Reflections on Tricia Hersey’s Rest is Resistance: A Manifesto - Anti-Racism is Key
By: Dr. Sophia Bolt
In December of 2022, RE-Center read Tricia Hersey’s book Rest is Resistance: A Manifesto as our first book club selection [See here for an interview with the facilitator of that book club - Racial Justice Strategist and Coach, Régine Romain]. In the book, Hersey urges us to upend our understandings of rest distorted by capitalism and white supremacy, and to see rest not as a luxury, but as a necessity for our survival. While rest is a human right, as Hersey explains, positionality, that being how our social position, access, and power are shaped by the identities we hold (i.e. race, gender, sexuality, class, (dis)ability, etc.), must be examined in our practices of resting as resistance.
Hersey’s writing is informed by her positionality as a Black woman. Her book details her Rest is Resistance and Rest as Reparations frameworks, as well as the work of The Nap Ministry, an organization she founded that examines rest as a form of resistance by curating sacred spaces for community to rest. “Rest is resistance” speaks to all living under the toxic productivity-centered culture of capitalism, but Hersey is quick to remind us and unapologetically demands that rest as resistance cannot be done without an analysis of white supremacy.
As a white reader of her book, I was concerned about the ways in which her ideas and concepts could be co-opted by white folx - such as prioritizing shallow understandings of rest as a way to opt out of our necessary anti-racist work. In fact, on the second page of her introduction chapter when she writes, “Our collective rest will change the world because our rest resides in a Spirit of refusal and disruption. Rest is our protest. Rest is our resistance” I scribbled a note in the margins. It reads: “YES, and how do white folx not appropriate this as a way to not engage in our own anti-racism work?”
Unsurprisingly, Hersey answered my question. Throughout her book she underscores the fact that resisting the oppressive ways of capitalism is deeply tied to disrupting white supremacy:
There is no Rest Is Resistance movement without Blackness. Anyone attempting to create and expand on our rest message must reach into the cracks to study and uplift Black liberation. It is the North Star for an exhausted world. Anyone co-opting our message without crediting our work and the scholarship of Black people are caught up deeply in the grips of grind culture, and could not possibly be embodying rest. They are to be carefully critiqued as an agent of capitalism and white supremacy thinking. (p. 78)
As part of resting as resistance work, the Nap Ministry uplifts rest as a tool that makes space for invention, imagination and restoration. In the Rest as Resistance framework, resting is so much more than taking time for a nap. As Hersey writes, “It can be easier to believe resting is simply about retiring to your bed when you are tired instead of beginning the messy process of deconstructing your own beliefs and behaviors that are aligned with white supremacy and capitalism” (p. 122). It is through this kind of resting, allowing ourselves to be in a “dreamspace,” that new ways and new futures become possible.
Coincidentally, the next book I picked up to read after Rest is Resistance was a book written by two women of color, Regina Jackson and Saira Rao, called White Women: Everything You Already Know About Your Own Racism and How to Do Better. As I sunk into the first chapter, it was clear that reading and engaging with this book was a practice in sitting in “the messy process” of deconstructing my own beliefs and behaviors. The lessons from Hersey were underscored when Jackson and Rao write about stillness:
Think about it like this. If you walk into a pond, you stir up dirt in the process and it gets cloudy. Keep moving, it gets cloudier. You say, “Oh, the water is cloudy. It's scary because we don't know what lies beneath.” So you run back to the shore. What if you were to walk into the water and stand there and be still? It's uncomfortable because it's cloudy at first, but the water becomes clear after a few minutes because you're still. So, too, if you are willing to just be still amid murkiness and discomfort so profound that you feel pain, you will eventually be able to clearly see the systems that are meant to be invisible… Most important, you will be able to see how you are upholding them. You cannot change what you don't see. Seeing it is foundational. (p. xxv)
Heeding the words of Tricia Hersey and Regina Jackson & Saira Rao, I implore white folx to ask how we are making space in our rest practices to be still and lean into the uncomfortable so that our dreamspaces may open up possibilities for justice. And how are we fostering these practices within our circles (families, friends, workplaces, etc.) for others to do the same? What are we reading together? What are we unlearning together? What are we dreaming up together? As Hersey explains, rest is a human right and we must work to cultivate rest as community practice. “Daydream collectively. Do all these things with others. We will not heal alone. We will not thrive alone. Communal care is our saving grace and our communion” (Hersey, p. 193). I finished her book absorbing the message that rest under capitalism is inherently disruptive, with the power of rest compounding when it is done in community. So, how will we rest together?
Dr. Bolt is a white, cis hetero non-disabled researcher & policy analyst.