Op-Ed
The author in Brooklyn

For Black Women, Self-Care Can be a Radical Act​

Take these steps to ensure your emotional well-being in a world apathetic to your needs.

I shuffle into the kitchen as my mother stirs a pot bubbling with nkatenkwan—groundnut soup—my favorite.

"What do you do for self care?," I ask.

She turns around, scrunches her face at my question.


"Self care?," she repeats.

I realize this term may be unfamiliar to her—"self care" and "treat yoself" are such millennial ideologies.

My mother is a working class woman from Ghana: she finds certain American luxuries frivolous. Meanwhile, I find any excuse to buy a bubble tea, savor the pride I feel after an intense yoga session or feel little guilt if I have to spend a day doing nothing. Our generational and cultural differences floated in the air.

I adjust my question.

"What do you do to make yourself feel special? To take care of yourself?"

Her cheekbones rise, eyes flutter in recognition. She giggles. "Well...I like to, you know, try on clothes and jewelry in my closet. Check myself out," she smiles.

I imagine my plump, pretty mother spinning around in her pastel pink walk-in closet, gazing at her butt and hips in her full length mirror. I wasn't expecting her answer, but the image made me adore her even more.

I thought she'd talk about the small indulgences I've seen her take: enjoying a cup of tea with a cookie from a nice bakery or a piece of chocolate; cuddling around an African movie on YouTube; treating herself to a salmon meal from her favorite spot in Herald Square. Instead, her methods of self care involved privacy, adorning herself and…

"I like to reminisce on old friends I miss," she continues. "I send a silent prayer out, wishing them well."

It amazed, but didn't surprise me, that one of her self care methods included selflessness. As black women, we often think of everyone but ourselves, and black mothers and caregivers are especially known to put the needs of their families over themselves. That is why self care is so important to me: it's a chance for me to prioritize myself and give into my wants and needs, without feeling guilty about taking time away from friends, resting in bed and organizing my life.

"I imagine my plump, pretty mother spinning around in her pastel pink walk-in closet, gazing at her butt and hips in her full length mirror. I wasn't expecting her answer, but the image made me adore her even more."

My mom directs the question back at me. I realize that self care doesn't have one face—it can be applied to several areas of our lives and it comes in many forms. At one point, self care meant watching Cardi B videos before bed. After the election, it meant staying off social media and wrapping myself under covers. All the time, it means pushing the anxious, doubtful thoughts out of my mind and believing I can do anything.

Reading a stimulating book, sitting in nature with a friend or alone and cooking myself a healthy meal were among the basic answers I give my mom. I think of listing masturbation, but that is too candid for my Ghanaian mom. I told her I meditate, but even that is something I could do more often; the idea of meditation inspires me, but lately I've found it is such a build up to reach that state. Self care isn't always easy.

The last answer I give, however, is one I hesitate on. "Travel," I mumble.

I still feel ashamed about my wanderlust, about this urge I have to leave, to retrieve the pieces of myself that are scattered around the earth. My mother doesn't understand why travel is so important to me, and many other young people. It goes back to her being a working woman and an immigrant: why spend money on leaving when she's spent her whole adult life trying to build a home here?

For black women, practicing self care is an act of resistance and preservation—an idea articulated perfectly by Audre Lorde.

"Self care resists the idea that we should put our families, partner and others first, and it preserves our well being in a nation where we are taught to dislike ourselves. It is an act of survival."

Afterwards, as I sat down to write, I thought of the constructive ways I've been practicing self care to elevate emotionally and sustain richer relationships. Self care is such a vast arena: our bodies are filled with several systems that require our attention in order to function—but for right now, I want to focus on the specific ways I cater to my emotional well being.

I stopped shaming myself for being emotional.

From a very young age, I recognized that I am quite the sensitive person.

I feel emotions intensely, empathize with others and analyze friends' dialogues and gestures in my head like a never ending movie. Being so in tune with my emotions can be exhausting but also hella lonely: I often wonder if I am sensing emotions that others don't want to acknowledge, if I read into things to deeply, or if there's something wrong with me.

I've learned that the best way to control my emotions is to recognize that they exist, track how they change before, during and after my period, but most importantly: not apologize for them. For too long, expressing emotions has been seen as a weakness or a sign of irrationality, when actually it can be one of our most powerful tools.

Lately, when I experience something that impacts me emotionally, I embrace and honor it, rather than pick it apart or try to rush through the sensation. And if or when I do let go of it, I don't look back.

I choose which arguments deserve my energy

I'm an intersectional feminist, which means I can get into arguments all day everyday—and usually out of defense, not as a voluntary attack. The reason: not only do some people not share my views (which is perfectly fine), but sometimes people can be disrespectful and belittling to me because of my ideologies.

As a black woman, I'm already more susceptible to disrespect, and the added layer of being a feminist heightens the social blows I may face. Energies are an important part of my emotional health—sustaining positive vibes as well as curating it—so I am weary of who I engage with socially and when I have the capacity to do so. Thus, I'm slowly learning to pick and choose my battles, especially in mixed groups where everyone's views vary.

Not all arguments are worth it, especially if they're redundant or lead to hard dead ends—and I've realized the best time to lend my energy to a dispute is if it is potentially educational, or something great is at stake. By no means is this a simple practice, but once I started implementing it, I realized I can sleep better at night.

I'm honest about what I need in friendships and adjust my expectations.

