What Does ‘Rest in Power’ Mean? And Where Does It Come From?

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Over time, society has developed several phrases and sayings to ease the pain families feel after losing a loved one. As we all know, it’s not always easy to know what to say when someone dies. Whether you’re helping a friend recover from losing a parent or you’re honoring a famous figure, there are a lot of powerful ways to say rest in peace.

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Some communities have their own unique phrases that have deep meaning to them. One such phrase is “rest in power.” This is a phrase that gained popularity in the African-American community as a way to fight for justice and racial equality. Though it originates from the ancient saying “rest in peace,” it has significant symbolism in today’s world. In this guide, we’ll uncover what it means to say someone “rests in power” as well as the origin of this statement. 

What Does ‘Rest in Power’ Mean? 

While you might assume “RIP” stands for “rest in peace,” this isn’t always the case. Recently, the phrase “rest in power” earned a powerful place in the Black Lives Matter movement. For those who were victims of violence and inequality, “rest in power” not only expresses a loss, but also honors these individuals' lives. 

Difference between ‘rest in power’ and ‘rest in peace’

If you take a stroll through a cemetery, you’re sure to stumble upon more than your fair share of gravestones with the saying “rest in peace.” This phrase comes from the Latin phrase of the same meaning (requiescat in pace). It literally translates to “may the deceased rest in peace.”

Rest in peace began to appear on Christian grave markers in the 8th century, and it was mainstream by the 18th century. It’s believed to have started as a type of prayer that wishes eternal peace for the deceased soul in Heaven. 

Rest in power understands this history of rest in peace and expands upon it. It’s a new take on an old phrase. Sometimes, it’s not possible for someone to rest peacefully. Not in a world full of injustice. In these instances, we gift the deceased the power they deserve. 

In today’s world, racial inequality and violence are still prevalent. Young people, particularly those in the African-American community, have their lives taken from them too soon. The phrase “rest in power” is a way to take back control of the narrative. Instead of resting in eternal peace, the deceased individual rests in “power” knowing that people are fighting for justice. 

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Where Does ‘Rest in Power’ Come From?

While “rest in power” is a phrase that has been used in the African-American community for years, it didn’t grow in popularity until recently. The clearest starting point for this phrase becoming mainstream is 2012 with the tragic death of Trayvon Martin

At only age 17, Martin was gunned down by a member of a local neighborhood watch who claimed he looked suspicious. The gunman was acquitted of the crime due to local laws. This sparked the widespread Black Lives Matter movement as a way to fight racial inequality and promote awareness about the death of unarmed black citizens. 

In 2017, Martin’s parents released a biography titled Rest in Power: The Enduring Life of Trayvon Martin as a way to highlight his memory. Since this tragic incident in 2012, the phrase “rest in power” has been used frequently in relation to police brutality or other racial attacks. It’s a way to call for social change while also encouraging others to take action in the face of senseless death.

Trayvon Martin’s story and the “rest in power” movement proves the importance of one’s legacy. Though Martin is no longer here to share his experience with racial prejudice, his death sparked a powerful chain reaction in today’s social climate. Activists around the world now stand with this message, and it’s a strong way to bring a community together for a single cause. 

Where You’ll Find ‘Rest in Power’

Rest in Power is a phrase you’ll start to see all over the internet once you know to look for it. For those involved in the Black Lives Matter movement, it’s a common battle cry for change. Rest in Power has been used to honor the death of anyone who died from a form of injustice. From Trayvon Martin to the countless others who died at the hands of police brutality, this is a common sentiment on social media websites and at memorial services. 

In addition, Rest in Power has been used to honor the death of any prominent figure in the African-American community. When Kobe Bryant died tragically in 2020, people took to social media to share “rest in power” sentiments as a way to acknowledge his legacy. 

Ultimately, you’ll find “rest in power” anywhere society is faced with an untimely death. When someone dies prematurely, this evokes a strong response within communities. “Rest in power” ensures that legacy lives on even after death. 

When to Use ‘Rest in Power’

First and foremost, it’s important to note that there are no strict rules about mourning. Everyone is entitled to their own process when it comes to grief. For many, “rest in power” is a way to ease the burden of a loss. For others, it might overstep boundaries when it comes to inequality. 

Because this phrase has recently been reclaimed by the Black Lives Matter movement, it’s important to understand the cultural significance around using it. This is especially true online, such as on Facebook or an online memorial. 

Generally, it’s best to only use this phrase for a death resulting from any form of injustice. This could include sexism, homophobia, racism, or murder. If the deceased individual passed away by other means, using another type of rest in peace quote is a smarter choice. 

Because this is such an emotionally charged phase, use your own discretion when offering it as a condolence. Keep in mind the wishes of the family and the history behind its use. When in doubt, keep your message simple and focused on the grieving family. 

Rest in Power: Transcending Peace in Death

Humans have used the phrase “rest in peace” for hundreds of years. It’s a way to wish a loved one’s soul well in Heaven, even if that individual is no longer with us. However, from this phrase came an entirely new one. Rest in power is more than a respectful way to honor a death from injustice. It’s also a call to action. 

In the past few years, “rest in power” grew to be a larger-than-life sentiment. Today, it’s widely used across social media and on various publications to raise awareness about the injustices that still happen every day. Though it’s only a phrase, “rest in power” proves that our impact doesn’t end at the grave. When we say that someone “rests in power,” we make a call for social change. 


Sources

  1. Coates, Ta-Nehisi. “Trayvon Martin and the Irony of American Justice.” The Atlantic. 15 July 2013. TheAtlantic.com
  2. “Rest in Peace.” Dictionary. Dictionary.com

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