Written by:
Ellie Ikiebe

A legacy of Rest and Resistance

Read time:
8 minutes

A legacy of Rest and Resistance

“Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.” Audre Lorde

The last 2 years have been a whirlwind. George Floyd's murder came after a series of events in 2020, from “Central Park Karens” to the murder of Breonna Taylor. These moments highlighted that even during a global pandemic and ‘pause’, there is no pause on racism. To the contrary, the pandemic made it very clear very quickly that systemic inequalities have severe consequences when a crisis hits.

George Floyd has been memorialised almost as a martyr for a movement, but his death was not a wilful sacrifice. He was a beloved father, partner and friend. George Floyd was unlawfully murdered. He became another example of a Black person whose life was  violently stolen by systemic racism.

Two long years later, things have not eased. In just the last few weeks we have seen three soul-disturbing cases of systemic racism enacted on young Black children. Child Q, a 15 year old Black girl with locs was strip searched by the Met after her teachers accused her of smelling of cannabis. Child Q – who was on her period – was made to remove her clothing, underwear and a sanitary pad, spread her buttocks and cough. She has been left deeply traumatised, and now self harms. 

Equally distressing, just today news broke of another 14 year old mixed race girl, known anonymously as Olivia*, who was handcuffed, strip searched and had her underwear cut off, all in the presence of male police officers. Olivia* is autistic, and was also on her period at the time. Both Child Q and Olivia*’s strip searches took place in the same month, December 2020. 

It has since transpired that there have been over 9,000 strip searches of children in the last 5 years. 75% of the strip searches on children by the Metropolitan Police in the last 3 years have been on ethnic minority children. 

Last week, 11 year old Raheem Bailey lost a finger after being racially abused by a group of children at Abertillery Learning Community in Wales. His school was aware of this bullying before the attack, and the lack of care demonstrated by them since is  inhumane. Even following their failure to effectively safeguard Raheem, his school did not follow up with the family to check in on his recovery. A crowdfunder organised by his mother, Shantal, can be accessed here.

In Buffalo, a city is left traumatised from a harrowing hate crime. Ten Black people were murdered  — six women and four men ranging in age from 32 to 86 years; 3 other people were injured. The terrorist livestreamed the attack on Twitch, and cited white supremacist ideology as his motivation for the attack. We say their names because their lives mattered. 

Aaron Salter, 55

Pearly Young, 77

Deacon Heyward Patterson, 67

Ruth Whitfield, 86

Katherine Massey, 72

Celestine Chaney, 65

Roberta A. Drury, 32

Andre Mackneil, 53

Margus D. Morrison, 52

Geraldine Talley, 62

Battle within and without 

These moments are just a few which demonstrate the constant threat of racism. It is violent, repeated, varied, and invasive - and it's waiting for the next one to happen. This legacy of racism exists and manifests in the bodies of those who are being oppressed. I remember feeling the chaos of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor’s deaths as stress, and anxiety. I felt what many of us have felt - this battle raging without and within to do something; bear witness to these great injustices.  

The experience of racism on both the systemic and interpersonal creates both Chronic Trauma, which is repeated and prolonged, and Complex Trauma, the exposure to varied and multiple traumatic events, often invasive and interpersonal in its nature. This manifests in our bodies in various emotional and physical ways. Is this just a permanent reality we have to accept? No. 

In 2020 I was residing in the quiet British countryside, reflecting on the stark difference between my surroundings and the turmoil on my timelines. Even the difference between the tone and feel of mine and my non-Black friend’s Instagram feeds. In those moments I understood that rest, and access to rest, is resistance.

“Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.” ― Audre Lorde

It is important to reflect on who gets to rest and who does not. Why is so much chaos left for marginalised communities to fix when it is not their creation? Why are certain demographics of people placed in jobs that see them overworked and underpaid? Why is nature  harder to access when you live in an inner city, why does the countryside feels unsafe to many marginalised communities? These questions are important because access to rest is not equally distributed. Rest is an act of political warfare.

We hear more and more about Soft Life, what does it mean? To me it’s in the lineage of thought penned by Audre Lorde - holding space for yourself to rest in a system that aims to have you traumatised, overworked and incapable of rest. Reclaiming your right to self-preservation. 

So what does this solution look like, how could it work for you? It’s important to understand the rest is more than just sleep. 

Dr Saundra Dalton Smith defines 7 types of rest:

  1. Physical - Relieve the body (sleep, naps, deep breathing, stretching)
  2. Mental - Allow the mind to unpack,  relax, refocus and reconnect with what matters.
  3. Emotional - Focus on you, express your feelings. 
  4. Spiritual - Connect with something greater than yourself
  5. Social -  Reconnect with people that nourish your energy 
  6. Creative - Be in spaces that inspire you 
  7. Sensory -  Reduce/remove stimulants and disturbances 

While there is no overnight solution to systemic racism, we can use every means possible to sustain ourselves, to experience joy, carefreeness, softness and to continue the vital work to counteract these oppressive structures. 

What can allies do? 

George Floyd’s death was a reset for so many reasons, the world bore witness to this great injustice and, for a moment, couldn’t look away. Was it  because the pandemic shut down many peoples’ access to distractions and rest. If that’s the case, what happens next?

Allies must be aware of the trap of performative guilt and what meaningful action looks like. Listening to communities and continuing to not only highlight these atrocities but also maintain the momentum of the conversations, push for more equitable action and lasting change. Dismantling systems of oppression can not be undertaken solely by the marginalised groups. To create lasting changes, allies must  maintain their position in the long term. 

Many Black people across the diaspora feel responsibility to bear witness and hold space within ourselves for each atrocity where a Black life has been brutalised and murdered. We hold this generational pain within our bodies, a result of consistently having to reject the notion that our pain and deaths do not matter. Of course we matter. 

Radical optimism is, and always has been, a crucial tool of resistance. Hopelessness is built into the design of systemic racism. It is a tool of the oppressor. The ability to imagine new futures is therefore integral to shifting the systemic structures of oppression. Rest must become as important as bearing witness. As you rest, so too does every person  you hold space for. Black people, fellow marginalised communities, or the wider world.

Ellie Ikiebe is Partnerships Manager at the Runnymede Trust

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