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What does self-care look like when you’re black, in the media and can’t switch off?

Eight black women who work in media on how they are getting through one of the most taxing periods in their career – with Black Lives Matter and Covid-19 dominating the news cycle.

08 Jun 2020

We are living through something we have never seen before in our lifetimes. And I’ll be honest, being black right now feels scary and draining both physically and mentally. We’re juggling life in a pandemic where black people are already more at risk while in the midst of historic Black Lives Matter protests and anti-racist organising. Between petitioning, protesting, donating and sharing resources, all while being reminded that your existence means less than others, it’s a challenge to get some respite, even if, in some ways, it’s a time of hope.

Thankfully, in opposition to some of the content that’s been harder to digest, there’s been a plethora of self-care resources for black people online. But while much of the advice has been very helpful, the main suggestions are often to “log off” and “take time away from the media”. But what does self-care and self-preservation look like for those of us who are black, living under Covid-19 and working in the media? How do you take a break when your livelihood forces you to stay logged on? How do you alleviate some pressure when you’re expected to fight for change in your job while doing the same in your life?

Switching off can seem like an impossible feat. I find myself jumping from writing an article about my mortality to diving into the news or trending videos on Twitter which further remind me about the racism we face. The line between work and my life as a black person feels washed out and blurred. So, I asked eight black women working in media, both at gal-dem and beyond, how they’re feeling, and what they’re doing to look after themselves when it’s not always possible to switch off.

Becoming drained and frustrated

“The (re)negotiation of what self-care looks like for me in this time is a continually shifting process. I move between feeling energised, motivated and ready to fight and then feeling utterly exhausted,” says Liv Little, founder of gal-dem. “We’re going to be angry, we’re going to cry and we will also find joy.”

Many of us are irritated that it has taken recent events for people to listen or care, whether at large, in our lives or in the media. “I’ve been exhausted by the news that I have to keep consuming, exhausted by the loved ones I want to console, and exhausted by the white people who think my DMs are their one-stop redemption shop from decades of indifference and apathy,” adds gal-dem’s head of strategy Mariel Richards.

“We are interfering with the regular programming and forcing them to engage with this content that’s is an inconvenient truth for a lot of them,” says Natty Kasambala, a journalist and broadcaster. “You see people trying to shield themselves from the discomfort of having those conversations and that can be frustrating.” On a long walk to unwind, listening to Nina Simone, followed by a much-needed cathartic cry, Natty realised that she had a lot of pent-up anger. “All I wanted to ask was, ‘Where have you been all this time?’” Being heard only now feels frustrating. “We are essentially being forced to discuss and justify our existence now that we are on white people’s time.”

Pressure to feel like the voice of your community 

Yomi Adegoke, journalist and co-author of Slay In Your Lane, believes there’s an added pressure for black journalists, making it hard to find time to decompress. “If you’re a black journalist having to report on current events for work, there’s really no escape at all from the weight of the situation. I’ve been trying to turn off and it just feels completely impossible,” she says. “We’re still in the era of ‘churnalism’. You feel like you’re commissioned to churn out fast-turnaround pieces on stuff that’s really quite painful to write about, and stuff that many of us don’t have the time to grieve.” 

This is a sentiment journalist Seren Jones reiterates. “This past week has been the hardest week of my career,” she says. “It’s been really hard as a human being, but on top of that as a black journalist it’s been extremely emotionally and psychologically taxing, exhausting, draining.” She adds: “It’s quite strange – I’m really happy that I’m covering George Floyd’s death and covering the movement because it’s a part of history, but at the same time I want a break.”

Jameisha Prescod, who works for a big media company, also thinks it’s a “tricky time” to be a black woman working in the media. “I feel like I want to do a lot more than I’m currently doing. I want to make this space better for the young black people coming after me, but it’s hard.”

Self-care through black joy and friendships

While the need to accurately represent our community and speak up is still very much a balancing act, we’re finding ways to assert some self-preservation amid recent events. For Yomi, spending time with her black friends has been “absolutely crucial” for her self-care. “We talk about other things. Non-black people don’t really understand – for them this might be the first time they’ve felt moved to give a fuck, for us this is our existance,” she says. “When I talk to white people, it’s like I’m walking on eggshells.”

Self-care is all about “enriching” yourself in black joy, Jameisha explains. “Black art, film, TV – Insecure has been a lifeline for me. It’s been the main thing that’s helped me smile over the last few weeks.” Issa Rae’s Insecure seems to be working as the perfect break for many black women right now. Seren enjoys tuning in for a chance to watch “the positive aspects of black culture, our everyday lives – not the struggle, just black people at our best.”

Setting boundaries with screen time and social media 

For many of us, trying to limit the amount of time we spend on social media has been helpful, although it can be harder than anticipated. “I put myself on a Twitter ban on Friday,” gal-dem columnist Kimberly McIntosh admits, “which did not work, but it did mean I logged in less and spent less time on the app scrolling and despairing.” Aside from bans, Kimberly is also setting boundaries with the work she does, recently turning down an opportunity to speak on Sky News. “I asked myself, ‘Am I emotionally strong enough for this right now? And ultimately, who will it serve if I do this?’ I decided it wasn’t worth it.”

For Shanice Dover, head of social media at gal-dem, logging out of the apps is pretty much impossible. “The fact that we’re in the middle of a global pandemic and our capacity to access offline entertainment has reduced means it’s now even less likely for me to go more than an hour without my fingers flexing instinctively to launch the Instagram app,” she says. Instead she’s found shifting onto Pinterest has worked wonders. “In a time where everything feels out of our control, I’ve found solace in visually planning small, everyday elements of my life. From pinning meals I want to make to deciding on new ways of decorating my room, focusing on small, superficial aspirations is a welcome distraction.”

Boundaries are helping Liv with her screen-time consumption. “I don’t respond to messages that I don’t have the energy to respond to, and I’ve also had to assert clear boundaries with those around me. I also take solace in checking in with friends,” Liv adds. 

Distracting activities for peace of mind 

Doing activities that force Natty to stay off social media, like having a bath where she is unable to go on her laptop or going on walks in the park, has been her self-care. Physical exercise is doing the trick for Yomi, who tried out her first yoga class recently. “It was amazing to feel completely disconnected and do something that kind of took me out of the world for a moment,” she says. Meanwhile, Mariel has been absorbing herself in sewing, knitting or mending clothes as a “physical respite from the digital onslaught of donating, sharing, reading, arguing, watching and working this week”. 

“Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare” – Audre Lorde