At the heart of the Black Joy movement is what many scholars, journalists, authors, and others are describing as resistance, resilience, and reclamation of Black Humanity. Life brings everyone challenges, disappointments, losses, and unexpected difficulties, regardless of race. But when race is added to the mix, the situation is compounded exponentially. When people live in a world that devalues them because they are black or brown as well as dismisses their contributions to the larger society, Black Joy is and has been an effective tool that has allowed individuals and groups to shift the impact of negative narratives and events in their favor.

Image of a Black Woman smiling. She is shown from mid-torso up
Collection of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History Culture, Gift of Jason Spear

In those instances, Black Joy is and has been an essential act of survival and development. Survival is maintaining one’s footing and foundation and is mostly centered in the present-day. In the summer of 2020, Upset Homegirls co-founder, Brandy Factory said that, “Black Joy affirms that I am not a victim. I am an agent of change. It rejects the idea that violence, … injustice, discrimination, prejudice, and dominance over others are normal and acceptable actions.” Conversely, development is a manifestation of one’s ability to grow and succeed, to move beyond the here and now into a progressive future as well as the future of those who are yet unborn. Personal or collective development is the part of human-kind that allows them to soar. Enslaved Africans understood that they were not free. And yet they believed and knew that there were generations coming after them that would be free. That kind of empowering Black Joy gave them the will to hold on and press forward, no matter what situations confronted them.

The older black women smiling at a baby. Two women are standing, and the third is seated and holding the baby.
Collection of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History Culture, Gift of Jason Spear
Black Joy affirms that I am not a victim. I am an agent of change. It rejects the idea that violence, … injustice, discrimination, prejudice, and dominance over others are normal and acceptable actions. Brandy Factory Co-Founder, Upset Homegirls

Having a vision that circumvents adverse circumstances was and is an act of defiance and resilience. Black Joy demonstrates that internal responses are fully within a person’s control. They have the power to restrict access to their spirits, emotions, and the source of their joy. It is a well-spring of power that is uplifting, and life-affirming. 

Six African American men standing in a semi circle with their arms stretched towards middle and hold cigars and phones.
Collection of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History Culture, Gift of Jason Spear

Kleaver Cruz, founder of The Black Joy Project, a digital and real-world movement said that,” Black Joy is not … dismissing or creating an ‘alternate’ black narrative that ignores the realities of our collective pain; rather, it is about holding the pain and injustice…in tension with the joy we experience. It’s about using that joy as an entry into understanding the oppressive forces we navigate through as a means to imagine and create a world free of them.”  Black Joy is an affirmation and an action that claims control where we can. It is not escapism or a way of avoiding reality. It is active acknowledgement that your reaction to even the most horrific encounter resides with you and not someone else. It is an internal choice that is not a fantasy. It is not delusional. It is real.

Black Joy is not … dismissing or creating an ‘alternate’ black narrative that ignores the realities of our collective pain; rather, it is about holding the pain and injustice…in tension with the joy we experience. It’s about using that joy as an entry into understanding the oppressive forces we navigate through as a means to imagine and create a world free of them.

Kleaver Cruz
Founder, The Black Joy Project
A group of black beach goers posing for a picture
Collection of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American Culture, Gift of Jason Spear

Black Joy is finding the positive nourishment within self and others that is a safe and healing place. It is a way of resting the body, mind, and spirit in response to the traumatic, devastating and life-altering racialized experiences that Black people continue to encounter. So, bring on the Joy. Bring on the Black Joy. 

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The overwhelmingly positive response to an essay written for The Washington Post on Black joy by podcast host Tracey Lewis-Giggetts led to the evolution of a timely collection of intimate, uplifting, and powerful essays that reveal to readers how the quality of joy is ever-present and rooted in self-compassion.
National Museum of African American History and Culture

References 

Chante Joseph, “What Black Joy Means—And Why It’s More Important Than Ever, British Vogue, July 29, 2020. 

Stephanie M. H. Camp. “The Pleasures of Resistance: Enslaved Women and Body Politics in the Plantation South, 1830-1861.” The Journal of Southern History 68, no. 3 (2002): 533–72. https://doi.org/10.2307/3070158

Kim Pham, “Celebrating Black Joy As An Alternative Form of Resistance and Reckoning of Humanities,”” Voices of OC February 1, 2021. Celebrating Black Joy as an Alternative Form of Resistance and Reclaiming of Humanity (voiceofoc.org) 

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