Fingers on the thumbs-up button, who else has felt exhausted by the media churn over the last 2 weeks? Because big same, except I’m confessing, with a grain of shame, that I did not conserve any of my energy wisely. At all. I would pass out each night while reading about the resignations of big wig editors and CEOs who perpetuated toxic work culture. It was thrilling, like watching a justice tsunami clean house so a person of color could finally step in. But a week has gone by, and there are… still so many standing.
The vindication was temporary and after that temporal excitement, looking at the many white mastheads smiling back at me, I also had to reckon with my own distraction. I had to ask myself: Why, when given the chance, was it so easy to pivot away from Black experiences?
Allyship fatigue, defined
Allyship fatigue is used to described the feeling of being overwhelmed and exhausted of the emotions that come with doing the work of being an ally.
It describes wanting to move away from feelings of guilt, sadness, or tiredness by removing oneself from the work that makes allyship.
As Jenny Zhang, a staff writer at Eater, tweeted about the workplace oppression: “a spotlight on black experience then becomes a more general pay disparity convo.”
I’ve had to think about my participation in the inhumane turnover of our attention span. One headline click might seem innocuous but if it informs Google that I’m more interested in Bon Appetit than Black Trans Lives, then I’m complicit in the system.
If I’m rushing to read about resignations and not questioning the work behind the scenes, then my sense of justice is not in the right place. If my timeline is all about “go back to normal,” then, as many tweets like this one by @crunchwarpsup37 have implied, I am not following the right people.
Although I am.
I’m not saying this because most of my timeline is about Black Lives Matter. It’s not. Early this week it was both a flood of joy over the Supreme Court’s ruling to protect LGBTQ rights to conversations about colorism and Black women to COVID-19 deaths. It’s constantly fighting against the co-option of the phrase #DefundthePolice (which to be clear, it means defunding the police, not reforming).
I’m saying this to acknowledge that even if I, or you, follow all the right people, clout and attention is not what brings justice. It’s not what doing the work is.
A phrase that’s popped up in the last 24 hours is “allyship fatigue,” which originated from the disabled community. But the existence of this word is an excuse to justify non-participation. It holds the same function as “quarantine fatigue,” which was described as people just giving up on wearing masks and physical distancing because they didn’t want to anymore. They devalued the risks on a basis of personal emotions instead of care for others. But we’re still in a pandemic. The risks are still here and incredibly high.
Just like how Black people are still dying and being killed, with no justice.
I mean, can it be called justice if the conversation just repeats the pattern of reaction, instead of prevention?
Breonna’s Law may have passed but the officers who killed her are not held accountable. Last Friday, Robert Fuller’s death was too quickly ruled a suicide, but as many Black people pointed out: He was found hanging from a tree next to city hall. Four more Black men have died by hanging in public places since. That’s lynching.
Swept under the rug are also many Black trans people like Dominique “Rem’mie” Fells and Riah Milton, who was misgendered and deadnamed by the media. Before Oluwatoyin Salau, only 19, was murdered, she was sexually assaulted by a stranger who promised to drive her to church, where her belongings were being held while she escaped from her abusive family.
Justice, as many have already spoken out, would mean building a culture that believes Black people first. It means building a culture where we don’t need to pull receipts or wait for the millionth straw to break the camel’s back. And when I think about justice in those terms, I have to consider what it’s asking of me.
As one of my friends, Elly Belle (who is also a writer for Greatist) tweeted today, “fatigue and burnout happens but it shouldn’t stop you from caring about racism or make you want to quit, just make sure you have friends who hold you accountable for resting, self-care AND being anti-racist.” (She also continues in her thread how to find support during fatigue, which I recommend reading!)
I have another confession: when I first saw the phrase allyship fatigue on that millennial pink background, I thought: oh yes, this describes me. The number of likes and the fact that it came from a Black-run Instagram made me feel like I had permission to take a break. (The post is now archived due to this exact reaction in brings in non-Black people. As Sophie W mentions in her Stories, realizing that people would only see the title and read it as “take a rest, you’ve done a lot already,” was not her intention.)
But I think the reason it was easy for me to see the flaws in “allyship fatigue” was because a) my timeline immediately rejected it and b) this Venn diagram trick I use helps me make sure my actions are in the mutual interest of Black people and their experience.
Here’s what I did: Draw your circle, which contains your definition of justice, and draw the circle for Black Lives Matter, and the movement’s definition of justice. Figure out what actions lay in the overlap and focus on those as things you can do right now.
And right now, in the time of the Black Lives Matter movement, what happens outside the overlap isn’t important. It might feel dismissive to say that but if something were truly a life or death matter, it wouldn’t exist outside the overlap.
Figuring out what’s in the overlap requires more than a social media knowledge of what’s going on. It might require brushing up on anti-racist reading of the historical calibre. It means a lot of apologizing and taking the extra step to rectify harm caused, even if done by mistake. If you don’t have Black friends, this might look like donating to mental health funds for Black people.
For me, I’ve had to relearn how to support my Black friends, coworkers, and writers. For example, a conversation I’d normally openly have on a Slack channel, I opted to thread it instead because the details could have been triggering.
And most recently, I’ve been including Black joy in my overlap. As our Lifestyle Editor DeVonne Goode shares: Celebrating Black joy as well as Black History is important to our mental health. Action shouldn’t only be motivated by pain and fear.
If your overlap is small in the start, it’s okay. Growth isn’t static, and neither is progress and change. Baby steps have made moving out of my comfort zone a lot easier over time. I’ve also had to reframe my understanding of what being anti-racist looks like many times, and every time I’ve found that learning makes my overlap bigger, not smaller. It gives me space to breathe and grow and allows me to listen to what others need to heal and forgive.
And as cliché as it sounds, I’m hoping my Venn diagram eventually becomes a circle, where wellness is achieved in mutual interest for ourselves and each other.
Christal Yuen is a senior editor at Greatist, covering all things beauty and wellness. Find her musing about therapy on Twitter.