Joy is a universal emotion that is experienced by all people, regardless of race, ethnicity, or cultural background. However, for Black people, joy can hold a unique significance and meaning, especially in the face of the systemic oppression, discrimination, and violence that has been inflicted upon them for centuries. Black joy is not simply a feeling of happiness and delight, but also a political statement and a form of resistance against the injustices faced by the Black community.
The concept of Black joy is rooted in the idea that despite the hardships and obstacles faced by Black people, they are still able to find happiness, love, and contentment in their lives. This can be seen in the vibrant and celebratory cultural expressions such as music, dance, and art, which have been integral parts of Black life for generations. The unapologetically joyful spirit of Black people can also be seen in their resilience, determination, and their ability to find joy even in the face of adversity.
What is Black Joy?
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) asked Black artists to share what Black joy means to them and how they visualize it in their art. In the article, Octavia Ink says that “Black joy leads to liberation and the freedom of self-expression. With this type of community and access to resources I’m starting to paint my canvas; I get to paint my future.” Eliana Rodgers talks about how Black joy is an expression of freedom, “Freedom to laugh, freedom to dance, freedom to create, freedom to thrive in a world without policies and social structures attempting to curtail — even end — your very existence.”
One of the key elements of Black joy is the sense of community and connection that it fosters. Whether it is through shared experiences, shared traditions, or simply being in each other’s company, Black joy often involves a feeling of belonging and a connection to something larger than oneself. This sense of community is especially important for Black people who have been subjected to systemic isolation and division through slavery, segregation, and other forms of oppression.
Another aspect of Black joy is its celebration of Black excellence and achievement. In a society where Black people are often stereotyped, misjudged, and excluded, Black joy is a way of affirming the positive contributions of Black people to society. This can be seen in the numerous Black-led movements for social justice, the success of Black artists and athletes, and the achievements of Black scientists, activists, and scholars.
Black joy can also serve as a source of empowerment and strength for Black people, especially during times of crisis or hardship. When Black people are subjected to acts of violence or discrimination, they often find solace in coming together as a community and celebrating their joy, strength, and resilience. This can be seen in the Black Lives Matter protests, which have brought together millions of people to demand justice and equality, while also celebrating Black culture, heritage, and history.
Celebrating Black Joy
In recent years, the concept of Black joy has gained increased attention and recognition, both within the Black community and in wider society. From Black-led podcasts and social media hashtags to the proliferation of Afrofuturist art and literature, Black joy is being celebrated in new and innovative ways. This increased visibility is helping to dispel negative stereotypes and provide a more nuanced and positive representation of Black people.
Tracey Michae’l Lewis-Giggetts is one of the many Black women who are curating conversations about Black joy. In her book, Black Joy, Tracey Michae’l Lewis-Giggetts shares a series of powerful essays that celebrate the redemptive strength of joy in Black culture and explore healing.
However, despite the positive aspects of Black joy, it is important to acknowledge that it is not a cure-all solution to the systemic problems faced by Black people. While Black joy can be a powerful source of resilience and hope, it cannot erase the systemic inequalities and injustices faced by the Black community. The ongoing fight for racial justice and equality must continue, and Black joy should be seen as one tool among many in the fight for a better world.
The bottom line is that Black joy is a celebration of Black life and culture that is both personal and political. It is a source of resilience and empowerment, a form of resistance against oppression, and a celebration of Black excellence and achievement. While it is not a solution to the systemic problems faced by Black people, it is an important aspect of Black lives that should be celebrated and acknowledged. If you’d like to pursue Black joy in your own life or support community efforts to celebrate Black joy, Safe Horizon proposes Five Ways to Celebrate Black Joy that are a great place to get started! By embracing Black joy, we can help to build a world that is more inclusive, equitable, and just for all.