So how does a black woman combat burnout? Black girl magic, right?! I love this phrase. I use and repeat it often. I love the song by Janelle Monáe that repeats this phrase even more. But I can’t stop honing in on that word, “magic” — the idea that black women have had to subsist on their mystical powers to persist. Black women have had to rely on wizardry to make it through this tumultuous life. We must harness magic to succeed and thrive through this bullshit. After all burnout for black millennials is not just tiresome, but deadly.
The data is bleak. Not only are we paid 61 cents for every dollar our white, male counterparts make, but our telomeres (the ends of our chromosomes, which control aging and other key biological functions) are literally shrinking due to excessive oxidative stress factors like everyday racism. According to the Study of Women’s Health Across the Nation, “black women are 7.5 years biologically ‘older’ than white women.” Couple that with rising black maternal death rates, especially for black academics. If I succeed and push myself harder, I will increase my chances of fraying at the seams on a cellular level. Not only will I age faster (see: portraits of Obama before and after his presidency) and get sick faster, but I will also increase the difficulty of conceiving and then giving birth — all of this while hurtling faster to my death with more debt than any other group in American history. Burnout for white, upper-middle-class millennials might be taxing mentally, but the consequences of being overworked and underpaid while managing microaggressions toward marginalized groups damages our bodies by the minute with greater intensity.
What scares me now is that I’m starting to make the transition from middle-class to upper-middle-class, but most days, it still feels like I’m heading to the back of the bus: financially forward, but psychologically Rosa Parks in reverse. No matter how shitty a restaurant’s service is, I’m still compelled to tip over 20%, because I don’t want to exacerbate the stereotype that black people tip poorly. Or remember when Oprah was in Italy and worth billions, but the salesperson wouldn’t show her a $38K handbag, because she thought it was out of Oprah’s price range? Mmmhhhmm. Insert my permanent side-eye, which has been my fixed mood since birth.
Another question I’m afraid to ask myself: Am I burned out because I’m still subconsciously wanting the American dream to be true, despite the odds stacked against my skin color? Do I want to be the exceptional black person who actually makes it out of my circumstances? Or am I wanting to be something I will never be: a rich, white man — seemingly carefree, with a sizeable Roth IRA, unafraid to walk to his car at night without his keys Wolverine-d in his hands?
But if the American dream isn’t even possible for upwardly mobile white people anymore…then what the heck I am even striving for? Where do I actually see myself?
Further reading and listening:
¹ Roxane Gay, “The Price of Black Ambition,” VQR. See also: Discussion on For Colored Nerds.
² Anthony James Williams, “Blackademia: navigating depression, desire, and deadlines,” Student Voices.
³ Sheldon Pearce, “Earl Sweatshirt Does Not Exist,” Pitchfork.
⁴ James Baldwin, “An Open Letter to My Sister, Angela Davis,” New York Review of Books.
If we know, then we must fight for your life as though it were our own—which it is—and render impassable with our bodies the corridor to the gas chamber. For, if they take you in the morning, they will be coming for us that night.