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In the Spirit of Dr. King, Self-Care is Resistance

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Written by: Taiza Troutman

“The hope of a secure and livable world lies with disciplined nonconformists who are dedicated to justice, peace and brotherhood.”

The most revolutionary thing Black folks and other marginalized people can do to honor the work and spirit of Dr. King on his holiday is to rest and engage in self-care activities. Capitalism and its associated manifestations of state violence make living — for everybody who is not rich, cisgender, heterosexual, “well-educated” or white — nearly impossible. It is this common reality that unites us othered, deviant, non-normative folks across struggles and pushes us to engage in resistance work that forces us into the very face of trauma and collective oppression; work we engage with that builds on the legacy of the generations before us, and may in fact spark widespread social change.

This undying hope that so many people have creates space for social justice work across various forms of activism, advocacy and organizing to be romanticized absent of the reality of the pain, exhaustion, financial strain, character defamation and burn-out we actually experience in doing the work.

This same romanticism is applied time and time again, year after year to the life and work of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. The legacy of Dr. King is one that is indeed unmatched in terms of his impact, organizing tactics, religious spirituality and preaching, non-violent teachings and as most recently acknowledged, his anti-capitalist, socialist thought.

“Capitalism does not permit an even flow of economic resources. With this system, a small privileged few are rich beyond conscience, and almost all others are doomed to be poor at some level. That’s the way the system works. And since we know that the system will not change the rules, we are going to have to change the system.”

While he, like other activists and changemakers, is tied to a legacy that is steeped in revolutionary thought and practice, we miss the opportunity to use Dr. King’s teachings to unpack the importance of rest and self-care as vital parts of maintaining healthy, sustainable movements.

“There is nothing more tragic than to find an individual bogged down in the length of life, devoid of breadth.”

Self-Care: A Revolutionary Act of Non-Violent Direct Action Protest

Since 2014, an overwhelming chunk of my life has been devoted to community organizing and activism work in Atlanta, Georgia — the birthplace of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. himself. My time in the work has been marked by a few good wins, a LOT of ugly losses, invaluable knowledge about the history of injustice and the inner-workings of this here city, and an undying desire to learn and develop more ways to end harmful urban regimes in favor of a beloved community for all humans.

Organizing, especially direct action protest and community education + advocacy, has also given me a truly magical Black, Queer movement family made up of some of the most extraordinary individuals who all live lives devoted to liberation work and Black joy anchored by a strong repertoire of daily active resistance.

As I reflect back on my time in the work and think about the ways in which we’ve grown together despite the storms we’ve weathered, the significance of our past MLK Day actions vividly stand out to me.

I have attended the Atlanta MLK Day parade faithfully since January 2015. Ironically, my first year participating in the parade was with my college roommates, who, at the time, were graduate students at Clark Atlanta University. They dragged me, an undergraduate student at Georgia State University, along with them because it was too important for me to miss. I protested, given that at the time, taking a nap sounded like a much better idea than what to me at the time felt like a performative “day of action” to celebrate an Atlanta native son that to me if he were still alive would frown upon the city’s current landscape of social justice and inequality; nonetheless, I went anyway and thoroughly enjoyed myself.

Looking back on that day, it stands out in two ways: first, it was the first (and last) time I would attend the MLK Day Parade as another young Black Atlanta student. For us, it meant enjoying a day free of classes, celebrating with everybody Black — no agenda, no cause to stand for, and no organization represented. In the years that followed, my MLK Day Parades and following “days of action” involved making statements against racialized human rights issues in Atlanta such as the lack of affordable housing, rampant gentrification, the unjust actions of my own university and the lack of concern for the well-being of the city’s large homeless population. Second, this was indeed the first time I actively chose to skip out on a rejuvenating self-care day (even if all I had planned was a run and a nap) over participating in the work of an activist space.

The legacy of Dr. King is heavily represented by his unwavering commitment to the thought and practice of nonviolent direct action protest and the changemaking that resulted from the actions he lead. He once said, “Nonviolence is absolute commitment to the way of love. Love is not emotional bash; it is not empty sentimentalism. It is the active outpouring of one’s whole being into the being of another.” I, like many other activists, outpour my whole being into the (well)being of my community, organizing spaces and comrades, yet fail to keep this same energy when it is time to pour into myself.

