So my friend B wrote this blog. And then some amazing people responded to it. Absolutely all of those pieces of writing are worth reading. Every single one. So many brilliant things have been said about ableism, class, burnout, grassroots healing, and care.
I’ve been thinking about B’s piece a lot since I first read it a few days ago. I have had a lot of different responses and big emotions related to it since then, about privilege and other things, but right now what I’m thinking about is how different our roles in this conversation are. I’m thinking about how so much of this discussion is so relevant to our different relationships to heteropatriarchy, capitalism, and white supremacy. We with privilege tend to universalize our experiences, to mistakenly assume that what happens for us can be assumed to happen to others with less privilege. That’s one of the things B’s writing missed, while it also raises lots of important and challenging questions about what collective care really is and how we get there. So I want to respond, but this response has an audience. This response is directed towards white people, men, cisgendered people, straight people, middle/upperclass/rich people, people with ability privilege, people with citizenship status in the place where they live. There is so much incredible and challenging writing coming out right now about care from people of color, queer and trans people, disabled and chronically ill people, women, working class and poor people that we should be paying attention to and learning from. I don’t have much to add that hasn’t already been said and in more articulate and profound ways, but I want to ask those of us with privilege some questions about where we in particular stand in this conversation. So to people out there who experience privilege in one way or another, who are reading this, I say “Take a deep breath and keep going—disagree with me if you want, but please follow me through to the end. This is going somewhere and your defensiveness is worth overcoming.”
I don’t think we need to end self-care—that’s an intentionally provocative title that I’m not so interested in. We all deserve the time, the space, the support, and the resources to have a movement practice that works for our bodies, nourishing food, healers who we feel comfortable with, time for rest and reflection, safety, connection, and love. Healing our collective body, this world, involves healing our individual bodies, families, neighborhoods, communities, and movements. But in all this conversation about self-care and collective care, there are huge questions and silences we need to grapple with about how our various relationships to privilege relates to all this.
I’m in acupuncture school and the best way I can think to describe this is with an example from the way I am learning how bodies work. In the version of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) that I am learning, and that is taught in most acupuncture schools in the U.S., the Spleen is responsible for the transformation and transportation of food, nutrients, and fluids throughout the body. When your Spleen is deficient, you may have an over-accumulation of Dampness in your body, which can manifest in many different ways—say sinus congestion, bloating or fluid retention, swollen, achy joints. The way that you treat this condition with acupuncture or herbs is two-fold: you have to fortify the Spleen and get rid of the excess dampness. In the end, both treatment strategies are about bringing the body more into balance, although they are opposing techniques.
So with transforming care in our lives and in our world. Some of us who live at an intersection of more privilege in this world, be it because we are white, middle/upper class or rich, considered able-bodied by the world, straight, cisgendered and/or male, could stand to listen to B’s challenges about showing up for movements in deeper and more committed ways as part of truly realizing communities of care. I don’t think that means we shouldn’t take care of ourselves in the process, but maybe for us, who have so been taught that our comfort and ease is the most worthy thing, sometimes it’s good for the world and therefore good for us to skip a meditation session and do childcare at a meeting or go to a meeting instead.
For people with privilege, it is often so much easier for us to disengage from movements in order to “practice self-care” then it is to fully commit with our hearts, minds, and bodies to collective care, to healing justice, to communities of care that include all of us. I think there are parts of B’s piece that should hit home in deeply challenging ways for those of us who prioritize care of ourselves and our precious bodies over (and often at the expense of) the care of other people’s selves and equally precious bodies.
Yes, some of the ways I take care of myself are related to my own struggles with physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual health. And some of those ways are related to the particular way as a white person with class privilege I have been taught to prioritize myself. Everyone should be entitled to care, comfort, safety, and connection. Some of us have our right to exist denied and threatened every second. Some of us have never had that experience. Many of us exist in some complicated relationship to both of those realities.
