can break the stigma around taking care of yourself being a luxury. It’s not a luxury, it’s a necessity,” she said.

Maly-Karros envisions self-care as being about community. “I think it’s going to be a lot about us creating spaces where we can come together and either just laugh and have fun and dance and enjoy life the way that we do, and have a space to escape and forget and feel loved,” she said. She also envisions the Black community creating safe, healing spaces for one another where we’re able to process what’s going on simply by sharing and relating with one another. “I think that the healing part — and it’s sort of always been this way — comes from us coming together as a community,” Maly-Karros said.

Talkspace articles are written by experienced mental health-wellness contributors; they are grounded in scientific research and evidence-based practices. Articles are extensively reviewed by our team of clinical experts (therapists and psychiatrists of various specialties) to ensure content is accurate and on par with current industry standards.

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