Though many argue that the current state of King’s legacy of nonviolent action paints him as a pacifist and that over-focusing on this lane of his work alone limits the scope of his dream, I argue otherwise. Dr. King’s message of nonviolence peace work and use of direct action protest

offers current activists the space to expand on the meaning of direct action resistance as a means of fighting for peace to justify the place of practicing self-care in the work.

One of the most beautiful takeaways from growing up in the movement with a tight-knit circle of organizing fam and a more extensive circle of allies has been watching us learn the beauty and necessity of self-care practices as, among many things, a direct form of resistance to capitalist oppression rooted in stress, hyperproductivity, heteronormativity, state violence and the unyielding social construct of “time.”

The Atlanta Black Movement community engages in work across the lanes of food and environmental justice, housing rights, anti-gentrification, prison abolition, fair wages and economic opportunity, anti-recidivism, youth empowerment, LGBTQ rights, safe biking and transit access and the elimination of those equity barriers that keep the city’s most vulnerable Black folks at an extreme disadvantage when compared to the lives of their more affluent and white counterparts. And this work is exhausting. As time has gone on, however, the work of healing, of practicing veganism, feeling free on a bike and finding slices of nature in the concrete jungle, planting gardens, having parties, communal napping and time banking has allowed us to engage in a revolutionary form of direct action protest via self-care that affords us the opportunity to engage in meaningful work without burning out.

Dr. King spoke on the power of direct action work in numerous speeches, lectures and sermons. However, his exploration of the method in his famous “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” piece is one particular iteration of the practice that can be applied to reframing engaging in self-care activities and healing work as forms direct action protest in direct resistance to the demands and strain of capitalism.

In “Letter,” Dr. King pens an open letter after being arrested at a 1963 action in Birmingham, Alabama for disobeying what he vehemently deems in the letter as an “unjust” anti-protest law passed to impede the growing desegregation movement in the city. He breaks down the importance of nonviolent direct action protest early in his letter by saying:

Nonviolent direct action seeks to create such a crisis and establish such creative tension that a community that has consistently refused to negotiate is forced to confront the issue. It seeks so to dramatize the issue that it can no longer be ignored.

The idea of self-care in any form, as it is tied to notions of joy and pleasure, has been denied to Black people since slavery; a denial that has been continuously reinforced by capitalism and thus minimized in our forced culture of struggle and survival. It is most often articulated as something that is simply out of reach or not meant for us. Because of the nature of its denial, Black people choosing to find ways to care for ourselves, our families, communities and environments is indeed an act of powerful direct action resistance to the violence of capitalism and racial oppression. King continues writing in his letter the fundamental tenets of direct action protest and why it is the chosen course of action for desegregation work in the South:

In any nonviolent campaign there are four basic steps: collection of the facts to determine whether injustices are alive, negotiation, self-purification, and direct action….. So, the purpose of direct action is to create a situation so crisis-packed that it will inevitably open the door to negotiation.

We know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed. Frankly, I have never yet engaged in a direct-action movement that was “well timed” according to the timetable of those who have not suffered unduly from the disease of segregation.

Given the fundamentals of engaging in nonviolent resistance campaigns articulated by King, self-care as resistance can be justified based on Black people’s deep understanding of the nature of our oppression, as we have collected the facts of our disenfranchisement since the earliest slave narratives and abolitionist thought papers were published. It is because of this overwhelming evidence that Black organizers have fought for generations for seats at the negotiating table of our oppressors to demand our liberation and have subsequently engaged in acts of performative respectability and decorum to prove our worthiness of such treatment. We have attached ourselves to this seemingly never-ending hamster wheel of changemaking work only to have yet to see actual change happen at a large enough scale to consider ourselves “free” and thus we are exhausted. We have the right to be exhausted. We must therefore be mindful that, unfortunately, change does not come from a persistent exhaustion and subsequent collective burnout.