There is a way that self-care in privileged communities can manifest as resource hoarding. I think about how much I learned in the predominantly-white DIY anarchist communities I used to be a part of about how to take care of myself outside of the medical industrial complex, about herbal medicine, how my body works, how to care for it in meaningful and self-determining ways. I think about how many others that I know from those worlds continue to learn and learn about healing work without ever facilitating the spread of that learning beyond a small, insular, and relatively-privileged social world. We learned other peoples’ traditional medicines and then we only shared with others like us. It’s not that those of us with privilege shouldn’t value our physical, emotional, spiritual, and mental health—it’s just that it is deeply embedded in our psyches that our individual health is 1. not related to the health of our community and 2. Of a higher priority than anything or anyone else.
So right now, I’m thinking about how reparations and resource redistribution apply to self-care and community care. How asking questions about what care reparations and healing resource redistribution can look like allows us to challenge our privilege as we transform how care works in the world. I want those of us who experience privilege to actually learn how not to over-value our well-being compared to the rest of the world’s. This plays out in subtle and intricate ways: because of how much privilege invisibilizes our position in the world, we may not see the many ways we CHOOSE self-care AT THE EXPENSE OF community-care.
I don’t think the answer to that is to “burn the midnight oil,” to work 18 hours a day for the movement. That replicates guilt, shame, and martyrdom that reinforce white supremacy to begin with. And it encourages us to continue to grow our movements based on some capitalist model that makes them look like industries, that leaves behind so many in our community (like kids, elders, parents, and people with disabilities to name a few) and leaves out anyone who can’t commit their whole live to organizing. But I do think one of the ways we confront privilege, is to question our emotional, spiritual, and physical comfort.
I think it’s important to say right now that we can’t ever know why anyone makes the choices that they make, nor is it ours to know. The spectrum of care that we choose and need to survive in this world is not something you can tell by looking at us. Disability justice and harm reduction teach us that resilience strategies in this world take many forms and are always acts of resistance. I’m not necessarily asking for us to start by questioning and judging each other’s self-care decisions. I’m asking others who experience some form of privilege to wrestle with the complicated questions about how the ways we take care of ourselves, each other, our communities, and our movements do or don’t move us closer to dignity, justice, and collective liberation. I’m asking other white people to question when they generalize their experiences, assuming that everyone “chooses” to practice self-care at the expense of movement work. I’m asking men to question thinking of knitting as counter-revolutionary. I’m asking other white women to question our complicated place at the intersection of misogyny and white supremacy, to look at the ways we have been taught to martyr ourselves as caregivers and also to prioritize our own comfort. I’m asking other people with privilege to consider the ways that each of us practices self-care as a way of hoarding resources, time, money, quiet, space, and then to consider the ways we could take care of ourselves and our communities by re-modeling our conception of care to include resource redistribution and reparations. How do we transform care not out of charity but out of deep solidarity, collaboration, and connection, an understanding that we are all in this together?
People with privilege, we have a lot of work to to make healing resource redistribution and care reparations. Maybe some of us do a little more childcare not just for meetings but also for acupuncture appointments, offer a little more transportation, pay higher on the sliding scale for our local healer or community clinic. B writes about a co-worker and he returning from a meditation retreat with hugely different access to quiet, reflective space and therefore ability to continue a practice of meditation and stretching. What if, more than an example of how broken our world is, that was an opportunity to share resources? What if B and his coworker had figured out a way for one to help with the others’ busy life one night a week, one to have access to quiet space to engage in reflection and rest? Sure, that’s a small response in the face of all that we are up against, but doesn’t this struggle need us to be working to transform it in so many big and small ways? Hand in Hand is an amazing example of people organizing around privilege and challenging that privilege in order to transform how care works.
Dori Midnight offered a beautiful vision the collective body that we are all a part of. What I want us to engage with is how do we get there: what will it take to move from a model of self-care that is often so individualized, that is often about those of us with lots of privilege taking even more time, space, and resources to increase our comfort? What will it take to get to what Dori describes? What is the role of people with privilege in helping to get us there?
We share beautiful visions of transforming care, building our communities into places where we are all cared for. And here we are today. We can dream big and vision and we are also trying to survive and fight and live and dream another day. Here we are, and we have a long way to go. We must recognize ourselves for who we are and where we are, now, today, in order to dream how to get from here to our visions of collective care.