No More Da Mule: Black Women and Rest Part I
Updated: Apr 16, 2021
I want to boldly declare that I did a thing last week. After much meditation, prayer and consideration I sponsored my own 5 day retreat/vacation. Now for all the black women who have started this tradition of solo travel a while back, this may not be for you, carry on. I love you sis, but for the women who have yet to liberate their minds and embrace the wonder, splendid and beauty of REST and traveling alone, keep reading. Now getting back to my retreat. That's right it was just for me. I traveled alone, Chi Chi planned a wonderful transformational trip for herself, to be by herself and love herself enough to set aside the burdens and cares of her own and others. For herself, to breathe, to think, to pray, to dine alone, to read, to swim, to listen to a wonderful jazz concert, to do and to be.... And I didn't feel no ways selfish. Now this is not the first time I have traveled alone. As an educator, my zeal to learn and stay abreast of current trends in education have carried me to workshops and conferences as both participant and presenter across this nation including DC, Vegas, Arizona, Chicago, Kentucky and Chapel Hill just to name a few. But this time was different. There were no workshops, no concurrent sessions, no fireside chats, no discussion groups, no featured speakers, no meet ups, no this, no that....just me and a proclamation of my need to REST. My desire to hold space for myself, to honor the women in my lineage who could not afford to rest, who knew not rest whether in Jesus or within themselves. As wife, as mother, as friend, as aunt, as cousin, as sister, as worker, as confidante, as daughter, they hid themselves inside of their work and acts of recovery were far and few between. The work, hustle, grind, the pressing were real.
I am reminded of that one conversation in "Their Eyes Were Watching God' by Zora Neale Hurston when Nanny, Janie's grandmother tells her "Da nigger woman is de mule uh de world". A special note that historically black women who are often physically overworked have had this undeniable duty to nurture and heal the physical and emotional wounds of everybody and we must somehow accept this fate. Somebody say I want the REST.
It's been said that the mule is both docile and intelligent read "a quiet problem solver who stays in her place", the ones who everyone "sleep on" metaphorically and literally. Black woman you are not your work, it is not the foundation of your identity. I want the REST.
In my own family, my maternal lineage includes Rachel Russell who begot Sarah Russell Tucker, who begot Gertrude Tucker Aldridge , who begot Rancetta Aldridge Nalls who begot Chiquita Nalls Toure. This retreat was especially in honor of Lillian Russell Tucker, my great grandmother, born in 1896 who worked as a domestic worker in Chicago and traveled by bicycle to and from work places. The story is told that one day while heading home she had a hard fall from her bicycle and because she had no health care, did not see a doctor. Instead she headed home, continued to work and over the next few weeks, experienced internal hemorrhaging and died at the age of 33. She was survived by her husband and their three daughters, my grandmother who were three and her two sisters, ages 6 and 9. Yes, Lillian was one of those mules, she knew not REST. I want the REST.
As a mother of four black daughters, in my own special way I have tried to demonstrate and model what rest looks like. But to be clear my earlier days of motherhood I failed miserably at doing just that . My life was not my own. I was as the Isley Brothers used to sing "I'm living for the love of them... All that I'm giving was for the love of them". I was queen mother, protector of my babies, I held them so close, I could hear their breathing always. I felt responsible for their lives and I was, but REST was not in my vocabulary.
At the age of 51 with 3 degrees and 26 years later, I have a clearer understanding of the significance of REST and I reject those titles and phrases that try to stick to black women like crazy glue. Hustler, Strong Black Woman, Boss Lady, On my grind. No thanks, I'm good. I desire not to prove myself and worth through works to anyone including and most importantly myself. Anyone in education will tell you if you ain't feeling tired, overworked, sleep deprived and anxious then you aint really working. So they say. Hence my transition to school librarian. Performative teaching has become synonmous with good teaching meanwhile aint nobody learning "nothing" but they get to experience a good show. Folks in education will tell you, it is not uncommon to not only take your work home but the sorrows and cares of your students. Somebody say I want the REST.
I did a thing last week and I am so proud of myself. I did it for Rachel, I did it for Lillian, I did for Gertrude. I did for Rancetta. I did it for so many black women who resist REST.
I thought it necessary to share my experience with those who feel they may not be worthy or that things will never get done without them. Trust and believe me sis it will and if it doesnt, don't hold yourself accountable for the burdens of the world. Black women if we dont provide place, space and time for REST, there is no refreshing, no restoration and no replenishing. Be no more da mules.