By Brittany Graves
When I think of joy, I immediately think of the moments as a kid where I played, lived, and breathed with an air of ease. I can remember moments of going out on the playground at school on days after it rained. We called them mud days because they were truly muddy play days where we intentionally went outside in our swimsuits to see how mother earth had made a soupy mess of the sand turned mud from the downpour the day before.
Kids have a way of living without a care in the world and truly being connected to see miracles in the mundane. That sense of joy is like a return to love, a return to our child-like essence, and a return to the divine way we are created to be.
To be Black and to have joy comes with intricate nuances that can make it challenging at times to arrive at such a state of bliss. As a young Black girl I had awareness that because of the color of my skin I would be treated differently, even if it was a spoken or sometimes an unspoken knowing. There were subtle messages and awareness that came from the ways adults and even kids said things to me that were different from my non-Black counterparts. For instance, comments on the texture of my hair or growing up in a predominantly Black and brown neighborhood were often passive microaggressions or demeaning jabs that mistook my essence as inferior, rather than a beautiful uniqueness to be celebrated. It was always interesting that the things that were culturally normal and acceptable to friends and family that looked like me were questioned by the non-Black majority or subsequently internalized as wrong if there was not space to healthily embrace those differences in Black community.
As a child, some of those experiences that roll off the shoulders quicker can make joy more easily accessible. In adulthood, the impact of those differences and overt experiences of injustices become more cumbersome to let go of to be able to live in or find joy.
Joy as an adult becomes a concerted effort and an active choice to say yes to. While joy can certainly be a natural disposition for many people, even as we face challenges, I find myself also consciously choosing and cultivating joy. Just as much as I have actively chosen to grieve, to lament, or to heal when the moment asks for it, there is also a permission giving in receiving enjoyment.
And when I say joy I mean being able to dance like no one (or everyone) is watching, to be surrounded by people and community you love most, to partake in a home cooked meal with friends and family, or to follow passions that are meaningful to the one pursuing it. When I say joy I mean a decolonized approach to pleasure and movement away from capitalism that says only money and materialism bring us happiness. There is so much more in recognizing the God-given resources all around us, as well as intentionally spending our earnings in places that circulate back into investing in Black businesses in equitable ways.
If there is one thing I know, it is that even in an unjust society Black folk have an inner reservoir of joy that emanates in niche spaces. Like the saying goes, “you can’t steal my joy.” At least, not for long.
Black joy is resilience that any pain our ancestors endured does not mean I must maintain this collective hardship but know that we are deserving of abundance. Black joy is resistance to a system that has not prioritized room for our pleasure and knowing that we are worth every bit of divine delight we partake in. Seemingly so, the absence of joy is like being robbed of an essential vital sign to our overall liveliness. Inherent in our being is a connection to joy, and I want that for everyone Black during Black History Month and every month of the year.
As we celebrate Black joy, I ask you to consider the ways you actively engage and uplift Black healing and joyfulness around you?
Rev. Brittany Graves is Creative Preaching Pastor at Peace of Christ Church, Round Rock, Tex., an all-around advocate, dreamworker, reiki practitioner and co-host of Nuance Tea Podcast. Keep up with her on Instagram @ambitiouslyBrittany and www.patreon.com/revbrittanygraves.