Browse Tag: activism

Response to “An End to Self Care”: How About “An End to the Activist Martyr Complex?”

An articled called, An End to Self Carewas recently published on Organizing Upgrade, in which an activist proposed bringing an end to the individualism behind “self-care” and, instead, called for community care.

The author, B. Loewe, made his point about not privileging the self over the group (part of which I agree with to some degree), he even cited women of color such as Audre Lorde (who said, “Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.”).

Yet, despite several points that resonated, a few of which a friend of his outlined here, B. Loewe’s response, along with the many thumbs up he got for writing that piece, also reminded me why I’ve made it a point to stay away from activist spaces; why the spaces in which I once found affinity ended up becoming one of the biggest threats to my mental health.

After a day of being repeatedly triggered and pissed off by the callous debate surrounding B. Loewe’s article, I needed to get this off my chest. So, here’s my emotionally drained, sleepy, and over it response. Forgive the free-form. I originally posted this as a semi-rant on Tumblr.

The Martyr Complex Driving Self Care Critics (and Response to The Article, “An End to Self Care“) 

I have a hunch that tells me: the degree of individualism put into one’s self care practice may correspond to the degree with which they are responsible for others (and how many).

I’m an activist and community organizer, a small scale public figure if we must. My work, life, nearly everything is about giving to others, uplifting others, nourishing others. Because of this, I’ve been forced to build self care into my daily routine, my natural rhythm (which is actually a good thing — everyone should), otherwise I’ll run out of battery.

Self care, for me, isn’t a trip to the beach, or an expensive yoga retreat; it’s getting 7 vs. 5 hours of sleep on a good day; it’s eating at least 2 meals a day, when I can afford the time (and expense); it’s time spent with an inner circle of close friends and confidants who don’t know me as “Spectra who writes”, but the introverted lightweight. Self care, for me, isn’t a luxury by any means; it is a basic need, a necessary part of my being.

Yet, despite these realities, the question people have been asking for the past few days is this: Is Self Care Individualist Or Revolutionary?

On the rare occasion that I need a day off, and can actually afford to take one (note: I work for myself, I don’t get a steady paycheck that makes me forget that I have the privilege of prioritizing my job –er, I mean–community care– over my mental health), I should be able to take a day off. But I often cannot.

An hour nap turns into an hour obsessing over what things I “really” need to do for others, because activist spaces have made it okay to model their “transformational spaces” after a non-sustainable, unhealthy system of “accountability” that not only guilt trips people into feeling bad about having to tend to their recovery, or their lower capacity due to disability, but literally whips them back to work under the falsehood of promised rejuvenation “if done right.” No. This is not okay.

I feel no different when I read posts like these than I did when I was working as a consultant in corporate america and the boss would send me emails on my “sick days” asking if I’d gotten a chance to review those documents, because, you know, above all, we gotta make sure we think of the company…. Last I checked, activists in the non-profit industry were accusing corporations of being greed, exploitative, blood-sucking a**holes who didn’t care about “people”, just “money.” I’m ashamed to say that after years of working with people in the non-profit industry, there’s not that much difference; just replace money with “self-righteous political agendas.”

To be completely honest, when I think about the times when I’ve been at my lowest and most strained, it’s been due to other activist guilt-tripping me into over-extending myself for some agenda I don’t even remember signing up for.

I’m lucky that I’ve been able to find others like myself, who believe just as much in caring for their communities as they do taking care of themselves, not necessarily as interdependent ideologies, but because — dare I say it — it’s possible to want to improve the world and have other interests that are not necessarily connected, including your own dreams, ambitions, peace of mind. God forbid the word “self” ever finds its way into the mouth of an activist. God forbid we actually practice the “self-love” slogans we slap on so many protest signs.

I could go on and on about this, but, for me, the bottom line is this: People should be able to take a day off without having to justify to themselves or anyone else for that matter, why they’re doing it.

