The theme for Black History Month this year is “Black Resistance: A Journey to Equality.” The Association for the Study of African American Life and History (ASALH) explains that the theme recognizes the ways that “Black people have had to consistently push the United States to live up to its ideals of freedom, liberty, and justice for all.”
Black History Month has its origins in Negro History Week, established in 1926 by Dr. Carter G. Woodson, the founder of the ASALH. This time has been set aside not only to make visible the experiences and achievements of Black Americans, but also to understand the ways that Black History is foundational to U.S. history.
There are many familiar ways we might talk about Black resistance. Abolitionism and escape from enslavement, Civil Rights demonstrations, and foundational court cases are generally taught in the public schools. If we have had more in-depth experience with Black History, we may have learned about the maroon communities of the U.S. South and Latin America, comprised of Black individuals who refused to be enslaved and established their own communities and governance. We may have learned about the Harlem Renaissance, Black Liberation Theology, or Black Nationalism. Perhaps we have knowledge of the small daily ways that individuals resist, by insisting on their own humanity, joy, and fullness of life when faced with circumstances beyond their control.
This year, I have been thinking about resistance in new ways after reading the book “Rest as Resistance” by Tricia Hersey.
Hersey is artist, poet, theologian, and organizer. She champions the idea that resting is an act of resistance. So often we think that resistance is an act of rebellion, a struggle, but Hersey has sought to convince others that healing from exhaustion and lovingly caring for our bodies can be political acts.
Rest, Hersey writes, “disrupts and pushes back against” the grind culture that encourages us to work to exhaustion. Grind culture disconnects us from our bodies. When we allow ourselves to rest, Hersey writes, we usually justify it because it will increase our productivity.
For Black Americans, Hersey claims, rest is a particularly radical act, and it has an important history. Under enslavement, Black bodies were treated as machines. Hersey writes, “our rest and DreamSpace” were “stolen constantly.” Resting has been crucial to resisting this violence and theft. Harriet Tubman, the woman known for leading possibly hundreds of people to freedom on the Underground Railroad, made space for resting. Tubman was known to take time for napping, talking, praying, listening to nature, watching the stars, and dreaming.
Encountering this concept of rest as resistance has helped me understand how wellness and equity are intertwined. Our bodies are affected by the systems we live in, and our treatment of our bodies can be a way of resisting the systems that harm us. We think of resistance as loud, confrontational, and perhaps bold, but it can also be found in the quiet insistence on connection, recovery, and dreaming.
To learn more about the history of Black History Month, visit the Association for the Study of African American Life and History.
To learn more about Tricia Hersey’s Rest as Resistance movement, visit her webpage.
To learn more about how African Americans view the current journey to equality, explore recent studies published by the Pew Center for Research.
 Tricia Hersey. (2022). Rest is Resistance. New York: Little Brown Spark, 7.