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BW@H Pillar #4: Rest

When many of us think of rest, sleep is the first kind of rest that comes to mind. For most of us it’s the only kind of rest we think we need. A Yale School of Medicine article informs us that too many Black women are sleep deprived and as such, increase their risk and incidents of disease including cardiovascular, obesity, and diabetes (cardiometabolic disease). While 30 % of American adults experience a form of insomnia, Black women suffer from it disproportionately. Regardless of socioeconomic status, “Black women report shorter total sleep time than White women and greater difficulty falling asleep and staying asleep.”


According to the Sleep Foundation, factors contributing to poor sleep among people of color include shift work, occupational hazards, racial discrimination, financial stress, neighborhood environment, acculturation (particularly for immigrants), and unequal access to and quality of health care. Each of these is connected to systemic and structural challenges which result from racialized capitalism. It is hardly our fault that we are exhausted.


In her book Unapologetic: A Black, Queer, and Feminist Mandate for Radical Movements, activist and author Charlene A. Carruthers reminds us that even in our liberation movement more often than not “we are taught and encouraged to sacrifice to no end. Our ancestors and living comrades have made sacrifices beyond what most of us today have made.” Since arriving on continents to sustain the institution of chattel slavery, Black women’s bodies have been expendable beyond how they serve production through childbirth and hard daily labor. Many of us are enculturated to believe in and exalt a work ethic only when it involves being hard, grinding, and hustling.


At an event for Black women focused on self-care, I listened to millennial age Black women (a generation younger than me) discuss how tired they are from fighting racism at work. They felt responsible for addressing each microaggression, assigning themselves to DEI (diversity, equity, and inclusion) committees, and protecting themselves against pay inequity through subversive research and constantly bringing a battle to the bosses. Carruthers wisely includes in her book this quote from Ash-Lee Henderson, codirector of the Highlander Research and Education Center:


If all I know how to do is turn up, then what I’ll do is

turn up in the streets against a target, I’ll turn up against

you, I’ll turn up against my partner, I’ll turn up because

that’s all I know how to do…[Simply showing up] e-

eventually will wear people down because that’s not

moving from a place of joy, it’s moving from a place

of our trauma and crisis.


My sistren, we cannot be well if we are always turned up, always ready to go, always ready, willing, and able to do everything for everybody except ourselves. We’re all familiar with “put your own mask on first”. Before I can be useful to others, I am supposed to make sure that I am okay. Yet, that seems so hard to do.


Children need our attention sometimes before we even wake up for the day. Little hands push open your bedroom door and tiny feet run loudly to your bed. Are they there excited to begin the day with you and give you a hug? Are they there to express gratitude for all you do for them each day? No. “I’m hungry!” they barrel in stating, demanding to be fed quite soon.


Another gut-wrenching reality check about who actually comes first happens when we check work email before getting out of the bed. You haven’t even reached for your eyeglasses on the nightstand yet, but know that your boss or client has an urgent ask of you that’ll nag at you until you respond. Already before putting your feet on the ground, you’ve given over your mind to others’ needs.


Mornings aren’t the only part of the day stolen from us by others (or ourselves, do we really need to check email first thing?). How about all the times we don’t eat at lunch time to keep working on a project or to pick up a prescription for a loved one? Going and going and going all the day long into the night long. Then we try to go to sleep and for some reason, it just isn’t enough.


…in reality we are missing out on the other types of rest

we desperately need. The result is a culture of high-

achieving, high-producing, chronically tired and chron-

ically burned-out individuals. We’re suffering from a rest

deficit because we don’t understand the true power of rest.


She uses a framework that includes seven types of rest.

Each intends to provide restoration to various parts of who we are as human beings. Sleep, resting our bodies is essential. And, we need space to get away from the clicks and lights of technology, the global and local crises and traumas overwhelming us, needing to provide emotional support to loved ones, taking in new information all the time, solving mentally draining problems, and the pandemic of loneliness that so many encounter.


Human beings are beautifully complex and multifaceted. Tricia Hersey defines rest as “anything that slows you down enough to allow your body and mind to connect in the deepest way….” in her book Rest is Resistance: A Manifesto. She proposes to us that to rest is to be countercultural, to be disruptive to systems of oppression, all towards our potential to thrive simply because we deserve it.


The mentality that rest exists exclusively so that we can regenerate our energy in order to produce and labor all over again must be challenged. Rest exists as pleasure, as generative space to simply experience our aliveness, and ultimately deepen our connection to who we are and want to be. We don’t have to steal it, sneak it in, or deprive ourselves of it for anyone’s benefit. Rest belongs to each of us.


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