et’s face it, as an activist, you bear the charge of the issue you are trying to change, while juggling raising your family, enjoying life, building your career, and just being. This is a unique burden for BIPOC people because we have to bear the systemic and institutional power against us in our daily lives and be involved politically, in journalism, or whatever our avenue to exercise our activism. This can be exhausting. Remind yourself that it is a valid feeling. It may feel like the Greek parable of Sisyphus who is forced to push a rock up a steep hill for eternity and the large boulder continues to fall down the hill and he has to start again. This is often how the burden of activism as a BIPOC person feels. However, there are ways to navigate this phenomena. We are here to help by providing the following:

  • How to identify activist burnout
  • How to cope with this symptom of activism as a BIPOC person
  • How to plan for future success in this area
This image shows many different people protesting for different causes for human rights.
If you look at this image, it is a crowded composition. While people are protesting and holding signs for what they believe in, there is an underground narrative to what is happening. This work for BIPOC people can be tiresome and as chaotic as this image. Image courtesy of Social Work Futures.

How to Notice the Signs That You Are Experiencing Activist Burnout

Activist burnout is defined as the “combination of stressors associated with activism become so overwhelming they compromise activists’ persistence in their activism – as a threat to movement viability.” Burnout, specifically, related to racial work has the following causes: “emotional-dispositional causes, structural causes, backlash causes, and in-movement causes.” In other words, the source of this struggle comes from bearing the emotions of your activist charge and how the world proceeds to uphold racist structures in the midst of protesting. Additionally, how others react to your activism can cause mental strain, as well as within activist circles the differing opinions and personalities. 

Think of activist burnout as a fishbowl of people with many different reasons to protest, varying ways of instituting activism, and being contained in a microcosm of the world. This microcosm shows that some are treated better than others on the basis of the structures of the world. Now, when thinking about activist burnout this way, doesn’t it feel cluttered, hard, and chaotic. We think so. How to navigate this space first is by recognizing that you are in a bind and that you need to take care of yourself before you can take care of others (the saying that they tell you on an airplane when the oxygen masks come down--same rules apply). 

This is a serious condition because according to Dr. Vaccaro and Dr. Mena, from the Journal of Gay and Lesbian Health, they say that “the absence of social support, in conjunction with poor self-care, a heightened sense of responsibility for others, and multiple minority identity explorations, left college student activists experiencing burnout, compassion fatigue, and in some cases suicidal ideation.” Minorities need to take extra care of themselves because of these internal and external pressures, as well as be aware why they are particularly susceptible to activism burnout. 

The answer is in the word coined by Kimberlie Crenshaw intersectionality. Intersectionality is as the dictionary describes it as “the theory that the overlap of various social identities, as race, gender, sexuality, and class, contributes to the specific type of systemic oppression and discrimination experienced by an individual and the oppression and discrimination resulting from the overlap of an individual’s various social identities.”

This image that says fighting the fight indicates the struggle that often occurs when reaching your activist goal while taking care o yourself.
This image reminds us of the age old saying that goes: fight the good fight of faith. This just means that when you are battling to achieve a goal, you must step out on faith to continue this mission. In fighting, there are some guidelines in doing this act. The main guideline is to take care of yourself so that you can continue to be an activist and contribute to issues that you care about. If you do not take care of you, none of this is possible. Image courtesy of Charleston City Paper.

Intersectional Coping Mechanisms

Learning How to Heal From Activist Burnout

Since BIPOC people are especially susceptible to activist burnout and this often makes them casualties in a war against racism, sexism, insensitivity, classism, homophobia, transphobia, and a slew of other things, it is imperative that we invest extra in our self care practices. We need to process these feelings, lean on our support system, and take care of our bodies. The following are some actionable steps for BIPOC people to reinvest in themselves as activists:

  • Meditation helps to focus your thoughts on things that are positive, effective, and helpful in that moment. A specific meditation that is aimed at reaffirming the humanity of Black folks during the Black Lives Matter Movement and the anti-Black reactions to this movement is a Black Lives Matter Meditation.
  • Read Self-Care lists to make sure that you have done your body essential functioning: eating, using the bathroom, drinking water, resting, etc. Being woke doesn't mean that you can’t sleep. Oftentimes people hold in these functions because their brain takes over by pondering other issues or over committing yourself to the movement.
  • Regulate news consumption and fill your free time with positive things that will give you a mental break from activism. For instance, instead of picking up a dense book about depressing facts all the time, turn to reading fiction, spend time with your family, return to nature for quiet times, think about things that you are grateful for. 
  • Disengage from toxic social media and curate your feed to reflect positivity. This one is especially important because oftentimes people are so quick to hold onto friends that quite literally post things that are harmful to you. Add social media that affirms your existence by following mental health for BIPOC people sites, affirmations, and pictures of beauty. Unfollow, unfriend, and release the words of people on social media that are harmful.
  • Brace yourself from heartbreak and treat yourself like your bestie who is going through a breakup.” You can quite literally be heartbroken when your campaigns do not turn out how you expect them to. You may feel like a failure but that is not true. Get your ice cream, your rom com movies, and begin radical self care immediately. 
  • Allow yourself to check-out. In activist circles, gatherings become consciousness-raising sessions and can become exhausting. Remember that you can say “no” to things that do not serve you or are detrimental to your mental health. It is perfectly okay to skip some of these things and do more neutral activities with others or spend time with yourself.
  • Create a vision for yourself and what you care about rather than listing problems. This approach can really help you out and you will thank us later.
Make sure as you protest like these people here that you take care of you.
As you learn all these things about self-preservation as an activist, we encourage you to keep doing the great things that you are doing to make the world better. We are blessed to have so many amazing leaders, visionaries, creatives, and everyone in between as activists. Continue your charge, once you take care of yourself. Image courtesy of CBC.

The Benediction of A Tired Activist

Making Plans to Decrease Burnout in the Future

My activism manifests through meetings with different clubs in college, social media posts, and my writing. But this is the first year that I had ever gone to a protest. This activist lifestyle in the typical sense is not what I am used to. This began to become exhausting and detrimental to my mental health because I did not know how to handle these things on top of grief, on top of working, and on top of all the wild things I saw first hand as a Black woman.

In these words of wisdom that I received, it allowed me to refocus on my charge but also take care of myself: come up with a mental health plan that accommodates your activism, build self care into your lifestyle so that nothing can interrupt it, and continue to speak because if you remain silent, deliverance will arise from another place but if this is your purpose, you will perish. These words are a combination of Black Girls Heal podcast advice and from the story of Esther, one of the inspiring activists in the Bible. These two places of advice encourages people to live a mentally, emotionally, and spiritually whole and purpose-driven life.

We encourage you to educate somebody about this topic because it is so prevalent in our communities. Stringent activism and taking in the hits of racial trauma and structural inequality quite literally raises blood pressure, makes people sick, drives people to insanity. Most importantly, find your source through your activism. This will make it so that when you pour out, you are always replenished.

Hero image courtesy of Supermaker.

Jul 30, 2020