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Simone Biles, Naomi Osaka and the Revolutionary Power of Black Women’s Rest

During a time where workplace rules and boundaries are constantly shifting as many of us navigate new realities of remote work or lives as digital nomads, Simone and Naomi are also examples of how Black women are continuing to impact the way we all push back against toxic work environments and the systems that create them.

“I worked for a very big sports media company. As a Black woman in that company I was expected to be on all of the time. It’s almost as if I was placed in certain positions to compete with my coworkers,” says Krissy Brierre-Davis, a business operations consultant. “While my white counterpart was praised for the bare minimum, I worked 24/7 and never received acknowledgement for a job well done. I was burned out.” Ultimately, she decided to leave to save herself, her family and her sanity. “Unfortunately many don’t have the ability to do that, but I knew that if I didn’t I risked losing far more than I was willing to,” she says.

There is a growing movement for the radical prioritization of rest among Black women. Community healers like The Nap Ministry and Erika Totten remind us of the importance of rest. It’s not a trend, but a birthright—a revolutionary stance in itself. Armed with decades worth of experiences, resources, and tools that lead people to liberation, their work calls in the past, present, and the power of rest. “When you’re resting, it’s restoring your body so that you do have enough capacity to move on towards your vision,” says Totten via her #ToLiveUnchained Sessions on Facebook Live. Or as Tricia Hersey, affectionately known as The Nap Bishop of The Nap Ministry, puts it:“There is never enough rest and leisure for those with a legacy of enslavement. Claim it.”

There has been a growing awareness of the importance of talking about mental health in the sports community in recent years. But Biles’ powerful actions in Tokyo also shine a light on the importance of recognizing the mental health burdens Black women carry. In the Black community, anxiety and depression often go untreated. That means even while working, many of us are suffering in silence and you wouldn’t know it unless you asked—see Osaka’s confession of dealing with depression since 2018 as a prime example. “Taking one’s rest is so vital and revolutionary for Black women because every single day we wake up and proverbially build Rome, often without the proper tools needed or support necessary to solidify a foundation,” says Ru Johnson, cultural strategist at Roux Black. “That takes work. Emotional work, physical work, spiritual work. Black women are working. Every day. At every moment.”

Robertson, the business coach, was recently diagnosed with premenstrual dysphoric disorder—a condition that causes severe anxiety and depression every month. As an entrepreneur, a wife and a mom, she had to make the decision to cut back in her business so that she could prioritize herself. “I still would like to hear more people talk about how protecting your mental health isn’t a weakness. Just because you need a break or choose to remove yourself for the betterment of your mental health doesn’t mean that you’re lacking anything,” she says. “That should be something that is praised and not pitied.”

The current cultural conversation around Black and women rest is also revolutionary because it ties into an even bigger discussion around what we need in order to strengthen our communities. While Black women are resting and being examples of liberation by prioritizing their wellbeing, they’re also ensuring the betterment of our world. “What do we do to hold our women and girls up when the rest of the world won’t? How do we make it our responsibility to love and protect each other?” says Evans-Clark. “And not just those of us on Olympic stages, but Black women with and without jobs, the unhoused, Black queer women and femmes. We have some questions to answer within our own homes.”

Stepping away from the expectations of the world may be Biles’ most important legacy. She’s not letting anyone rule her. She is winning. And for the rest of us, Johnson leaves us with this question: “I’d like for folks to ask themselves, What can I do to make life easier for Black women who are carrying so much?”

Melissa Kimble is a Memphis based cultural writer and strategist, writing and building at the intersection of culture, community, and wellness.

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