In 2024 Black women will rest like never before. I believe this, I embody this and I leave it at my altar as a prayer, a manifestation, an affirmation. Our survival depends on it. Let me tell you why.
In 2023 I had the opportunity to converse with ambitious, justice-driven, high-performing women of African descent both in the continent and throughout the diaspora. With some, I sat and shared food, drinks, stories. Others showed up in spaces I facilitated and courageously spoke their truth. Still more took the Restful Leadership survey, which is part of a research project that captures the lived experiences of leaders and gathers some of the best practices being used to build more liberatory, restful workplaces and schools.
I began writing this essay in December 2023, on my first trip to Africa, sitting in the land of my ancestors, eating fish from the lake and vegetables from the garden, paying homage to my grandmother’s gravesite. The weather was hot and humid, it demanded a more restful pace. I moved slowly and I napped. It was a life-changing trip, one of the most impactful parts being my conversations with women with stories similar to my own.
The women I heard from were employed in a myriad of settings. Many work in helping professions. They are entrepreneurs, health professionals, nonprofit leaders, educators and government employees.
Almost everyone I spoke to had one thing in common. They are tired. We are tired. They [we] are also resting, resisting, refusing, pushing back on centuries of overwork and generational trauma. Some of us, for the first time in our lives, are prioritizing our own physical and mental health in unprecedented. Many of us are entering 2024 hopeful, focused, and determined to rest.
To celebrate Black History Month here in the United States, here are 10 things I learned about fatigue from women of African descent on the continent and throughout the diaspora.
Black women are tired. We are fed up of being overworked and overlooked. We know there is another way. We have seen it in our dreams. We are discovering, claiming and manifesting rest in unprecedented ways. We are determined to save our own lives. I am we.
The pandemic and traumas of the last few years have left many women overwhelmed, traumatized and grieving. The pandemic lockdowns also gave us a glimpse of what is possible when we center our own healing, the wellbeing of our families and the comfort of our sisterhood. We didn’t want to go “back to normal”.
Our grief (both individually and collectively) is heavy. We are no longer interested in ignoring our trauma and pushing through. We are no longer willing to set our own grieving to the side. We are making space for her in our lives. We are going to therapy, coveting healing spaces with other Black women. We are engaging in grief moons, and allowing ourselves room to feel.
We continue to face systemic and individual attacks on our wellbeing. We are also bearing witness to unbearable assaults on oppressed people around the world. This is adding to our exhaustion. As we speak up and move toward resistance and healing, these attacks often become worse. Instead of letting this disrupt our healing, we are insisting things be different - in our homes, our workplaces, and our worlds. If things don’t change, and we have the privilege to do so, we are leaving, divesting, escaping. We are pursuing freedom, chasing her. For many of us, liberation is the only way.
Work-related stress and trauma are highly impacting our mental and physical health. We have high blood pressure, heart disease, anxiety and depression, weight gain and weight loss, reproductive health issues, perimenopause, and countless other issues. Some of us are committing ourselves to extended hospital stays where we are resting for the first time in our lives. Some of us are dying. We won't let them work us to death.
The systemic inequities, microaggressions, unequal workloads, and punitive policies, cause trauma. This enhances the individual and interpersonal trauma we carry and results in complex and persistent trauma that can be debilitating. Where trauma lives, so can post-traumatic growth. I have found in my research on Critical Post Traumatic Growth that Black women and girls can grow from traumatic experiences, and become stronger, more focused, more empathic, more faith-filled (Ault, 2017). This is a super-power … and it makes us tired.
Many of us wear a mask at work and sometimes even at home. We often don’t feel safe enough to show up authentically. This shit is exhausting. This is emotional labor, which is the management of one's feelings and expressions based on the emotional requirements of a job (Hochschild, 1983). We often hear people telling us to “put your own oxygen mask on first” but we can’t put our own oxygen mask on top of all the other masks we wear.
For many of us, once we have finished our first shift, we go home and continue to work; caring for family members and serving in communities. People expect us to be available. To work. To mammy. We are resisting this also. We are learning we are only as helpful as we are healthy. Sacrificing ourselves for others is counter-productive. We ain’t doing it anymore.
Around the world Black women are resting. We are refusing to do everyone’s dirty work and no longer cleaning up everyone’s mess. We are resisting the mammy trope. We will no longer be everyone’s carer and keep everyone’s peace, especially at work. We are setting new expectations. Younger women especially, are #goals when it comes to work boundaries. We can learn from them. My youngest daughter is Gen Z. For her, my eldest granddaughter and their peers, NO is a complete sentence. They. Ain’t. Finna. Do. It. In order to retain high-performing, ambitious, compassionate people on their teams, organizations are going to have to do things differently We are too talented and too tired to be overworked.
While we actively fight for freedom from interpersonal and collective oppression and push back on systemic abuses and worker exploitation we may allow our minds to continue to hold us in bondage. It be us. We make major life changes, leaving partners, jobs, organizations, only to find ourselves still overwhelmed, overworking, unhappy. We have to create more restful workplaces, and work to dismantle and deconstruct all the harmful narratives that keep us imprisoned. And we have to do our own work to decolonize our minds.
In 2022 I left my dream job; a secure, tenure-track position at my alma mater. I could no longer work in an environment that minimzed the impact of racism, continuously argued about diversity efforts, and perpetuated white supremacy culture and anti-blackness. I went to work full-time in my own organization doing work I love. I envisioned a more restful, less stressful, more integrated work-life flow. Within six months I was working almost the same amount of hours, still stressed out, still over-productive. In 2023 I committed to unlearning all the things I had been taught about worth, value and work. I went through all the baggage I had been carrying for decades and finally put down many of the damaging and unrealistic expectations I had for myself, especially those things that were rooted in childhood trauma, white supremacy, and colonialism. I had to rediscover myself outside of what I could produce. This is still my most difficult work.
When Black women rest, our creativity and innovation and power are unmatched. The system works very hard to keep us hustling, grinding and busy. It knows we are unstoppable and our opportunities are limited. We are learning to be gentle and kind with ourselves and others. We are prioritizing ourselves.
I am called to create a life I don’t have to escape from and work with social-justice-driven leaders to do the same. We are working together to plan our collective escape.
If you want to learn more you can:
Visit Restful Leadership and join our growing community.
Take the Restful Leadership survey to add your lived experience to the research.
Share your own journey in the comments below. What resonated with you, what questions do you still have, how are you creating moments of rest?
Sit down, lay down, shut your eyes, daydream. Prioritize. Your Rest.
Ault, S. M. (2017). Queens Speak - A Youth Participatory Action Research Project: Exploring Critical Post-Traumatic Growth among Black Girls within the School to Prison Pipeline. Retrieved from https://repository.usfca.edu/diss/348
Hochschild, A. (1983). The managed heart: Commercialization of human feeling. Berkeley:
University of California Press.