This week is LIS Mental Week. Founded last year by two people I absolutely adore, Cecile Walker and Kelly McElroy, it’s a time for those of us in the library and information profession to learn, share, and support one another when it comes to mental health issues affecting us and our families.
With what’s happening in our world and the immense weight of social justice work nowadays, it is absolutely vital that we be able to talk openly and unabashedly about our mental health. As a black woman and a practicing Christian who also suffers from anxiety, OCD, and panic disorders, I know all too well the silence and stigma that can surround mental illness. I’m also intimately acquainted with the danger of suffering mental illness in silence without treatment or support. And I, too, have felt the ill effects of recent events on my mental and physical health.
Now more than ever, we have to find and cultivate those safe spaces where we can ask for much needed help and see to much needed self-care. It is part and parcel of the important activism and advocacy work that we do. In addition, those with privilege who serve as allies need to also recognize the physical, mental, and emotional strain that results from living a life beset by systemic oppression.
I encourage all of you to take time this week to find trusted friends and allies with whom you can provide mutual support and care, to learn more about what mental illness can mean for those who have to deal with it, and to discover and practice effective strategies for managing your own self-care. This work we do is a marathon and not a sprint: if we’re going to make it all the way through, we’ve got to take care of ourselves. And each other.
Yesterday I experienced an amazing moment of solidarity and activism with trusted, like-minded individuals who care deeply about fighting oppression in all its forms:
I shared a platter of barbecued meat with Chris Bourg, Eamon Tewell, Emily Drabinski, Zoe Fisher, Jessica Critten, and Angela Pashia.
Oh, you thought I was going to talk about the #WomensMarch? We did that, too. We’re all in Atlanta for the American Library Association Midwinter Meeting, so we joined the rally and march in Atlanta–in John Lewis’ district no less. We even got to hear him speak.
But truthfully, as fun as it was to see millions of people come out across the world in support of social justice–and against the current US administrarion and its campaign of hate–the fact is these marches were really about little more than–to use a white guy buzzword–optics. It looks good that more people showed up in DC to protest the new administration than showed up for the actual inauguration. It looks good for people who’ve been sitting on their privilege to get up and put on genitalia hats and demand justice. It looks good when people peacefully and cheerily take to the streets to do activism for a day. It all looks good.
But as my wise friend Emily Drabinski pointed out yesterday while we’re ankle-deep in Georgia mud: “Activism isn’t sexy. There’s no hashtag for that.”
No, there is not.
We slogged through mud for a couple hours for activism yesterday, but what about those of us who have been slogging through mud for years doing this work? People like my lunch companions who are my trusted comrades and allies in the struggle? I’m glad so many feel they’ve “woken up” in the last few months, but what about all of us who have been awake and working so long we’re weary with sleep deprivation?
Not while, standing in the Georgia mud as John Lewis speaks, my comrades and I look over to see a white woman holding a sign that reads: “John Lewis is my spirit animal.” Yup.
So I’m going to stick with my takeaway of the great activist experience I had yesterday. That meat was delicious. (If you’re ever in Atlanta, check it out.) Our conversation, as is always the case with these folks and many others like them, was enlightening and inspiring. It was a space of safety and honesty and care. And meat. Lots of meat.
Hope you all had a restful end of year and are ready to head back into it.
I spent the time off with family, as is key for my own self-care warfare. This time included spending a significant portion riding in the car with my parents and brother on the road between my home state of Florida and my sister’s home five states away. Which means I got to listen to a lot of my favorite music: holiday classics by the Temptations and Mahalia Jackson and funk and soul classics on the SoulTown station of XM radio. The Delfonics. Betty Wright. And this truth-telling spoken word funk piece by Gil Scott-Heron:
You will not be able to stay home, brother.
You will not be able to plug in, turn on and cop out.
You will not be able to lose yourself on skag
and Skip out for beer during commercials,
Because the revolution will not be televised.
Well. Yeah. Go ahead and listen to that one more ‘gain. I’ll wait.
The reveolution will not be right back
after a message about a white tornado, white lightning, or white people.
This is where we are, folks. We are in the midst of a revolution. For some of us, we’ve been here for a while. This is nothing new; just the standard way our lives are hard fought as victims of systemic oppression. For others, this feels like a new era. The weight of revolution is unfamiliar. It’s okay. We’ll show you the way.
We’ll show you what it means to live in a world where you cannot rely on the powers that be to protect or save you. Where the government “of the people” is clearly not the government for your people. Where “not my president” literally means “not my president” and has for a long, long time.
(There’ve been quite a few people–mainly white–pushing back against this slogan. “But he is our president! We can hold him accountable!” Tell that to the millions of us who have never had a president accountable to our communities in our lives. Hillary wouldn’t have been our president either. Let’s face it, Obama wasn’t even our president. Not really.)
This is the world of the margins. The world of the revolution. It is not safe. There are no performative pins worn here. It is not nice. There are few words of encouragement here. It is full of hard work and that work is very often not rewarded. There are no ally cookies here.
There is rage and pain. There is facing the frustration of historical trauma and modern-day oppression from those you seek to help. There is knowing that “not all _____” is a derailing lie meant to recast the focus on your own privilege. There is taking shots from “friendly fire”and yet getting back up to fight in the struggle because you are committed. Because you know your complicity as a direct result of your privilege. Because you feel your hurt feelings and cry your privileged tears on the sidelines so you can be better equipped to be a good strong ally who can handle the rage of your oppressed comrades.
There is all this.
And there is progress.
We have to be ready for this in the revolution. It’s hard, I know. But it’s a commitment worth making.
I’m not much for new year’s resolutions, but I’m committing to being a better ally in the areas of my privilege–listening more, signal boosting more, learning more, taking the rage of my comrades and activating my privilege to broadcast their message. Putting myself aside and doing what they need me to do in the way they need me to do it. Without praise or reward or even my own comfort. Because–
The revolution will not be televised, will not be televised,