Burnout is Different for BIPOC

I bet we’ve all heard at least once in the past year that “your worth isn’t tied to your productivity.” The idea is that you shouldn’t let your work consume you to the point of burnout, which negatively affects all aspects of your health. 

Burnout is a state of emotional, physical, and mental exhaustion caused by excessive and prolonged stress. It occurs when you feel overwhelmed, emotionally drained, and unable to meet constant demands.

It’s easy to say that “your worth isn’t tied to your productivity,” but much, much harder to put that idea into practice

This is especially true when we’re inundated daily with posts on social media that make us feel like we aren’t doing enough, even when we feel good about the (quality and quantity of) work we’re doing.

Burnout and BIPOC

This mug (which says 'my life is in ruins') perfectly encapsulates my feelings about burnout

The saying rarely takes into account the burnout associated with non-traditional work, such as anti-racism work and other forms of activism. While people from all backgrounds are involved in this work, it is usually BIPOC who lead the charge – whether they intended to or not.

BIPOC present papers at conferences, serve on panels discussing anti-racism in the field, and give guest lectures in courses. 

We do these things because we want to help make the field more diverse, equitable, and inclusive. It can even be enjoyable to be given a platform to talk about topics that excite us and to interact with new people. 

But it does quickly add up, on top of maintaining our other responsibilities and basic needs. 

Some reasons you might want to add your voice to a conversation:

  • They offer you an honorarium
  • You’re asked to talk about your research or something you’re genuinely interested in
  • You think that if you don’t do the job, your ideas won’t be heard or that the job won’t be done well

I’ve said “no” to invitations I’ve received maybe once or twice in the last year. 

But saying “no” is hard for BIPOC.

White folks engaged in activism may think that the work is overwhelming, but it’s even more so for the non-white activist. 

BIPOC are constantly forced to choose between doing the work themselves and trusting someone else to do right by them. It’s tough to relinquish control in situations where your – mental, emotional, professional – wellbeing is on the line

I made this blog as a reaction to my lack of faith in the people and institutions around me. Yes, it has increased my workload quite a bit. But it’s something I felt was necessary, and something I felt only I could do. It’s also something that I imposed on myself, rather than something that I was asked to do.

It’s much easier to say “no” to yourself, than it is to say “no” to someone else.

It’s okay to say “no”

We might also say “yes” to invitations to conferences and panel discussions because we feel we might be letting someone down if we say “no.”

In these situations, remember two things:

1. Don’t feel obligated to say yes to someone just because they offered to compensate you

While compensation is important, it shouldn’t make you feel like you have to agree to do anything. How you choose to use your time and energy is up to you. These events are (probably) not your only or primary job, so you don’t have to do them just because you’re getting paid. 

2. Don’t feel that you have to say yes because you’re the only one qualified for the job

Sure, the person who asked you to participate asked you for a reason. But know that if you say no, there are plenty of other people that they can find to fill in. It’s not up to you to worry about how they’ll find them or who that person might be. Thank them for thinking of you, and get on with your life.

This is not to say that I’m not grateful for the increased visibility of BIPOC in our field. 

Nor am I ungrateful to those who allowed me to speak and share my ideas in the last year.

But diversifying our panels and talks is only the first step in the process of making our field more anti-racist, and a rather easy one at that. 

In what other ways are you amplifying BIPOC voices and scholarship? 

What concrete steps are you taking to create more safe, equitable, and inclusive space for the BIPOC in your immediate networks?

I wrote this blog post in the throes of pandemic burnout, and am sharing it with you on my quarantine-aversary, so it might not be my best work.

But I thought that this was an apt time to address the intersections of race and burnout, particularly since we are being asked to do much more labor now than in the past.

Take care of yourselves, pals.

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