NEW SMYRNA BEACH, FL - 1983: Caribbean-American writer, poet and activist Audre Lorde lectures students at the Atlantic Center for the Arts in New Smyrna Beach, Florida. Lorde was a Master Artist in Residence at the Central Florida arts center in 1983. (Photo by Robert Alexander/Archive Photos/Getty Images)

‘Overworked and Underpaid’: On Organizing, Black Womanhood, and Self-Care

April 15, 2016

As a researcher, I am interested, indeed positively obsessed, by the long tradition of Black feminist organizing in the United States. Outspoken activists like Ida B. Wells, Anna Julia Cooper, Fannie Lou Hamer, Toni Cade Bambara, and Frances Beal embodied their values to center the voices and thought leadership of Black women. They wrote and delivered speeches about the duality of sexism and racism Black women encountered in this nation, garnering in some cases accolades and honors.

But awards do little when a culture of martyrdom—the discouragement to prioritize one’s own emotional and mental health—reigns in the lives of activists.

I have found in my research that not much has been written about how women of color organizers made space for joy, wellness, and love while fighting against white supremacy and other forms of oppression. With activists today facing a similar struggle, I wanted to know what could we learn from our Black women activist foremothers to avoid burning out.


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Feature Image by Robert Alexander/Archive Photos/Getty Images