This semester was a doozy to say the least. For those of us on campus, we not only battled a pandemic that was annoying for some and completely terror-inducing for others, but we also had to balance an academic load more rigorous than many of us were expecting. On top of all of that, we’re trying to maintain some semblance of normalcy in a country that still hasn’t dealt with its bloody past. For students at home in various environments, I applaud you for doing the best you can while not having the independence that comes with life on campus and for facing the same challenges as students who came to Brunswick this fall. Thus, it can be of no surprise that many Bowdoin students are tired. And I know that Black students are especially tired.
If I may get scientific for a moment, I’d like to talk about telomeres. Telomeres are the region at the bottom of a chromosome that stops the ends from fraying and sticking together. Over time, telomeres shrink and affect the body’s ability to fight off disease and maintain a steady equilibrium. So the faster the telomere shrinks, the more likely you are to develop a chronic disease and have your life expectancy lowered. Black people have faster rates of telomere shrinking over time, which is a result of the many high-stress situations that come with navigating the world while presenting Black.
Additionally, Black women have higher allostatic loads, meaning that more often than others, we find ourselves in stressful situations that cause our blood pressure to rise and our fight-or-flight response to activate. Most people experience stress throughout the day, but those moments are just that—single moments of discomfort or annoyance that don’t take much to get over. But for those who must constantly be on alert for a sly comment, an act of aggression or a racial slur being yelled from a moving vehicle, or for those who may have crossed paths with a cop on a day where he wanted to kick some Black ass, how can we just “get over it?”
With the realities of COVID-19 still very much with us, it has become even more clear that a break from all of the pressures of a life based on constant production and hypervigilance is needed. Chronic stress from all aspects of life can only lead us down a path of slow but steady self destruction, and I refuse to stand by as my people once again are tasked with saving ourselves from systems that will never be reformed, because you can’t reform racism. So to my Black peers and anyone else who has lived at the margins of this Great American Life™, I am begging you to take this winter break to rest. Do things that bring you joy, and take the time to pamper yourself.
As much as I’d love to be on a beach along the coast of Ghana drinking coconut water and eating groundnut stew, I am stuck here in the United States with people who are either denying the existence of this virus, accepting the reality and doing what they want anyway or staying inside and waiting for the day it’s safe to come out again. However, there are still things we can do indoors and outdoors while being safe, and I’ve come prepared with a list of things I plan to do to protect my peace over this long break.
Make a Journal…and use it
I am someone who will write in one or two pages of a journal and never come back to it, but this semester, the power of writing has helped pull me out of some really rough spots. Find some journal prompts online and get to the self reflection that all of us desperately need. Something that might motivate one to make journaling become a habit is making a collage of your dreams and inspirations on the cover like I did.
Read a book about Black people being amazing
There are a lot of books out there about Black people that don’t just depict Black struggle and poverty and death, but feature Black people doing amazing things or mundane things or things that make them happy. I haven’t read for pleasure in a while, so here are a few books I can’t wait to get my hands on or have enjoyed in the past (some of these books have various trigger warnings that include transphobia, sexual assault and addiction, so be sure to research before reading):
“Their Eyes Were Watching God” by Zora Neale Hurston
“Homegoing” by Yaa Gyasi
“Tar Baby” by Toni Morrison
“Black Girl Unlimited” by Echo Brown
“Felix Ever After” by Kacen Callender
Be in Nature
There is nothing more healing and centering than being in nature. Four years ago I would have laughed in your face if you suggested I spend any amount of extended time in the elements, but this summer and into the semester, I grew very close to the plethora of plants that are in our home and backyard and made sure to take care of a few while on campus this semester. Many Black people in this country are the descendants of the forced laborers of this land, but so few of us have access to those very lands that our ancestors have worked and died on. Reclaim your place in nature by going for walks, starting a stone collection and nurturing a plant in honor of the Earth.
Listen to a new genre or album…and listen again…and again
According to Spotify I only listened to about 23,000 minutes of music this year (as shown below, because I am proud of my sad girl realness), so I have a lot of listening to do over winter break. This was a tough year for everyone, so the new releases were not as plentiful as we’re used to, but there are a lot of notable albums that got me through quarantine and have breathed life into my semester. Here are a few albums that shaped my 2020:
“Ungodly Hour” by CholexHalle
“MAGDALENE” by FKA Twigs
“Trouble in Paradise” by La Roux
“La Vita Nuova” by Christine and the Queens
Anything that Tierra Whack has released ever
“Plastic Hearts” by Miley Cyrus (brought me back to my high school New Wave phase)
Stress is everywhere and can be somewhat unavoidable at times. With this extended break upon us—once we get through a finals season to rival all others—I wish rejuvenation and self-reflection and peace for my Black people. Let yourself breathe. Connect to the Earth and your families, be they by blood or chosen. And spread love as often as you can. The future that we wish to see must be created by us, and what a beautiful future it will be if we start by focusing on our wellbeing and the strength of our communities. Thank you for reading; I appreciate you all.