Yes, there are self-absorbed, privileged people in the world that have commercialized real survival tactics (eg. self-care practices like mine just so I can be at level ZERO) and throw the term around just to get out of responsibilities, or because it’s so indie and “cool” to “take a day.” But selfcare for me, and so many others, comes from a real legitimate need. And I won’t submit to the idea that I should only ever advocate for self-care using the “acceptable martyr” complex prevalent in so many self-righteous activist spaces  i.e. “it’s not just for me, but for the community.” Bullshit.

I’ve lived with depression my entire life; I know for a fact that my default “level” is not as high as someone who doesn’t have to worry about their hormonal imbalances; I need to be militant about taking care of myself or I simply will not be able to function as a human being, period; not just as an activist. So anyone calling for an end to self-care, especially if it’s accompanied with an “unless it’s for the community” clause, clearly doesn’t give a rip about me, or anyone else that doesn’t fit into their superhero archetype.

But martyrdom, and disabilities aside; I’m an activist that has paid her dues. I’ve sweat and toiled over the communities I love for years, for nothing in return, simply because, I have love for my people. But I have love for me, too. So the idea that I don’t get to give myself a day when I need to, for none other than, I want to, quite honestly pisses me off.

If I need a day to regroup so that I don’t burn out, collapse, or get to a point where I’m no longer functional as a partner to my spouse, to my siblings, my parents, to my dog, or as the arbiter of my own dreams and aspirations,  then I need a day, period. I make no bloody apologies for wanting to survive through my militant compassion for the world.

Finding Common Ground (Part 1): Why Aren’t More Activists Collaborating?

Based on how often marginalized people talk about the power of “community”, especially within the realm of grassroots activism, one would imagine the non-profit industry would have evolved into a flourishing ecosystem of recyclable free-flowing skills, bartered services, and shared progressive ideas by now.

Yet, when you think about how many grassroots groups and non-profit organizations are working on the same exact issues and, unfortunately, due to this overcrowding, are often fighting each for resources in an unhealthily competitive manner (e.g. hoarding funding opportunities, barring access to resources, guarding intellectual capital, etc.) it’s easy to conclude that, often enough, this is not the case.

Let me put this in context: there is a funding crisis, everywhere; not just in the US or in the UK, or even in Africa, but globally.

In the U.S., the financial crisis didn’t just negatively impact the wall street suits, or even the industrial blue-collars, but the many grantmaking foundations that have provided the steady source of funding to non-profits for years. As a result of Wall Street’s snafu, a number of foundations have needed to significantly reduce the size of their grants; a few of the larger ones have even merged. As I’m quickly learning via my ongoing Southern Africa social media project, the effect of this can be felt all the way across the Atlantic Ocean, too. Downes Murray International, an African fundraising consulting firm writes:

“While some major Western donors to Africa, like the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, plan to maintain or increase their giving, many are scaling back their efforts in Africa in order to concentrate shrinking resources on projects closer to home.”

Here in South Africa, in an attempt to slow down the funding drain, governments have significantly cut back subsidies for critical social services, beefed up funding requirements and tightened up monitoring and evaluation practices, creating a domino effect of non-profits cutting back on most of their programming, or shutting down completely.

Even outside the non-profit industrial complex, grassroots groups are feeling the pinch of the financial crisis. In a recent online fundraising workshop I hosted, an attendee complained about being inundated with messages from “too many smaller, community groups all asking for support for the same issue.”

The harsh reality is that under the current economic conditions, many not-for-profit organizations have just two choices: adapt or die.

After years of dependency on government aid and foundation grants, non-profits are being forced to operate more like businesses (e.g. diversify their revenue streams, reduce overhead while increasing output etc) just to keep their heads above water.

Ironically, non-profit professionals may have to adopt a few strategies from the same “capitalists” in the corporate sector they once characterized as greedy and selfish for their unwavering focus on profitability and expansion. Yet, if this means, sustainability and wider reach for organizations striving for long-term social impact, could this shift towards running more like a business be such a bad thing?

