Detail image for the Weigh In, December 2022 story.

Writer, poet, activist and 2022 Today’s Woman Most Admired Woman explains why rest is more than a form of self-care but a radical act of defiance especially for Black women.

Written by Hannah L. Drake | Illustration by Branden Barker

Recently, I watched Grammy award-winning rapper Megan Thee Stallion perform her song “Anxiety” on Saturday Night Live. She looked stunning, standing at the microphone in a full-length red bedazzled ballgown, her hair in a stylish updo, not one curl out of place, her makeup flawless. The scene resembled a beauty pageant with her background dancers outfitted in gorgeous gowns too, as they swayed their hips and danced around her. As Megan recited the lyrics, I noticed her voice quivered.  I could tell she was fighting back tears. I looked closer at the television to see the words on the sash placed around her neck. They said “Ms. Anxiety.” Her dancers had their own sashes. They were labeled “Ms. Underpaid,” “Ms. Overworked,” “Ms. Overwhelmed,” “Ms. Overlooked,” and “Ms. Insecure.” Titles, as a Black woman, I know all too well.

A day before her appearance on the show, Megan posted the following on her Twitter feed: “I really gotta take a break. I’m so tired, physically and emotionally.” That tweet came to mind during her performance. I was watching an exhausted Black woman who was pushing through because, for Black women, the show must always go on. Staring at Megan was like watching my own reflection. The quiver in her voice resonated with the quiver that had been in mine just a few years prior.  

After protesting the murder of Breonna Taylor for months in 2020, I wrote countless articles about injustice, gave endless speeches about racism and anti-racism, and appeared on the news and in magazines, while being physically exhausted. There was never time for a break. Injustice and racism never take a day off, which meant neither could I.

One day at an event a friend asked, “Hannah, how are you?” I responded as I always do, “I am fine.” But I wasn’t fine, far from it. I was angry and frustrated. I was filled with anxiety. And, I was tired. My friend looked at me and asked again, “No, Hannah, really, how are you?” I knew he could see I was not okay. Like Megan, my voice quivered, but I smiled through our interaction and mumbled some words in response.

Endless days and sleepless nights eventually caught up with me and I had to get away. A good friend sent me to the Omega Retreat Center in Rhinebeck, New York, for two weeks so that I could rest. When I arrived, I was told about all the things the center had to offer. A caveat was added, “You don’t have to do anything.” My friend had given the Center strict orders — “Hannah is there to rest. Please leave her alone.” Even she knew I didn’t have the good sense to tell anyone that on my own.

I sat on the bed in my cabin and stared at the walls. There I was at a retreat center that focuses on health, wholeness, and wellness, and I wasn’t speaking about women’s empowerment or diversity and inclusion? There was nothing for me to do. No expectations. No obligations. And, almost as if it was destined, I started watching, The Pieces I Am, a documentary about acclaimed author Toni Morrison.

Use rest to reclaim, refocus and recenter yourself. Rest because you deserve to rest with no excuses needed.

In the documentary Toni Morrison recounted a pivotal moment in her career. She said, “I remember sitting in my office at Random House with a pad, and I wrote down everything I had to do. Mother your children, go to the store, pay the bills, edit this, write this, and it covered the page. And then I said, of that number, what do you have to do? And there were only two things. Mother my children and write. And anything that didn’t do that, I struck out.”  

Essentially, at that moment, Toni Morrison became the conductor of her life and defined her boundaries. She decided she would no longer be consumed by all the stuff, expectations, and clutter that often keep Black women feeling burnt out and exhausted.  

I immediately made my list. Like Toni Morrison’s, mine was concise. I was consumed with everything and everyone tugging for a piece of me that I had gotten away from the things I was called to do—write and speak. All the other things were depleting my energy. Feeling like I had to be all things to everyone and do everything made me tired and ineffective at what I needed to do. So I made a decision. I did something I hadn’t done in months, maybe years. I got in bed and I slept. I didn’t set the alarm. I didn’t feel any need to make an excuse for why I was going to sleep. I just slept. And it was the best sleep I had had in years. And the next day, I did the same thing. I repeated this for 14 days. 

Rest for Black women is a radical act. Understand that Black women were not brought to this country to rest. We were brought here to work, serve, always be available, to say yes and live a backburner existence. Living this way has contributed to our early demise. There is no reward for being tired, overworked, and overwhelmed. There is no prize for burning the candle at both ends. There is no trophy for giving into the expectation that you are required to fix a nation that you didn’t break. 

For Black women to be whole, rest is needed for restoration. This nation is never going to freely give Black women the option to rest. We must take it. My advice to Black women is to do like Toni Morrison and make your list and then go lie down. Use rest to reclaim, refocus and recenter yourself. Rest because you deserve to rest with no excuses needed. Rest without feeling guilty.  

Resting is a revolutionary act because rest is rooted in self-love and loving self is revolutionary. Taking care of yourself is the prize. Being well-rested is the reward. Being whole is the best gift you can give yourself. Go lie down and rest your soul, my sister. Tomorrow will take care of itself.