The Takeaway

Black People Are Still Working Themselves to Death and It Will Not Stop Anytime Soon

Overwork is a vestige of slavery

David Stovall
Published in
5 min readMar 9, 2021
A black woman working alone in a dark office
Photo: Thomas Barwick/Getty Images

Co-authored by David Stovall, PhD and Ebony Omotola McGee, PhD

We do it all the time. As Black academics and racial justice researchers, we work seven days a week and way too many hours in the day. The grind never seems to end. We love the work although it comes with fatigue (also known as racial battle fatigue). We want to see Black students and other Black people thrive without structural oppression. These are the reasons we tell ourselves to explain why we work so hard. And to an extent they are true.

What we rarely say, but know all too well, is that we work so hard because we must. Like our enslaved ancestors, working oneself to death has unfortunately become our legacy. Our enslaved ancestors were worked no less than an average of 16 hours per day for six or seven days a week, and as a result, many of us have embraced the idea that our “hard work” in the traditional sense serves as a testament to our commitment to succeed. What we haven’t come to grips with, however, is that this relentless labor often results in premature death. The untimely passing of brother Chadwick Aaron Boseman from colon cancer serves as a lesson on the unreasonable expectations placed on the Black body.

As two Black researchers employed in academia, we are clear that the new administration in the White House does not necessarily make things “better” or even less difficult for us. Instead, we are clear that 45’s electoral loss only means that overt White supremacist terror is in a brief hibernation phase. White supremacy, as the isolation, marginalization, and dispossession of Black, Latinx, Indigenous, and other people of color in thought and action remains front and center.

We work seven days a week and way too many hours in the day.

Gone are the days of a badly tanned sociopathic liar in the office of the president stoking the fire of White supremacy. He’s been replaced by an administration resigned to making us serve in the perpetual role of advising those who don’t have a clue about diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI), and are more…



David Stovall

David Stovall, Ph.D. is professor of Black Studies and Criminology, Law and Justice at the University of Illinois at Chicago