Due to the funding crisis, complete dependency on charity, government, and in the case of Africa, foreign aid, is no longer an option. And, quite frankly, the non-profit industry could do with a good dose of the kind of survivalist creativity that’s prevalent in the corporate sector, such as collaborating with other players to pool resources, using strategic partnerships with similar organizations to strengthen service offerings, or even merging to widen their reach (or prevent closing up shop completely).

Just to be clear, I’m not suggesting that activists and non-profits should only ever consider collaboration as simply a tactic to navigate financial crises; organizations, especially the ones working with communities that are particularly marginalized, constantly under-resourced, and over-looked for more traditional forms of support, should already be working together, not just to save money, but for the sake of furthering their collective missions.

We have a moral obligation as people who are working towards social justice, to always choose the path that maximizes our social impact and/or increases our sustainability, regardless of what the economy is doing.

So, again, why aren’t more non-profits collaborating? What have we got to lose by working together? Why isn’t collaboration not happening as frequently as we suggest it should, especially when we have so much to gain? I hope to explore some of these questions in part two of this series.

Got an opinion on that? Why do you think we have so many activists, non-profits, and social impact initiatives doing similar work, yet not working together? Ego? Time and resources? Lack of awareness? Are you an individual activist doing social justice work? What has kept you (or turned you off) from collaborating in the past? What do you see as the “cons” for collaborating (as there are certainly a few). Note: This is a no judgment zone. Please share freely, as the conversation around collaboration is important for us to have if we are to move forward.

In Memory of David Kato: We Will NOT Abandon Hope for Fear

So what now?
Lay down our swords? Fight with armor instead?
Who will be left to fight when we all end up dead?
– Journal Entry, 1/27/11

Last night, I received the news from one of my peers that one of us, a fellow African and LGBT activist, David Kato, had been brutally murdered at his home in Uganda.

Something about the way I received the news cut more deeply than all the other hate crimes that the media covered last year: several email forwards from other LGBT African activists I knew, Facebook status updates from friends who knew him personally, text messages of condolences, missed skype phone calls…

A year ago, I would’ve been part of a community of activists that were “outraged” at such a terrible crime. I may have even written a post condemning the destructive influence of the tabloid paper which outed several gay Ugandans (by publishing their photos and addresses, with the words “Hang Them!”), and called for all of us to acknowledge the power of media, and to contribute our own voices so that we can influence change positively.

However, a year of aggressive networking, coalition building, and supportive friendships with other LGBT Africans, both in the US and outside of it, has placed me closer to the frontlines of the struggle for acceptance; the fact that there were just  two degrees of separation between my own life and David’s murder is a harsh reality I’m still trying to absorb. I no longer have the privilege of being a passionate spectator. I’m part of a global community of activists who are deeply saddened, in mourning, and filled with so much fear…

When I read the news, I immediately thought of one of my friends, who’s presently seeking asylum in the United States after escaping just what may have been just as brutal an outcome for her in Kenya last year. That was so close, I thought. I may have never known her. I thought about the power Nigeria had just given back to traditional rulers in the spirit of preserving culture and respecting older  traditions, an act that empowered one of the rulers in Abia (Ibo land, where my mother is from) to put forth a law not just ostracizing persons who are “confirmed homosexuals”, but stoning them to death as well. My grandfather still lives there and he doesn’t know about me.

I thought of the last conversation I had with my mother. She’d told me, “Don’t come home,” and I’d gotten so angry. How could she tell me not to return home to my own country? At the time, I admonished her for letting her fear of what others would say cloud her judgment. I was her daughter after all. If she loved me unconditionally as she said, she wouldn’t care what anyone else said. She’d support me, no matter what.

