It's understandable for activists of color to get burnt out! And burnout is not a sign of weakness!
Activism takes a lot of energy, especially for activists of color. Being an activist of color means encountering discrimination and paying attention to what is painful. That pain builds up and is heavy to carry.
You feel the pain of oppressive systems, and it's personal.
More ways activists of color experience burnout and can interrupt it:
1. Facing "Perfect Standard" Activism
Activists face the constant pressures to "live the issue" and maintain a relentless dedication to fighting racial systemic injustice and oppression. They may feel the pressures to be self-sacrificing, or even to be a "martyr," in order to be a real advocate for social justice. But this sets a "perfect standard" that is impossible to achieve.
It takes a lot of energy and resources to engage in activism for social justice.
However, Activists of color fighting for racial justice carry the extra pressures to resist racism and systems of oppression that they've faced with their communities throughout their lives. There's a greater weight to carry when activists of color must challenge discrimination in their own work.
"The cost of doing activism that’s personally relevant is real, and difficult to hold alone."
"If I can't even do this for my family, how am I supposed to do this work for the public."
- Who is really setting the bar for this "Perfect Standard?"
- Is there a way I can find some kindness for myself when this bar feels especially high?
2. Countering the Internal Critical Mind
Activists of color may fall into mind traps of self-critical or self-defeating thoughts, as they constantly criticize themselves for not learning or doing enough in their work against racial injustice and inequality.
"I'm not doing enough since I can't get people to see that we are operating under systems of White supremacy."
"I'll never be a good activist and will never end racism. "
"I'm not really an activist because I don't do x--I should be doing more."
Thoughts are thoughts, rather than definitive truths.
Try taking a step back to see these thoughts as impossible standards shaped by the systems of power in our sociocultural world.
3. Harnessing the Power of Our Emotions
Activists may experience increased levels of both positive and negative emotions surrounding their activism for racial justice. Positive emotions, like happiness or satisfaction, may arise when they experience a sense of pride or reward towards their work. On the other hand, negative emotions, such as anger, guilt, and shame, may arise as they experience challenges or obstacles in their work.
Activists of color resisting racism, may especially feel intense and varied emotions, as they struggle with finding ways to constantly "manage" their own emotional experiences as they advocate for racial justice for people within their own communities.
What if we learn to accept and experience, rather than criticize and reject, all of our emotions as they arise?
Emotions may feel pesky and may feel like they are getting in the way of all the important work that needs to get done. However, what if we begin to see our emotions as a powerful tool to fuel our work that feels personally relevant and meaningful?
Finding ways to balance our pain and rage with self-love, may help us sustain and empower action to combat racism and systems of oppression.
4. Creating a Community of Change
Effective activism for social justice is the meeting of the heart (emotions) and mind (thoughts). Finding and building a community of activists of color who share your values and lived experiences as an activist of color, may allow room for growth and prosperity of meaningful change for social justice against racism.
Remember, You don't have to do it all. You are not alone. Let others help you.
Help carry the burden. Help you heal this pain.
Things to consider:
- Allyship. Working across difference is hard, and may sometimes seem impossible. Nevertheless, finding allies who are open to communicating and understanding these differences, may foster an even greater community to thrive. Remember: Everyone should do their part navigating through systems of oppression and racism, even white allies.
- Intimacy and Authenticity. Surround yourself with people who make you feel safe and communicate their intentions to grow together with you. Safety, honesty and genuineness build trusting, authentic relationships.
- Bigger Waves of Change. Making small change on your own is very hard work. Building a community of both activists and allies cultivates bigger waves of change.
- Are there people in my life who feel safe, open and willing to support and work together with me in my activism?
- What would it look like for me to ask others to stand together with me in my work?