Black women need a vacation. As COVID-19 begins to wane, we are trying to find our way back to normal like everyone else. But like always, the struggle to recover is twice as hard. Unarmed grandmothers are being thrown to the ground in simple traffic stops, and the seemingly continuous killings of our unarmed brothers and sons at the hands of police have only compounded the agony. All this is happening as we continue to lead the charge to save America’s democracy once again.
The exhaustion of fighting for equity, justice, and public safety in our families and neighborhoods has me asking: When will Black women be able to rest?
Our country’s public health crisis is not over. Just over a third of America’s adults are fully vaccinated, and we are a long way from herd immunity. Concerns about exposure to the virus remain high among Black women because most do not have the luxury of working from home. As a group, we have felt the pandemic’s impact more than others, juggling the stressful shifts in family and work obligations while trying to stay safe and well for more than a year. And as the Derek Chauvin trial reminded us, our experiences of the pandemic occurred parallel to nationwide uprisings in response to police killings of unarmed Black people.
This week’s jobs report will likely be celebrated broadly by the Biden administration and the media, but Black women’s employment continues to lag, and a lack of accessible, affordable child care continues to be a problem for many. The unemployment rate for Black women–three-quarters of whom are breadwinners for their families– remains double that of white women—and we’re struggling with far more than just unemployment.
At the height of the pandemic, Dr. Christyl Wilson Ebba and I collected stories from hundreds of Black women in 48 states around the country. They told us they were asked to be everything to everyone while experiencing increased threat and exposure to intimate partner violence, police violence, and mental strain that took a toll on their overall wellness. One woman explained how over the past year, she’d felt like she “had to choose one threat to [her] safety or another at the intersection of being Black and marching to resist police brutality.” We also found that most mothers were overwhelmed by parenting, caring for other family members, working, and schooling their children. There was little time for themselves.
Not surprisingly, our research also revealed the ways Black women were developing their resilience. Study responses point to connection and community-building. Common strategies included virtual or socially distant meetings with friends and family, volunteering, connecting with local organizations and churches, and supporting Black-owned businesses. One survey respondent said that despite how the past year’s events had scared people, she found the time had also been “revelatory in terms of how we manage as a community. Volunteering has been amazing for my spirit!”
Another vital source of resilience for Black women was leaning on their existing spiritual and wellness practices. A majority of participants reported seeking ways to relax, exercise, and meditate. Prayer, yoga, therapy, gardening, and journaling were popular. Many also mentioned creative expressions such as dancing, writing, and arts and crafts as favorite activities to reduce stress and feelings of isolation.
I found myself reflected in many of those responses. I live in Atlanta near where Rayshard Brooks was murdered, and I struggled to explain everything to my young girls. I did banner drops and joined a Black-led Qigong class on Zoom, I called my friends to co-work, and I started walking and exercising outside to improve my mood. My resiliency practices and my community make it possible for me to experience joy and calm most days.
Black women have had to bear an immeasurable amount of weight during this pandemic and the continuous killing of unarmed Black people. If we are to shift from surviving to thriving through the challenges, we must take care of our bodies, minds, and hearts.
The wisdom of our grandmothers, who found ways to cope and overcome difficulties without social support, is not lost on us. Despite living in a new millennium, we remain vulnerable to the same oppressive systems that created incalculable barriers to their wellness. As Audre Lorde said, “Caring for myself is not self-indulgence; it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.” We tend to our gardens and our loved ones, we protest, and we work on the frontlines, and yes, we are deserving of rest.