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Learn & Unlearn: Anti-racism Resource Guide

Lesson 5: Radical Self Care

Original posts from @saic.maffairs were posted in February 2022.

Foundation: Wellness

The History of Radical Self-Care

Bath bombs, candles, and face masks is what many precieve self-care to be now adays. Buying items is now seen as the solution to self-care, when it may actually obscures or minimizes the real issues. Self-care, more specifically, radical self-care, was and continues to be an act of investing in oneself within a system that withholds acknowledgment and resources from minoritized groups. At first the term self-care was only used in a medical context. The term entered public vernacular in the late 1960s, specifically for the Black community during the Civil Rights Movement. 

Black and Latinx feminist writers like Audre Lorde, Bell Hooks, and Gloria Anzaldua took it into their hands to expose the lack of resources for Black women and their health. Writer Audre Lorde asserted the autonomy of Black women, and demanded they take the fight for themselves. In Audre Lorde’s book, A Burst of Light, she writes “I am saving my life by using my life in the service of what must be done. I want to live the rest of my life, however long or short, with as much sweetness as I can decently manage, loving all the people I love, and doing as much as I can of the work I still have to do. I am going to write fire until it comes out my ears, my eyes, my noseholes – everywhere.” Radical self-care is self-preservation, as well as a call for greater access to resources.

The Black Panther Party and Black and Latinx feminist writers used radical self-care to take command of their health and wellness. Self-care became an act of appreciation and acceptance for one’s mind and body as it was and is. The Black Panther Party also became a resource of radical self-care to Black communities to ensure their survival and happiness. 

What is it?

Wherever you are, your surrounding environment influences your state of wellbeing– and it’s completely understandable to get exhausted just from the everyday. Radical self-care is the prioritization of placing your needs before someone else's. Radical self-care is carving out a space for yourself by defining your own self-care. Stressors can vary depending on the resources one’s community has access to and/or how society affects one’s identity. Exhaustion can come from institutionalized racism and the interpersonal racism in one’s everyday experience. Exhaustion can also occur from our fighting against these forces. Radical self-care is essential to sustain our activism, our community, and ourselves.

It is radical because it is the act of fully engaging in self-care and ourselves. We know ourselves the best, what we are feeling, and what we need. It is because we know ourselves best, that we can assert what it is that we need. When we are addressing ourselves, it positively trickles out to the community and the environment around us. It is healing. It is self-acceptance. It is radical.

Wellness is multidimensional. Radical self-care starts from one of four categories. 

  • Physical
    • How does your body feel? Do you need water? Food? Or Rest? Are you clenching your jaw?
  • Mental
    • How does your headspace feel? What kind of thoughts are filling your space?
  • Emotional
    • What are the emotions in your headspace? How are they affecting your mind and body? What do you need to best express your current feelings?
  • Sense of Self
    • Are you listening to what your heart wants! Have you done something that you enjoy today?

What Does it Look Like? And What Can it Do?

Radical self-care can take many forms. It is you recognizing your needs and defining what is needed to address them.

Radical self-care looks like:

  • Something that feels attainable to you
  • A realistic routine for you that becomes a continued practice
  • Listening to your mind and body as an ongoing process
  • Time by yourself and/or with others that is sustainable


  • Buying products is not self-care
  • Overworking can lead to unsustainable reward systems
  • Self-care does not look the same for everyone
  • Be wary of distracting yourself from the matters at hand
  • You are not being selfish

Radical self-care can help us reclaim our time and place. Burn-out is a common feeling radical self-care works to alleviate. Stress looks different depending on someone’s environment and identity. Accessibility to many or few community resources can also shape someone’s stress. Defining, understanding, and then acting upon our needs brings awareness to our macro, mezzo, and micro decisions.


“Anyone who’s interested in making change in the world also has to learn how to take care of herself, himself, theirselves.” - Angela Davis, 2018, Interview with AFROPUNK

“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. Necessary for me as cutting down on sugar. Crucial. Physically. Psychically. Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.” - Audre Lorde, 1988, A Burst of Light

To Read

To Research

To Listen

Please note: none of the podcasts below offer episode transcripts.

To Watch

To Follow


To Reflect

Ask yourself these questions sourced from "How You Can Honor the Radical History of Self-Care" by Martha Tesema, Shine, 2020:

  • What’s the first memory you have of practicing self-care?
  • How has your self-care changed over time?
  • What does it look like - and how does it feel - when you feel cared for by yourself or your community?
  • Who has influenced your self-care routine
  • How do you want your relationship to self-care to grow in the future?
  • How do you feel when you take care of yourself?

To Act

Take steps towards self care that feel comfortable and active for you.


Works Cited

  1. TEDx Talks, "Self Care is Radical | Raymonda Reese | TEDxSeattleUniversity," YouTube, November 14, 2017
  2. TEDx Talks, "The Missing Ingredient in Self Care | Portia Jackson-Preston | TEDxCrenshaw," YouTube, November 5, 2019
  3. Lenora E. Houseworth, “The Radical History of Self-Care,” Teen Vogue, January 14 2021
  4. Janan P. Wyatt and Gifty G. Ampadu, “Reclaiming Self-care: Self-care as a social justice tool for black wellness,” Community Mental Health Journal 58, no. 2 (2021): 213-221.
  5. Bryony Porteous-Sebouhian, “Why acknowledging and celebrating the Black feminist origins of 'self-care' is essential,” Mental Health Today, October 27, 2021.
  6. Martha Tesema, “How You Can Honor The Radical History of Self-Care,” Shine, July 23, 2020.
  7. Ashia Harris, “A History of Self-Care,” Slate, April 5 2017.