The March Toward Justice Requires Rest
Relentless grinding will eventually wear you out. Be strategic, but take a nap.
I’ve come to realize over the past few years that being “woke” is utterly exhausting. My aspiration to be “woke” began as a strong desire to be aware, conscious, and plugged into the exploitation and oppression of marginalized peoples so that I could be of service. But somehow during my journey into sounding the alarm clock of the resistance through various podcasts and platforms, I forgot how to rest. And how does one continue to fight the machinations of white supremacy if they are too tired to even enter the battlefield?
It has become evident that exhaustion is indeed the point. Why? Because it is the breeding ground for hopelessness. The organized chaos oozing out of the White House is strategic. If you keep people on edge, filled with anxiety, so tuned in that they have forgotten to blink, then soon fatigue creeps in, and like a wrestler in the WWE they will eventually tap out. Every time Trump tweets out congratulatory messages for white supremacists, comes up with a new insult name for Democrats, or obsesses over preserving the Confederacy — these are all pointed distractions. And what the enemies of justice know for sure is that when most people finally do tap out, they are unlikely to tap back in. On top of this, we have created a culture in America that abhors rest and looks down at those that choose to focus on self-care as being selfish rather than as a necessary part of both revolution and evolution.
We have built upon white supremacy’s deceitful premise by adding insult to injury and creating a woke culture that only rewards relentless grinding.
For Black folks, even our perception of rest has been viewed through the lens of whiteness. You see, White America not only exploited our ancestors for cheap labor — literally working them into the ground, chewing up their bodies, and working overtime to break them — but during this process, they also managed to create a false narrative that Black people were lazy. How Black people can at once be a workhorse and indolent is beyond me.
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Nonetheless, without even being totally and completely conscious of this reality, generations later we have built upon white supremacy’s deceitful premise by adding insult to injury and creating a woke culture that only rewards relentless grinding. In 2016, artist and activist Tricia Hersey created the Nap Ministry to deal with this very issue. “We believe rest is a form of resistance and name sleep deprivation as a racial and social justice issue,” Hersey said. When I read those words I almost wept. One of my favorite quotes from the collective is this: “You are not a machine, stop grinding.”
The “wake and grind” culture doesn’t allow for rest and teaches you — whether consciously or subconsciously — that if you choose to rest then clearly you don’t really want to succeed. Under this premise what does success look like? A mental health breakdown? A fancy funeral? Surely, we know what happens when we overwork machines right? They break down and start malfunctioning — humans are no different.
If movements take stamina then there is no way for us to continue on the long arc toward justice if we do not make time to rest and recharge. Remember the baby activist with the sign that read, “I love naps; but I stay woke”? That baby was prolific. Not only is it possible to stay woke and still nap, but it is also necessary. Rather than turning to rest, the powers at play want us to tap out and to turn to paths of numbing. I have fallen prey to this too many times because the experience of living under the heel of liberty at times is just too overwhelming. In conversation with Yusef Salaam, one of the Exonerated Five, he told me that this was the purpose of flooding Black communities with drugs and liquor, the numbing factor. What we need more than anything in this moment is to feel. Yet, we are taught to run from discomfort rather than learning how to observe it, honor its purpose, and then heal from it. Instead, we work overtime to deny it or are too drained to even process it.
If we do not learn to rest, we will never be able to conjure the strength to resist.
When Audre Lorde wrote in a Burst of Light and Other Essays, “Caring for myself is not self-indulgence. It is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare,” she was expressing the power and the need for us to choose ourselves above all else. No one will care for us or about us if we do not make the time to care for ourselves. As the brilliant folks at Nap Ministry say, “our bodies are a site of liberation,” not machines. We must honor this truth by using woke culture as a way to become more conscious and connected to our spirits and our bodies’ needs. As my mother, the founder of Essence of Yoga Studios, once said, “you can’t take on the pain of the world at a cellular level. You must learn to be aware of it, conscious of it, but then set it down — otherwise, it will consume you from the inside out.”
If we do not learn to rest, we will never be able to sustain the strength to resist.
There is no way we make it to the mountaintop without rest and self-care. Also, we must let go of the lies of white supremacy that tell Black people that rest is equated with laziness. We must unlearn these pernicious acts of violence meant to destroy our resolve and sap our spirits. “If you wanna fly, you go to give up the shit that weighs you down,” wrote Toni Morrison in Song of Solomon.
Let go and let’s rest.