Social justice movements are both overwhelmingly public and private. We see these strangers in the headlines, all people we have not met and will never have the chance to meet; our only introduction to them is their name being immortalized in a hashtag and a campaign to fight for justice.
It is only in death that we can see them thrive on a large-scale, because our society smothers this effort from the marginalized people who continue to survive.
It’s selfish, but so often when I see a new name being hashtagged or buzzed about for being the latest victim of radicalized hatred, they are not the first faces that flash into my mind. Instead, that first face is that of another more familiar person – myself.
Major activist movements like that of Black Lives Matter achieve great work by giving voice to the struggle of the marginalized. If you ask any Black person living today, we will say of course to the question of whether or not we deserve to be here.
We have bled, cried, fought for, and celebrated the life of the soil that refuses to return any of these sentiments. To be Black, especially Black in America, is a nuanced tug of war between fighting for acceptance, and acknowledging that you may never really receive it.
Explaining it like that is one of the only ways that I can explain how complicated it is to discuss the issues surrounding fatigue and mental health in activism. Because while we are ready to go out and fight for what we believe in, we should also be equally as prepared to unpack the heavy armor we wear, and acknowledge the pain that lurks underneath.
The difficulty of this conversation is not our fault. But rather, it is because of the complexities that weave around it. There is a historical submission of the acknowledgment of Black pain and how it affects us – we see it in the troupes and stereotypes that continue to swirl and shape our perceptions of Black individuals. The Strong Black Woman, the Silent Black Man, and the loud erasure of any other Black identity.
To allow for these emotions to surface, or to acknowledge that Black individuals can be fatigued and disheartened like everyone else, would mean to acknowledge our humanity. And to be human means to be imperfect.
I’ve had my own experiences with activism – not on a large-scale like more visible activists, of course, but on a smaller scale of organizing marches and walks and the kind of grassroots paper shuffling that still warms me with a sense of purpose.
When I attended my first major rally in undergrad, I was mesmerized and electrified at the power of individuals coming together for a cause. But what no one told me was that even being revolutionary, activism was incredibly tiring on the soul.
To be Black in America is to be in a complicated relationship with one’s own oppressor. And even with my own uncertainty around where I fit in this world that is hyperaware of injustice and efforts to change it, there is still the shame and stigma surrounding the admission of my own humanity.
I want to be able to share my fatigue and distress safely and in the same ways that I celebrate my victories and triumphs. My happiness and my sadness are equally valid parts of myself, and together make up the experience that is being myself and being a Black woman.
As we move forward, I hope that we can continue to make great strides with conquering the oppression in our own lives as well as around us. Feeling tired, or needing to take a break, or having mental health issues are not signs of weakness. If anything, they are powerful reminders of our best assets – throughout it all, we remain human. And our complex and layered humanity, coupled with our individualized experiences, are our best weapons against oppression.
Well, that, and using our voices for good.