The global pandemic that rages on has undoubtedly played a declining role in our psychological health, leading to symptoms such as stress, depression, and lack of sleep. These effects are compounded in the Black community, who are simultaneously experiencing racial injustice and trauma. Black people are exhausted, tasked with the emotional and physical labor of educating allies and fighting for the dismantling of systems of oppression while simultaneously living within it. It’s important to tackle this "sleep gap” and explore the concepts of rest and mental ease within the Black community as a form of reparations.
The role of racism on mental health
Black individuals are exposed to racial discrimination more than any other ethnic group. Deeply engrained racist beliefs rooted in unsound history, microaggressions, police brutality, and sustained mistreatment lends to the collective sense of grief that Black people have experienced for centuries. The result is mental anguish, stress, depression, and chronic fatigue.
Destigmatizing mental health in the Black community
Whereas coping mechanisms such as therapy or counseling seem like plausible solutions to healing said racial trauma, cultural aspects play a part in preventing many Black individuals from seeking therapy. Growing up as a Black child, I was encouraged to pray in times of sadness or despair and to keep my problems "in house." These themes of spirituality and interpersonal support were validated as the only socially-accepted forms of coping strategies within the Black community. Stigma, fear and distrust, and lack of resources also hinder Black people from seeking therapy.
Taking the initiative to learn, to be informed, and to get involved are active ways to destigmatize therapy, says professional counselor Brittany Reynolds. Conversely, clinical counselor William Washington recommends utilizing positive language around mental health and using people-first language, such as saying "a person living with schizophrenia" vs. calling someone a "schizophrenic," and swapping terms like "shrink" for "therapist" or "counselor."
Actualizing Black joy and rest
American author and civil rights activist Audre Lorde once said, “Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare." Rest as reparations is an answer to white supremacy and the long stemmed effects of racism.
We, as Black individuals, must let ourselves rest, by being present and checking in on our physical and emotional well-being. Breath work and naps can support our quest for restoration. When we sleep, we are able to heal, something our ancestors did not have the privilege to partake in. Rest is taking back our power, time, and space. Struggle, pain and trauma no longer have to be a part of Black legacy. In the space of mental ease and rest, we can experience Blackness as joy.