So what are we left to do? Step four: we engage in direct action protest through taking a step back and taking care of ourselves. MLK Day is one of contradiction as it gives many of us the day off to celebrate the life of Dr. King, yet because his legacy is so heavily steeped in a narrow view of “action” many people, organizers and non-organizers alike, choose to spend the day volunteering for and learning about various causes, marching in the streets and “giving back” in some way, while not acknowledging that taking the day off for what it is — a day removed from the work and engaging in rest and leisure — is actually an acceptable form of action.

I do not mean to drag anybody for their tradition of service on King Day; do you. But I would, however, like to offer those folks who understand exhaustion and burnout from this work an alternative way of thinking through service and action that restores, not depletes us. We as Black activists must understand that we cannot afford the ambulances we chase if we burnout and actually are in need of the ride. We therefore must take any opportunity we can to figuratively sit our asses down, re-center, give our brains and bodies a break and rest. I have a very real, attainable dream that self-care, healing and sustainable well-being can and will be a reality for us. After all, according to Dr. King, we engage in nonviolent protest to resist war and to struggle for peace.

As he notes in “Letter,” collective rest and self-care indeed creates a crisis of disruption unimaginable to the dominant power structure. Rest and self-care regiments in a world that seeks to work us weary enough to not protest is active protest. So for those of us who choose to nap, read, share the company of other carefree Black folks, to binge watch trash tv, indulge in good food or take a yoga class on MLK Day and not volunteer, march or fill our calendars with movement meetings, we should be affirmed in knowing that we too are revolutionary and resisting.

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With Integrity, Colin Kaepernick and Eric Reid Settle NFL Collusion Case

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Colin Kaepernick Eric Reid

Without folding to the organization’s superiors, Colin Kaepernick and Eric Reid have emerged victorious, proving you can maintain your integrity and still be successful.

Just two days after Steve Harvey “coached” Mo’Nique on the benefits of placating industry elites and putting integrity aside for money, Colin Kaepernick’s attorney made an unexpected announcement. The athlete-turned-activist has settled his suit against the NFL over collusion to keep him out of the league.

Answering Injustice with Justice

Following National Anthem protests to bring awareness to injustices that oppress Black people and other people of color, the NFL punished Kaepernick. The league left him unsigned through the off-season and through 2017 training camps. This led to speculation that his departure from the league would be permanent and was caused by being blackballed.

In 2017, Eric Reid filed a grievance letter with the NFL. The letter alleged that under the influence of Donald Trump, the league conspired to prevent further employment opportunities because Reid was the second person to participate in National Anthem protests. Kaepernick and Reid shared the same legal representation during their similar cases. However, Reid remained employed and suffered several mandatory drug tests with 7 occurring during the 2018 season alone.

Nearly two-and-a-half years removed from the initial incident, Kaepernick and Reid’s agreement with the NFL has been reached, but with certain terms. In a joint statement issued by their legal representation, both Kaepernick and Reid are subject to a confidentiality agreement which demands no further comment on the issue.

As of now, no one knows the amount either of the former teammates has been paid to settle their dispute. However, sports experts are speculating Kaepernick was paid within the range of $60 to $80 million for lost wages. Regarding what he will do with his earnings, Kaepernick has been committed to activism across the country. His Million Dollar Pledge has concluded, but the athlete remains invested in the Know Your Rights Camp, which he founded in 2016. The free campaign was established to raise awareness on higher education, self empowerment, and proper law enforcement interaction in various scenarios.

Now that Kaepernick and Reid have settled their dispute, do you think Kaepernick should return to football? Or should he remain focused on activism and philanthropy?

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Dapper Dan Meets With Gucci, Develops Inclusion Action Plan

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Dapper Dan Gucci Blackface

Following the celebrity supported Gucci boycott, Dapper Dan met with the brand to discuss diversity, inclusion, and accountability. Their meeting concluded, the cultural icon of hip-hop fashion design plans to hold all fashion houses accountable for diversity and inclusivity within their respective brands.

