Black joy is just as profound as Black pain.
I have needed to remind myself of this fact lately. My news and social media timelines have been full of stories of Black pain as the broader nation comes to terms with our country’s systemic racism.
Each story can feel retriggering, opening new wounds and stoking anxiety. Sometimes, it feels the only way America knows how to empathize with Black people is through our pain. There are the viral videos of Black people being killed by police officers or private citizens, of course, but there is also the broader culture. As many have pointed out, Black Oscar nominees tend to be associated with movies about slavery, segregation, and Black hardship. Racial progress in our country has also seemed to hinge on stories of brutality against Black people. Emancipation came as white America realized the lengths the South would take to maintain slavery. Civil rights became a reality as white America saw well-dressed Black people being attacked with fire hoses, dogs, bullets, and bombs. Our most current racial awakening has been fueled by the heinous murder of an unarmed Black man under the knee of an unfeeling officer. It seems only the most heartrending examples of Black pain are enough to wake the sleeping.
But we can allow joy to awaken us, too. Doing so may remind us that Black lives are not only defined in terms of how racist people or systems treat Black people. We are also whole people in and of ourselves. We feel pain, yes. But we also laugh.
I have been trying to laugh more and to lean more fully into joy. I am blasting music by Black artists and dancing around like a crazy person. I am writing in my journal about the people and things in my life that spark joy and gratitude. I am hugging my children and listening to them tell me about their days at school. I am kissing my husband. I am savoring my tea and standing in the sunshine to feel the warmth bathe my skin. I am trying to take none of these beautiful, joy-giving things for granted.
I am also flooding my vision with images of Black joy. This has meant consciously curating the media I consume to include images of Black people being defined by their humanity and not solely as victims of a racist society. I’m watching movies and television shows like Insecure, Fast Color, A Black Lady Sketch Show, Chewing Gum, Soul, and The Falcon and the Winter Soldier. On social media, I am imbibing Instagram accounts like Blavity and Embracing Black Culture to make sure I get a daily dose of uplifting stories and funny memes that feature Black content creators.
Outside of my phone and television screens, I’ve been seeking Black joy, too. Lately I’ve enjoyed getting lost in author N.K. Jemisin’s fantasy world, and listening to podcasts like yoga teacher Tracee Stanley’s Radiant Rest and therapist Dr. Joy Harden Bradford’s Therapy for Black Girls to be reminded that creativity, rest, and healing are for me, too.
Finding stories of Black joy has also spurred me to seek joyful stories from other marginalized groups. By viewing content creators like Tia Wood, activists like Alok Vaid-Menon, and shows like Never Have I Ever and my beloved Kim’s Convenience, I hope to expand my worldview, but also to demonstrate that viewers want to see Black people and people of color thriving – and not simply reduced to tokens, exoticized sidekicks, or victims awaiting a white savior.
We – all of us – are comprised of both pain and joy. Both are profound. Both are powerful. Both can inspire us to action. But right now, it is joy that is giving me strength for the road ahead.
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