Hello everyone, and happy Friday! I’m thrilled that so many of you have already decided to join me on this newsletter adventure. In our frantic, overloaded digital lives, email inboxes are our front steps. I don’t take for granted that you’re inviting me in.
Hello there! Some personal news(letter).
Maybe that’s why I’ve been thinking so much lately about how our culture views sleep, rest and work. My most recent column was about President Biden testing positive for covid-19, only for the White House to insist — in practically every tweet, social-media post and official statement — that he was working, working, working!
Even in normal times, America is allergic to rest. So it comes as no surprise that our cult of busyness has proved quite resilient in this time of covid. Last Saturday, after Biden once again tested positive, in a “rebound” infection, the White House doubled down, with press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre appearing to laugh off the suggestion that the president would have been better off taking it easy.
White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre was asked if Biden is working himself too hard by working through COVID, and if that contributed to his relapse.
“I mean, anybody, be it 79 or 46, has to rest when you get this.”
“Um, no.” pic.twitter.com/0oBwUE3I5u
— Walker Bragman (@WalkerBragman) August 1, 2022
It’s not a laughing matter. It bears repeating that doctors have advised against “pushing through” a case of covid, as doing so could weaken your immune system and make your symptoms worse.
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Besides, rest is our birthright as human beings — literally, in fact. Article 24 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states, “Everyone has the right to rest and leisure, including reasonable limitation of working hours and periodic holidays with pay.” Rest is as much a labor rights issue as it is a matter of health.
However, as David L. Richards and Benjamin Carbonetti noted in a 2012 paper in the International Journal of Human Rights, the right to rest is one of the most routinely attacked sections of the declaration. Rest is “not an idle waste of time or a mere absence of, or recovery from, work,” they wrote, “but, rather, necessary for a life of ‘dignity.’” Exploitation and overwork are affronts to human dignity.
As the world grapples with the ongoing threat of covid, along with scorching temperatures due to climate change, we need more cultural and systemic allowances for rest and recovery — as well as for people who suffer from energy-limiting conditions. Katie Bach of the Brookings Institution estimates that a shocking 2.4 percent of U.S. workers — some 4 million full-time equivalent employees — are now out of work because of long covid. My home state of Texas leads the nation in heat deaths. In the United States, there are no national protections for heat exposure on the job.
If we are to be a nation that is more resilient to public health emergencies and climate change, we will need more cultural and political activism in defense of the right to rest.
I’ve been learning more recently about advocates for resting and leisure, including the Nap Ministry and the World Organization for Leisure. In Britain, people are experimenting with a four-day workweek. Maybe one day Americans can step off our exhausting cultural treadmill.
So yes: Enjoy your holidays!
Read my latest here: Biden working through covid is bad for America’s public health.
Global Radar: Brittney Griner sentenced
Some awful news out of Russia: On Thursday, WNBA star and Houston native Brittney Griner was sentenced to 9½ years in prison. Griner was detained in February after Russian authorities claimed she broke the law by carrying a small amount of cannabis oil into the country. The Biden administration raised hopes last week that a deal with Russia could be made — to swap Griner and another American, former Marine Paul Whelan, for notorious arms dealer Viktor Bout. But right now the prospects for Griner’s quick release don’t look good.
My colleague Jason Rezaian, who spent 544 days as a political prisoner in Iran, was spot on when he wrote about increasing hostage-taking by authoritarian regimes in his March column “Why I’m so worried about Brittney Griner.”
I keep coming back to the reasons that many WNBA stars play in Russia in the first place: They just don’t make enough money in America. Griner earned $227,000 as a player for the Phoenix Mercury; in Russia, female players can earn more than $1 million a year.
On Tuesday, WNBA legend and coach Becky Hammon, who played in Russia for years, made an appeal for mercy to Vladimir Putin. Other stars who have played in Russia include Diana Taurasi of the Phoenix Mercury and Breanna Stewart of the Seattle Storm. Given how much male pros earn in the United States, we can hope that WNBA players could at least be paid enough to not have to supplement their incomes in repressive countries. But as more Americans are detained abroad, Jason reminds us of a scary reality: We are in a hostage crisis.
