By Gloria Oladipo
Black joy is revolutionary. Black joy is essential. Black joy reminds us that there’s more to Black life than pain and suffering, even if the world tries to convince us that Black life can only be agony. Black joy inspires us. Black joy rejuvenates us. Black joy–Black community, Black art, Black people dancing, Black people partying, Black people just being happy and free reminds us what we’re fighting for.
During Black History Month, as the non-Black world remembers that, yes, Black people and our experiences matter, Black joy is often left out of the conversation. As we’ve seen during last year’s racial justice protests, white people have no problem constantly circulating images and videos of Black abuse and Black people being terrorized, but Black joy rarely receives that kind of attention. But for Black people, those of us who actually deal with the violence of anti-Blackness, Black joy is sacred. It’s fuel.
To demonstrate the power of Black joy, here are 9 Black people explaining what brings them joy and why Black joy is important to them; all participants answered the question: “What brings you joy right now? Why is joy important to you?”
Xavier, he/him/they, 21
“Being able to sit with myself and really figure out what I want for myself has become a source of enjoyment for me. I can feel myself growing up and I’m excited and terrified by the change.
Black joy to me encompasses an incredible optimism and nihilism. I can feel energetic about futures that seem completely improbable. Joy exists for me regardless of success or failure. Being black and queer, the world is filled with more types of insecurity than I can conceive of. My sense of joy stems from an internal security. Knowing that I genuinely love myself and I always will brings me comfort. Additionally, I have always had “my people” to love. I am genuinely elated when I see black people thriving. To be honest, I don’t if I could feel that way if I wasn’t black.”
Subiya Mboya, she/her, 20
Photo Credit: Christopher Garcia (@blkflwrs)
“As a Black American, it is difficult to be born in a place where you are constantly both denied and promised freedom. To pacify the pain of everyday injustice I must turn to Black Joy. That’s anything from Handel’s Messiah: A Soulful Celebration to Flo Milli’s “I Am”. I find [that] the most immediate antidote to the b.s. we face is a smile.”
Betty Yirga, she/her, 22
Photo Credit: Cornelius Alexander (cornelius.alxndr)
“Falling in love with another Black woman. Black queer love is important to me because it allows me and my partner to express our love through the shared experience of being Black women and celebrating the pain we have endured and the strength we gained through our individual identity. When we combine together it creates an immense amount of Black Joy that allows us to fall in love deeper and deeper.”
Destiny, she/her, 22
Photo Credit: Nina Luders (@ninalews)
“I watch stand up comedy to make me laugh. Without it, depression eats me alive.”
Lizzy, she/her, 22
Photo credit: @pollux444
“Right now, it’s been makeup and clothes. Joy is really needed because I easily get lost in sadness/stress! Also, I feel like as a Black woman, I’m not allowed to experience joy so that pushes me even more to obtain it!”
Nic Wayara, she/her, 29
Photo Credit: Nolan Osborn (@nmo)
“What brings me joy: saying no! Opting out! Reclaiming my time, and centering my own needs, especially this month. Saying no, opting out, reclaiming my time and entering my own needs—especially this month—brings me joy. It delights me to prioritize thriving, abundance and ease because I know that while these are my birthright, the world treats Black women and femmes as if we exist for other people. And I resist that, actively.”
Maame, she/her, 23
Photo Credit: Alex Murray (@your_palll_al)
“At this point in my life, I feel like I get the most joy from exercising. I used to have an unhealthy relationship with food. I’d get too stressed out from school or my personal life and neglect my body. Since becoming a bit of a gym rat, I have really been focused on what my body can do and ways that I can push myself. In return, I found that to be the most successful, I have to fuel my body in the best ways possible. That necessitates three meals a day, even on days of nutrient dense food and that in of itself has become a stress relief for me.
I feel like joy is so necessary in this time because the world is quite literally falling apart. You look at the news and if it’s not police brutality, if it’s not medical racism, if it’s not COVID-19, it’s something else. For me, having these little things like working out or cooking for myself is a little chunk of time when all I can focus on is whether or not I’m keeping up with my split time or if my dough is coming together the way it should and that little bit of time makes all the difference.”
Lily Dominique, she/they, 21
Photo Credit: Tristan Anthony (@el_papishampoo)
“Joy to me is the feeling of freedom. And the feeling of freedom is carelessness and love for care, coexisting. Nothing and everything mattering at the same time because the space I’m creating with my joy is free, cared for and yet made without a care in the world. Nobody can touch me and if someone tries, I’m free regardless.”
Jada Kissi, she/her/hers, 21
“I enjoy spending time with my loved ones; life is too short and sharing smiles and laughs with them makes me feel great. This feeling of joy is important to me because it keeps me healthy. For too long, I underestimated the power it has over my well-being. It makes me want to take care of myself more because not only do I enjoy them, they also enjoy me.”
Obie, he/him, 22
“Lately I wake up every morning, do my rituals, and listen to jazz music. Just listening to Black people make music so authentically, Black and rich with emotion really fuels me. I think it’s important because anger and sadness and disassociation are so second nature to us, I think we forget the world and the beauty it offers. It brings me down in a sense, to listen to jazz and remember that Black people here and always have done their best to keep us all happy in a way.”