I've endured my fair share of toxic friendships. After letting go of problematic friends that I thought would be long term companions, I started to identify the patterns in our behaviors and my overcapacity to forgive. It can take ages to realize you're being taken advantage of or abused. Black women are encouraged- taught, even- to bend over backwards for people who give us less than we deserve, make consistent mistakes, or are downright problematic. We make excuses for them and overcompensate for their shortcomings, because we are regarded as invincible healers with secondhand needs.

One aspect of cultivating healthier friendships involves being honest about my needs and expectations in friendships, but also accepting the natural phases that friendships go through, and the different roles people in my life serve. I've found that the former practice has led to deeper conversations and better problem solving when I have issues with a friend. It brings us closer, or at least helps us understand each other better. The latter has been rather healing, and helps me accept people for who they are and what they are capable of giving. It also causes me to be honest about what I want and can give in different friendships.

"Self care is more than my method of sustaining myself: it's an effort to put an end to historical and familial patterns that plague my lineage."

I think of my mother, and her mother, and her mother, and wonder how much generational pain, hidden secrets and unchartered emotions could have been appeased if we practiced different ways of expressing our emotions, concerns and traumas. But still, it is difficult, difficult work, and there are so many self care methods I do that I haven't mentioned or realized. Some of that work involves my mother. I think of our conversation, and realize I must be more tender with her, always. As the first black woman I know, I must take care of her, and in doing so, I will take care of me.

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The Secret Behind Nike's New Naija Football Kits are Nigerians Themselves

The story behind the bold new uniforms the Super Eagles will be wearing at this year's World Cup.

Partner content from Nike

The new Nigeria football kits are not even out yet, but they're already causing pandemonium with Nigerian press reporting that there have been already 3 million worldwide orders. And it's easy to see why—the designs are daring with a bold nod to Nigerian culture that is very in vogue right now. In addition, UK Grime MCs with Nigerian roots, Skepta and Tinie Tempah have already been photographed in the new jerseys causing a surge of social media chatter about the new look.

But while rock star endorsements and an edgy new design will certainly bring attention, there's no doubt that the real bulk of the demand is due to what is ramping up to be a significant moment in the history of Nigerian football—the 2018 World Cup.



If you don't already know, Nigeria is entering this year's World Cup in Russia with some of the most exciting young players we've seen in years. With youthful talent like Wilfred Ndidi, Alex Iwobi and Kelechi Iheanacho—all 21—and veteran Olympic captain Jon Obi Mikel ready to take the field in Moscow all eyes are on Nigeria to advance out of Group D and challenge the world for a chance at the cup.

The plan here is to outdo the teams previous international achievement, the 1996 Olympic Gold Medal in men's football which is commemorated on the home kit with a badge recolored in the colors of the '96 gold medal-winning "Dream Team."

The home kit also pays subtle homage to Nigeria's '94 shirt— the first Nigerian team to qualify for the tournament—with its eagle wing-inspired black-and-white sleeve and green torso. But if the allusion to the pasty is subtle, the new supercharged patterns are anything but.

The look of the kit feels particularly in touch with what's going on in youth fashion both in Nigeria and the world and that's no accident. Much of the collection comes in bold print, both floral and Ankara-inspired chevrons, ideas that we've seen entering street wear collections and on the runway in recent years. That's because African and Nigerian style has become a big deal internationally of late. And not just in style, the country's huge cultural industries from Nollywood to Afrobeats have announced themselves on the world stage. This cultural ascendance is reflected in the design.


Courtesy of Nike

"With Nigeria, we wanted to tap into the attitude of the nation," notes Dan Farron, Nike Football Design Director. "We built this kit and collection based on the players' full identities." Along with other members of the Nike Football design group, Farron dug into learning more about Nigeria's players, "We started to see trends in attitude and energy connecting the athletes to music, fashion and more. They are part of a resoundingly cool culture."

In fact OkayAfrica has covered the team's love for music before—even dedicating an edition of the African in Your Earbuds mixtape to John Obi Mikel, Alex Iwobi & Kelechi Iheanacho's favorite songs to get hyped up before a game. When we asked the charismatic trio, they gave us list that included many of the huge Nigerian artists that we love, like Tekno, Wizkid, Yemi Alade and Nigerian-American rapper Wale and also, perhaps surprisingly, perhaps not, Celine Dion.

Nigerian culture has gone global partly through its infectious energy but also because of its vibrant diaspora populations that bring it with them wherever they land. Lagos-born Alex Iwobi whose goal in the 73rd minute to qualified Nigeria for this summer's tournament spent most of his life in London but still reps Naija to the fullest.

"I grew up in England, but Nigeria is my homeland," he says. "When I scored that goal, the players were dancing, the fans were playing trumpets and bringing drums…there was just so much passion and energy. It is always an honor to wear the white and green. To compete this summer is not just our dream, it is also the dream of our fans. Together, we all represent Naija."

This similar energy can be felt in Nigerian communities from Brooklyn to Peckham and even in China. Naija culture is truly global and no doubt the fans will embody the Naija spirit wherever they will be watching the games this summer.

If you're wondering, Nike isn't simply hopping on the Nigeria bandwagon. The apparel company has been sponsoring the Nigerian football since 2015, supplying kits to all nine of the Nigeria Football Federation teams at every level, including the men's and women's senior teams, men's and women's under-20 teams, men's and women's under-17 teams, men's and women's Olympic teams, and the men's beach football team.

So while the kit is available for purchase worldwide June 1, just know that you'll be competing with millions to get your own official shirts for the World Cup. If you are in New York, find the kit for sale exclusively at Nike's 21 Mercer store.

And please join OkayAfrica and Nike on June 2nd for Naija Worldwide as we celebrate Team Nigeria's journey to Russia in style.

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