Black Self Care Is Not a Luxury—It’s Our Legacy

In 1988, Black feminist poet Audre Lorde wrote, “Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.” Since she published these words in her essay collection, A Burst of Light, this quote, has been extracted from its original context, reproduced, and co-opted by a $10 billion self-care industry that sells us facemasks and bubble baths. However, for Black women past, present, and future—self care is a necessity, not a luxury. It’s a longstanding act of political resistance and an inextricable part of our collective history.

Yes, Black self care can unfold in bedrooms, bathtubs, beauty salons, and spiritual centers, but it’s rarely self-indulgent. Rosa Parks had a regular yoga practice. And in a 2018 Democracy Now interview, Angela Davis said practicing yoga in prison taught her about self care. For Black women, self care nourishes entire communities and expands our capacity to remain present in a world that would rather see us perish.

These ideas inform Oludara Adeeyo’s debut book, Self-Care for Black Women: 150 Ways to Radically Accept & Prioritize Your Mind, Body & Soul. In it, she notes that self care can be a matter of life or death. “The reason my book is dedicated to my mom is because she died at 62 of heart issues,” Adeeyo says. “Her wellness was definitely not at the forefront.”

Adeeyo’s experience watching her mother’s health decline is far too common. When we look at the lines before Lorde’s most famous quote, she writes: “I had to examine, in my dreams as well as in my immune-function tests, the devastating effects of overextension. Overextending myself is not stretching myself. I had to accept how difficult it is to monitor the difference.”

In a country where Black women are 30 percent more likely to die from heart disease and 60 percent more likely to have high blood pressure than white women, self-care is a commitment to health in the face of a medical system that harms us. “We deal with the double-hitter of racial trauma and misogyny, also known as misogynoir,” Adeeyo says. “We’re dealing with race-based traumatic stress, which impacts our physical, mental, and emotional health.”

This is why self care is our legacy, and it’s part of how we preserve ourselves. Sometimes we calm our nervous systems with a warm bubble bath or a pedicure, but as Adeeyo shares below, sometimes self care demands you change your life. Adeeyo’s hope, however, as you read Self-Care for Black Women, is that it helps you figure out where to start.

Below, we talked to the LA-based author and psychiatric social worker about how her self care journey unfolded, why Black women need radical self care now, and a few of her favorite ways to nourish herself.

Well+Good: How did your self care journey begin, and how has it evolved?

Adeeyo: The spark began when I was experiencing my own health issues in my early 20s. I have PCOS (polycystic ovary syndrome), so my health issues coupled with caregiving for my mom really sparked an interest in self-care for me.

In my early 20s, I quit Cosmo to give myself space to figure my life out. Then I went to work at XXL. I was working what felt like 24/7, and I remember thinking this was not the life I wanted, so I resigned. Everyone was confused, but I realized I value a balanced life, and working at a hip-hop magazine wouldn’t allow me that. I needed that moment to remember that I’m in control of my destiny and what I want my future to be.

Once I entered my master’s program in social work, I started taking self care seriously. When dealing with other people’s issues, you need to make sure you’re okay.

Black History Month is underway—why do Black women need to prioritize self care right now?

We live in a society that does not care about Black women. We can look at the Lauren Smith-Fields situation, and it’s like, ‘Didn’t we raise hell and water to figure out what happened to Gabby Petito?’ The time has come, especially for this new generation, to realize that us taking care of ourselves is also social justice. We want to fight all the fights, but living is also fighting the system. Enough is enough.

We don’t need to be our mothers, our grandmothers, and our aunties, where we are basically neglecting our wellness for the sake of everyone around us, only to end up dying quicker than everyone else. We’re exposed to so much social media trauma porn and pandemic trauma. It is time for us to practice self-care because we’re feeling all of this on top of the regular trauma we deal with as Black women. Why not put ourselves first?

How do you practice radical self care? 

I’m always trying to release guilt because self-criticism is something I’ve definitely struggled with. Lately, I’ve been better about asking for help, which is a form of self care. I’m better at letting friends know when I’m not okay because, in the past, I was known as 'the strong friend.'

I also meditate (I have this device called Sensate that’s linked to your phone, and there’s an app). I listen to music and podcasts. I go for walks and I do yoga. I’ve also been practicing using my intuition more, which is something I’ve been doing over the last year, especially with the help of my therapist.

You mentioned music. What’s on your self care playlist?

Obviously, Beyoncé is on everything. I have several different playlists for different moods: I have one called Bad Bih with songs that make me want to turn up, get ratchet, and twerk, like Megan Thee Stallion, Saweetie, Latto, Doja Cat. When I like to mellow out, I listen to this Spotify playlist called Jazz Vibes, but the genre is more like LoFi hip-hop. And I also listen to reggaeton. It’s eclectic, but I think about what’s right for my mood.

Yes, self care comes in many forms.

It’s an ongoing practice, which is why the book is written the way it is. It's meant to make self care more attainable. I’ve been getting feedback and a lot of Black women are saying it’s encouraging them to get started or try something new—that’s what it’s all about.


Quotes have been edited and condensed for clarity.

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