Black Joy Is An Act of Resistance

Reading Time: 3 minutes
Art by The Ebenezer Project

There is a freedom in expressing and naming Black joy, and I want it for all Black people around the world. I want freedom for us all.

Kleaver Cruz

There are only a few things that can make me do a spit-take. Cat videos, especially these sad cat diaries. This holiday artichoke dip video. This flatulence story. And good knock-knock jokes.

A few weeks ago, I sat at my dining room table, giggling at something one of my Black girlfriends had texted to a group chat, and before I knew it, I was laughing uncontrollably – freeing all the things within me, hidden and known. And then, I was sobbing. Mostly because 2020 had required so much from me, taken so much from me, and ravaged so much of my community. And, I knew that laughter and joy was its own kind of resistance.

My laughter was an affront to the KKK trolls who had found my posts about prison reform and urged me to kill myself.

My laughter was healing in the midst of a pandemic which ravages Black and brown communities and increases healthcare disparities.

My laughter was resilient in the face of Christian trolls DMing me to damn me to hell.

And, in an age of livestreamed Black lynching and trauma, my laughter was revolutionary, valuable, and innovative, because Black joy disrupts, imagines, and creates space where we can be free.

In July, Vogue published “What Black Joy Means and Why It’s More Important Than Ever” by Chante Joseph. This piece made me weep and laugh and weep some more. To know that my community was laughing in spite of, despite of, and in the face of systems of oppression was healing, powerful, and deeply sobering. Because, our rage is justified. And, our desire to be free is too. The founder of the #Blackjoy project, Kleaver Cruz articulates it beautifully with this quote:

Let’s bombard the internet with joy. That is resistance, too. Trauma is real mi gente. Let’s trigger love as much as the pain as we share important topics we all need to be set up on. Love is necessary with the understanding that peace is the exception, not the rule. #BlackJoy – Kleaver Cruz

Inevitably, during times of heightened white racial awareness, progressive liberals and curious white folks interested in raising their consciousness turn to books about racism. And, all too often, these books focus on Black death and trauma. While it is imperative to provide a historical and sociological context of how we got here, it is just as important to share stories about Black joy, intelligence, beauty, and community.

I am not the first one to articulate this importance. Audre Lorde encourages this ideology in her essays, and adrienne maree brown‘s 2019 anthology, Pleasure Activism: The Politics of Feeling Good articulates how eroticism and joy can reconnect us to our bodies and to the communities in which we inhabit and for which we hope. Sonya Renee Taylor powerfully calls for body inclusivity and reminds us that our bodies are not apologies, and Resmaa Menakem in his brilliant call to action in the form of “My Grandmother’s Hands: Racialized Trauma and the Pathway to Mending Our Hearts and Bodies” calls for holistic and body-centered trauma practices. Black bodies are more than pain and trauma. Black bodies are more than slavery and oppression. Black bodies are beautiful. Black bodies are regeneration. Black bodies are medicine. Black bodies are light and love.

One of my favorite slam poems is You So Black by Theresa Tha Songbird. You so Black is a Blackity Black celebration of Black folx, and I particularly appreciate that it pays attention to our diversity. We are creators and dreamers and imaginers and dancers and scientists and teachers. And, we are enough.

These are the stories that are often left out from white people’s academic perusal of Black history. The stories of our regular-degularness. The shows like Issa Rae’s Insecure or Spike Lee’s She’s Gotta Have It. The hilarious improv: A Black Lady Sketch Show. Or even Spider Man: Into the Spiderverse. The books by N.K. Jemison and Jasmine Guillory. Fan Fiction like “A Blade So Black” by L.L. McKinney or YA Fantasy “A Song Below Water” by Bethany C. Morrow. Our joy calls for freedom, and our rage does too.

What does it look like to incorporate Black joy into your freedom dreaming?

What does it look like to celebrate Black joy in your DEI strategies?

Could it mean hiring Black people for more than anti-racism work?

Could it mean decolonizing your library?

Could it mean reconsidering your #Blackhistory speaker lineup?

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