Thoughts on Self Care
As a "woke" college educated black woman who chills in ~activist circles, I've come across the concept of self care many times. Sometimes it's in the form of a long winded academic article from a Very Respected Black Feminist (sorry, capitalization isn't woke, a "very respected black feminist.") or in the form of a Solange album. Sometimes it's expressed with a clipped and spunky tweet where words are fit between claps, but regardless I'm pretty over it.
Mostly because Self care is vague af. What does it even really mean?
I've gathered that conceptually self care is based on the idea that blackness (or any marginalized) identity is inherently radical. Due to the systems of oppression that define our existence, blackness is carved out of struggle, fighting back and loss. So, being black, regardless of class, gender, sexual orientation, ability, religion etc. is to be a product of that historical struggle, in addition to being someone who is currently experiencing struggle. When history has never deemed you worthy, taking care of yourself is radical. It's from this (along with a whole lot of other things) that the idea of Self Care is born; it is meant to combat the dehumanizing effect of marginalization by treating ourselves as human. And since it asserts our humanity, self care becomes (and is) necessary for survival.
However, the practical element of self care isn't as clear. Practicing self care can sometimes be a marginalized person leaving a room when someone says something marginalizing but it can also be buying shit that makes that marginalized person feel good. Of course, choosing to take time from someone saying racist shit is a pretty necessary and (okay, I'll say it) radical thing.
But is buying shit that makes you feel good also a necessity, or is it a luxury? Is it also radical?
The problem with how we assert our humanity, or do the necessary act self care, is that the practice didn't distinguish between what we need to do and what would be luxurious for us to do. This causes necessary and unnecessary acts of self care to be conflated within the practical definition, ignoring the acts marginalized people HAVE to take to deal with marginalization. (Which is really, the most important).
The dual necessary and luxurious definition of self care doesn't lead to self care taking on two equally accepted definitions. Rather, it causes self care to be characterized primarily by its luxurious practices. Self Care has colloquially become this image of a marginalized person taking a bath. And while there's nothing wrong with baths, self care has become one of the primary ways the woke community combats marginalization. So, now, one of the primary tools of eroding oppression is "taking a bath".
To "take a bath", or more broadly, perform luxurious acts of self care, requires the marginalized person to retreat into themselves. It's an individual and passive act. And while retreat, individualism, and passivity (and let's be honest, the self absorption that often stems from self care) have their place in combatting oppression, they should not (and cannot) be the crux of inciting change.
The luxurious definition of self care is further problematized by how self care is practiced through/in conjunction with capitalism. Self care has become buying things. You splurge on a dress that makes you feel hot but end up patronizing the exploitative system of capitalism and often times, an exploitative company.
So, it's 12 AM and you're wearing some bodycon dress in the name of your oppression combatting self care, but that dress has been manufactured in inhumane working conditions by people just as brown as you. (Mhmmm finger snaps)
Perhaps even worse, companies are starting to take notice of how much "self care" sells. Countless apps and bath/moisturizer lines have been created for people to buy their self care. Products that aren't even made for self care are using self care as an enticing selling point. (It also kinda defeats the idea of self care to have a company tell you what you need to feel happy--especially when the company is telling every other buyer to do same thing....) Suddenly (or not so suddenly) the tools we've made to combat our oppression are being taken and sold back to us by the companies doing the oppressing in the first place. Being woke makes money.
In regards to the capitalistic element of our self care practice, it's also important to consider who usually does and preaches ~self care: educated marginalized people who are relatively richer and more privileged than most of the people who share their marginalized identities.
Self Care is Deray,
Solange Knowles, that annoying
mad light skinned black girl
You went to college
with who writes spoken word poems
about Being Black.
(Check it out, double haiku! By the way, I'm having a poetry reading this Sunday at Starr Bar so lmk if you can make it)
And while the trauma of being a black person in a private white institution definitely sucks, I am worried that this relatively privileged trauma is being used as one of the main vantage points for combatting the marginalization experienced by a whole demographic.
And of course, the way in which self care often perpetuates capitalism isn't the fault of the activists who have pushed self care, or of the marginalized people who have practiced and relied on it. Similarly, the privilege of those who cite self care--something born out of academia--is to be expected. However, activists and marginalized people cannot afford to aggressively prescribe a self care that fails to consider the human cost of the practice. They cannot preach a self care that complies with and perpetuates capitalism (and their own oppression). Finally, they cannot form their praxis on their own comfort to the point of which they fail to address the concerns of those within their marginalized demographic who are not as privileged.