If you’ve been active on social media within the past year, you should be familiar with the phrase “Black Joy.” You may have seen a couple of photo collages of Black people sharing a smile or a laugh captioned #BlackJoy. What might initially seem like a new social media trend -- this idea and insistence on Black Joy -- is actually a powerful tool to liberate and validate the humanity of a people who have historically been dehumanized. Black Joy recreates a reality that should have never been in question and puts it on a stage as a form of resistance. This is why The Prosp(a)rity Project is centering Black Joy this month as we continue to celebrate Juneteenth.
“Black Joy is about celebrating positive Black experiences. It’s about creating resilience through shared moments and leaning into our collective community”.
Ashley Wells, Chief Business Development Officer
“Black Joy is a way for us to be ourselves unapologetically and to embrace an aspect of us that society has always considered us ‘less than.’ It is a way for us to be ourselves and not have to ‘code switch’ to be accepted.”
Matthew Morales, Chief Technology Officer
Although Black Joy is trending today, it has origins from years ago. In an interview with Vogue, African American studies professor at California State University, Fullerton, Natalie Graham, explains that throughout all civil rights agendas in history, Black people could be partially, if not fully, credited with integrating music into their protests. This notion of Black Joy as a form of resistance is evident in African American music. For example, in Kendrick Lamar’s 2015 song “Alright,” his phrase, “we gon’ be alright” is an example of powerful art and creative activism.
Exploring and understanding the deeper meaning of Black Joy and its connotations is extremely important to appreciate its relevance and to grasp its power. American feminist historian Stephanie M.H. Camp wrote, “Just as exploitation, containment, and punishment of the body were political acts, so too was the enjoyment of the body.” Though this was written about slavery, the idea that unrestricted joy and freedom expressed by Black people is inherently rebellious still rings true today.
Expressions of Black Joy are often tagged as “too loud” or “too much.” Learning to tone your personality down as a Black person in spaces that are not majority Black is a common experience. There are often unspoken rules about how much of our joy, personality and freedom we are allowed to express. That’s why we are centering Black Joy this month. We are reminding ourselves and the people around us that being free shouldn’t have restrictions on how we express ourselves.
Black Joy is also a commendable and unbelievable experience of humour, laughter, singing, in the midst of deep segregation and discrimination. That is what makes it such a powerful tool. African Americans continue to recount childhood experiences filled with joy, yet history indicates that those experiences happened during some of the painful moments of Black History.
The concept of Black Joy has garnered major attention recently because of the version of Black History that is frequently taught today; it focuses on pain, struggle and slavery. However, Black History and the Black experience as a whole has been resilient in allowing joy to remain a part of their story, irrespective of the years of pain and slavery.
Social media is constantly inundated with images and stories of violence against Black bodies and in response to that, and as a way to filter out the Black experience, New York Times writer Kleaver Cruz started the Black Joy Project in 2015. The page is carefully curated to show Black people of all ages living joyfully. It’s inclusive and strewn with bold bright colors, representative of the freedom that comes with boldness. Black Joy is important to document and showcase because it’s good for our wellbeing. I share in Patia Braithwaite, who writes that joy isn’t a distraction--it’s nourishment, more so when it’s shared amongst us.
Last year, in the wake of civil unrest and the BLM protests, Upset Homegirls, an activist organization, rose to stand and demand the rights of Black bodies throughout the USA. Even though most protesters held placards and marched, they insisted that attendees dance at their protests.
“It’s important, even in all that bad space, to bring all of that goodness,” said Brandy Factory, a founding member of Upset Homegirls. “Because you can’t fight anything without love and I think there’s a lot of love that’s rooted in Black Joy.”
“I can’t let myself stay in the position of victimhood, or believe that I am in any way, shape or form a victim to my circumstances. I can believe that I can be full of joy, and happy, and still be able to fight against my oppressors,” Fagbamila said.
In this way, Black Joy Resistance in the wake of deep trauma, injustice and inequality -- Black Joy --embodies the strength Black communities have, strength that persists and creates silver linings even in situations when there are none at all.
Zora Neale Hurston once said: “Sometimes, I feel discriminated against, but it does not make me angry. It merely astonishes me. How can any deny themselves the pleasure of my company? It’s beyond me.”
As a caretaker for her parents, Latasha Matthews has had to find unique ways to connect with them as they age, especially during the coronavirus pandemic.
Matthews, a 49-year-old Black woman from Lawrenceville, Georgia, turned to creative projects to bond with her parents who are both in their 70s. For her, having these precious moments with family are what encapsulates Black Joy.
We asked a few of our employees here at TPP to explain how they plan on celebrating Black Joy and below are the responses:
“This month, I've been centering Black Joy by embracing it in all forms and actively continuing to decolonize my mindset around what it should look like. While my Juneteenth celebration wasn't particularly eventful this year, it was incredibly meaningful to spend it with my grandparents [and] great-aunt, who all of course lived through an era during which Black Americans couldn't enjoy nearly the same quality of life as we can today. It made me especially proud to carry the torch and be a champion of our community's freedom through leading The Prosp(a)rity Project.”
“I plan on wearing all types of Black Pride shirts all throughout this month. I love supporting Black businesses so I’ll continue to wear my God is Dope, One Mission and WRLDINVSN t-shirts. I have a whole bunch of them. I attended a wedding on Juneteenth and we danced to some of the littest Afro beats and hip hop songs”.
“I think just doing more zoom calls with my family, connecting with old friends who I haven’t been able to see due to the pandemic.”
“During Juneteenth weekend, my immediate family had a barbecue together and just took some time to relax and hangout. I think that Black people just allowing themselves to rest and replenish their tank is a great way to celebrate the occasion.”
Carlett Spike,What 'Black Joy' Means and How It Grew
Chante Joseph, What Black Joy Means – And Why It’s More Important Than Ever
Ayana Lage, 7 Black Women Share What Black Joy Means To Them
Tracey Michae'l Lewis-Giggetts, My daughter reminded me that black joy is a form of resistance
Hadiya Roderique, The Case for Black Joy