“It’s okay to rest.” These are really simple words and yet they hit me like a ton of bricks. It was February 21, 2020, and I was attending a short-doc event during black history month, that was part of the Fade to Black Festival. This initiative, sponsored by the Fabienne Colas Foundation, gave these budding directors funding for this project, as well as a larger public platform to release it on. There were five short films being shown, each shot by a young black filmmaker, exploring the given theme of: “Being Black in Montreal.” Each movie portrayed this shared subject matter differently and was individually wonderful. But the documentary “Rest is a Right,” by Sara-Claudia Ligondé, hit me like an uppercut to the chin.
Her doc interviews and showcases Shanice Nicole, a local young activist, educator, writer, spoken artist and McGill staffer (the latter title being her full-time job). She explains the pressure she feels to fill her days with projects, and goals to reach, in and out of the workplace. Whether it’s devoting herself to her professional career, her art, or her community involvement. For the rearmost, she facilitates and fundraises for disadvantaged POCs (People Of Color), and LGBTQIA2S+ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer and/or Questioning, Intersex, Asexual, Two-Spirit, etc.) POCs. She explains that the black female role models she had growing up (her mother and grandmother), worked so much in the workplace and in the home, that she knows no other way to be. Intellectually she understands that this way of living is unsustainable, but she finds it hard to make time for respite. Things being easier now than when her predecessors were her age, makes it difficult for her to quantify the need to take it easier than they ever did.
This movie touched me because her narrative, which the director shared, feels very much like mine. I consider myself less successful than Shanice Nicole and Sara-Claudia Ligondé. In that, they have already put forth art that lives on in others, in their distinctive disciplines. Which is something I have always wanted to do, outside of my full-time job. In Shanice’s case her level of community involvement is incredible, and giving back in this way, is something I have dreamed of doing since I was sixteen. But I always feel that I am running after professional accomplishments that must be prioritized over personal projects, or even personal enjoyment. Like both the interviewee and the filmmaker, I am a black woman. My parents and I were both born on the continent of Africa, and, my mother worked hard to ensure I would grow up in the West. So likewise, ‘rest’ being a right, sounds sacrilegious to me somehow, although intellectually I also know it to be true.
Women in my culture are the rock of the family. We work in and out of the home to ensure matters run as smoothly as possible. We give of ourselves so that our children can reach higher than we could. We are expected to be all things, and to handle everything, on our own if need be (the rearing of children included). I find that the trope of the black woman is similar (in qualities and responsibilities placed on her shoulders), from one continent to the next. Regardless of, whether one comes from the continents of Africa, the Caribbean or America, it creates this endless wheel that we exhaust ourselves on, trying to make the previous generation proud. While carrying just that bit further, our own descendants.
‘Rest’ being a right, was a lie for our ancestors since all black people originally came from a colonized continent (Africa). Before, being dispersed in the Americas and the Caribbean as slaves for hundreds of years. Slavery and colonial rule are over now, but the effects of historically being “beasts of burden” remain for black folks to this day. The global social activism that rose to record highs during the second half of 2020, is in direct relation to this issue. Under the banner of BLM (Black Lives Matter) and local social activism organizations worldwide, our youths are seeking to rectify the modern remnants of the legacy of slavery in our societies.
Although Africa and the Caribbean are still rich in resources, their majority-black populations are somehow permanently disadvantaged, under (often violent) authoritarian governments that do not benefit them. So the members of their population that can immigrate to the West, for a better future for themselves and/or their children, do so. For many, our ancestors were slaves, so in that sense, ‘rest’ was not permitted, and that is what was passed on. Those whose predecessors were not slaves, still initially grew up under colonial rule, or totalitarianism, in a system that did not repay their endless labour with much more than survival. For them too, ‘rest’ was impossible, and that experience was passed on.
Coming from that history as a people, regardless of the continent your ancestors got their specific experience of subservience from, ‘rest’ was not a right for our parents or our grandparents. In my generation, systemic inequity based on race, religion, gender, and/or sexuality is still rampant, even in the West. So ‘rest’ being a right, remains somewhat of a dream for me still. One which I hope becomes mine to enjoy someday. Not because, I’ve gotten too old to work as long or as hard as I did in my youth, but because society would truly have changed. And my efforts as a black woman would have equal impact, unaffected by my gender, race, creed, or sexuality. Because a lifetime of exhaustive work is a legacy I hope to be the first in my family (and immigrant social circle), to not pass on to the next generation. All the while, continuing to forge the path to success which my mother opened up for me, for my future offspring.
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