How we see the world shapes who we choose to be — and sharing compelling experiences can frame the way we treat each other, for the better. This is a powerful perspective.

Have you ever thought about sleep and rest as part of reparations? I have.

The thing that always fascinated me about reparations is that they deal with what we’re owed (and by we, I mean specifically those who are descendants from Africans who were enslaved.) Something as ubiquitous as the need to rest has been transformed into an almost-unattainable fantasy, one that’s earned only through generations of hard work even though it shouldn’t be a gift at all.

There can be some confusion on exactly what reparations are, and why they’re so important. It’s defined as “the act of making amends… or giving satisfaction for a wrong or injury” (usually as compensation in money, material, labor, etc.).

But that’s easier said than done. Slavery remains an important turn in American history, but efforts to make amends for it (during Reconstruction, formally-enslaved peoples were promised “forty acres and a mule”) haven’t gone nearly far enough to make up for the violence.

To be able to rest is to rejuvenate our spirits, center our healing, and remind us that we’re not our productivity.

So in considering what reparations are still indebted, we should push to prioritize the need for Black people to rest. The luxury of rest then moves from being unattainable to an integral part of these reparations.

The gift of resting should be part of the reparations that we’re owed

Rest is such a commodity — a privilege in and of itself. If you go on YouTube and search for “nighttime routines,” you’ll find hundreds of videos where influencers create routines that make rest seem like a lengthy process to prepare for.

But what is rest, and why does race play into it?

Let’s think back to last year when Yale graduate student Lolade Siyonbola had the police called on her because another student didn’t believe that Siyonbola “belonged” there.

Thinking about this incident, in particular, the ability to rest can be another way for non-Black people to police Black people: though we’re owed peace where we can find it, even in public spaces, we have seen how that grace isn’t afforded equally to us.

There’s also a need to understand the ways that stereotypes shape our understanding of rest.

We’ve been shown the health benefits associated with going to bed early and at the same time, every day — yet they still largely erase the cultural reasons as to why people can miss out on this.

For Black people, in particular, rest helps folks break away from the “Superperson” stereotypes that linger in our community. For Black womxn and femmes especially, rest can also be a means of self-care because it makes us intentionally make time for rest.

This is so important because Black womxn and femmes are conditioned to be accessible for everyone and able to endure so much without making time to tend to our own needs.

Rest, in my mind, ties so much into our understanding of boundaries and self-care — to tell partners, friends, family that we’re unable to fulfill requests because we need to rest still feels selfish and silly.

Sleep, in turn, is as much of a currency as coins and dollar bills because it allows us to exchange time for a precious want or need. It can be seen as such a simple thing, but when you don’t get enough of it, rest can become an elusive marker of privilege and access.

The ability to rest in the wake of racialized, gendered, ability, policing, and surveillance goes much farther than monetary gifts — to be able to rest is to rejuvenate our spirits, center our healing, and remind us that we’re not our productivity.

And yet, so many Black and Brown folks still struggle with prioritizing rest when we need it

Millennials especially are becoming even more reliant on the gig economy, and the instability of it leaves many of us pushing to work longer hours.

We’re defining ourselves increasingly by our productivity, but this can cause much more harm than good. Choosing productivity over rest to the extreme is where the idea of rest becomes disproportionate to its reality.

Without the reliability of being paid fairly — let alone for all of the time dedicated to our work — it’s impossible to expect individuals to be able to prioritize rest over other things that need to get done.

Additionally, rest is most luxurious and unattainable for people who are working class or whose work is not regular. When we think about people who are in labor-intensive jobs or industry-service jobs, like delivery people, they remain the most overworked and underpaid for their services.

This barely covers the risk and toll that their jobs may require of them.

Still, so many of us connect rest as a luxury. And in a world when we’re overworked and underpaid, Black folks especially are apt to push off the rest that we need in order to keep up with the demands of other parts of our lives.

We don’t talk about how it’s a privilege.

We think about going without rest as a mark of strength. Pulling all-nighters or forgoing sleep to fuel our own procrastination is more socially acceptable than getting the recommended 8 hours every night. (Elon Musk tweeted last November that working 40 hours a week isn’t enough to make change, encouraging people in another tweet to work “80-100 hours”).

Again and again, we’ve been shown the health benefits associated with going to bed early and at the same time, every day. Yet they still largely erase the cultural reasons as to why people can miss out on this.

I think about how something as necessary as rest is still something that isn’t celebrated or talked about. Black History Month brings up highlights of Black excellence, but in so many of these highlights, we often use these stories to further our cultural disdain of admitting we need rest.

Large social movements require incredible time and energy, but once the marches have been done and the organizing is over, how do activists recuperate with rest? And why do we leave this out of the stories of Black excellence?

Because rest is part of our access to health and the right we all have to be our healthiest selves. And yes, rest is especially needed for people who have been historically marginalized and have had to work harder to get half of what people with privilege access so easily.

I’m not the only one that has been thinking about this

Others are working hard to break down the ideas that rest is weakness, or something to earn.

On Instagram, we have The Nap Ministry, an Atlanta- and Chicago-based organization that “examine[s] the liberating power of naps” through colorful memes and workshops centering Black individuals.

There’s also Black Power Naps, a performance installation that was produced by Afro-Latinx artists Fannie Sosa and niv Acosta. The installation was performed in New York in January that “reclaims laziness and idleness as power.”

I think doing the work to dismantle the shame around rest needs to be part of our understanding of dismantling oppression because it ties so directly to our needs as human beings.

Why?

Because rest is part of our access to health and the right we all have to be our healthiest selves. And yes, rest is especially needed for people who have been historically marginalized and have had to work harder to get half of what people with privilege access so easily.

Sleep equity is so tied to social justice because, without rest, we wouldn’t be able to do anything: organize, rally, write, work, love, or celebrate our victories. Without rest, we can’t hope to resist or dismantle — or even on a smaller scale, be able to feel the pleasure that’s rightfully ours as people in this world.

Sleep makes us feel like we have a right to be respected, healthy people in the world. Without the right to rest, we’re fighting a battle that becomes even more difficult to win.

I’m grateful for those that have come before me and forged paths that have helped things be easier for me, and those that will come after me. But I also take this time to make rest a priority, when I can.

Because my need for rest doesn’t make me weak or less than — it is mine to claim, and rightfully so.


Cameron Glover is a writer, sex educator, and digital superhero. She has written for publications such as Harper’s Bazaar, Bitch Media, Catapult, Pacific Standard, and Allure. You can reach out to her on Twitter.