Quest for social justice begins with practicing self-love
Opinion Column: Reason in Revolt
Social justice work came into my life because of the pain I experienced through the interlocking marginalization of my multi-faceted identities. For many reasons beyond my queerness, expression and body, my whole being is a place of battlefield. The pains I experienced in my childhood — and to this day — propelled me into social justice work. The deeper and longer I get into into activist work as it flows through my academics, social action projects and personal life, the more I uncover the fact that I never healed from the wounds of my marginalization.
These wounds resulted in patterns of body-shaming, lack of self-esteem, depression and anxiety. For a long time, I had no explanations and solutions to these painful patterns. In actuality, these demons are the pathological result of systematic assaults to my being. Self-worth defined by resume culture, beauty standards, economic standards and the idea that the oppression faced by our identities is solely ours and our community’s responsibility. I thought that the best way to fight off these forces is to immerse myself in social justice work by helping others. I was aware of how these forces negatively affected my life, but I avoided confronting these issues in my own personal life.
How can I fulfill my passion to heal others, when I do not heal the old wounds and continuous assaults in my own personal life? When I refuse to fully accept, heal and love myself, I cannot fully receive and experience love from the people who love me.
Just like me, many of my fellow organizers in the social justice community get into this work as a way to address the injustices that happen in our own lives and by addressing the multiple socio-economic injustices that exist in our community. With all the selflessness, we forget to address our daily sufferings. How can we fight for people’s rights to live and for our rights to live, when systematic forces prevent us from celebrating our own lives? We fight with so much resistance while carrying our pain, which results in the tragic experience that many activists face: From local to global, many of us burnout, carry mental health issues, become self-destructive or simply disappear. Some of us become cultural icons, but much of the revolution was and is not televised. Facing this reality, that is mine and my activist community, I urge that we make sure to frame our resistance with love. While lobbying in government, standing on picket lines or pursuing our social action projects, we have to emphasize that celebrating our lives is an act of resistance. We are a community, separated by our identities, but weaved together by our struggles and collective visions of liberation.
A way to fight off this negativity is by practicing self-love. Self examination is not enough when it does not lead to self-love. To affirm, value and validate yourself, despite all the negative messages is both radical and political. It is radical because you’re not supposed to exceed the boundaries and limitations that society has set for you. It is radical because society does not find importance in self-care and self-love. So, it is imperative to practice self-love on a daily basis, because activism exists inside and outside of our beings. Transformative activism means striving for policy reforms as well as loving ourselves and the people around us. By creating safe spaces for ourselves and our community where we can be who we are. These are essential aspects of activist work. This is a part of our everyday activism.
And to clarify, self-love and everyday activism is not just reserved for activists: It is a necessary collective practice, that starts with the individual. I hear people talking about small ways of helping our communities, such as making donations and volunteering and feeling like they’re not capable of giving more, but a way to do this is by being active in our lives to bring liberation values, commitments and practices in our families, friends, workplace and faith communities.
We already have the resources to practice everyday radical activism and radical love for ourselves and others. Policies are nothing without the changes of actions. Everyday activism means taking responsibility for our actions. It’s about channelling our radical empathy. It is how our interpersonal relationships can be the breeding ground for empathic, transformative and revolutionary acts of everyday activism.
The etymology of the word “radical” is root. Real problems lie at the root, and clipping the leaves of issues is not enough. Now, people may argue with me that urging everyone to fight for black and brown bodies, for the poor and the oppressed infringes on people’s personal freedoms. Asking people to self-assess their own bigoted opinions and beliefs is too much to ask for. The truth is, everyday activism is an individual and collective effort against ignorance, alienation and violence.
I will keep on preaching the gospel of liberation as long as I continue helping my community, my friends and family unlearn, learn and empower. I will love myself and others with a never-ending decolonized heart. I will continue to plant seeds in my various communities that question the structures of marginalization in and around us. I will water them with love to build love and courage in myself and others, in order to strengthen the foundations and firm my radical roots to keep the revolution alive.
Rachel Landingin is a School of Arts and Sciencs junior majoing in journalism and media studies with minors in art history and digital, media and information technology. Her column, “Reason in Revolt,” runs on alternate Mondays.