- Understanding ‘Black Fatigue’: A phenomenon manifesting in individuals of African descent due to perennial racial bias, leading to a constant feeling of exhaustion.
- Health Consequences of Racism: Structural racism can result in significant physical and mental stress, contributing to chronic negative impacts on people of color and deemed a public health threat by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
- Initiatives to Aid Mental Well-Being: Therapists like Aishia Grevenberg are assisting individuals affected by ‘Black Fatigue’ to validate their experiences, reject societal impositions, and define their identities independently.
- Measures for Self-Protection & Systemic Changes: Mary-Frances Winters recommends personal boundaries and increased awareness of personal triggers as immediate forms of self-protection against racial discrimination, alongside broad systemic changes as longer-term solutions.
- Promoting Positivity: Grevenberg encourages early promotion of self-love and a positive self-image in children and adults alike, along with the celebration of cultural heritage, to help counteract societal racism.
Ever experienced that constant, underlying fatigue that seems to permeate your every existence? This is the feeling Mary-Frances Winters, a diversity and equity consultant based in North Carolina, dubbed as “Black Fatigue”.
It’s that constant exhaustion that follows being on the receiving end of daily microaggressions or showing inherent proof of your worth. A relentless exposure to news about violence and injustice against those who resemble you only adds to this fatigue.
Understanding ‘Black Fatigue’
According to Winters, it’s crucial for people of African descent to comprehend and recognize the impacts of living amidst racial bias. She claims, “You have to take care of yourself.”
Voicing similar sentiments, Aishia Grevenberg, a Las Vegas-based psychotherapist indicates that the cumulative psychological toll of racial discrimination is well-known. She sees its debilitating effects on her clients.
Unseen Consequences on Health
With racism deemed a public health threat by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, its impacts are dire. Reports suggest that stress arising from structural racism can cause lasting harm to the body and brain. Such discrimination typically benefits white individuals while producing chronic negative impacts on people of color.
Furthermore, data suggests Black adults are more prone to discrimination and racial trauma, with fewer receiving treatment for their mental health.
Varied Mental Health Impacts
While effects are subject to individual response, the likes of Grevenberg note an increase in racial trauma after George Floyd’s killing. It surfaced not only from societal occurrences but also from experiencing racism within personal spheres of friends and colleagues.
Therapists of color were stretched thin trying to accommodate those needing assistance. As the author of the “Black Fatigue,” Winters clarifies that the issue lies in generational and systemic oppression, rather than with those being oppressed. “Racism is exhausting,” she says, not being Black.
Maintaining Mental Well-Being
The emotional fallout of discrimination is as disheartening as it is complex—ranging from depression, internalizing harmful stereotypes, to debilitating rage, all of which weigh heavily on one’s mental well-being.
Unseen and widespread racism furthers feelings of animosity since it’s not feasible to retaliate against an intangible and ongoing system. This anger, if nurtured, can be deeply consuming.
Therapists like Grevenberg work to validate their clients’ experiences and to remove societal labels, allowing them to define their Black identity on their own terms. They also assist clients in renouncing an eternal pursuit of perfection, often inculcated by societal pressure to prove one’s inherent worth.
Systemic Changes and Self-Protection
Winters firmly believes that solutions to Black Fatigue require broad systemic changes. However, as an immediate act of self-protection, she suggests setting personal boundaries. Knowing one’s triggers and taking a step back without feeling guilty plays a crucial role in preserving one’s mental health.
The Path to Allyship
For those on the journey to allyship, Winters suggests that the first step is to listen and to learn with humility. She believes that allies can also provide a safe presence to validate experiences with open conversations and understanding without the aim to solve anything.
Promoting Early Positivity
Grevenberg suggests parents play a pivotal role in cementing early positive self-image in children, along with promoting self-love. This can combat the societal dearth of affirmative imagery for people of color.
Adults can take similar actions. Surrounding oneself with decor or books that celebrate cultural heritage, or incorporating visual cues throughout private and public spaces can help validate shared experiences and foster cultural pride.