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Black Women On What The Art Of Doing Nothing Means To Them

Stillness is where your truth and all the answers that you're looking for reside. — Radiah Rhodes

Inspiration

I remember Monday mornings at my old job when everyone (although they hated that it had ended) was eager to tell the whole office about their weekend. These were conversations that I deeply resented. One, because I had little interest in hearing about my coworkers' personal lives, and two, because they were instant reminders of how burnt out and misunderstood being in that place made me feel. Every week it was the same thing: They'd ask me what I did during the weekend and could never believe their ears when they'd hear me say that I didn't do anything. Then, they would guilt-trip me into believing that I was wasting the best years of my life by staying hidden inside my cave and refusing to socialize.

To this day, I'm still wondering why it was so hard for them to conceive that the time we have off from our responsibilities isn't necessarily meant to be spent doing any other activities and that it's OK to choose to rest. That joy and fulfillment can also be found in unplugging from the world and reconnecting with ourselves.

In hindsight, I must admit that I was choosing to escape life every chance I had was more reflective of how miserable I was than the happiness I felt from retreating.

Indeed, a hard truth that I failed to acknowledge before I had the opportunity to discuss the art of embracing doing nothing with four amazing Black women and what it truly means to them is that my me-time had turned into toxic self-isolation. All because it was easier to run away from a life I didn't enjoy rather than making hard decisions that would change the course of my future for the better. The major takeaway that I got from speaking with the women below is that stillness shouldn't (just) be an exit door—and just like everything else in life, it has extremes that finding balance will prevent us from falling in.

Dr. Thema Bryant

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Courtesy of Dr. Thema Bryant

Licensed Psychologist & Professor at Pepperdine University

"Indulging in the art of doing nothing is such a radical decision, particularly for women of color because our worth and value are often associated with our busyness. For the longest time, women of color have been put under this pressure to work hard for everyone else. There's often little attention given to our care, wellness, let alone our needs. So, for us to be revolutionary enough to say that those [things] matter and to choose to do nothing at all during moments of our days and life is a declaration that says, "I am worthy and I am enough. I don't have anything to prove."

"I was introduced to stillness by my mother. She's a minister who teaches, particularly women of African descent, about prayer. A lot of people associate prayer with talking but it turns out that a major point of prayer is in silence and stillness. It's a sacred rhythm between activity, action, accomplishment, and taking the time to be still, to reconnect, to be grounded, as well as to be filled. All of which to ensure that when we pour, we are not operating out of emptiness. Growing up, I followed my mother's path and practiced stillness through prayer and meditation. Later, I also added physical movement that allows the mind to be still such as dancing and walking. I believe that there's a need to push back on the idea that the art of doing nothing can only be practiced by sitting still with our eyes closed and our legs crossed.

"To me, the art of doing nothing means slowing down our pace, becoming more aware, operating with gentleness and compassion to ourselves, etc. It's more a way of living than it is an approach to living. It's not something that we're required to schedule or practice during a specific time frame only. It's something that we can decide to do at any given moment."

"However, it is likely that sometimes, the urge to escape our own company by burying ourselves in work or finding something entertaining to do manifests itself. When this happens, it is important to truly understand that being in our own presence is not a punishment. Considering it as such or seeing it as a chore is the best way to miss the gift of it. It becomes another task to add to our to-do lists instead of being a pleasure that we're giving ourselves to stay still and do nothing but to reconnect.

"As a psychologist, I work a lot with trauma survivors and I noticed that people who have gone through very difficult experiences sometimes cope by staying busy. It's their way to prevent their thoughts from taking over their minds. But one thing I know for sure is that busy and distracted don't serve as a definition for healed. And unhealed traumas must be addressed at some point. One of the ways to do that is to practice the art of embracing doing nothing."

Visit Dr. Thema's website drthema.com.

Amber Janae

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Courtesy of Amber Janae

Professional Expert in Content Strategy & Digital Marketing

"For me, the art of doing nothing is simply being as I am and not feeling any guilt, pressure, or a desire to be anyone or anything other than who I am in the present moment. I believe that women in general should learn to embrace stillness because it's our way to just be. It is the space where we become one with ourselves. It is important to understand that stillness is something that we choose; it does not choose us.

"Many spend a lot of time ignoring their intuition or that inner nudge guiding them in the direction to pause and just be for a while. When you're ready to discover and connect with the parts of yourself that have remained a mystery, you will make time to be still.

