Letter From the Editor: Our September Cover Star and the Revolutionary Act of Community Care
Earlier this year SELF made a commitment to redefining wellness through the lens of personal and public health. To us, that means exploring how your physical and emotional health affects your ability to live well, of course, but it also involves understanding how the health of our loved ones and communities are just as crucial as our personal well-being. When I was appointed editor in chief in May, I knew that I wanted to continue to highlight this important mission, especially as it relates to groups who feel marginalized in the often elitist world of wellness.
Our September cover with Issa Rae, my first cover as editor in chief, is one way we’re advancing this message. I’ve been a fan of Rae since the 2016 debut of Insecure, her expertly crafted HBO show in which Black people of all stripes process life, make mistakes, and simply exist. For me, a biracial Black woman who often feels that I don’t fit into the few depictions of Black people we tend to see onscreen, seeing fully formed Black characters who were flawed, funny, awkward, and varied was a joyous discovery. But Rae’s excellent body of work isn’t the only, or the main, reason I wanted SELF to partner with her for this cover. I also wanted to highlight the ways in which Rae is committing to the wellness and the revitalization of the community around her.
I moved back to my hometown of Los Angeles last year, specifically to South L.A., a neighborhood I until recently knew relatively little about, having grown up on the outskirts of the city. After decades of being a main center of Black culture in the West and surviving its reputation as a post-riot wasteland in the 1990s, South L.A. is currently undergoing rapid change. Gentrification and other factors have contributed to a sharp decline in the Black population here, with recent estimates hovering just below 30%. Rae is a key figure in the revitalization of this neighborhood; she says her mission is to preserve the legacy of its dwindling Black population while also creating resources and wealth that will in turn contribute to the wellness of her neighborhood. As she explained to me during our chat for this story, “We don’t have many [resources] in our communities, and we have a history of those kinds of things being broken up. Part of what I want to do is just making sure that we’re able to have those in places, and that means prioritizing our wellness.… It sounds like a utopian, idealist community or society for us, but I do think that it’s possible.”
Rae’s understanding of the importance of caring for her community draws to mind the idea of self-care as a revolutionary act, a concept discussed so eloquently by Audre Lorde, the Black lesbian feminist and activist who wrote that self-care was an “act of political warfare” in her 1988 collection of essays, A Burst of Light. In Lorde’s worldview, fighting for your community is a radical act in the face of racial and patriarchal oppression. Lorde also argued that, rather than being an act of self-indulgence, self-care was something far more urgent—an act, she wrote, of “self-preservation.” For Black women, who have traditionally and thanklessly borne the burdens of society as caregivers, confidantes, economic foundation, and more, claiming time and resources for ourselves and ourselves alone in this context is a bold act in itself. For Rae, that can mean something as simple as waking up early to go for a walk, something she tries to do every day; but it also manifests in the way she unapologetically sets boundaries around her private life by sharing little about the people nearest to her, including her new husband, whom she married in July. By refusing to participate in our social-media-fueled demands of access to celebrity, Rae is showcasing self-care as self-preservation in a way that is refreshing to see from a Black woman in the spotlight.