Daniel “Dapper Dan” Day, along with a team of experts, approached Gucci with demands that the fashion house acts in the best interest of underrepresented groups. Comprised of ninety percent people of color, the team of corporate experts sat down with Gucci executives to develop a long-term action plan to make amends for a racially-insensitive balaclava design.

The $890 sweater featured a balaclava that, when extended, covered the wearer and mimicked blackface. Causing an immediate social media uproar, Gucci removed the sweater and acknowledged their mistake. Dapper Dan, who frequently used the brands imagery while establishing himself as a hip-hop couturier, was taken aback.

No Excuses

In 2017, recognition from Jay-Z and Black Twitter earned Dap a partnership with the luxury clothier. Dapper Dan partnered with Gucci’s CEO and creative director to develop a line of men’s wear. Ultimately, this resulted in a new atelier which opened in Harlem in 2018, making Dapper Dan of Harlem the first luxury fashion house in the Manhattan neighborhood. Still, this history of partnership and accomplishment did not muddy Dan’s feelings about Gucci’s despicable error.

Pledging to hold the brand accountable for their error, Dapper Dan and the corporate elite met with Gucci and discussed how the brand planned to atone for their cultural ignorance. Upon news of his meeting, celebrities who were participating in the boycott took to social media to share their discontentment. This prompted Dapper Dan to release a statement in defense of his meeting. He checked the culture on their disposal of Black fashion brands along with acknowledging the lack of opportunity for aspiring designers.

We have to LEARN TO EARN. What happened to all the Black fashion brands that failed since the ’80s? Was it because they didn’t get Black support, or was it because they didn’t know the business? Do you expect our young Black designers to spend 30+ years mastering fashion by teaching themselves as I did? How do you expect them to compete with the big brands if they don’t REALLY know the business? They need jobs and internships within these big brands so that they can learn and then branch out on their own.

We Must Hold Everyone Accountable

Addressing the opposition, Dapper Dan remarked that those who wanted to continue to boycott were free to do as they pleased. Before ending his statement, he added, “if anyone should be boycotted, it’s the brands that won’t give our young people an opportunity to learn. In an additional Instagram post featuring Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Jay-Z, Dapper Dan called out artists who purchased clothes on credit and then never patronized his business again once they achieved fame. Both the athlete and rapper-turned-business-mogul were integral in Dan’s reestablishment process after other luxury brands robbed him of his designs.

Insisting we must not only hold the brands accountable, but we must have a plan of action to amend the mistake and move forward, Dapper Dan invited Gucci to join the 21st century with new diversity and inclusivity policies. Their meeting, facilitated by a round-table of nearly ninety percent people of color, birthed an action plan for immediate implementation. Following the conclusion of their meeting, Gucci released a statement apologizing and outlining their long-term action plan to address culture and diversity awareness in the company.

Mediation, Resolution, Progress

Several key points of their intended plan include the creation of several jobs for global and regional directors for diversity and inclusion, a global learning program for diversity and inclusivity awareness, and a global exchange program. The company is also committing to a multi-cultural design scholarship. The 12-month fast track program, which partners with fashion schools, will amplify opportunities to underrepresented groups which will lead to full-time employment. Schools of focus for the scholarship are in New York (Harlem), Nairobi, New Delhi, Beijing, Hangzhou, Seoul, Tokyo, Beirut, London, and Dubai.

These immediate actions were developed with Dapper Dan, expert industry leaders, and Marco Bizzarri, Gucci’s current President and CEO. While many hold the ideology that you should not applaud a fish for swimming, it is important to remember that Gucci’s efforts are far above and beyond other companies, i.e. H&M.

Following H&M’s disastrous “Coolest Monkey In The Jungle” debacle, the company hired just two diversity leaders for their Global and North American markets and issued a public apology. The company has been unable to recover from their mistake which caused The Weeknd and G-Eazy to reject collaboration opportunities. One-year removed from their failure, H&M has recently announced 160 store closings worldwide.

Given Gucci’s response to their racist design and proposals for improvement, will you continue to boycott?

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Dear Steve Harvey

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