"To embrace stillness, you also have to let go of the misconception that stillness simply means not moving or staying in one place. You can force yourself not to physically move for days, weeks, and months but it doesn't guarantee progress is being made. It's not enough to be still, you have to disconnect."

"For me, the art of doing nothing is less of a practice and more of a natural state of being. The benefits that I've gained from such have been loving and trusting myself more than ever before—and not allowing anything to change that. Self-care isn't a one-off thing I do when I am having a bad day or week. I am forever intentionally creating a safe space for myself internally and externally; therefore, I am always practicing a form of self-care. It is less of a single method or action; it is a way of being... It is an organic way of life in my world.

"Personally, I do not believe that stillness is scary. There are very few things that I fear and stillness isn't one. Fearing growth, evolving, or becoming a better me which are the things that we embody when we choose to remain still isn't a natural act to me. In my opinion, if you're actively choosing entrapment, then it more than likely means that you're afraid to face yourself. You live in fear of what awaits you on the other side of self-discovery. You're running from your truth and not ready to embrace, accept, or face the parts of you that need healing."

Follow Amber on Instagram @ajscribes.

Tempest Linh

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Courtesy of Tempest Linh

Freelance Writer, Martial Artist & Tarot Reader

"I learned the true concept of stillness through my journey as a martial artist, which started in 2018. I practice American Kenpo Karate and Tai Chi. My head instructor, a badass Southeast Asian woman, taught me the principles of meditation (Anapanasati) and stillness that I currently practice. Typically, when people think of meditation, they imagine themselves seated in a lotus position and devoid of all thoughts. But that's not what true stillness is to me—it's honestly not realistic, especially in today's climate.

"Stillness is when your mind is racing, but you're not consumed by those thoughts. It's when something can pop up in your mind and you don't ruminate over it. When you can observe your thoughts and emotions without judgment, and just let yourself be."

"Martial arts is my main outlet for practicing stillness. The practice happens when I'm faced with my 'not enough story', as my head instructor calls it. The 'not enough story' is an overwhelming feeling of inadequacy. This happens when I feel like I'm not learning a form or set of techniques fast enough, or when I do learn it I feel like I'm doing it all wrong. It's that nagging inner critic that we all have. The challenge is to move through it, even when I feel like I'm just not good enough, and this mindset trickles into daily life outside of the dojo.

"With that said, even in knowing and experiencing the benefits of stillness, I still struggle to resist escaping my own company. Sometimes, the thought of being alone with myself, and my thoughts is kind of terrible. Even showing up to karate can truly be a struggle—and 2020 made it especially hard. We normally live in a world that's made of distractions, so being forced to pause and sit with ourselves truly allows our 'not enough' stories to come out and be heard. Then, our insecurities become glaringly obvious. I've experienced many existential crises when faced with mine. Being pummeled by your own thoughts and anxieties can be a bit too much; mine, for example, are like monsters and a lot of the time, I just don't want to face them.

"Eventually, it gets to the point where I can't avoid it anymore and I have to sit with myself and get realigned and refocused. But that's when I remember to breathe, find one truth in the madness of my thoughts—because our brains lie to us a lot—and stick to it. I would like to grow to a point where taking the necessary time for myself becomes a daily practice, not just something that I do when I'm fed up."

Follow Tempest on Twitter @sunstorm_.

Radiah Rhodes

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Courtesy of Radiah Rhodes

Founder at Evók and Smart Pressed Juice & Well-Being Innovator

"The word I'd use to define stillness is 'light'. To me, stillness is where your truth and all the answers that you're looking for reside. It's also an art for which you don't find the time to practice, you create it. Every season, I follow The Inner Game Plan™, a step-by-step process to practicing stillness that I came up with 10 years ago with the intent to save myself and which I'm now able to share with the world. I schedule two to three hours of uninterrupted time and space so I can go through each exercise and stay aligned. I've committed to this process as a way to live my life that makes my well-being the priority and the source for everything else. It allows me to build assurance in my spirit and such peace in my soul from knowing that I stopped, prioritized, inquired, listened, and honored what is within me.

"If it wasn't for stillness, I wouldn't have been able to discover my truth, flow, nor the power of who I am. Because I know me and what works for me, I, therefore, know how to wield it in the world for the good of what matters most to me with very little effort. There's authentic power in stillness."

