Written By: Alonzo Cee
Have you ever thought to question who we ask to be strong in the face of adversity?
I wonder why we pick them?
Maybe it’s because they are specially equipped to deal with that type of stress…
Or maybe we ask them because we would rather someone else carry the burden of responsibility…
When communities are hurting and the world is crumbling around us, resilience is the word I often hear. “We ask you to be resilient through these troubling times” they may say. Nine times out of ten, building resilience so that we may face hardship is an acceptable expectation since challenging experiences are universal human encounters that everyone should be equipped to face. So what is that one time out of ten? Well, let’s unpack that.
The APA Dictionary of Psychology defines resilience as “the process and outcome of successfully adapting to difficult or challenging life experiences, especially through mental, emotional, and behavioral flexibility and adjustment to external and internal demands.” As I mentioned, I want all people to be able to learn resilience as it is a dynamic skill that helps us navigate life.
The problem I have is that I believe our depiction of who needs to be resilient is skewed. As a society, we have an inequitable and extremely biased tendency to call on those who are historically and presently minoritized to be the bearers of trauma and experts of resilience.
As a byproduct of white supremacy culture and colonialism, we in the West typically believe most problems exist through an individualistic lens. That we as individuals can solve our own issues, pick ourselves up by our own bootstraps, and eventually we deny the inherent interdependence that exists as a community. And yes, it is essential for each individual person to develop resilience, however, I would argue that it is more vital for us to decenter this conversation from the individual and think about community or environmental solutions.
This individualism has made our conversations around resilience bland, irresponsible, and lacking serious cultural context. When doing this to certain communities in particular and with higher frequency than we would for others, we essentially tell the world that only certain people are deserving of comfort. If we are truly part of a community, as some of us in our organizations espouse, then how is it equitable for us to continue this practice? Why are those who hold marginalized identities constantly forced to be resilient, while others within our same communities are never having their resilience tested?
This method of problem-solving is like putting a cured fish back into a cancerous pond; it is retraumatizing and quintessential gaslighting at the least. If we want to do this work equitably, then when certain communities are hurting they can’t be the only ones with skin in the game. Those who have power and more privilege within the situation, who are usually afforded comfort, must also be asked to be resilient by putting something on the line. Resilience fatigue and burnout are real, and we cannot expect the same people to continually accommodate for the sake of maintaining comfort for some.
So before we ever utter the word resilience again, I want us to ask ourselves whose comfort is being centered in the conversation.