Home Front: Preserving Black media history in the digital age
Like so many Black girls growing up in the ’90s, I remember poring over copies of Jet and Ebony while at the salon to get my hair permed. The magazines, owned by Chicago-based Johnson Publishing Co., were founded in 1951 and 1945, respectively, and became two of the most influential culture and lifestyle publications of the 20th century.
They were sold several years ago, and eventually a bankrupt Johnson Publishing considered auctioning off the magazines’ photo archives, which contained some 4 million photos and negatives chronicling 70-plus years’ of important figures and events in Black history. Last week, the Getty Research Institute and the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture announced that they would purchase the archive for $30 million. The plan is for it to be housed in the NMAAHC and to be made available for public viewing.
The purchase is a win for preserving Black media’s past, but the state of Black media today is more troubling. That’s a subject I’ll no doubt return to in future newsletters.
For the Culture: Queen Beyoncé’s summer dance break
Anyone who has read me for a while knows that I am going to weigh in on the cultural force that is Beyoncé. The surprise release of her 2016 “visual album” “Lemonade” changed the game; that work was an unapologetic ode to Blackness, female empowerment and the magic of the South. Her 2020 musical film “Black is King” was an artistic embrace of sounds from the African continent, including Afrobeats and house music. And of course, “Homecoming,” a live album recorded at Coachella in 2018, was a love letter to HBCU culture, with her steppers, marching music and homage to Black Greek traditions.
Beyoncé’s latest album, “Renaissance,” feels like just what we needed after two years of pandemic. Many of us have missed the energy of dancing with each other, feeling the pulse of the music and movement of our bodies. Tracks like the single “Break My Soul” are reminiscent of the gay ballroom culture of the ’80s and ’90s. Writing for Pitchfork, Julianne Escobedo Shepherd put it perfectly: “Renaissance is inherently about bodies undulating in the dark, under strobes; sexual agency; and the Black queer and trans women who are both politicized and the most endangered people among us.”
We live in a time when the bodily rights of trans people and women are being stripped away. But “Renaissance” is reminder that even during periods of oppression, we were made to experience joy and connection.
Fun Zone: Nandi Bushell, South Africa’s drumming sensation
I grew up playing the piano, but I’ve always wanted to learn the drums. During the pandemic, I finally bought an electric kit to teach myself. I love to go on YouTube and listen to drum covers for inspiration. One drummer I’ve been following for a while is the 12-year-old sensation Nandi Bushell. The bubbly South African preteen, who has more than 800,000 followers on Instagram, went from jamming on toy drums with her dad to playing on stages with the Foo Fighters. I promise you this clip will make your day:
Almost 3 years ago I let out an uncontrolled scream that has taken me on this incredible journey. In a few weeks I will be playing on stage at wembley with legends of rock. I hope this video inspires you to be yourself, dream big, and work hard! everything is possible! #nirvana pic.twitter.com/Bt6pmqjy2I
— Nandi Bushell (@Nandi_Bushell) August 3, 2022
Cat Corner: Meet Artemis!
And last but certainly not least: Last February, I brought home a kitten that I named Artemis. And my life has not been the same since! A little bit about Artemis: He is an a 1½-year-old seal-point Birman, and he has this irresistible face:
Artemis is, yes, the name of the Greek goddess of the hunt and of unmarried maidens (ahem, me). But Artemis’ name is also an ode to my childhood love of the Japanese anime “Sailor Moon” — the cat who is the guardian and companion of Sailor Venus in the show is called Artemis.
Artemis greets me at the door every time I come home. He loves people and gets along with most dogs. He also has a loyal fan base on Twitter, which rushes to his defense every time he engages in bad behavior.
He will be making regular appearances in the newsletter — and he would also love to see your pet pics, too!
Thank you for reading! I’ll see you next Friday.
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