When I was 12 years old, I fell in love with The Color Purple.
Alice Walker opened up a world that seemed to explain so much about my reality.
It explained why my father constantly explained that I needed to work twice as hard to be accepted.
After I finished The Color Purple, I found my way to The Bluest Eye and Beloved, I read up on Toussaint L’Ouverture and began to truly understand my legacy as a Haitian-American. I devoured the texts and they helped me grow into my own as a black woman in America.
The first thing I understood from my reading were the complications of my own legacy. It was infuriating.
It was like finally seeing the world in technicolor after always being told that the only colors which existed were black and white.
So I’ve spent 20 years in this technicolor world, trying to get other people to understand my reality, to understand the impact of the microagressions I dealt with on a daily basis.
In this era, with the deaths of Trayvon Martin, Sandra Bland, Islan Nettles, India Clarke and countless others, the work of bringing light to the injustices hidden in the darkness of our world seems impossible.
The work is crucial, and exhausting.
Life isn’t all unicorns and rainbows, there are dark spots and shadows too. Sometimes we don’t reach our goals and it’s not because we didn’t believe enough or work hard enough.
Sometimes I fall so far down the rabbit hole of social injustice that the world begins to look like a sea of oppression.
Such moments of despair probably sound familiar if you’re anything like me. The moments where existing and being our full self seems like a huge effort because of all the work we have to do to claim our space in this world. In these moments, we’re left with a dilemma: how can we continue to acknowledge all the injustices in the world and still find some rest? How do we engage in self-empowerment while being realistic about the ways injustices continually get in the way?
We’re living in a world where some folks couldn’t care less about our need to thrive, where inequity exists and good people get hurt for no apparent reason. There are limits to what we can do. All the compassion and faith in the world aren’t going to help us literally sprout wings and fly.
We all already know this. Our inner skeptics have probably have us believing that this is all there is to our story. All shadow, doom and gloom.
But, there is a deeper truth to hold on to.
The reality is that mixed in with all the horrors of this world are deep, powerful, pockets of hope. Of opportunity. Of passion and compassion overthrowing injustice.
As we build the lives we crave, our practice is to see both the shadow and the light. To say yes, injustice, poverty and discrimination exist, but each day people find a way to live a passion-filled life in the midst of it all.
And yes, you can do it too.
The key to dealing with oppression fatigue is to get back into balance, to force yourself to see the bright spots in this world in addition to the hard things. This is necessary not only to maintain your sanity, but to help restore your strength so you can help move the social justice movement forward when you’re ready.
Here are a few steps you can take to restore your internal balance:
1. Intentionally reduce the amount of traumatic information you take in.
In this era of 24/7 news cycle, it’s easy to gorge yourself on the facts and commentaries of every murder and injustice. Keep news-watching to a minimum and when you’re ready to return to the news world, watch coverage that comes from sources offering a nuanced, intelligent and racially-competent viewpoint.
2. Spend time with good and kind people.
The news of Sandra Bland’s death triggered my old fears that the world was only filled with folks who wanted to silence my voice. And while it’s true that we do not live in a post-racial world, there are still good and kind people out there. There are people who see the injustices in our country and do their best to fight against them. In the wake of Sandra Bland’s death, I saw people of all colors acknowledging their privilege, taking the initiative to organize rallies and protests.
Take the time to connect with people who are strong enough to spread love in a time of so much hate.
3. Spend time in silence.
Many spiritual traditions incorporate times of silence into their practices, and once you’ve tried turning everything off for five minutes, it’s clear why. Silence is a powerful tool for helping you to cut out others’ voices so you can reconnect to your own truth.
4. Find safe space to vent.
The anger and grief we feel in response to injustice is real and valid. It’s important to find safe and productive ways to feel those emotions so they can be processed and not stifled.
5. Reconnect with your body.
Take a walk and feel the wind brushing against your skin, feel the beauty of the sun. If there’s grass nearby, try taking off your shoes and feeling nature underneath your feet. Breathe in large full breaths. Reconnect with the beauty of this world. Such beauty is always there for you to access whenever you need it and can remind you of the bigger picture of connection and compassion.
Slowly, we’ll heal and return to a space of spiritual strength so we can take wise steps toward justice.
Author: Marsha Philitas
Apprentice Editor: Gabriella Sweezey/Editor: Katarina Tavčar
Photo: AK Rockeleffer/Flickr