Science has shown that Black people in the United States sleep more poorly than any other racial group. Relatedly, contradictory racial myths that depict Black people as simultaneously indolent and super-industrious persist in contemporary discourse. Confronting a culture that celebrates endurance over rest, this paper attends to works of art that visualize or create conditions for Black sleep, thereby resisting its biopolitical regulation and the lethal expectation of perpetual industry. This essay speculates about how visual representations of Black sleep can constitute quiet gestures that enact fugitivity and provide reparation for racial time—in part through the reclamation of interiority. Although sleep is a decidedly solitary act, this paper highlights artistic projects bound by an ethos of collectivity, arguing that the project of transforming the social and political conditions that reproduce Black sleeplessness cannot be pursued in isolation.
∗ I would like to thank Pamela M. Lee for her encouragement, as well as for her thoughtful comments throughout the process of my writing. I would also like to thank Huey Copeland and David Joselit for their insightful feedback on early drafts. Finally, I'm grateful to A-lan Holt, who first introduced me to the political dimensions of Black sleep and created space for it.