On July 8, 2016, I wondered aloud: “When is it okay to laugh again?” I had been mourning the deaths of Alton Sterling, Philando Castile, and Delrawn Small, all while trying to move through a world that hadn’t stopped because of our pain. It was physically and emotionally taxing to feel the survivor’s guilt of being on the other side of this pain and recognize that, for millions of people, it was just another day. Three Black men being killed by police in three days was business as usual for everyone but us, and I felt robbed of the opportunity to move through life unfettered by generational trauma.
Now, four years later, we’re in essentially the same place, mourning new names, people, lives. We did stop the world for quite a bit, but again, many have moved onto other aspects of their lives while the rest of us are picking up the pieces. This time, I’m not asking for permission: Joy is my birthright. This time, I brought together nine Black women to reflect with me on how they’re making time for joy and why that matters:
Just like our demands for justice, our joy must be nonnegotiable.
“I dance in the mirror. I wash my face twice a day. I kiss my partner gingerly at random times to show love to the divine in him and receive love for the divine in me. I am kind with the words I speak to myself and generous with rest. Through doing the work of healing traumas and honoring my purpose—to be light—I daily promise to soften my gaze on myself. That promise has changed everything for me as a Black woman. In moments like these, it is important to remember that our joy is a key ingredient of our freedom. Without practicing joy, we cannot truly be free. Just like our demands for justice, our joy must be nonnegotiable. I move away from the tropes of strength and perfection that have been pushed onto us and step into the understanding that perfect is holding the hand of the little girl inside me and letting her know that I love her and I will never stop looking to bring her joy. Being a Black woman in and of itself brings me joy.” —Taylor K. Shaw, 25, TV and film writer; CEO of BWA Studios
We deserve Black joy when no one is watching.
“From a psychological and mental health perspective, we need Black joy especially in times of extreme stress because it promotes our survival. Stress literally has the potential to kill us. If it does not kill the body, then it will ‘kill’ the mind. It shrinks the prefrontal cortex and impacts our memory and learning to the point that we exist in a heightened state of survival and constantly re-experience suffering. Black joy disrupts that process; Black joy saves our lives. But Black joy shouldn’t just be a reactive strategy, it should be a proactive one. We deserve Black joy when no one is watching. We deserve it when people intentionally and strategically attempt to strip it from us. We deserve joy and to experience life in its most pure and simplest pleasures. We deserve radical imagination. Black joy is tantamount to breathing. It has to be embedded in our waking moments; not something placed on a bookshelf, scheduled, or reserved for when we have accomplished all things extraordinary, but instead enlaced into every simple thing we touch (and that touches us). We deserve it, we survive with it, we thrive with it, we build community with it.” —Denisha Gingles, 31, activist and behavioral analyst
We do not need to earn the right to take care of ourselves or experience joy.
“Black Joy seems to be a radical term because since this country was built, Black people have been used for labor solely. We’ve been conditioned to labor under inhumane circumstances and expected not to complain. In this moment we are in right now, we are trying to survive a pandemic that disproportionately impacts the Black community while still enduring state-sanctioned murders. Black people need to unapologetically immerse themselves in whatever brings them joy. Our community continues to experience collective trauma and generational PTSD rooted in white supremacy. We are expected to explain why we need self-care because this country thinks it is still our job to take care and build for them. We do not need to earn the right to take care of ourselves or experience Joy. It is important that we take this time to love on one another, smile with one another, laugh loud, dance hard, sing louder. And not because we need to have capacity to keep pushing this movement (which is important) but because we have always naturally been full of joy and love since the beginning of time. It is those very qualities that our oppressors went after when enslaving our ancestors, but we are taking it back.” —Keris Lové, 33, Justice League NYC activist and musician
We have to make sure we’re dealing with those emotions and turning them into action in healthy ways.
“My family was directly impacted by police brutality in 1989 when the Chicago Police Department nearly shot my dad to death in a no-knock raid. My dad still has a bullet from the CPD in his spine. When you have to live with someone, and watch them deal with that pain everyday, it’s tough. Those feelings are all compounded by having to watch other Black people in our community continue to die or suffer because of this state-sanctioned mass murder that is police brutality. So as a family, we have to make sure we’re dealing with those emotions and turning them into action in healthy ways. As an individual, I find a lot of solace in the fact that I’ve been able to create COMMUNITYx and offer a healthy, safe, and actionable platform for people to engage around social impact. A big part of what keeps me going is that COMMUNITYx is out there (you can download the app!) and we’ve recently launched our Mobilize 1 Million campaign, which is an effort to build a digital coalition of one million+ changemakers that are ready to end police misconduct and revolutionize rapid response.” —Chloë Cheyenne, 29, CEO of COMMUNITYx
Sometimes all we have are the small moments.
