Valerie Rice | February 17, 2021
I have heard of many things: caregiver burnout, general burnout, fatigue, but never Racial Battle Fatigue. Thanks to the magic of the internet I heard about RBF today. I do not wonder why this is, the answer is obvious. Psychology and psychiatry are notoriously racist fields. Have Whaaaaaat?!?!?! Yeah, because these, and all other sciences, have been developed by cis white men and thus the biases persist. So like a good little revolutionary soldier, I intend to shake that up. Let’s examine this problem (RBF) closer together.
WHAT IS RACIAL BATTLE FATIGUE?
No, it has nothing to do with trotting off to a war where people are lined up and shooting at each other. It is not that kind of battle. It is the social-psychological stress that accompanies being African-American (Smith et al, 2007). Symptoms include exhaustion, anger, frustration, escapism, emotional withdrawal, and more. Men are more likely to develop this than women, and the reason for this is because they are seen as a larger threat and are statistically more likely to experience hostile racism, but do not discount the women. The sex disparity may simply be a matter of reporting (Smith et al, 2007). People of color are bombarded with constant microaggressions and oppressions just because they EXIST, and the majority of white people ignore and deny this. The body responds to verbal attacks like it does to physical ones, this makes microaggressions as dangerous as physical violence (Pizzaro & Kohli, 2020). Seriously. It is disgusting how one race holds themselves above all others and then treats everyone not “like them” like garbage in an attempt to maintain the illusion of superiority resulting in a mass mental health crisis that should not be. Honestly people, this is terrorism. For more information in an easy to read format, click here.
WHAT TO DO TO ALLEVIATE RBF
Safe Spaces. According to Pizzaro and Kohli (2020), finding a supportive community is essential for building resilience and overcoming RBF. A safe space allows you to lower your guard and takes your body out of battle mode for a few minutes. This can be your family, friend group, church, or online group. Wherever you can find your space, take and treasure it. The group should make you feel affirmed, heard, supported, and valued. Self Care. This is essential to navigating the hostile environment created by white people. You are not responsible for the racism you experience. Period. You are responsible for the care of your body. In a previous post I provided activities to help learn self care, click here and here if interested. These are very generalized but should be helpful. Additionally, self care should include nurturing your body and your spirit. Do what makes you feel whole. Healing can’t be effective in a damaged vessel. Honestly, it won’t be 100% effective in a war zone either, but that is a failure of our society, and we are still working on that. Okay, step 3. You have permission to leave. No, I am not saying you have to leave the country, I am saying that you are allowed to leave the toxic environment. You are too valuable to put up with blatant racism. You are too valuable for that shit. Yes, the U.S. is built on slavery and systemic racism. Yes, you are faced with constant assaults on your very being based on the color of your skin. Yes, this is a total bullshit system. If it becomes too much at a certain job, school, etc. you are 100% allowed to walk away. Walk away. Until we can tear the system down and rebuild it I am encouraging you to spend your energies on less hostile environments. Again, YOU ARE TOO VALUABLE TO PUT UP WITH THAT SHIT.
Another thing you can do is go into counseling. I know this is not popular and I already said that the psych field was built racist. However, there are amazing counselors of color, some of whom graduated with, who get it. They are dedicated to erasing the stigma of mental illness in their communities and are passionate about erasing white supremacy. Find a local therapist who understands you here. Finally, there is one more thing I can suggest. Define Your “Self”. As an existential therapist I find this exercise to be helpful for people bombarded with outside expectations and it has been suggested as a tool for alleviating symptoms of RBF. (No, existentialism is not a rich man’s luxury, this is something people say when they don’t understand existentialism, and a pet peeve of mine.) Okay, so get a paper and write down all your qualities, nothing is good or bad, they just exist. Create a story, poem, video, or work of art, whatever you feel most connected to, to define who you are in YOUR eyes, not the way society sees you. Society is wrong. Look at that beautiful creation. Once you can see who you really are, the beauty and wonder that is YOU, embrace it. Let it empower you. Let that image flood your mind when faced with the BS society throws at you.
Okay readers, I know this was pretty long, and there is so much more to say but I will have to leave it here for now. I hope everyone can now jump in the battle and help end this horrible epidemic affecting our communities. I consider myself an ally, because I am white and want to end racism, but I still screw up. I was raised with a racist mindset, as all white people were (don’t lie, you were too) and re-educating myself has been a long road. So allies, keep working on yourselves, take criticism when you screw up, and be there for people of color. Just because you have the privilege to take a day off and ignore the problem does not mean you should, it means you need to double down on the front lines because our brothers and sisters do not have that luxury. Until next time, Be Well!
Smith WA, Allen WR, Danley LL. “Assume the Position . . . You Fit the Description”: Psychosocial Experiences and Racial Battle Fatigue Among African American Male College Students. American Behavioral Scientist. 2007;51(4):551-578. doi:10.1177/0002764207307742
Pizarro, M., & KohlPizarro, M., & Kohli, R. (2020). “I Stopped Sleeping”: Teachers of Color and the Impact of Racial Battle Fatigue. Urban Education, 55(7), 967–991.i, R. (2020). “I Stopped Sleeping”: Teachers of Color and the Impact of Racial Battle Fatigue. Urban Education, 55(7), 967–991.