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A Cycle to Sustain Anti-Racism Work

Updated: Apr 29, 2021


Introduction

Millions of white people are becoming aware of racism as an evil in the United States since the murder of George Floyd. Many black, people of color, and white’s protested across America and around the world (cityjournal.org). Pushing businesses, institutions, education, and the media to articulate their position: with black lives or against black lives. And as a result, many organizations have pledged in solidarity with the black community. Amherst College president Carolyn “Biddy” Martin announced that the “virulent anti-black racism in this country has never NOT been obvious, and yet there are those who continue to deny it.” Martin was making a plea, she said, “to white people in particular, to acknowledge the reality of anti-black racism, its long history, and its current force; to recognize how embedded it is in our institutional structures, social systems, and cultural norms; and to assume our responsibility for ending it” (amherest.edu).

At the peak of the revolutionary protest many people donated money to black businesses, others posted learnings on social media, and some advocated for their black colleagues at work and started book clubs. But after a few months passed, there became a clear sense of burnout. Suddenly the heaviness of the recent murders and the colossal problem of racism, seemed too much to bear – a common feeling most activist feel. Racial justice activists endure a variety of stressors that could impact their abilities to remain engaged and effective in their activism. Some face violence, or threats of violence, from institutions or individual’s hostile to their activism, including law enforcement officers (Davenport et al., 2011). Cher Weixia, an associate professor of legal studies, social justice and human rights at the School of Integrative Studies at George Mason University said, “Sometimes you can have depression, and sometimes it's this very real feeling of hopelessness,” “All of this adds up together to a chronic phenomenon of activist burnout” (Being Black in America, NPR.org).


Activist burnout is real. The collective spark against police brutality after the murder of George Floyd, dwindled into a moment rather than a movement. Some activists write about burnout and describe it as common; others preach self-care. Devon Price, writer of the article, of ‘How to End Activist Burnout shared an insane comment by someone he interviewed related to grief being the cause of burnout. The interviewer said,

“I think a lot of the conversation about activist burnout is actually about grieving,” the interviewer told him, “about being really able and willing to just sit in this space of, ‘this is fucking awful. And there might not be anything I can do to solve this.’’


And that comment might be true when we look at the problem in one picture but what if we created a puzzle out of the picture and replaced I with us? What if we let go of perfectionism and embraced our mistakes? What we openly followed a cycle that helped us sustain our activism and protect our energy while building community?


Anti-racism is a lifestyle. One that we must assume and not one we must arrive to once we're 100% anti-racist. We must choose now to become who we want to be, better humans. Ijeoma Oluo says it best. She says, “The beauty of anti-racism is that you don’t have to pretend to be free of racism to be an anti-racist. Anti-racism is the commitment to fight racism wherever you find it, including in yourself. And it’s the only way forward.” And it is this line of thinking that pushed me to research cycles to sustain anti-racism work.

_____________ The beauty of anti-racism is that you don’t have to pretend to be free of racism to be an anti-racist. Anti-racism is the commitment to fight racism wherever you find it, including in yourself. And it’s the only way forward." — Ijeoma Oluo _____________

Video of activist titled: How to Handle Burnout When Fighting Racism highlight’s self- care and leaning into joy as a solution for fighting activism however, there are few processes in place to help activist and anti-racist organize these resources. From my research, I’ve learned that there are many articles and journals full of tips and findings around how to avoid burnout, but fewer processes, cycles and companies dedicated to support racial justice activist and anti- racist to sustain their work. Until I found the blueprint from the Toussaint Louverture, the main character from my upcoming book, A Generational Cry Based on the True Story of the Haitian Revolution.

The Rising Up Process

The cycle of sustaining anti-racism work revealed itself to me through the life of Toussaint Louverture. The Haitian revolutionary leader who united the freedom fighters into one army to fight against the Spanish, British, and later the French. The Rising Up Process is a 7-step cycle, I believe can help people fighting against racism protect their energy and manage burnout.


Know Your Why

We have to begin with why. Start by asking yourself the following question: what is your why statement for making anti-racism a lifestyle? Take time to think it through and write it down. This is the first step that creates a foundation for the core values of your work. Knowing your why enables you to live a value-based life. With purpose come values, which are an integral aspect of a person’s life. Values are the rules that guide our decisions in life and help define our goals. They are what tell us when we’re on the right path or wrong path and help us find and connect with others who share our way of viewing the world (Erin Scarlett, Your Why Matters).


Be Self-Aware

Once we understand why we want to fight against racism, we need to dive into our what in order to become self-aware about our personal relationship with racism. What is your relationship with racism? Write down the answers to these questions and process what they mean. Have you internalized racial inferiority, oppression or racial superiority or white supremacy? Write down your answers to these questions. When you do this, you will begin the process of facing yourself to determine your rooted beliefs, behaviors, and emotions as Dr. Annice E. Fisher, CEO and Founder of Developing Capacity Coaching and The BEE FREE Woman, teaches in her framework.

