Although the phrase “Black Lives Matter” often evokes images of activists flooding the streets in protest and crying out for justice, some of “Black Lives Matter, A Northwestern Dialogue” events were neither explicitly educational nor dialogue-based. Instead they were opportunities for expressions of self-care camaraderie among Black students.
For Members Only hosted the most recent event for this month’s initiative and was titled “We Smile: a Celebration of Black Joy.” The FMO event began in the Black House and ended at a reading of “These Days,” a play written by School of Communication junior Allie Woodson that focuses on the experiences of Black women on a college campus.
Students coming together for a relaxing evening of Black art may seem like a simple act, but when faced with day-to-day microaggressions and media saturated with violence against Black bodies, a night out with caring people goes a long way. In reminding Black students to invest in their own happiness, FMO affirmed that Black Joy matters as much as Black Lives do.
Such expressions of self-care are crucial in today’s world of racial inequality. A 2015 study by the American Psychological Association found that discrimination of any kind may actually have physical effects.
“It’s clear that discrimination is widespread and impacts many people, whether it is due to race, ethnicity, age, disability, gender or sexual orientation,” said Jaime Diaz-Granados APA’s executive director for education in a news release last year. “When people frequently experience unfair treatment, it can contribute to increased stress and poorer health.”
The psychological effects of racism are no trifling matter. In an interview with the New York Times, Monnica Williams, director of the University of Louisville Center for Mental Health Disparities, argued that race-based stress and trauma can manifest in symptoms similar to those found in people suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.
With their health on the line, Black people benefit from indulging in self-care, which means taking action to de-stress and distance themselves from potentially toxic or traumatic stimuli. The Movement for Black Lives can hardly endure if its supporters do not take the time to focus on themselves and heal.
“We are interdependent so what I do to take care of myself has an impact on all who I interact with,” registered clinical counselor Kim Boivin told PsychCentral. When I care for myself, I care for others better too.”
Within the “Black Lives Matter, a Northwestern Dialogue” initiative the celebrations of Black Joy are not out of place among the panels and discussions. These events may not be explicitly educational or political, but they do show that in the fight for Black Lives Matter, self-care is as essential as any rally or protest.
For a Black person to recognize signs of stress and choose to prioritize their well-being not only protects their mental and physical health, but it is a reminder of the value and legitimacy of their Black Joy. This is not selfishness. This, too, is an act protest, and perhaps Black feminist Audre Lorde said it best:
“Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political