Spoons are used to describe units of energy that a person may have in their day-day life. It’s a handy theory to use with things like mental health and ‘invisible’ illnesses to help improve awareness and understanding of what it’s like to live with them.
Healthy people, theoretically, have an unlimited amount of spoons each day - they can do whatever they like, whenever they like, and not have to worry about whether they’ll have enough energy remaining to do something they’d like to do later in the day.
Most of us are lucky enough to experience an unlimited supply of spoons, but you can probably relate to feeling like you’re low on energy on some days, and feeling like you’re unbreakable on other days, right?
According to the spoon theory, spoons (units of energy) may be replaced after rest, a break, or a good night’s sleep.
So how is this relevant to me?
When talking about race and racism, most days I wake up feeling like I have 50+ spoons to use on conversations. You might feel like you only have 1 or 2, or you might feel like you have 20. Everyone’s spoon capacity is different, and can also vary from day-day.
Some people take up more energy (spoons) than others to talk to, and I think it’s important to consider this before you engage in conversation with someone, particularly if your spoon count is low. Of course, you can’t always predict this accurately. Sometimes you might be pleasantly surprised, whilst other times you might feel like you’ve bitten off more than you can chew. There are a few things i’ve learned to say to help diffuse a situation or back off a conversation whilst leaving some food for thought, and i’ll put those examples in a separate post if that’s useful!
A person’s conversational spoon requirement can change depending on a few things. Here are some of the things I try to consider first if I'm running low on spoons;
1. Motorway position - which side of the motorway is this person on and which lane are they in?! Racist fast laners take up a LOT of time and energy (let’s say 3 spoons), and the outcomes from having those conversations rarely feel worth it, so I tend to avoid them unless they’re really needed. I’m happy to pull them up on racist behaviour, to let them know it’s wrong and it’s been noticed, but I won’t enter a conversation and waste more than half a spoon. If they’re in the fast lane they’re not going to agree with you and they probably haven’t seen any road signs to prep them for this conversation either.
An example of this is a racist Troll. They will happily argue with you all day and have no intention of listening to what you’re actually saying, so don’t bother feeding them - save your spoons!
2. Level of ignorance - If people genuinely haven’t realised that systemic racism is a ‘thing’, then it usually doesn’t take too many spoons to show them, and they’re usually happy to engage in a proper conversation. (Spoons well spent!) I also tend to think of these people as ‘oblivious’, rather than ignorant!
If they’re pretty ignorant out of choice, ie, even with all of the media attention and hundreds of personal experiences being published on social media, plus large businesses and corporations and celebrities saying that racism is a thing, they STILL say things like ‘well i’m not racist so I don’t need to do anything’, then engaging with this person is going to take up a couple of spoons. Again, if you’ve got spoons to spend then great! But if you know you’re running a bit low, then maybe consider saving it for another day, or even better, using half a spoon by directing them to resources like videos and articles, or even this website.
3. Support for you - If there are a few of you having the conversation, and you’ve got the support of people who are also anti-racist (and happy to talk about it!) then having their support there can be the difference between using all your spoons and saving some for later. So if you don’t have lots of spoons left, let someone else contribute with theirs too. That’s another reason why we encourage people to be actively anti-racist, you never know who needs the help of your spoons, and ‘liking’ an anti-racist post or a comment can make all the difference!
4. Support for them - If the person you are engaging with has the vocal support of other racist people then this is going to take a few more of your spoons. Seeing someone ‘like’ a racist comment in your conversation, or hearing someone agree with a racist ideology can sometimes make you feel like you’re losing half a spoon at a time. So know when you can and can’t cope with that, and take note of when you need support or need to end the conversation.
Your mental health needs protecting at all times. We know that these conversations can be so emotionally draining so take care of your spoons, and don’t feel guilty about having a day off if you need to replenish your stock!