Why Self-Care Without Community Care Isn't Possible

Self-care is a hot topic right now. In fact, a $10 billion industry has been created around self-care - everything from aromatherapy to Zumba to chakra stones. The self-care movement is being seen as white and as something that only middle or upper class communities can access. This is because self-care for people of color isn’t always possible. Often times, we’re juggling a million things, we’re constantly on call, or we’re working 12-16 hour days in low-paying non-profit jobs. We’ve been raised to respect our elders, to say yes to family, and to always put them ahead of ourselves. So when people tell us to take care of ourselves, we struggle to accept what that actually means from a cultural standpoint.

The truth is that self-care alone is not enough within communities of color. A few months ago, Nakita Valerio, a Toronto based community organizer, published a post on Facebook that went viral:

“Shouting ’self-care’ at people who actually need ‘community care’ is how we fail people”.

We could argue that community care has existed in Asian Pacific American (APA) communities for thousands of years. After all, most of us grow up being told that we’re supposed to take care of our family or our community. But what happens when we’re not taken care of? What happens, for instance, to an APA woman who is sandwiched between taking care of her elderly parents (and elderly in-laws), her young children, and is still expected to go above and beyond at work? Who is there to take care of her if she feels like she doesn’t have the time to take care of herself? Or, for those of us who live with a debilitating illness, how do we take care of ourselves when we just physically and/or mentally can’t?

That’s where community care comes in. The concept of community care is a group of people (think of it like an extended family) who commits to supporting each other, is accountable to care for one another, holds space for each other, and creates areas for community healing. It means showing up for one another. It can look like this:

  • Reaching out to someone to ask for help

  • Picking up coffee or lunch for a colleague while you’re out

  • Showing compassion (not judgment) for others

  • Asking the question, “How can I support you in your work?” Or “In what ways can I make your day easier?”

The need for community care within non-profits is more crucial now than ever before. Our colleagues in the sector at burning out at extremely high rates. Few individuals want to step into leadership positions and those who do, wind up staying for less time than their predecessors. Self-care alone won’t resolve these issues because self-care alone doesn’t end systemic oppression or injustice. But by creating cultures of community care, we can watch out for one another. We can be there for each other. We can heal together.