Rest in Power: Meaning & Origin Behind the Phrase

Published September 10, 2020
raised fist

Rest in power is a phrase that is typically used to emphasize a senseless, untimely, violent, and/or unjust loss of someone within the Black community, while also honoring their existence. Discover what it means when someone says rest in power and when it might be used.

Rest in Power

Rest in power is a phrase that may be used to honor a deceased individual and draw attention to social injustices and inequality issues. While rest in power was initially used to honor those within the Black community, you may see this used to honor:

  • An individual within the BIPOC community (Black, Indigenous, and people of color)
  • An individual who identifies as LGBTQ+
  • Possibly for an ally of the BIPOC and/or LGBTQ+ community, especially in cases where they were killed while they were fighting for social equality and justice

Rest in Power Meaning

Rest in power will have a different meaning depending on each individual's interpretation of the phrasing. In general, rest in power may mean:

  • The deceased individual will rest in power knowing that others will continue to fight for social justice.
  • The deceased individual will rest in power and be forever honored and remembered.
  • Your life had value, you will be remembered, and the fight for social justice will continue on.

Rest in Power Urban Dictionary

The highest upvoted definition written by FooBarBiz notes that rest in power is a, "...phrase meaning that a deceased cannot rest in peace until society changes due to the circumstances of a death."

Where You'll Find Rest in Power

You may see the phrase rest in power on social media as a hashtag, hear it while speaking with someone, see it on a memorial mural, see it used in books, and notice it on protest related material. Rest in power is used:

  • In the book, Rest in Power by Sybrina Fulton and Tracy Martin, which honors the life of their son Trayvon Martin
Rest In Power: The Enduring Life Of Trayvon Martin

When to Use Rest in Power

While the sentiment of saying rest in power can seem benign and supportive to say after the loss of someone within the Black community and/or LGBTQ+ community, it's important to remember that this phrasing was initially used to shed light on unjust, untimely, and/or violent deaths within the Black community. If you identify as a white, cisgender, straight individual and are thinking of using this phrase to honor a Black individual, and/or a person who identifies as LGBTQ+:

  • Think about why you are interested in using this phrase versus saying something else.
  • Is your use of this phrase performative?
  • If you do choose to use this phrase in a non-performative way, do you have some actionable steps you plan on taking or are continuing to take?

If you are unsure if it is appropriate to say rest in power, there are plenty of other supportive phrases to say after the loss of someone.

Rest in Power vs Rest in Peace Meaning

While both can be shortened to R.I.P., rest in peace is an older term from the Latin phrasing requiescat in pace and has been popularly used since the 1700s on gravestones. Where does rest in power come from:

  • Rest in power was presumably first used beginning in the 1990s within the Black community and has steadily gained more popularity in usage to date
  • Rest in power carries the weight of what the words mean and represent to the BIPOC community, and especially to the Black community, as well as the LGBTQ+ community when a senseless, untimely, violent, and/or unjust death or murder occurs
Headstones in a cemetary

What Does Rest in Power Mean?

In general, the phrasing rest in power both honors the life of the individual who passed away, but it also draws attention to a senseless, untimely, violent, and/or unjust death of those typically within the Black community.

Rest in Power: Meaning & Origin Behind the Phrase