Monday, June 11, 2012

Never-ending Battles Require Sustainable Energy

Everyday, the United States gives me plenty of reason to be frustrated, offended, and downright depressed. It sends powerful messages about how little it values me and mine. I live in a country where slavery literally lasted through the 1940s and where today’s prison industrial complex continues to create The New Jim Crow. Nevertheless, the smallest acknowledgment of racial injustice inspires dismissive accusations of “playing the race card.”

I live in a country where 17-year-old Trayvon Martin can be murdered in cold blood, and his killer, George Zimmerman, is treated with leniency. In fact, I live in a country where Zimmerman would not have been arrested if there had not been weeks of protest. What is most painful about the Trayvon Martin tragedy, though, is the fact that his story is so familiar. As Lisa Guerrero and David J. Leonard have noted, violence against black and brown people has long been considered an entertaining pastime.

The United States excuses violence that prevents (certain) teenagers from fulfilling their potential, but when people of color beat the odds, the response can be equally brutal. Black and brown success is often discounted, disrespected, and denied or it becomes the reason for additional violence—what I call know-your-place aggression. In an earlier post, I shared my experience with such aggression and the pain of seeing white mediocrity valued more than black excellence. Responses to that post suggest that my experience is far from unique, as does Dr. Christian Head’s case against UCLA. Still, some of the most egregious know-your-place aggression has become so pervasive that many don’t notice it: now that the president is clearly not 100% white, disrespecting the nation’s highest office has become routine. The vicious nature of Obama-era public discourse has been ably documented by Michael K. Wilson and David J. Leonard, and Huffington Post contributor Andres Jauregui notes that hanging images of President Obama in effigy has become a trend.

Facing these realities, how do you avoid utter despair? How do you keep from giving up by assuming that the country will never make good on its promises? As importantly, how do you resist the temptation to become completely disconnected? Many people of color try to escape by self-medicating with alcohol and drugs... or with religion. I can see why the latter is particularly tempting. This country is always doing us dirty. Why wouldn’t we welcome a holy cleansing?

I have decided to resist these temptations; I will not ignore the world around me, but I refuse to sink into despair, no matter how justified that sometimes seems. Too many people sacrificed to leave me the improved conditions that I enjoy. It is my turn to try to do the same for future generations.

But I am not deceived: surviving and thriving in a society that is set up to destroy, denigrate, and disrespect me requires much more than a strong will.

Exercise has therefore become invaluable! I am much more active now than I was as a teenager, and I don’t see myself slowing down. I cannot afford to—not if I want to make a difference in this world, which I do.

Though I have long understood the value of exercise, making a commitment to do it consistently did not happen over night. It has been a journey, and I have had many sources of encouragement along the way. In 2003, I was welcomed into SisterMentors, an organization that helps women of color finish writing their doctoral dissertations while they mentor school girls. Dr. Shireen Lewis, the founder and director, guides women through the dissertation process, and she takes a very holistic approach. She insists that each woman see herself as a complete human being whose mind, body, and spirit all deserve attention. Dr. Shireen encourages meditation, yoga, and clean eating. I followed much of her advice but never really became consistent.

Once I earned the PhD and relocated to begin my first job, I thought that a healthier lifestyle would be part of the transition. Again, I was not particularly consistent. However, the encouragement to prioritize physical and spiritual health continued to flow into my life. In July 2009, I attended an arts showcase by young women who had completed the Girl/Friends summer program. Girl/Friends is a project of A Long Walk Home that empowers teenagers to do rape prevention educational work in their own schools. The showcase was titled “Fearless,” and it featured the girls’ creative work with photography, dance, and spoken word. As they shared some of the experiences that impacted them the most, I was struck by the program’s emphasis on being physically active and honoring the mind-body-spirit connection.

In short, the program confirmed that doing lasting good in a world that is designed to discount you—anyone who isn’t white and/or male and/or heterosexual and/or middle class—requires valuing yourself enough to prioritize self-care.

Still, it was not until I fell in love with running that I finally found my way of being good to myself on a regular basis. I have now been running since August 2010, because I found positive sources of motivation rather than focusing on losing weight. Basically, I run because I can. I am grateful that I can move, and I show my gratitude by moving.

Gratitude remains my motivation, but in April 2011, I found additional support by becoming an ambassador for Black Girls RUN!, a national organization founded by Toni Carey and Ashley Hicks to promote active lifestyles.

It took me a while to find my primary exercise passion, but I kept looking because I knew that the benefits would be immeasurable. Too many people believe that self-care means being selfish and self-centered, but how can you give the world something of quality if your tank is empty? We assume that everything else is more urgent than nurturing ourselves, but there is no way around it: you can't give what you don’t have, and energy is our most precious resource.

Why Not You? Why Not Now?
I continue to resist the idea that losing weight is a good motivation for exercise. My points of emphasis therefore differ from the sound bites often associated with Black Girls RUN! Nevertheless, I love seeing BGR! inspire women of all ages, sizes, and backgrounds. I am honored to be a part of it. And, we are not alone in this invigorating work.

More and more people understand the importance of getting everyone around them moving. Of course, First Lady Michelle Obama contributes significantly to this endeavor, but there are many such leaders. It is not uncommon to encounter messages like “Strong is the new sexy” and “Health is the new wealth.” And I love the way that Stic of Dead Prez puts it: “Healthy is the New Gangsta…stay G’d up!” Similar sentiments have recently been articulated by the great thinkers of Crunk Feminist Collective and Colorlines. It is an awakening that I am thrilled to see.

Why don’t you join us? Why not now? The nation is not getting any less racist, sexist, heterosexist, and classist or any less brutal toward people who are differently abled or whose gender expression resists rigidity. When you realize that, you understand that Audre Lorde said it best: “Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.”

Running may not be the answer, but please find your source of sustainable energy.


fanonche said...

thank you for your insights. love the fact that you have found some balance in BGR and are recognizing that the goal is to be whole, not perfect. oneheart!!

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