bell hooks follows the ‘love ethic’, viewing joy as not just a tool to maintain energy for activism, but as a political act in itselftwitter / arraynow

For the past year, I served as Women’s and Non-Binary Officer for the SU BME Campaign and BME officer for my college. In the recent spate of SU campaign elections, I received a flood of messages expressing surprise that I was not re-running. At the time, I couldn’t articulate why I had decided to step out of the student advocacy scene because it didn’t feel like a decision at all, but a necessity. After a year of sitting in meetings with people who refuse to commit to any structural change, organising student welfare initiatives and preparing myself daily for the violence of this institution as a whole, I had lost all momentum to continue. I wondered how I got here, from a bright-eyed fresher desperate to leave a ‘legacy’, to a disillusioned second year with little more to give. Leading up to my handover, I anticipated a wave of relief washing over me. However, upon handing over to my successor, I recall feeling nothing but an overwhelming surge of guilt. I was not just transferring a title, but a year of asking for extensions on supervision essays with no excuse except that I was so emotionally drained from a meeting, I could not do anything but sleep and cry.

“We feel the weight of our identities each time we are asked over brunch for our ‘take’ on global injustices as if they constitute sites of abstract theoretical sport, rather than debates about our lived experience”

Amidst renewed media attention to the Black Lives Matter movement and conversations around ‘allyship fatigue’, there appears to be a wider acknowledgement of the emotional toll of political work. Sadly, the concept of political burnout is nothing new for marginalised students, saturating a range of cultural groups and organising spaces. Even outside of formal spaces, we are forced to engage with informal political work on a daily basis. We feel the weight of our identities each time we are asked over brunch for our ‘take’ on global injustices as if they constitute sites of abstract theoretical sport, rather than debates about our lived experience. We feel it in the gaze fixed upon us when someone ‘accidentally’ says a particular word in Kanye West’s ’Gold-digger’. This weight is palpable, ever-present, and seemingly inescapable. I do not remember ever explicitly identifying as an activist, but after a year of being treated as if the label was stuck to my forehead, I figured I may as well have something on my CV to show for it.

“We fear failing our communities and ourselves, forging an unconscionable weight to carry”

Other marginalised students have been made to feel like their identity is illegitimate, simply because they choose not to participate in formalised student politics. There should be no expectation for any of us to be mouthpieces for our communities. I will forever remain indebted to the Afro-Caribbean Society for holding their year 12 Access Conference and for my incredible mentor. However, this gratitude slowly begins to writhe and burn inside of us, instilling an internal pressure to carry the mantle forward. We fear failing our communities and ourselves, forging an unconscionable weight to carry.

“Recognizing the power of the erotic within our lives can give us the energy to pursue genuine change within our world, rather than merely settling for a shift of characters in the same weary drama” - Audre Lordetwitter / womensart1

Black Feminist thinkers can teach us a great deal about how to regulate our political energies and maintain joy in our lives. bell hooks follows the ‘love ethic’, viewing joy as not just a tool to maintain energy for activism, but as a political act in itself. We are taught to compartmentalise pleasure and eroticism away from non-sexual areas of our lives. However, as observed by Audre Lorde (1984:59), “recognizing the power of the erotic within our lives can give us the energy to pursue genuine change within our world, rather than merely settling for a shift of characters in the same weary drama.” Similarly, an older student once advised me to only take on work that I found personally fulfilling. While it is deeply problematic to centre movements around individualist conceptions of justice, this unequivocally shifted the way I conceive of my place in this university. On a material level, I am paying to be here, not with petty cash built on decades of generational wealth, but years of debt. Like everyone else, I also sat through the near sole-destroying application process. With everything we have given to claw our way into this institution, it is a sad fact that marginalised students may not look back on their university days with a lens of romantic nostalgia, but one of fatigue and regret. This issue permeates Cambridge as a whole, harbouring toxic cultures of burnout and ‘week 5 blues’. It is a culture that normalises working to the extent that we make ourselves ill. Clearly, our wider student body needs to reconfigure how we think about academic work, but must further ask ourselves which additional sources of exhaustion are at play for marginalized students, and the role we might play in lessening this.


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I am no longer accepting this culture of fatigue within our communities. Over the next year, you will see me in weekly forums with other women and non-binary people of colour at FLY, crying tears that dance on the boundary of heavy despair and electric laughter. You will see me on the netball court, attempting (and failing) to catch a ball for the first time in four years, but feeling support from my teammates nonetheless. Whether it be trying a new sport, auditioning for a play, or sending in an article for varsity that isn’t for the opinions section; I challenge you to make that weight a little lighter.

I am tired of being tired. From now on, I am deciding to choose joy.