I came across a fiction novel that instantly caught my attention: Black Girls Must Die Exhausted, by Jayne Allen.
I didn’t even read the novel’s summary before pressing “Buy Now!” on my Amazon account. Everything in my body told me to make this purchase — because this simple sentence rang true for me, the Black women I know and the Black women that came generations before me.
Black women are exhausted.
The intersection of being a woman and being Black is in all truth, the crossroads of experiencing oppression. This means that Black women are impacted by multiple ‘isms all at once. Racism and sexism take up a lot of space in our day-to-day lives, and we are constantly exposed to overt and covert acts of oppressive behavior.
What is unique to the experience of Black women is that we are compounded by the stressors and trauma that are a part of our history. As Black women in this century, we are just a few generations separated from being treated as less than human. And that treatment of our ancestors still impacts us today:
Recent studies such as the Adverse Childhood Experiences Survey and studies on epigenetics show that injustices such as prejudice and discrimination have long-term, chronic effects on Black women’s health and well-being. Black women are experiencing higher rates of maternal morbidity, pregnancy complications, and intimate partner violence homicide and this list of risks is only growing.
Black women are also under-represented in many vital leadership roles, political spaces and positions of power. This under-representation increases the risk that Black women’s needs and interests will not be seen or heard.
Then, there’s the narrative of the “Black Woman Superhero”. This narrative presents Black women as capable of doing everything, fulfilling multiple professional and personal roles and doing it all with a smile.
This expectation that all Black women are “strong” often minimizes and even denies Black women the opportunity to care for themselves, fulfill their own needs and, of course, prevents Black women from resting.
From our daily experiences of navigating microaggressions; to witnessing, experiencing and surviving violence; to carrying the burden of historical and generational trauma, it plain to see why Black women need space, time and encouragement to rest.
And when I say rest, I mean in addition to sleeping, Black women deserve:
- Safety and protection: Black women are often hyper-vigilante on a daily basis to prevent harm to themselves and their loved ones. Black women need to be prioritized and to be protected from harm.
- Visibility and understanding: Issues concerning Black women are frequently forgotten, denied and invisible to the dominant culture. Black women deserve to be seen, heard and believed.
- Fairness and opportunity: Black women deserve to show up in positions of power to make decisions that benefit our culture. Black women deserve opportunities, training and support to be leaders.
- Justice, Liberation and Community-Oriented Change: Black women deserve to rest, deserve justice and deserve to be liberated from oppression. While self-care is essential for Black women, self-care alone is not the solution. A focus on community-oriented change actively is imperative for systematic change to be made.
For Black women reading this post, when it comes to resting and practicing self-care, consider:
Resting when you can.
There are many pressures, responsibilities and obligations that may be preventing you from getting the rest you need. When you can, give your body and your mind a break. Try to get an extra hour of sleep or sit down when your feet are tired. Use your vacation days and mental health days. Eat on your lunch break. Try your best to recognize when you are tired and not ignore it.
Recognizing that your feelings and experiences are valid.
Just as there are a plethora of pressures that may be preventing you from getting rest, there are just as many that are denying, ignoring or minimizing what you are going through.
Know that your experience is your truth — your story is important, valid and real. Create your own space to recognize what you’ve been through: journaling, support groups, safe friends and professional therapy can help with this. What also helps is . . .
Finding nurturing and supportive spaces to be your most authentic self.
Whether its with your friends, your place of worship or in community with other Black women, it is helpful to take breaks from the pressures of mainstream society and be nurtured in and with your culture. Intentionally choose to spend time in these spaces to fill yourself back up with the people, practices and traditions that see you and appreciate you.
Checking-in on your exposure to oppressive content and capacity for activism.
This one is tricky — as our experiences of oppression can be so subtle. Take breaks from watching the news or scrolling down your social media timeline. Maybe you need a break from watching that patriarchal video again or listening to those racist remarks. Listen to what your body is saying and do your best to change your current environment and exposure.
This may also mean taking breaks from talking about or explaining your experiences of oppression with others. It is not your responsibility to always explain, especially to people benefiting from oppression, how you and/or your community are experiencing oppression.
You decide what and when you want to share. It is up to you to tap (or not tap) into this sometimes sensitive part of yourself with others, as there is a risk that they may not understand or are not safe to be vulnerable with. Check-in with yourself on your emotional capacity to participate in these spaces. Give yourself permission to tap out and recharge.
To Black women, please know that you are appreciated, worthy and so deserving of getting the rest that you need. I hope that this post validated something for you and that you are more encouraged to carve out your own space to breathe just a little bit easier.