The cost of being a conscious student activist.

My heart has been bleeding every day since I started my activism.

Whether my eyes are closed, enjoying my own company or simply trying to find peace in silence, I cannot stop myself from thinking about the discomfort I have faced since I got here. In my free time, I watch political documentaries, listen to artivist poetry and read about the history of slavery and colonization. I cannot stop myself from thinking about the injustices occurring around the world, especially when I can feel its breathe on my neck. Basically, I sleep, eat and breathe the dream of emancipation.

I have realized the emotional burden this has come with. Sometimes I will be sitting in my room trying to meditate and I will burst into tears because I no longer have control over my own thoughts. I can feel the mental, physical and spiritual impact being an activist has had on me. I want it to stop. Sometimes, all I want my brain to do is think of happy things- normal people things- and not changing the world. I want to be a normal college student and not have to worry about changing an entire institution. But this is not a luxury I have.

When something unjust happens on campus, I feel for and with the students with whom these events happen to. When I try to heal from this pain, before I can completely heal, something else happens and then I feel the ache again. And before I can heal from the past two events, something else happens. This is the cycle. I just want to heal, completely! To not have tears right at the tip of my eyelids. To have everything to laugh about. But I have failed to channel this. Maybe it is because I am fighting too many battles. I fight for Afrikan lives (because I am a minority among minorities), I fight for Black and brown lives in the U.S. and I am forever fighting for women of color.

Sometimes I sit down and wish I was never conscious. I understand what people mean by ignorance is bliss because once you do not know; it does not have to hurt. You don’t recognize injustice as regularly- at every corner of your eye. But I have no choice but to know. The environment I live in has made sure that I know I am black and know my place. I learned quickly when I got to the U.S. I did not have the choice to stay oblivious.

The process of unlearning colonization and slavery is beautiful. It is indeed freeing. It is like receiving the gospel- you get so excited and want to share it with your friends, your family- even strangers. However, it comes at a price.

There is no manual of how to unlearn and not lose your mind. How do I learn that there are particular projects to instill in me self hate and not be angry? How do I learn that the current chaos in Afrika is due to the fuel of the global north and not be angry? How do I learn that my people’s history has been intentionally altered in the education system and not be angry? How do I learn that the reason I never learned my own country’s history, my culture and my language in school is part of the intentional project to maintain power to the white man and not be angry? How do I learn of the entitlement of white people to MY property and not be angry? How do I learn that the institutions I attend cannot protect me and not be angry? or that they choose to protect perpetrators and not me and not be angry? I just want to understand how I can learn of the make up of the society that we live in and not be angry.

I love being an activist but sometimes I am tempted to tell my peers to stay away from such work because I don’t want anyone to hurt like I do.

I just hope no one ever mistakes the dropping out of student activists as failure because if anything, these students give their all. We face the inequalities, have to find solutions, go to class, complete assignments and try have a social life- all at the same goddam time.

There has been a trend in history of student activists dropping out of school, for example, Malcolm X, Huey Newton and Steve Biko. Yes Malcolm, you made sure I know education is key in the war to get our freedom but you never told me how to actually stay in school. We had a whole generation of South African students who participated in the Soweto riots in 1976 who dropped out of school, in order to fight for the little freedom we see in SA today. I am a first generation college student (many students of color here are) and I feel like it would be a shame if I didn’t finish school. There is constant pressure and expectations from my parents, my friends and everyone who has high hopes in me. However, their inabilities to understand the conditions set by institutions also add on my many struggles.

Additionally, let us not forget that history has shown that many of student activists become drug addicts. I mean considering how desperate you want to get your mind free but the world is against you, can you really blame them?

All in all, student activists recognize the health implications of doing the work they do. I cannot stress how important self-care is. However, I’d be a hypocrite to say “when you feel you need time off, do so” because I know activism is not a hat you take on and off. I just hope that we can all find a way to keep doing our work while healing at the same time.


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