Tiana Clark’s Essay on Black Burnout goes Viral

“…always work, do not complain, and never stop, but my body was very loudly telling me to slow down.”—Tiana Clark

Black burnout is the topic of Tiana Clark’s essay that recently went viral on Buzzfeed. Earlier this year, an article by Anne Helen Petersen was released that brought attention to a very big problem affecting all of us—that of burnout. After reading the article, Clark felt that the language surrounding the problem of burnout needed to be wider. “I was thrilled to see an article that was putting language around the exhaustion I had been feeling in my mind and body,” commented Clark, “But, what Petersen illuminates is mostly centered on the white millennial narrative, mainly upper, middle class issues. Our exhaustive to-do lists look vastly different. For Petersen, taking boots to the cobbler and getting knives sharpened differs from my concerns as a woman of color toggling my adulting tasks while managing micro and macro-aggressions in society.”

Clark makes a valid point in that for some groups it is a very different narrative—one that is about basic survival needs. “This bent on persistence has been in the background for black people since we landed in America as slaves,” stated Clark who has experienced burnout herself. “In graduate school I was winning contests, not sleeping, and studying a lot. During my last semester, my body began to breakdown, my hair started to fall out, but I told myself—‘I have to keep going,’” said Clark. She soon landed in the emergency room with a diagnosis of polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS). “I have seen this same tired story for my single mother (who worked three jobs) and for all of the women in my family—always work, do not complain, and never stop, but my body was very loudly telling me to slow down.”

Burnout has always been around, but with the advent of technology and social media, a new kind of burnout has come to the surface. “Petersen’s article brilliantly articulated why millennials are fraying at the seams and how burnout manifests with insidious behaviors, but the audience for this discussion needs to be more inclusive. More voices need to be heard. What about people with disabilities, for instance?” Overall, Clark is happy that we have initiated a conversation about burnout, but she has a very important question at core for all of us to consider: “How can we talk and empathetically listen to others from different backgrounds and experiences and have a conversation about burnout?”

Clark joined Southern Illinois University-Edwardsville’s faculty this past fall with the introduction of the master of fine arts in creative writing. A renowned poet, she has been writing most of her life as a way to express how she feels about the world around her. Clark is a published author and the winner of numerous poetry prizes. You can read her essay on Buzzfeed here: This is What Black Burnout Feels Like.

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