By focusing on the ability of people to overcome obstacles, we overlook the ways in which we can lessen their burden. Credit: Scalawag

For many, resilience is unequivocally a good thing. It means that we are able to overcome adversity on both an individual and community level. It’s what our cities strive to be in the wake of economic and environmental hardships. Being resilient means we’re strong, and strong is good.

But this week, URL Media partner Immigrantly takes that notion and flips it on its head.

“Instead of talking about the resilience of communities and of people and of cities, can we start talking about solutions, and stop making resilience your go to catch word,” journalist Vinita Srivastava told host Saadia Khan during their conversation about her latest project.

Her latest project, a podcast called “Don’t Call Me Resilient,” launched in the wake of the Covid pandemic to talk about race and racism in a way that focuses on solutions so people don’t have to be so strong all the time.

“I never want to say that we’re not resilient,” Srivastava said. “And I think that’s kind of the danger of saying, ‘Don’t call me resilient,’ is that I don’t mean to say that we are not resilient.”

Instead, Srivastava said that we should be examining what it is we’re really saying — either implicitly or explicitly — about the people, communities, and cities that we deem resilient, because the implication ends up putting the onus on them to overcome any and all adversity instead of society to address why that adversity exists in the first place.

“For those in power, who have the control, instead of really thinking about what is a possible long-term solution…we’re going to put out a report that just lets you know how strong you are,” Srivastava said. “And you know, it’s racialized communities, it’s communities living in poverty having to deal with putting food on the table, it’s all kinds of communities that they’re saying, ‘Don’t worry, you are resilient, you are good. You’ve got this.’”

For me, it’s a way of minimizing the very real issues that are impacting people’s lives, applauding them for being strong enough to overcome that adversity, while simultaneously washing our hands of any sort of responsibility. 

There’s a similar dynamic in the conversation about survivorship language — rhetoric that recasts people who have been victimized into survivors of the people, places and things that victimized them.

As Breya M. Johnson wrote for URL Media partner Scalawag, “I don’t believe Black women and gender-oppressed people need to get any stronger. We need a world that gives us all less to survive.”

And the sad truth is that too many of us are not surviving.

“Even the ones still living,” Shahem Mclaurin, a licensed social worker and therapist, told Scalawag. “If you want to call it surviving, you can, but if it is, [it’s] barely.”

So the next time you want to praise someone’s resilience, maybe follow that up with action so they don’t always have to be.

“Maybe you’re calling me resilient, but you’re giving me a million dollars to fix things, or you’re calling us resilient, but you’re giving us a fixed basic income so we can feed our families, or you’re calling us resilient, but you’re actually putting proper [diversity, equity and inclusion] laws in place,” Srivastava said. “Well, then maybe that’s OK.” — Alicia Ramirez

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