“Why do you have to play Moses?” she’d said to me when I told her about joining the board of the Queer African Youth Network and shared my plans for organizing in Nigeria. “Why do you always have to be the one championing  everything? I didn’t ask for this.” What I didn’t understand until last night, when I received the news of David’s murder, was that my mother wasn’t just afraid of what people would say about her; she was afraid of what people would do, to me.

After hearing about David’s brutal murder — his head bashed in with a hammer in his own home — I keep hearing her voice in my head. Her words are on loop, piercing my morale in different places. I’m still trying to come to terms with all of this.

I visit home once a year, and each time I do, I return with funny stories about feeling oppressed: being forced to wear dresses and loud earrings, suffering through silly kitchen table conversations about wives who don’t know how to prepare egwusi soup for their husbands, and of course being asked over and over again when I’m going to get married. The anecdotes are relatable enough; a girl from a small town in Maine or Kansas could report similar injustices over Thanksgiving dinner. I realize that I’ve only ever recounted these stories with humor because it’s too painful to talk about the fear I have of what might happen if I don’t smile through it all. As a result, what my friends routinely fail to grasp is the severity of the repercussions should this ‘small town girl’ refuse to conform. There are terrible consequences for being who you are and they’re way worse than being uninvited to next year’s Thanksgiving dinner.

I don’t get to just “do me” at home in a fit of individualist rebellion. I’d be risking way more than just societal acceptance, and even way more than just my life; by writing and speaking as much as I do, I’m already risking the safety and livelihood of my parents and my sister (who reside in Nigeria and depend on their social network for a variety of resources), and anyone else who stands by me.

So, what now? Do I cower at the thought of being murdered during a visit home? Shut down my blog and abandon all hope for fear? Do I give up on reuniting with my family for longer than two weeks at a time every couple of years, dreading that in the interim, someone will discover who I am and bring shame (or worse) to my family? Can I hide behind glass and watch from a distance as people all around me are dying, when my voice and visibility can at least offer support and affirmation that they are beautiful as they are and do not deserve the cruelties under which they are suffering…

I turn to a quote from a press release from the ILGA for inspiration:

[David said] ‘I can’t run away and leave the people I am protecting. People might die, but me, I will be the last one to run out of here’. “David Kato did not run, and he died. We cannot leave his work undone” Gloria Careaga stressed.

No doubt David’s brave words will resonate with activists and community organizers all over the world. His words along with Gloria’s call to action are enough to get me out of my rut, even though I am still sad, and still afraid. The truth is that even though, like so many other activists, I’m still trying to figure out my place in all of this, one thing is absolutely certain: I must do something. We must do something. We must NEVER abandon hope for fear.

Dear David, in honor of the sacrifice you’ve made for all of us, I will do my part to support the movement you helped propel forward by daring to be bold enough for those who do not have the privilege to be so bold. I will continue to push through my fear to be visible to those who need to see me, to speak to those who need to hear me, to support those who I can directly. In honor of your work and all the others who have died before (and will continue to die) after you, I will NEVER stop speaking. I will never stop fighting. Your death will NOT be in vain.

To My African Diaspora, whether or not you are part of the LGBTQ community or not, it is your responsibility to stand in solidarity with the human rights organizations that are fighting against the injustices being committed against LGBTQ Africans every day. Do NOT join the ranks of the “Aww”-givers, who sit cross-legged on their sofas as they watch the daily news. Africans are Africans, period. Those are YOUR people that are dying. We are ONE community. We MUST stand together in the face of all this injustice and we must speak out and support each other, from wherever we are, in whatever capacity we can. WE are the only people that can rescue Africa from this mess. The future of our Africa is in our hands.

And finally, to activists, concerned citizens, allies, friends, etc. Please consider making a donation to The Queer African Youth Network. Here is a Donation Link. Signing petitions against ‘corrective rape’ online won’t change much. But your dollars supporting an organization that is coalition building in countries around Africa and providing resources to LGBTQ Africans worldwide just might…


Plugin from the creators ofBrindes Personalizados :: More at PlulzWordpress Plugins