"With that said, I didn't get to the point of fully embodying stillness without experiencing fear. Stillness is scary. First, it feels like if we take our foot off of the gas pedal that's gotten us this far, everything is going to drop when we stop. We deeply believe that our 'doing' is the only way to get things done. Then, there's the fear of the unknown—or the unacknowledged because we've been suppressing so much. It's catastrophizing whatever you might uncover. I remember always feeling like I couldn't allow my thoughts or feelings out because then I'd have to do something about them and it was either going to be drastic or cause the loss of something significant if I acknowledged the truth.

"'If I tell the truth about my job, I'm going to have to quit,' I'd think. Or 'If I tell the truth about my marriage, I'm going to have to get a divorce.' In my head, there was so much riding on me: family, finances, community, the culture, the country...all of it. It's easy to think that if we stop, everything will fall apart. That was a catastrophe to be avoided at all costs in my world. However, I came to understand that the pain of suppressing and avoiding is far worse than any discomfort or challenge that stillness and owning your truth will put you through."

Follow Radiah on Instagram @radiahrhodes.

Featured image courtesy of Amber Janae

ACLU By ACLUSponsored

Over the past four years, we grew accustomed to a regular barrage of blatant, segregationist-style racism from the White House. Donald Trump tweeted that “the Squad," four Democratic Congresswomen who are Black, Latinx, and South Asian, should “go back" to the “corrupt" countries they came from; that same year, he called Elizabeth Warren “Pocahontas," mocking her belief that she might be descended from Native American ancestors.

But as outrageous as the racist comments Trump regularly spewed were, the racially unjust governmental actions his administration took and, in the case of COVID-19, didn't take, impacted millions more — especially Black and Brown people.

To begin to heal and move toward real racial justice, we must address not only the harms of the past four years, but also the harms tracing back to this country's origins. Racism has played an active role in the creation of our systems of education, health care, ownership, and employment, and virtually every other facet of life since this nation's founding.

Our history has shown us that it's not enough to take racist policies off the books if we are going to achieve true justice. Those past policies have structured our society and created deeply-rooted patterns and practices that can only be disrupted and reformed with new policies of similar strength and efficacy. In short, a systemic problem requires a systemic solution. To combat systemic racism, we must pursue systemic equality.

What is Systemic Racism?

A system is a collection of elements that are organized for a common purpose. Racism in America is a system that combines economic, political, and social components. That system specifically disempowers and disenfranchises Black people, while maintaining and expanding implicit and explicit advantages for white people, leading to better opportunities in jobs, education, and housing, and discrimination in the criminal legal system. For example, the country's voting systems empower white voters at the expense of voters of color, resulting in an unequal system of governance in which those communities have little voice and representation, even in policies that directly impact them.

Systemic Equality is a Systemic Solution

In the years ahead, the ACLU will pursue administrative and legislative campaigns targeting the Biden-Harris administration and Congress. We will leverage legal advocacy to dismantle systemic barriers, and will work with our affiliates to change policies nearer to the communities most harmed by these legacies. The goal is to build a nation where every person can achieve their highest potential, unhampered by structural and institutional racism.

To begin, in 2021, we believe the Biden administration and Congress should take the following crucial steps to advance systemic equality:

Voting Rights

The administration must issue an executive order creating a Justice Department lead staff position on voting rights violations in every U.S. Attorney office. We are seeing a flood of unlawful restrictions on voting across the country, and at every level of state and local government. This nationwide problem requires nationwide investigatory and enforcement resources. Even if it requires new training and approval protocols, a new voting rights enforcement program with the participation of all 93 U.S. Attorney offices is the best way to help ensure nationwide enforcement of voting rights laws.

These assistant U.S. attorneys should begin by ensuring that every American in the custody of the Bureau of Prisons who is eligible to vote can vote, and monitor the Census and redistricting process to fight the dilution of voting power in communities of color.

We are also calling on Congress to pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act to finally create a fair and equal national voting system, the cause for which John Lewis devoted his life.

Student Debt

Black borrowers pay more than other students for the same degrees, and graduate with an average of $7,400 more in debt than their white peers. In the years following graduation, the debt gap more than triples. Nearly half of Black borrowers will default within 12 years. In other words, for Black Americans, the American dream costs more. Last week, Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, along with House Reps. Ayanna Pressley, Maxine Waters, and others, called on President Biden to cancel up to $50,000 in federal student loan debt per borrower.

