Nigerian author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie has spent years speaking about feminism, inspiring activists for gender equality all over the world. Speaking on the sidelines of the Chatham House annual conference in London last week, she shared an important but overlooked aspect of being a successful activist: taking a break from the news and switching everything off.
Take the recent news about more than 2,000 children being separated from their parents at the US-Mexico border. “It’s just been difficult for me to watch the videos because and I think partly it’s because I have a two-and-a-half year old,” Adichie said. “When that comes up, I just switch off.”
While it’s important to talk about things that are important and that you may care passionately about, it’s also vital to be careful about what you let in, “because we are all human and all of us are fragile,” Adichie said. “There is only so much you can take.”
This is a valuable message as charged movements for justice are mounting, especially in the US. As these movements multiply—from Black Lives Matter to MeToo to Never Again—the health of their members has come into the spotlight.
Black Lives Matters founders have been outspoken on the need for all people of color, and especially other activists, to take time out to practice self-care, as well as checking in on how other people are doing. An entire community was shaken by the death of Erica Garner at the age of 27 from a heart attack last year, amid her fight against police violence (her father, Eric, was choked to death by a policeman in 2014). The New York Times noted that in the past two years five young Black Lives Matter activists have died, and the pain of these deaths affected other protesters. This has drawn attention to the pressures that full-time activists are burdened with when pushing a cause that stems from, but is not limited to, personal heartbreak, depression, and financial problems.
Ultimately, it serves no one if those who are trying to make long-lasting changes to society are themselves suffering.
Adichie said she’s not on social media, a decision based on “protecting your space, protecting your self, protecting your mind.” These protections are vital to sustaining activism, while also ensuring other aspects of life, from work to relationships, don’t suffer.
Adichie added that there are times she doesn’t read the news, and that’s okay. “Before Trump, I read three newspapers everyday,” she said. “Now I feel like the world is sick.” Her response has been to read more poetry.