What is #selfcare and why should white people choose a different phrase?
Updated: Jun 26
I'd like to share with you something I just learned recently. We've all heard the phrase "self care," especially during the pandemic. My friends, the companies I buy from, even some of the shows I watch- everyone has been using this term to describe acts of kindness toward yourself. Think bath soaks, tea, naps. But what is this term really about? Where did it come from?
Let me introduce you to the Nap Ministry. Founded in 2016 by Tricia Hersey, it is an organization that examines the 'liberating power of naps.' They believe that 'rest is a form of resistance and reparations.' (Give them a follow on Instagram!) But this idea is not new. The idea of self-care as resistance can be traced back to the 1960s, when the Black Panther Party and other civil rights activists popularized the term. When we reflect on activism of this time, we tend to remember dissent and resistance in the form of marches and protests; but did you know that community care was (and is) central to the mission of social justice activists? And it makes sense; historically Black people and other communities of color have had unequal access to healthcare and social services, and so they've needed to build community resources from the ground up. Community and self care are of survival as much as acts of love. As they became more popular, these practices also became a way to disrupt the capitalist/white supremacist culture that insists (and relies) on the constant labor of marginalized groups and sustain the generations-long fight for social justice. Self care continues to serve these purposes. The Nap Ministry believes rest is 'a spiritual practice, a racial justice issue and a social justice issue.' Says Hersey, founder: "I began experimenting with these ideals as a way to connect with my Ancestors, to receive a Word from them and to honor my body via rest for the rest they never were able to embody... This is about more than naps."
Centering reparations in their ideology, the Nap Ministry believes that marginalized groups (especially Black women) must give themselves the space for rest and leisure they've never been allowed since the time of slavery. Generational trauma requires intentional self healing. THAT is self care. As so often happens, the history and true purpose of the practice of self care has been overshadowed by white people's desire to use the phrase. This is called appropriation. We like something - a practice, a hair style, a dance, a word or phrase - from another culture, we take it, we 'make it our own.' Think Adam Levine with cornrows. Yuck. So let's think about this in relation to "self care." This practice was born as, and continues two be, radical resistance by Black people and other marginalized groups. Do I really need to use it to describe my Sunday afternoon reading session with a cup of tea? Let's honor the history of the term and acknowledge the significance of words moving forward by finding a different phrase. My friends and I have landed on "me time." What will you choose? - Adelaide Fuller