Updated: Jun 21, 2020
Recently, I have had white acquaintances attempting to demonstrate their allyship by checking in on me. In fact, some white folks have posted on social media, suggesting that white folks should check on every Black person they know. I have had white people show up in my inbox probing about my self-care, or seeking to ensure I am prioritizing it. While I understand and appreciate the sentiment being suggested here, I want to offer some guidance that may allow your good intent, to better align with a positive and meaningful impact.
If you are not consistently in intimate connection with a Black person, through meaningful personal conversations, discussions about their experiences with racism and bias, or invited into understanding about their health and well-being, and how they maintain it, DON’T inquire about it now, especially with some expectation to be educated or have our practices explained to you. Don’t assume we’re not taking care of ourselves, don’t ask us to explain how we’re taking care of ourselves, and don’t whitesplain self-care to Black people.
Generations of Black folks have kept our deepest feelings away from white gaze because our humanity is too often pathologized, seen as weakness, or manipulated and used against us. It has never been safe for Black folks, collectively, to be our authentic selves in the presence of whiteness. When you are seeing Black folks post our pain through social media, and give you the slightest glimpse of insight into the conversations we’ve held in our homes for 401 years, about white violence and survivorship, endurance, hope, sadness, fear, and faith; absorb it, share it, act on it. However, please don’t think you know even an iceberg’s tip about it.
Baring witness to the thoughts and feelings of Black folks who are processing our anger, fear, sadness, resistance, and expression of generations of suffering that are unrelenting is an unearned gift being given to white peers. Our ancestors have written for hundreds of years about the knee of white supremacy on the necks of Black bodies and collective identity, and white folks wouldn’t read it, wouldn’t hear it, and rejected our calls to be seen and respected. Further, our self-care has been policed historically, by white supremacy: congregating was illegal; our religious practices white-washed; the language connecting us to our ancestors and deities, stolen; the ancient, therapeutic geometry of hair braiding, made illegal; any successful collective effort for justice and equity, undermined and destroyed. So, be sensitive, be culturally humble, and keep your white hands and recommendations respectfully off of it now.
Social media allows us to be connected, and feel hand-in-hand with each other’s processes as we share and post. Please, please, please, DO NOT violate the processing shared by the people who suffer the most from state sanctioned violence, health disparities, structural inequities, intergenerational trauma, poverty, internalized oppression, lack of access to care, underrepresentation, lack of mentorship and support, and so on…
Understanding that for Black folks, sharing through social media can:
(1) amplify the suffering of victims of state-sanctioned violence to ensure our community rallies around them for justice,
(2) allow a sense of release for people who for various reasons cannot show community support with our bodies by participating in protests,
(3) help to educate those friends and acquaintances that we don’t want to lose, but know we cannot keep if they don’t wake up, and
(4) keep us connected, especially during COVID, when we’re socially distant and isolated from one another.
For many of us, we SO RARELY get to feel true connection with each other, or feel like anyone is listening to our cries for justice. But now, the world is listening, our allies are showing up, and we are processing that in real time. Please do not interject white, good intentions into that experience by showing that you know something about our feelings, but you don’t know how to act with that sacred exposure.
Take Away Do’s & Don'ts
Do: Keep in mind you, if you are going to ask about a Black person’s self-care practices, only do so if you actually know them intimately. Now is not the time to probe into the ancient practices that have kept us going for 401+ years.
Don’t: Teach, whitesplain or try to educate a Black person on self-care.
Do: Send your love and support, as long as it is authentic. But, make sure you have self-reflected on the extent to which you are LOVING Black people through ACTION. How do you show your love for Black lives as a verb? You don’t need to share that in the check-in, but you should internally assess that, prior to presenting to a Black person.
Let me be clear, I am suggesting white allies be thoughtful and contextualize your check-ins with Black folks as you continue to grow in solidarity, so as not to cause unnecessary harm to relationships. I’m just offering, if the love is there, show it, in words and in deeds. Today, tomorrow, and everyday moving forward.