Balancing self- and emotional-preservation while participating in the ongoing fight against racial injustice as a white person.

This is a post for those of us who are WHITE and know that is it imperative that we FIGHT against the anti-Black, anti-POC, racist SYSTEM, and simultaneously feel we have a barrier to fighting whether mental illness, trauma, emotional sensitivity.

Our barrier is a barrier but it’s not a shutdown.

If any of the following apply to you, you’re in the right place:

  • you want to participate and likely already have
  • you feel that you’re not doing enough because you’re not able to keep up with others’ efforts
  • you KNOW that you cannot and will not look the other way
  • you don’t want to find yourself using your mental illness as an excuse not to fully participate — but you admit that it’s possible you are
  • you are lost in finding ways to participate with your full self
  • you’re aware of your white privilege as you try to avoid and/or disengage from current events
  • you are scared of contributing only performative actions that do nothing and mean nothing in the long term, because maybe a re-share is all you can do right now
  • you know what’s right but you want to do it “right,” accurately, ethically, respectfully, compassionately, meaningfully and intentionally.

There is a way to care for yourself and participate fully, to do the necessary work, and do the work necessary to do that work.

I hope that this post would give you some info to chew on that will allow you to assess your participation and participation capacity, and reexamine what participation looks like for you.  Some of you will walk away feeling better — that yes, you are doing what you can.  But I want encourage the you-alls to, once you’re comfortable in your level of participation, do something a li’l uncomfy.  You have work to do.

And some of you will walk away feeling ashamed and embarrassed, realizing you’ve been using your mental illness and white privilege as an excuse to disengage.  You have work to do. Let’s get cooking.

STRATEGY/IDEA 1 is understanding your participation capacity, which includes the time, emotional energy, and physical and mental abilities available to you.

If you’re still reading, you’re probably like me, and you feel significant pressure to make big strides — fast.  To engage 24/7.  To do what others are doing, because it seems helpful and right and good.  The reality is you know you’re going to get burned out, avoidant, crabby, sleepless, unproductive, too angry for your own good.

Before using the following quote, I want to give you some context. Audre Lorde is a self-described black, lesbian, mother, warrior, and poet and author of the quote. This quote is particularly important and cited often among Black women, women who often pour from an empty cup. Again, I want to make sure that the context of this quote is known. Instead of rewording or repackaging the sentiment of Lorde’s poignant quote, I included it in its entirety.

Caring for myself is not self-indulgence.  It is self-preservation.  And that is an act of political warfare.

Audre Lorde

Let that wash over you.

In short, understanding your participation capacity is asking the question: How much can I take?

This takes bit of 

  • trial and error, experimentation.  What images, videos, stories can you take in? In what context?  How many?  What speaks (or encourages) you into activism, and what makes you shrug away from it?
  • boundary setting.  Media consumption, social media scrolling, bedtime.
  • reflection. What has my activism looked like in the past?  How did it work out for me?  How have I participated in the fight this week?  How did I feel?  Could I have done more?

We want those fighting to be contributing with their full selves.  Find out what that means for you. It could change, BTW, so check in with yourself often.

STRATEGY/IDEA 2 is understanding what constitutes participation.

Protests are wonderful.  And political rallies and fundraising events.  Any big event likely the most visible to passersby and the media.  But it would be dumb to believe that those are the only right way, the best way, the most important way to participate and make headway in human rights.   What makes change is the combination of a sweeping variety of efforts, in all realms, at once. The Tipping Point, anyone?  

A person who has attended marches and rallies and fundraisers, why wasn’t I participating in local protests?  Clearly I am complacent!  And stagnant and apathetic and disengaged! Well, that’s what it’s like in my brain.  That classic all-or-nothing thinking.

Until the list of petitions and names of local gov officials and books and movies and podcasts and Black creators started circulating on social media. Then I remembered, ah, yes.  The million other ways to fight that we cannot forget about. The sweeping variety of efforts, in all realms, at once:

My advice to you is to pick one or two actions that are up your ally (yes, a double meaning) and really do them.  Like really do them.  Not in a performative way.  Not in the short term.  Not for a month. DO, COMMIT, SUSTAIN one or two in the long term, because that action makes sense for you, and it’s sustainable for you and will make a difference over time:

  • protest in your town
  • talk to your younger siblings or cousins
  • talk to your Black friends
  • talk to your white friends
  • sign petitions that are right for you.  I personally signed two local-to-me petitions with which I have a personal connections and can see if they affect change
  • examine race in your organization and job (I work in a school district…if that is not the PLACE to make CHANGE)
  • seek education — Pick up a book by a BIPOC author. It doesn’t need to be about a heavy topic, either.
  • research what’s necessary, and research what’s interesting (example: you’re interested in mental health, so you research with a mental health lens)
  • look inward, journal
  • collect or make donations
  • put pressure on your local schools, police stations, businesses and governments for systemic change
  • create art
  • do some online shopping to support Black-owned businesses
  • post on social media — but (in my opinion) not if it’s going to be performative. And not if it’s not coupled with other action.

STRATEGY/IDEA 3 is pressing the gas.

When getting from point A to point B, you literally can’t just go 60 miles/hour. There are going to be stoplights or traffic or some merging or bad weather or an accident. But you still have to press the gas almost the entire time the whole way there.

You might need to hit a stop sign and hit the brake for a minute. That doesn’t mean that’s it. It means you hit a stop sign and hit the brake for a minute, then continue onto your destination.

If and when you make it to a more emotionally stable state (meaning you can actually do things during the day (movement-related or not), you feel resilient, you feel semi-productive, you can take in information): encourage yourself to try one of the ways that makes you feel a li’l  less comfortable. Or add an additional action to your list.

That’s how we keep pressing the gas.

Oh and BTW — this is the least we can do.


Black Mental Health Matters.  Black Lives Matter.  Save Black Lives.

2 thoughts on “Balancing self- and emotional-preservation while participating in the ongoing fight against racial injustice as a white person.”

    1. thanks queen!!! I am reading white fragility which you mentioned in your latest post and I feel like I need to edit my post to back up my few comments about stamina. the author emphasizes that white people haven’t had to build up the stamina to endure racial discomfort the way people of color have. and so therefore it’s no wonder lots of white people disengage or deflect as a coping mechanism


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