The Importance of Rest for Black Bodies
Navigating the Pain of Racism, Literally
by Destiny Pitters
For a multitude of reasons, most Black people are expected to be in an almost constant state of work. Historically, our community unlike any other has been used and abused to labour for the creation of this society, which has led to unique consequences for our relationship to unrest today. Whether it’s the emotional labour of being a single parent (a reality that Black people in the US and Canada are far more likely to experience than others), the intellectual labour of encountering and opposing the racism around us, or the physical labour of working overtime or multiple jobs, the neverending grind to survive looms over us. So what happens when an entire population toils to survive instead of actually thrive?
The most obvious answer is the most pressing one: pain. Alongside those indigenous to Turtle Island (North America), Black folks are the most likely to experience disability and pain. This makes sense not only as a legacy of the physical turmoil our (and our ancestors’) bodies have been put through, but also as a response to the harsh reality of navigating a racist world. As it turns out, social and emotional distress - like that caused by racism - actually increases feelings of physical pain and the likelihood of dealing with chronic illness.
Still yet, there’s another force at play that worsens our relationship to rest and pain: internalized racism. On one hand, accepting the negative portrayals of our community as unworthy and undesirable can result in a lifelong battle of self-hate, misery and depression. On the other hand, the urge to fight against these beliefs and “prove them wrong”, so to speak, can also do damage when taken too far: myths like the Strong Black Woman and stigma against mental health keep us hustling and silent about the stress, pain and sadness that we’re valid in feeling.
Image with a yellow background and black text that reads: “You are not a machine. Stop grinding.” From The Nap Ministry.
The circumstances around Black people’s relationship to work and rest are highly complex, but going without necessary moments of relaxation, care and softness spells disaster for our minds and bodies alike. Though mostly outside forces like family dynamics, the economy and institutional racism dictate where, when and how we labour, it is vital that Black folks express autonomy by taking time to rest, however that looks.
Take an extra long bath with epsom salts. Watch your favourite sport with friends and family. Spend a whole Sunday doing your hair to your favourite music. Tap into that hobby you dropped so long ago. Visit your kin, bathe in the sun, water your plants. Use every last vacation day. Smile in the face of a world that demands debilitating labour and say No, because if you don’t take that break, your body will take it for you!
Note: This article reflects only some of the generalized realities of Black people living in the middle class range. The circumstances of things like addiction, houselessness and imprisonment among others further complicates this tale and disproportionately presents Black folks with even more institutional challenges to our ability to rest or access helpful, liberating resources.
"What you don’t know about pain will hurt you.” Rachel Zoffness, PhD, 2021. https://www.kevinmd.com/blog/
"The ‘Strong Black Woman’ Stereotype is Dangerous.” Ruth Etiesit Samuel, 2020. https://www.teenvogue.com/
"Adults with Disabilites: Ethnicity and Race.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2020. https://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/
"An Assessment of the Needs of Black Parents in Ontario: Evaluation of the Innovative Supports for Black Parents Initative.” Turner Consulting Group, 2020. https://www.blackparenting.ca/
"Single Parent Families, by Race/Ethnicity.” ACT Rochester, 2019. https://www.actrochester.org/