Most people I know, regardless of their race, have a basic understanding of the enslavement of Africans in the stolen land we call the United States of America. They are able to recognize the egregiousness attached to forced labor, brutal physical and sexual violence, and the intellectual and spiritual stifling of my ancestors. However, when I ask these folks about the implications of the enslavement of Africans on today’s Black Americans, most individuals will come up with issues such as continued economic oppression, police brutality, or even the educational achievement gap. Those consequences of the enslavers’ actions are deadly and continue to marginalize and oppress Black people in America (and across the globe). Today, however, I ask you to consider generational trauma in more nuanced ways. I have noticed, as COVID-19 sweeps the globe, disproportionately hospitalizing and killing Black people, that many of my Black brothers, sisters, and nonbinary siblings are struggling to rest.
So here’s the deal
The shelter-in-place orders are requiring us to stay indoors to protect ourselves and our communities. Many individuals are out of work, or able to work from home. We are not permitted to socialize or gather. Many regional and state parks are closed. Community centers are closed. Our society is grinding to a halt. This is for good reason—the spread of this virus is legitimately terrifying, and the less we can go out, the better for us all.
This message has been reiterated on social media in a particularly interesting way: I have seen so many posts encouraging a slower pace, focusing on mindfulness, meditation, pausing, and rest. For some reason, I have not been able to slow down my mind or my body. Today, I could not bring myself to sit down all day. I could not bring myself to get lost in a cheesy Netflix series or read a novel or write a song or play an instrument. It was raining, and so I could not throw on a pair of headphones and walk in my neighborhood for hours out of fear of weakening my immune system and catching this damn virus. In fact, I felt so overwhelmed by the nothingness that I, quite literally, walked five miles inside of my apartment.
I must have looked incredibly manic. Shit, maybe I was incredibly manic. Through the pacing back and forth and back and forth and back and forth I realized that something was abnormal. And then I had The Thought: when have Black women and femmes ever rested?
Enter the rage-fueled research, in the middle of the night, in a manner so erratic it rivals the apartment-pacing earlier. I came across so many practices I’d forgotten about, like forcing Black people to breastfeed white children, thereby denying their own infants of the essential nutrients they need to survive and thrive. I discovered that Black women have always had the highest levels of labor market participation regardless of age. And I came to the realization that Black people have not been afforded the luxury of rest for hundreds of years. Particularly Black femmes.
Do we know rest? We have never known rest!
My ancestors were forced into enslavement for four centuries while white folks rested, collecting the fruits of our labor to pass on generational wealth to their families.
We worked, they rested.
I read yesterday that less than 20% (1 in 5) of Black Americans are employed in roles where they can get paid to work from home. So many of us are working, risking our lives to keep society going, in a new and unprecedented, yet somehow all too familiar, way. And those of us who cannot work but whose bones do not know ‘rest?’ We’re pacing in our apartments, writing articles at witching hours, calling our friends and family members multiple times a day to see if/how/when/where we can help. We are deep cleaning our kitchens, and cooking too much food, trying to conceptualize rest before we give ourselves permission to indulge.
As the posts about rest, relaxation, face masks, and bubble baths fill all of my socials, I implore the non-Black individuals engaging with that concept to think about how generational trauma makes this particularly difficult for those most marginalized by society. As for me? I’ll be listening to Isaiah Rashad’s The Sun’s Tirade and trying to create rest for myself where I can, apartment-pacing be damned.
About the Author
Thank you so much for reading! I am Ezra Neiman, a contributor for The Ghetto Activist, a student, and a Black, queer, nonbinary femme. My pronouns are they/them/theirs. As I finish up my undergraduate degree in education studies and look towards the future, I am motivated and inspired to create change through written and spoken word. My passions and energy are inextricably tied to racial justice, the intersection of Blackness and queerness, and creating more equitable educational outcomes for those most marginalized by society. Feel free to follow my Instagram @thechaoticblackfemme to learn more about me and keep up with new content. There is much more to come in the following months–stay tuned! ❤
Ezra debut Piece on TGA: Get Real: Queer Racism is Alive and Well