Build Alignment

As an anti-racist, aligning yourself with the definitions you’re fighting is critical. There are centuries and decades of research about racism to pull from. I recommend starting with the last twenty years. Racism is Social and Institutional Power + Race Prejudice. Therefore, it is a system of advantage based on race. Therefore, it is a system of oppression based on race. Therefore, itis a white supremacy system supported by an all-class collaboration called "white" created to end cross-racial labor solidarity Racism is different from racial prejudice, hatred, or discrimination. Racism involves one group having the power to carry out systematic discrimination through the major institutions of society. Racism is a system. (Dismantling Racism, pg. 2.) When building alignment with the definition of racism, ask yourself these questions: What is your personal definition of racism? Where did you get your information from? Have you confirmed your sources are centered around the lived experiences of others as well as industry research? Who have you allowed to influence around this topic? Why? In doing so, you will surprise yourself and sink your teeth in your understanding of what you’re working against and making a lifestyle.

Determine Your Role

Here’s where we dig deeper into your personal and professional life. The reality is that many of us cannot do everything or protest, but we can make an impact in the system we’re a part of. Begin this step by asking yourself the following question: What system are you apart of? Have you thought through ways to disrupt racism starting with your workplace, neighborhood, and or school etc.? Narrowing your focus is the beginning to maximizing your impact and protecting your energy. The key is discovering opportunities to be anti-racist in your current lifestyle then expanding your reach as you involve yourself deeper into the work. The social change ecosystem is a tool to dig deeper. Deepa Iyer, founder of the Building Movement Project and creator of the social change framework writes, “in our lives and as part of movements and organizations, many of us play different roles in pursuit of equity, shared liberation, inclusion, and justice. And yet, we often get lost and confused, or we are newcomers to ongoing social change efforts and don’t know where to start, or we are catalyzed into action in the midst of a crisis in our community (Building Movement.org). This is a framework that can help individuals, networks, and organizations align and get in right relationship with social change values, individual roles, and the broader ecosystem.

Educate Yourself

At first glance, this step may seem easy but after understanding the system you’re a part of, easy goes out the window. Think about where you work, where you go to church, what groups and or associations you’re connected to –these are systems. Whether you work as an educator, a retail clerk, football coach or an entrepreneur, you’re connected to a system that can use your help to be anti-racist. Start by asking yourself the following questions: How can you begin researching the history of the system you're apart of to prepare yourself to make an impact? What opportunities exist within the system for you to begin doing the work?

Join A Community

Systems and companies sometimes have anti-racist groups, diversity teams, or people within your group who want to be anti-racist. If you can’t find one for photographers, create one. Begin by asking yourself the following questions: what group within your system is fighting against racism? How can each of you support and hold each other accountable when practicing anti- racism work? How can you collaborate?


Rest and Wellness

Remember the Rising Up Process is a cycle and rest, and wellness is essential and should be practiced daily. Begin by asking yourself the following questions: what is your daily, weekly, and monthly routine to pour into yourself physically, spiritually, emotionally and mentally? How can you use this cycle to point people back to themselves and protect your energy? To conclude, it is my gift to the millions of people who marched across the world for justice for the murder of George Floyd. This is my gift to the long-term activist and grass root organizations fighting against racism every day. To the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion partitioners who’ve worked facilitating implicit bias workshops before it was popular, and to the people around the world who are fighting against racism in the system they’re a part of. This cycle is for you. I want to recognize I am standing on the shoulders of many brilliant minds, scholars, researchers, writers, and activist before me and that this process is one of many tools and resources that can help activist. The difference is the blueprint founded in a revolutionary leader, Toussaint Louverture.





RESOURCES: Articles and Journals:

  1. Dismantling Racism: A Resource Book

  2. Avoid Activist Burnout and Sustain Your Commitment to Community

  3. How to Avoid Activist Burnout

  4. Racism, whiteness, and burnout in anti-racism movements: How white racial justice activists elevate burnout in racial justice activists of color in the United States

  5. Black Activist Burnout: 'You Can't Do This Work If You're Running On Empty'

  6. Activist Burnout is Real

  7. Effective Activism Tactics

  8. Activism and Avoiding Burnout

  9. When Dismantling Power Dismantles You

  10. 4 Reasons Why Activist Burnout

  11. Dealing With Or Preventing Activist Burnout

  12. Your Why Matters

  13. Dismantling Racism: A Resource book

  14. Self-Care and Anti-Racism

  15. Taking A Spiritual Approach to Anti-Racist Work

  16. There is No Wellness Without Anti-Racism

  17. Anti-Racism and Wellness Workout

  18. How the Fitness Industry can move towards Anti-Racism

  19. Link Between Health and Racism

  20. Tool Kit for Teaching About Racism

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