We couldn't agree more. By forgiving $50,000 of student debt, President Biden can unleash pent up economic potential in Black communities, while relieving them of a burden that forestalls so many hopes and dreams. Black women in particular will benefit from this executive action, as they are proportionately the most indebted group of all Americans.

Postal Banking

In both low and high income majority-Black communities, traditional bank branches are 50 percent more likely to close than in white communities. The result is that nearly 50 percent of Black Americans are unbanked or underbanked, and many pay more than $2,000 in fees associated with subprime financial institutions. Over their lifetime, those fees can add up to as much as two years of annual income for the average Black family.

The U.S. Postal Service can and should meet this crisis by providing competitive, low-cost financial services to help advance economic equality. We call on President Biden to appoint new members to the Postal Board of Governors so that the Post Office can do the work of providing essential services to every American.

Fair Housing

Across the country, millions of people are living in communities of concentrated poverty, including 26 percent of all Black children. The Biden administration should again implement the 2015 Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing rule, which required localities that receive federal funds for housing to investigate and address barriers to fair housing and patterns or practices that promote bias. In 1980, the average Black person lived in a neighborhood that was 62 percent Black and 31 percent white. By 2010, the average Black person's neighborhood was 48 percent Black and 34 percent white. Reinstating the Obama-era Fair Housing Rule will combat this ongoing segregation and set us on a path to true integration.

Congress should also pass the American Housing and Economic Mobility Act, or a similar measure, to finally redress the legacy of redlining and break down the walls of segregation once and for all.

Broadband Access

To realize broadband's potential to benefit our democracy and connect us to one another, all people in the United States must have equal access and broadband must be made affordable for the most vulnerable. Yet today, 15 percent of American households with school-age children do not have subscriptions to any form of broadband, including one-quarter of Black households (an additional 23 percent of African Americans are “smartphone-only" internet users, meaning they lack traditional home broadband service but do own a smartphone, which is insufficient to attend class, do homework, or apply for a job). The Biden administration, Federal Communications Commission, and Congress must develop and implement plans to increase funding for broadband to expand universal access.

Enhanced, Refundable Child Tax Credits

The United States faces a crisis of child poverty. Seventeen percent of all American children are impoverished — a rate higher than not just peer nations like Canada and the U.K., but Mexico and Russia as well. Currently, more than 50 percent of Black and Latinx children in the U.S. do not qualify for the full benefit, compared to 23 percent of white children, and nearly one in five Black children do not receive any credit at all.

To combat this crisis, President Biden and Congress should enhance the child tax credit and make it fully refundable. If we enhance the child tax credit, we can cut child poverty by 40 percent and instantly lift over 50 percent of Black children out of poverty.

Reparations

We cannot repair harms that we have not fully diagnosed. We must commit to a thorough examination of the impact of the legacy of chattel slavery on racial inequality today. In 2021, Congress must pass H.R. 40, which would establish a commission to study reparations and make recommendations for Black Americans.

The Long View

For the past century, the ACLU has fought for racial justice in legislatures and in courts, including through several landmark Supreme Court cases. While the court has not always ruled in favor of racial justice, incremental wins throughout history have helped to chip away at different forms of racism such as school segregation ( Brown v. Board), racial bias in the criminal legal system (Powell v. Alabama, i.e. the Scottsboro Boys), and marriage inequality (Loving v. Virginia). While these landmark victories initiated necessary reforms, they were only a starting point.

Systemic racism continues to pervade the lives of Black people through voter suppression, lack of financial services, housing discrimination, and other areas. More than anything, doing this work has taught the ACLU that we must fight on every front in order to overcome our country's legacies of racism. That is what our Systemic Equality agenda is all about.

In the weeks ahead, we will both expand on our views of why these campaigns are crucial to systemic equality and signal the path this country must take. We will also dive into our work to build organizing, advocacy, and legal power in the South — a region with a unique history of racial oppression and violence alongside a rich history of antiracist organizing and advocacy. We are committed to four principles throughout this campaign: reconciliation, access, prosperity, and empowerment. We hope that our actions can meet our ambition to, as Dr. King said, lead this nation to live out the true meaning of its creed.

What you can do:
Take the pledge: Systemic Equality Agenda
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Featured image by Shutterstock

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