Allyship Fatigue and Self-Care: How Radical Language is Co-Opted in the Age of the Black Lives Matter Movement

By Clara, (16, from Seattle, WA) –

The concept of burnout is currently being co-opted by nonblack “activists” on social media the same way that “self-care” has been continually co-opted by mainstream media. 

I’m sure you’ve seen the posts. Easily recognizable colorful infographics containing information about “burnout,” “allyship fatigue,” and various other terminology, constantly being reposted in all your friends’ Snapchat stories, Instagram feed, or Twitter timeline. But isn’t this a good thing? It seems like these people are spreading awareness about an important issue in the Black Lives Matter movement. But the truth is that these posts, while likely well-intentioned, are actively harming the community they are trying to uplift. 

The concept of burnout is being co-opted from its radical origins by nonblack people in social media, exactly the same way that self-care has been co-opted by the mainstream media. In this process, the radicalism of the terminology is removed; it’s stripped of its original meaning and usage. To understand this, one must first understand the way that the original meaning of self-care has been corrupted and warped. 

Self-care, as originally used by Audre Lorde, is radical in nature:

“We have been taught and conditioned to turn to the state in moments of crisis and trauma… In this moment of community grief, let us find each other, and radically turn in to each other with love.”

[https://alp.org/breaking-isolation-self-care-and-community-care-tools-our-people]

But the radical nature of self-care has been co-opted by the media and transformed into bubble baths and facemasks. It has become “taking time to yourself” to escape the ordinary stresses of life, instead of radical self and community love. Using Audre Lorde’s terminology, it has become self-indulgence, not self-preservation. 

Because of this shift in meaning, the term self-care is no longer useful in radical circles. It’s now associated with buzzfeed articles about retail therapy, and other pandering sentiments that have to do with making the working class (especially BIPOC) complacent in their own dehumanization. Work (and life in general) is stressful, these articles say—participate in an act of self-care to relieve that stress. But instead of forming bonds and practicing strategies for community resilience and collective support, the self-care they describe means buying this or that product from Amazon and “taking a day to yourself.” It’s not only vaguely insulting, but actively works against marginalized people by co-opting their radical language for the use of the oppressor. 

Self-care in both the original and co-opted meanings is just one example of how the language of the oppressed is co-opted by the oppressor. This exact same process is happening with the concept of burnout, or “allyship fatigue,” as it is sometimes called. We’ve all seen the posts: how to avoid allyship fatigue, what to do if you’re feeling burnout, et cetera. These posts are aimed almost entirely at white people. Some of them even have taglines to the effect of: ”White people, we know this is a lot to handle. Activism is difficult! You’ve probably never had to deal with race before!”

These posts advocate for taking breaks from activism. but the people who share these posts (and a majority of those who see them) are nonblack people whose maximum effort involves signing petitions, sharing the same reductive analysis on their instagram story, and donating literal pocket change to Shaun King.

These people show no signs of organizing online; they do not attend protests or marches; and they do not even do the required reading to understand the slogans and concepts (‘defund the police,’ ‘abolition,’ and of course ‘selfcare’) that they constantly repost. 

To claim and promote the concept of burnout among (mainly) white activists who have put in minimum effort is to co-opt and dilute useful terminology that, once fully reached mainstream, loses its radical value completely. That isn’t to say that burnout as a concept is somehow invalid; just like self-care, the original meaning of burnout was and is important in activist circles. In fact, burnout can be a problem within these organizations, and it’s something that deserves addressing—but with the shifting meaning of burnout as relating to white people instead of BIPOC and activists, that terminology is in danger of losing its utility completely. 

Three sources pertaining to the article are:

About the Author:

insta @clara.e.f

twitter @clara_e_f

I am a 16 year old high school student, activist, and occasional writer. I currently attend Ingraham High School, and in the future I aspire to work in medicine as a physician’s assistant.

[https://www.strandlines.london/2020/06/05/black-lives-matter/]

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