The first time I remember seeing Audre Lorde’s proclamation that caring for herself was an act of political warfare widely circulate on social media was during the Women’s March of 2017.
That January, millions of women lined city streets in protest of the inauguration of Donald Trump. I imagine that their chants were the same I heard standing outside of Trump Towers after the presidential election of 2016, such as the declaration Trump was not my president and the proclamation that love trumps hate.
I say “imagine” because I did not attend that Women’s March (or its sequel in 2018). Instead I watched in awestruck rage as pictures and video clips appeared on social media of white women wearing pink, laden with signs expressing their fury. This is what solidarity looks like, I saw captioned beneath one image, and I resisted the urge to comment with the correction: No. This is what it looks like when white women feel their power threatened.
Many of these women had been silent in the wake of the state-sanctioned murders of Black folks and even critical of Black liberation protests. The centering of vaginas as an indicator of womanhood by march attendees showed a continued lack of interest in the lives of trans people. Nonetheless, solidarity was demanded and expected from those of us with aspects of our identities that were being minimalized, erased, and silenced.
On Twitter, I watched as Lorde’s words reverberated among Black women reminding each other not to feel guilty for not participating in the Women’s March. These were affirmations of the disappointment I felt that while 53 percent of white women voted a white supremacist into the presidency, a decent portion of the other half revealed that they would only show up in defense of their own interests. That day, I learned caring for myself meant embracing my anger.
Since the election of 2016, the market for self-care has grown rapidly. Beneath its hashtag one can find lifestyle brands, witches proposing group hexes on the likes of Trump and Brett Kavanaugh, pictures of matcha lattes, herbal tonics, crystals, tarot cards, and astrology charts (the latter two being my most-used mediums).
As writers Jordan Kisner and Anna North have pointed out, the ideology that investing in one’s wellbeing is political is rooted in Lorde’s A Burst of Light: Living with Cancer. Through diary entries Lorde examines survival within a racist, homophobic, and sexist healthcare system, as well as the importance of finding joy and her commitment to connecting with Black women and people of color around the world.
Much of the growing wellness industry (worth billions) markets products to upper-middle-class white women who stripped Lorde’s quote of its true context and ignored her emphasis on community in favor of prioritizing individual comfort. Following this logic, women are encouraged to focus on what makes them feel good and cut out what and who makes them feel bad—meaning anything that causes discomfort. This offers justification for not confronting the racism, misogyny, and homophobia Lorde was interrogating.
In this binary, emotional experiences can be defined as negative and positive (with anger often falling on the negative end of the spectrum). It is up to the individual person to take accountability for their undesirable feelings, which can be conquered if that person invests enough money in the right tools and practices. However, one does not have to acknowledge the benefits many reap from structural oppressions, because one of the great tricks of capitalism is spotlighting personal responsibility.
Beyond the dominating images of carefree people of privilege associated with #selfcare, I was able to discover communities of people of who, like me, hold an interest in magic and wellness practices yet also recognize the reality of the world we inhabit. Within these circles there is the acceptance that an exclusively positive perspective is unrealistic when honoring the full range of emotions one’s body endures, especially when challenging outdated frameworks. There is discussion around accessibility to self-care products for low-income people. There is no secret to success for marginalized people whose existences are inherently in opposition to systems built on whiteness and cishet normativity.
Yet even in the most progressive spaces, where anger is perceived to be natural and inescapable, it is also understood as a sentiment that one must ultimately move past in healing in order to achieve the ever-elusive inner peace. But what if anger were thought of not as a challenge to care, or even as a byproduct of unfortunate circumstances, but as necessary for growth and change? And what if the tools we purchased to foster feeling good could also hold space for our anger, highlighting the ways in which we could aim it constructively?
Accepting the aggravation I felt over the Women’s March was critical to the welfare of my being, because it allowed me to look more critically at the relationship of power between white women and Black and Brown women. Unpacking the whitewashing of Audre Lorde’s work assisted with diminishing the final remnants still seeded in my mind that I just needed to think more positively to dispel the negative energy that was blocking me from success.
I do not want to evolve past anger. I want to keep it close, as it reminds me of the work that needs to be done. I step into it fully, because anger is not born just out of fear and sadness. It is aligned with joy and love.
I am angry in defense of what I care for, and that includes myself.