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Is it my health or is it white privilege?

Blue background with white handwritten text in block capitals. Text reads: "is it that I am unsafe or am I uncomfortable?"

Privileged white people are encouraging other privileged white people to turn away from current events in Palestine for their mental health, and we need to talk about it.

For context I'm a white slim cis person in the UK, with chronic illnesses and fragile health.

Too often I'm seeing this language being weaponised as reasoning for entirely disengaging. And most often I'm seeing that from fellow privileged people.

I think we have to be very honest with ourselves, when people say "I cannot think about this for my mental health" are you talking about your own safety or are you talking about your own comfort? And do you know where your line is between the two?

Stick with me here.

We hold privilege and with that, power. We cannot disengage from current events around the world because it's uncomfortable. We cannot. But we also have to engage with stamina and knowing what your health is doing will help you to do that.

(Note: when I say engage I mean combining learning with action)

We need to engage with stamina. Something that happens over and over with different social justice and human rights issues around the world is generally speaking, white people, we act with very little stamina.

It's happened with the very much ongoing pandemic, statistically white people stopped taking Covid precautions first - stopped masking first for example. It's well documented across various studies. Even when surrounded by Black people and people of colour in their communities that are not stopping, white people feel comfortable doing so.

Generally speaking, white people will disengage first and disengage the furthest. And that is a problem.

We have to think clearly about where we believe our line between safety and comfort is, and why it might be there. As a very privileged person, I've not had to personally deal with many barriers that others are up against. Including of course other sick and disabled people that are up against barriers that I am not, on top of ableism - like racism for example.

I've been up against less. And that will inform where I initially feel like my comfort/safety line is. How much of it is informed by my health, my physical and cognitive limitations with chronic illness, and how much of it is informed by my whiteness?

It's important to deconstruct that because it informs how I can keep engaging with stamina and allows me to engage more.

Engaging with stamina is going to look different for everyone. And I'm in no way trying to say that everyone that feels unsafe is actually just uncomfortable. There are many different ways that your physical and mental safety might be coming into play here. I simply believe it's important we think on it and ask ourselves the question.

Is it that I am unsafe, or am I uncomfortable?

We cannot turn away in order to remain unaware, ignorant and comfortable.

If you are a privileged person like me, and you're using your health as a reason for entirely disengaging on a permanent basis, please think on that. Think on why that is and where that comes from.

Are we approaching a point where it's unsafe, which may well be the case and we have to switch up the ways that we're learning for example. Or are we deeply deeply uncomfortable with what is happening, as we all should be, and we're not used to this level of discomfort because we've been ignorant in the past and we hold a certain level of privilege?

We have to think about that so we can keep engaging, and do so with stamina. Because that is what is needed.

For people like myself, our fragile health is very susceptible to worsening on a permanent basis even from emotions such as stress, anger and joy. All those things can make my M.E worsen for years and years on end. And it can do that in a way where I will be physically unable to engage in the ways that I currently am able to.

It can feel wrong to consider your own safety when there are people in hospitals being bombed and there are people on the ground having to engage far far beyond their own safety level. They do not have any other option. And that of course includes sick and disabled Palestinians.

I'm not saying my safety matters more than someone else's. I'm also not saying no one should ever risk their own safety to help or save another person. I'm saying it's important we commit to learning, unlearning and taking action for the rest of our lives. We have to be in it for the long haul, in one way or another.

Engaging with disability justice cannot exist in a vacuum. It must be informed by context on a global scale. Our movements and learnings must be intersectional. Our learning and action must also be sustainable. And in order to do that it helps to take your health into consideration. Not as a reasoning for permanently turning away, but knowing when to switch things up.

For example, when learning I always like to learn from people with lived experience if possible. But the medium through which I learn changes all the time depending on what I'm able to process.

Sometimes I'll read a physical book with my eyes. But that's usually pretty tricky for me. So I also try audiobooks too. Sometimes they're not possible either but sometimes they're better for me.

Sometimes I'll watch videos. But sometimes my eyes can't handle screens, so I'll listen to audio only. Sometimes I can't process audio-only information. So I'll half process the audio and half process the written captions, and I'll put the two together to take in all the information.

Sometimes I can write something from scratch. Sometimes I use email templates to contact my elected officials. Sometimes I start with a template and delete some bits and add in others.

Some days I can have a text conversation with a friend where we share resources and knowledge. Some days I can talk over the phone with family, and make sure they're not only getting their information from the news on the telly. Some days I sign petitions.

Each day is different. Some days I can't help but sleep all day.

Think of how you pace yourself over the day/week/month etc to complete any sort of task with chronic illness. It looks different to how others might do it. And it might look different for you from one day to the next.

But we do what we can with what we have.

Learn in the ways you're able to. Engage in the ways you're able to. And keep going.


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