Stay Woke and Stay Whole: Giving Ourselves the Space to be Free

Posted September 28, 2015 by Camille Borders

A group of holds a Black Lives Matter Sign

As activists, we are taught how to become conscious. We are shown statistics, given books and attend trainings to give ourselves a full understanding of the way institutionalized oppression works in our world. But what happens once our consciousness is raised and we are aware?

“To be black and conscious in America is to be in a constant state of rage.”

-James Baldwin

This quote is written on a post-it attached to my mirror. I look at it everyday, as I get ready for school. His words push me to be aware of the world and the implicit and explicit ways oppression manifests itself. Though Baldwin perfectly articulates the frustration of living in a world grounded in white supremacy, colonization and the commodification of black bodies, he doesn’t tell us how to live in this world. Living in this world means moving beyond the rage.

 Don’t live within the Rage

As humans we need to process emotions. It is necessary to feel pain, sadness, trauma and happiness to there full extent. But we need to be very aware of how we let things like anger and rage manifest in our daily lives.

I was on the phone with my mother the other day talking about how I am not as happy as I use to be. I explained to her that at some moments the world is so overwhelmingly sad that I feel unable to function. I told her that I am more angry than I have ever been in my life.

I think this is typical of individuals that are confronted with the realities of systematic oppression in their daily lives and within their community organizing. .

Rage and anger are emotions that need to be felt. They have revolutionary power within them and can be catalysts for radical change. But activist do not need to live within them. We should not and can not live within rage.

As my eloquent mother articulated: When we let anger become our essence we lose the very things we are fighting for.

How do we cope?

Know your foundation

My mom often tells me this story about when I was around six years old in kindergarten. I was outside playing in the sand box and there was another child that was being bullied by a group of kids. The story goes that I went up to the other group of kids and said, “That’s not very nice, everyone should be allowed to play.” My mother cites this incident as the start of my journey fighting for equality and justice (usually said with a touch of sarcasm).

I used to dismiss the above anecdote as insignificant, just a story that my mother had catalogued away to tell. But, recently I have been reflecting on why I do what I do. Exploring the roots of my progressive politics, takes me this story and my core values of treating everyone fairly and with respect. This looking backwards acts a way for me to ground myself in experiences rather than anger at a system and it reminds me that one act can make a difference.

Exercise Self-Care

“Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.”

-Audre Lorde

Recognizing the visceral impact that violent acts of systematic oppression have on us is hard work. Sometimes we ignore our exhaustion in favor of continually pushing for change in our communities.  But we must be honest and realize that to do the work that needs to be done; the actions, the protests, the op-eds and constant vigilance we need to be healthy whole humans.  A friend of mine told me “broken people can’t fix broken systems” and this truth has stuck with me.

That is why self-care is political.  Taking time to check in with ourselves is the most important part of providing the fire for change.  For me this means writing poetry, watching Netflix, talking to my friends and dreaming.  Sometimes just closing my eyes and thinking about the countless possibilities in the future gives me peace.

We must all find a balance between the work and taking care of ourselves, and sometimes they can be one in the same.

We must not only stay woke but also stay whole.