How to Challenge White Supremacy Through Rest

5 min readApr 17, 2020

The following are six takeaways from SHIFT’s webinar: Challenging White Supremacy through Rest.” For additional information about our next upcoming live webinar, please sign up for our newsletter HERE.

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In the midst of this global pause, we are presented with the opportunity to unpack our work culture, which is deeply rooted in white supremacist work values. By unpacking these values we hope to create new, human centered pathways of being.

If you have the privilege to access moments of peace and rest during this time, we encourage individuals to unpack ways that rest can be a form of resistance in a white supremacist culture. Pulled from the collective knowledge of anti-racist activists before us, namely Audre Lorde, Ibram X. Kendi, Tema Okun, Tricia Hersey, and groups like the People’s Institute for Survival and Beyond, we share key takeaways from our webinar: Challenging White Supremacy through Rest.

1. “Race and Capitalism are Conjoined Twins” — Kendi

Kendi writes in his book, How to Be an Antiracist: “The origins of racism cannot be separated from the origins of capitalism… the life of capitalism cannot be separated from the life of racism. Our country was founded on the basis of capitalism, and this desire to conquer and gain more utilized racialized slavery as the means to that end.”

By definition, capitalism in the United States is rooted in free markets, free competition, and equal access. Historically, however, this “equal access” does not include Black, Indigenous, People of Color (BIPOC). BIPOC have never been able to compete freely and equally with white people. In fact, those who were historically allowed to accumulate wealth in this definition of capitalism, did so, and continue to do so off of the backs of BIPOC folks.

2. White Supremacist Culture is the exploitation and labor of Black, Indigenous, and People of Color.

To unpack a white supremacist work culture, we must first understand how we live in a white supremacist culture at large.

This pyramid shows how levels of indifference and minimization can escalate further into calls for violence and death. As noted in the pyramid, “every brick depends on the ones below it for support.”

White Supremacist Work Culture is deeply entrenched in all aspects of our work and further propels toxicity and white supremacy.

White Supremacist work culture is made up of normalized characteristics that merit our proximity to “whiteness.” It is all the subtle and coded ways our work elevates “whiteness” as more “professional” or “respectable”. It allows racism, sexism, ableism, xenophobia, and white supremacy to further escalate. We have to name this work culture for what it is: white supremacist work culture. Recognizing what our culture inherently is, is the first step to challenging and resisting it — which then in turn can allow us to reimagine a culture that better serves us all.

White Supremacist Culture and its Characteristics

The characteristics below are pulled from People Institute for Survival And Beyond and activist Tema Okun. We’ve simplified it for this blog post’s purposes. These traits must be taken in the context of understanding how they perpetuate white supremacy.

SHIFT’s breakdown of white supremacist values, adapted from People Institute for Survival and Beyond and activist Tema Okun.

For a more in- depth explanation, we encourage individuals to read the source material here. This document captures the nuances and complexities of the white supremacist values to see how they manifest internally, around us, and in our culture.

3. White Supremacist Work Culture is not just external, but internal.

No one is immune to a white supremacist work culture. We’ve internalized white supremacy work culture in toxic ways like: rewarding hustle and grind culture, equating our productivity to our self-worth, normalizing burnout, glorifying stress, prioritizing work over family, and etc (refer to illustration).

These values can exist across all racial demographics — especially when they are internalized. However, for BIPOC that often means increased physical, intellectual, emotional, and psychological labor to prove our worth in white spaces.

4. “Rest is a form of resistance because it disrupts and pushes back against capitalism and white supremacy.” — The Nap Ministry

Rest can directly challenge these two toxic systems that are working together. Rest also looks different for everyone, but it is whatever exploitation and labor IS NOT to you.

“Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.” — Audre Lorde.

5. Create a Community Care Culture that Centers Rest

With an understanding of a white supremacy work culture, we must ask ourselves: what would our movement and our work culture look like if we centered rest? What would it look like if we centered rest for ourselves, for each other, and in our institutions? For example:

What would you add to this diagram? Fill it out for yourself and share it with us.

Rest at the “self” level could mean: establishing boundaries, saying “no” more often, not missing meals, dancing, cleaning, cooking, allowing for needed sleep, etc.

Rest at the “collective” level could mean: four day work weeks, communal child care, setting clear work/life boundaries, intergenerational support, grassroots decision making, etc.

Rest at the “institutional” level could mean: paid family and sick leave for all, universal health care that isn’t tied to employment, universal basic income, raising minimum wage, and so much more.

6. Breathe.

Let all this information sink into your body. Be kind with yourself and others on this lifelong unlearning journey. This will take time so start small and start gently. Unpacking white supremacy work culture takes persistent and consistent re-evaluation. Rest, and then rest again, and then rest some more.

As we continue unpacking this for ourselves at SHIFT, we would love to hear from you on how this affects your perceptions of rest and understanding of white supremacy culture. Email us at

References: The Nap Ministry (instagram @thenapmintry), ‘Non Violent Communication’ by Meenadchi, and ‘Do-Less’ by Kath Northrup.




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