Racism, whiteness, and burnout in antiracism movements: How white racial justice activists elevate burnout in racial justice activists of color in the United States
Social movement scholars have described activist burnout—when the stressors of activism become so overwhelming they debilitate activists’ abilities to remain engaged—as a formidable threat to the sustainability of social movements. However, studies designed to map the causes of burnout have failed to account for ways burnout might operate differently for privileged-identity activists such as white antiracism activists and marginalized-identity activists such as antiracism activists of color. Building on previous studies of activist burnout in racial justice activists and examinations of the roles of white activists in antiracism movements, this study represents one attempt to fill this gap. We analyzed data from interviews with racial justice activists of color in the United States who have experienced burnout to identify the ways they attributed their burnout to the attitudes and behaviors—the racism—of white activists. These included (1) harboring unevolved or racist views, (2) undermining or invalidating the racial justice work of activists of color, (3) being unwilling to step up and take action when needed, (4) exhibiting white fragility, and (5) taking credit for participants’ racial justice work and ideas. Implications for racial justice movements and the participation of white activists are discussed.