When George Floyd died, Brittany Wright also mourned the loss of a relative who had been killed in north Minneapolis on the same day.
Yet the young activist persisted in her quest to expose and eradicate the walls of structural racism that affect marginalized communities.
In our recent conversation, the popular DJ, radio and podcast host and advocate for maternal justice discussed the obstacles ahead. And I felt empowered by her brilliance and her fervor to confront those impediments while highlighting the role that white Minnesotans must play in initiating significant change.
The latter, we both agreed, will demand the recognition of privilege and the policies and promotions that limit our access to power.
“What makes you think ally-ship is comfortable?” she declared.
Before our conversation, I was tired. I just wanted to watch Netflix and check out, rather than spend another day considering the weight of this moment or my small role within it.
I wondered if Wright, in recent months, had shared the same lingering exhaustion. So I asked her a question: “How many times have people asked you how you’re doing?”
“Probably not as much as I would like,” she said. “I have a phenomenal support system. I’m a woman of faith. But I think I sometimes give the illusion that I’m doing better than I really am.”
I have this expectation that many who made emotional declarations against racism in the immediate aftermath of Floyd’s death will continue to step back from the movement as the circumstances for action shift from massive protests and demonstrations against social injustice — and the performative social media opportunities they present — to a more personalized version of anti-racism.
It’s just easier to post a photo from a march than to confront that one relative at Thanksgiving, regulate your group chats or address the racism in your own home and family. To some, this is a checklist, not a lifestyle.
That’s a contributing factor in the fatigue many African Americans have endured in recent months during this attempt to preserve optimism without letting the signs of hopelessness overwhelm us. If we don’t keep fighting, then what happens to this moment? That reality restarts the cycle of fatigue that’s approaching its crescendo.
The remedy, however, is to offer African Americans space. Space to pursue the everyday hurdles life entails. Space to grieve the loss of our devalued bodies as more viral videos of unarmed Black men and women dying in police encounters circulate. Space to escape. Space to reject questions and concerns from those with good intentions and a thirst for progress. Space to relax. Space to recharge. And the space to do nothing but exist, if we choose.
Chartel Hawkins, a counselor at Catalyst Mental Health in Minneapolis, said she’s witnessed the emerging strain among her Black clients who are battling “emotional fatigue, which is more taxing than physical fatigue.”
Hawkins said she, too, has had to establish boundaries in this moment. She said tailoring her news notifications and emphasizing her personal priorities have helped.
“I have shifted my energy into taking care of myself and my people,” she said.
The pandemic has robbed the planet of predictability. Nothing is promised tomorrow, not our jobs, our health or our lives. But African Americans must also deal with magnified trauma within the chaos. And the headlines suggest Black communities and children will emerge in the worst position if and when it all ends.
That encourages our collective action but often at the expense of our peace.
Dr. Nathan Chomilo, a pediatrician and the medical director of the state’s Medicaid program, said something to me I’m still analyzing. He said he’s had to consider the concept of “allowing joy” in this moment and addressing the guilt that sometimes accompanies those opportunities to briefly escape.
“I want my son to grow up in a world where he can have what I thought I’d have,” he said of his efforts to combat racism in the medical world.
In a series of conversations, the people I spoke with acknowledged the same predicament — pursuing change while also searching for pockets of rest and unbroken happiness.
Seth Martin, lead pastor at the Brook Community Church in Brooklyn Park, responded to my observations with a tone in the Black community that signals kinship, agreement and understanding. “Maaaannnn, it’s funny that you’d say that,” he said multiple times before telling me a story that mimicked my own experiences.
Martin, the only Black pastor in his organization, said he’s turned to his faith and his mentors while he’s wrestled with fatigue in recent months as pastors around the country have sought his guidance.
“It’s the exhaustion of fighting,” he said. “It’s the exhaustion of realizing this is a race. We’re feeling the fatigue of the race.”
I left these conversations inspired by our shared goals, experiences and determination. More than anything, I was reminded that I should not be discouraged if and when my actions do not initiate the steps toward equality and justice I’d like to see.
It’s OK to be tired, too. And it’s important to do whatever’s necessary to reboot.
“I’ve told my clients that you make room [for rest], we make room,” Hawkins said. “It’s the importance of recharging and letting other people do the work.”
African Americans and their allies in Minnesota need to hear that.
Wright, the young activist, said she’s given herself grace in this moment. She said she tries to acknowledge the difficulties that others might encounter in these unprecedented times while also caring for herself and those around her.
“Our joy in itself is an act of resistance,” she told me. “Make sure your family is stable and whole. That is an act of resistance. We have to be joyful. That joy is on the inside.”