Commentary: Black Joy matters

By April R. Eberhardt The Black Lens

Black Joy is certainly meme-worthy, but cannot be minimized to cool T-shirts and hashtags.

Look closely at our collective Black history. Feel the power of our survival. Black Joy is a deliberate decision to find worth in our individual and joint existence. To fight cruel adversity and subjugation. To indulge in the second, third and fourth winds that carry us forward to the next generation. It reflects resilience and self-determination. It is more than a trend, it is a trait.

Black Joy stands as a pillar of things hoped for and often not yet seen. Black Joy was born from the footprints that followed the Big Dipper to freedom, camouflaged in the reference of the drinking gourd and sung by those who possessed the stubborn will to survive. Black Joy is the audacious notion that showing up and taking up space across this world is a revolutionary act.

It was woven into the strategic military mind of Toussaint Louverture to defeat French colonizers in Haiti and fueled a revolution that insisted on the respect of our humanity. It compelled 15-year-old Claudette Colvin to keep sitting in her seat at the front of the bus in Montgomery, Alabama, in March 1955, knowing the consequences but taking the risk anyhow, finding the determination as a youth to stand up against propagandized lies of inferiority to demand the change you want to see and helping desegregate public transportation.

Black Joy is the investment of those who came before us with the mandate that Black people be treated with dignity and that our humanity be seen. It dangles between the spaces of “meanwhile” and “despite,” in the long, weary sighs and recurring disappointments, reminding us that nothing can break our soul or take our spirit.

James Baldwin said, “Fires can’t be made with dead embers, nor can enthusiasm be stirred by spiritless men. Enthusiasm in our daily work lightens effort and turns even labor into pleasant tasks.”

Black Joy lives in the fires burning in our eyes and passion in our spirit. It reaches back to teach the next generation how to move forward and learn from the blueprints of our ancestors. It waters the seeds of resilience with tears of arduous labor, to make a better way, sprouting new carriers of the dream of a fair and equitable society.

Black Joy tells us we belong and is with us when we walk in that truth. Black Joy grows from our resilience, wrapping itself around our coming and going, affirming us, giving us relief, and reassuring us of our value.

It shows up at the dinner tables of our grandmas and aunties after a stressful week of mental tug of war in the workplace or school. It vibrates in the cackle of competitors in a game of spades. It pulsates in the rotation of Aretha’s R-E-S-P-E-C-T on the turntable. It is where code-switching turns off, and vernacular and colloquialisms generate laughter and agreement among friends, away from the judgment of assimilation. It is in the hope of the collective, where many hands make the work light. It straightens our spine as we recall the chastisement of our elders intended to guide, teach, and protect us, and understanding this is how they showed love.

Black Joy is in reconciliation after community and family rifts. It lives in tears of joy when detrimental cycles are finally broken and healing is possible. Black Joy does not always look like fixed problems. It beckons us to stand, unapologetically, in our existence with a free and informed mind. It is the awareness that life can knock us around, and the resolve in knowing that those hard knocks can build character and unleash our superpower: Black Joy.

Black Joy is an intrinsic force that anchors us through the turbulence, compelling us to hold on and fight, the same way it did for Nelson and Winnie Mandela, Fannie Lou Hamer, Ida B. Wells, Myrlie Evers, Betty Shabazz, Mamie Till and countless others. It hums an overcomer’s anthem that follows our brother James Baldwin’s call to “rejoice in the force of life.”

Black Joy exists to remind us that our humanity matters and is absolutely worth fighting for. Find it, share it and never lose it.