“To paraphrase Malcolm X: Black women are the most mistreated people in this country. Sometimes all we have are the small moments when we care for ourselves and each other. Something that puts my mind at peace and brings me joy is just hanging out with other Black women and having self-care nights where we catch up on the positive things in our lives while taking care of our bodies. We do facials and foot massages—it’s a total at-home spa experience while hanging out and laughing. The simple things are what bring me the most joy. And it’s the joy that allows me to show up powerfully as an activist without getting burnt out. I’m also looking deeper into my overall health as an activist, and I’ve found that working out has become an outlet for me.” —Blair Baker, 21, youth activist and law student
I always remind myself that balance is necessary for harmony.
“We often feel selfish when we take the time to prioritize self-care because we are conditioned to put everything and everyone before ourselves. However, during a time when we are constantly absorbing and digesting such heavy information, it’s imperative to take some time to do the things that make us feel recharged and full. I make sure to read for leisure as well as for knowledge and limit my social media access each week. While socials can be great tools for passing news and pertinent information, the amount of oppression and suffering that we come across can psychologically impact us in ways in which we aren’t always aware. I always remind myself that balance is necessary for harmony. If I am to be strong enough to fight and struggle for freedom, I must be wise enough to embrace and cherish the times of happiness.” —Shakira Walden, 26, creative director
Miraculously, we always find a reason to celebrate.
“It’s imperative to have joy in moments like these because joy is unshakable. Growing up in the church, I always heard the saying: ‘This joy that I have—the world didn’t give it and the world can’t take it away.’ It was only after I got older and was awakened to the deep and seemingly never-ending roots of systemic racism that I began to understand that the joy they were referring to isn’t circumstantial (because let’s face it, the circumstances aren’t pretty). Biblically, joy is the ability to press on because you have hope and assurance in God’s promises. In other words, it’s having hope despite the chaos. Somehow, amidst everything, the black community never has to look far for joy. Miraculously, we always find a reason to celebrate. I think it’s because joy is in our DNA; it just has to be activated. It’s necessary for our survival. Because of this, I lean into self-care tactics that activate this joy. My self-care consists of prayer, taking deep dives into history to celebrate how we’ve overcome, and surrounding myself with family and friends to encourage even more victories.” —Candice Frank, 28, social media strategist
The pursuit of happiness and self-care are paramount in times of such concentrated Black grief.
“As a Black woman, I’ve learned that wearing my joy is an act of rebellion in the midst of the government work that I’ve pursued. Three days into me working on Bill de Blasio’s 2020 presidential campaign last summer, the U.S. Department of Justice announced that it would not bring federal charges against Daniel Pantaleo for asphyxiating Eric Garner on camera five years prior. I was new to politics, but I was outspoken on pushing for de-escalation in use of force policies in police and correctional departments across the country; on the significance of advocating for Ramsey Orta’s release; on how we needed to say Eric Garner’s name and honor it. After being so vocal and receiving political pushback, I was rendered exhausted once the campaign ended. Since I had entered the campaign with joy though, I was determined to exit it with even more joy. For me, joy came from and continues to come from praying daily for wisdom; from listening to healing gospel music by CeCe Winans or to my favorite R&B Black sister duo Chloe x Halle; from delighting in and laughing with my own Black sister, mother, father, brothers and family, a family that is made up with descendants of the enslaved. The pursuit of happiness and self care are paramount in times of such concentrated Black grief because I know that my work cannot be sustained in the long-term if I don’t take the time to view myself as deserving of Black girl joy. ” —Ashtan Towles, 23, program analyst at the NYC Mayor’s Office for the Prevention of Hate Crimes
Being dedicated to your own joy and strength fuels you.
“Showing up for yourself is just as important as being there for others. You’ll see amazing results in anything you do when you fight for yourself first. Being dedicated to your own joy and strength fuels you to be capable of standing strong on any frontline, whether it’s for racial equality, a better position at work, or simply loving yourself in entirety when you wake up in the morning. My job as a content creator brings me true joy. It allows me to have my hand in entertaining the masses, while simultaneously pushing the agenda on conversations I think are important. However, that position comes with an immense amount of stress and social responsibility, so I still make time to do simple things that make me happy like DIY facials, watching movies, reading, spending time with my family, and (best of all) taking naps. Channel the things that make you happy, and never let someone else define what that is for you.” —Symantha Wilson, 25, content creator
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