In the past month, Jewish online spaces have become increasingly toxic, especially for Jewish Women of Color. While many are leaving those spaces in search of more inclusive communities, for others, staying is necessary. For women of color who write, or who create community, or who just feel the need to be outspoken, dealing with online toxicity is inevitable. However, there are important steps that you should consider taking to protect your safety and mental health.
You can’t be plugged in 24/7, regardless of whether there is conflict in your online spaces or not. There are studies that show that increased exposure to social media increases depression and anxiety. According to the CDC, people of color, women of color — especially African-American and non-white Latinx women — already experience high levels of depression. Your mental health depends on taking care of yourself — and that means taking a step back from the screens.
Of course, Shabbat is a great way to ensure that you’re getting this needed relaxation time, especially if you like to host dinners with friends and family — but you don’t have to be religious to take a break. For me, I’ve started putting my phone down around 6 or 7 p.m. every night. I like to use that time to do things that revitalize me, like watching great movies and TV on Netflix (like Water for Chocolate or The Fosters) or reading Afro-futurism novels by writers like Nnedi Okarafor and Octavia Butler. I also like to spend that time cooking and doing fun activities with my partner. It’s been a life-saving habit, and has helped me reclaim my sense of self.
2. Private spaces vs. public spaces
A huge part of reclaiming your sense of self means reclaiming your private spaces. When I first started writing, I made the mistake of letting my public life seep into all my private spaces. It was good… until it wasn’t. I found myself compulsively checking my social media, and because the notifications from my friends and the ones from readers were so intermingled, I inadvertently ended up working all day, every day. I also second-guessed the things I posted and accepted friend requests from people I’ve since found out are very unsafe. And when the drama hit, I was terrified because I realized I didn’t know most of my Facebook friends, and that they could easily find and threaten my loved ones.
So, last week, I unfriended 300 people and made a separate author’s page. It feels incredibly good to see more of my loved ones and friends in my feed, and less of the drama and work-related things.
Make sure that you have spaces where you can feel free to be yourself, where you can interact with your family and friends safely, and where you can celebrate your culture(s) without being judged. Determine which accounts are going to be private or public and stick to those boundaries.
3. Be intentional about the communities you join
You don’t have to only be part of communities for people of color, but you should examine what types of communities are best for you. Also, just because a space is for people of color doesn’t mean that you will feel safe there. In many online Jews of Color groups, there is still a lot of anti-blackness or anti-Romanyism. Being aware of that may influence which communities you decide to spend your energy on.
Also, be aware of what you’re trying to get out of these online spaces. Do you want a group of people that you can meet in-person and build lasting friendships? Do you want a physical space to go to every week? Are you looking for online education, without much bonding? Knowing what you’re looking for is crucial.
4. Know who you are and let that be your strength
After I told him about all the hateful things I was hearing and seeing, my college rabbi sent me the wise words of Tyrion Lannister from Game of Thrones: “Never forget what you are, the rest of the world will not. Wear it like armor and it can never be used to hurt you.”
Recently, so many people have tried to use what I am to hurt me. They took an article I wrote about my sexual assault and experience with domestic abuse, and used a line about my family to invalidate my Jewishness. It was a move intended to wound — and it almost worked.
But after I got that message from my rabbi, I realized that the very same things they were trying to make me ashamed of was where my power lied. Case in point: After I published the article about my sexual assault and my relationship with my mother, I got so many messages from people who had almost the exact same story — the same pain, the same background, the same journey to Judaism.
And in recent weeks, I have gotten even more messages from people who told me that when they tried to write about racism in the Jewish community, they had gone through the same things. One person told me to keep writing and to “not let the darkness in.” They told me that there was a whole community of Jews of Color who have been through what I have, who have had the same experiences as me.
Who you are is not something that people can weaponize against you if you understand where your power lies. You never know who needs to hear your voice.
5. Protect yourself
But all the self-awareness and confidence in the world can’t protect you from dangerous people. For that, you will need to take other precautions. Many out-spoken writers and activists — especially people of color — are threatened with doxxing. Doxxing is the searching for and publishing of a person’s private information to harm them, threaten them, or invalidate them. Depending on which information is sought or published, it can be illegal. If that’s something you’re worried about, follow this worksheet to protect yourself.
If you get threats of doxxing or other cybercrimes, report it immediately to your local police department. Even if they don’t take immediate action, having that report is important. Take screenshots of all threats, or obtain voice messages. If it’s a specific online group where you are being harassed, make sure you give the police the names of the administrators of that group.
6. Don’t feel obligated to educate everyone
As women of color, our cultures and history are so interesting and wonderful, I always find myself ranting on about it to everyone I interact with. Especially after going to Howard University, I love the fact that I’ve been exposed to so much knowledge. And I want to share that! But sometimes it can be exhausting, especially when someone doesn’t want or appreciate the education, and is just wasting your time. The best thing you can do for yourself is pick your online battles: Not every argument is worth having. You shouldn’t always have to fight to justify your humanity.
And even if someone is engaging you in good faith and is interested, you don’t have to be the one to educate them. The library and Google are both great resources they can access. Take a break. You deserve it.
7. Know Your Worth
But maybe it is your passion to educate people on matters of race and ethnicity. Maybe you find yourself writing lengthy posts about the topic, maybe you have a blog, or maybe you make videos. If writing or public speaking is where your talents lie, you should get paid for that! Getting paid for educating people is a huge part of self-care. Pitch your thoughts to magazines (like Alma!) and get paid for your knowledge. Leverage your videos into speaking engagements at colleges or synagogues.
And if the reaction to your articles is threatening your safety or health, let your employers know. If you’re having to spend money on therapy and other acts of self-care to write for them, maybe that needs to reflect in the amount that you’re getting paid, especially if you are doing great work. Women get paid less than men, and the wage gap for women of color is even wider. But that shouldn’t be the way the world works.
Self-care for women of color is a radical act. It’s not all white-washed yoga classes and face masks. Sometimes, it requires a lot of work and introspection to find out how to create the life and spaces you want.
Header Image via Sua Agape on giphy