No part of social justice work in 2020 is a trend. Rather, it is a sustained effort to affect long-term structural change in the fabric of a society that subsists on antiquated and oppressive systems.
Still, as we start off the year with a host of new existential issues to combat (from rumblings about a World War 3 to fires and earthquakes destroying entire countries), the newest social justice movement centered around radical rest and … nap-taking … might come across as fleeting and trite — an excuse to be “lazy” in a society that celebrates the American Dream. That is until you tap into the history of work in the Western world and what it means particularly for people of color.
After centuries of free labor and underpayment for Africans and their descendants in the United States, Caribbean, and Latin America, our society has settled on capitalism, which often benefits from the continued overworking of people of color to uphold the wealth of those whose ancestors developed generational wealth from the free labor of slaves.
In today’s cultural context, people of color are no longer subject to enslavement but suffer from other injuries due to racism. A 2019 study published in the Public Library of Science suggested that people who experience racial microaggressions, or seemingly minor yet actually damaging racial slights, not only are more likely to suffer from depression and anxiety, but they’re also likely to experience those same damaging microaggressions within the healthcare system when seeking treatment for ailments.
“Microaggressions may pose a significant risk to the quality of life for People of Color,” the study noted. “People of Color are at risk of facing multiple forms of discrimination by healthcare providers, which likely carry additive health consequences.”
Whether considering this from the vantage point of slavery or current-day microaggressions then, in context, rest feels like a prerequisite for racial and ethnic healing in our society.
So when in May 2017, the Instagram account @thenapministry, founded by Tricia Hersey, invited users to an event to participate in a new movement to encourage POC to take more time to rest, it could only be expected that its spark would soon spread like wildfire.
With more than 80K followers today, The Nap Ministry exists to “examine the liberating power of naps” and creates live nap experiences around the country. Pop-up nap stations are not the newest concept — in fact, almost every major city in the U.S. now boasts a nap studio situated downtown offering nap pods for busy Americans to take a 20-minute reprieve from the day-to-day stress of their 9-5. Napping as a ministry to free people of color from oppressive systems, however, is novel while catching on quickly.
Today, popular figures in social justice spread the buzzy and woke concept that rest is a form of reparations freely.
The vast Internet cacophony that champions entrepreneurship and hustle culture lives in direct opposition to this concept, especially as more people of culture latch on to a vision of developing generational wealth.
That’s why when I tested this theory myself — creating space for intentional rest at all times of the day — it felt fraught with concerns about what I would lose in that space of time in which I was still. Many days, naps felt burdensome and distracting, cutting into the precious time I needed to focus on earning money (a challenge many freelancers struggle with).
Still, like any social justice movement, the most radical acts are often foreign albeit healing, risky yet necessary. And most importantly, for those looking to join the movement, it is a practice to be committed to and exercised regularly.
I’ll continue on this journey.