Since 1976, the month of February has been recognized in the United States as Black History Month to observe and celebrate the Black diaspora. Forty-five years later in the middle of a pandemic, Black History Month returns with the activism of the Black Lives Matter movement and a newfound urgency for social change.
Amid the civil unrest, ignited by multiple Black deaths related to police brutality and racial discrimination, is a sense of loss and a need for joy. The idea of “Black joy” as a movement and a form of rebellion has been taking root. Cal State Fullerton African American studies professor Mei-Ling Malone explains: “Black joy is an act of resistance. The whole idea of oppression is to keep people down. So when people continue to shine and live fully, it is resistance in the context of our white supremacist world.”
Black people are able and allowed to find happiness and comfort despite their tribulations. In the 1600s, slaves used to go swimming for pleasure after their day’s work, according to Malone. This idea that Black people can be happy, despite their trauma and history of oppression, is Black joy.
“Like other communities, Black folks, of course, feel tremendous pain, outrage, sorrow and depression, and we struggle with our mental health. But there is also a necessary longing and practice of joy,” Malone said. “As long as there has been racial oppression, there has also been resistance and Black joy.”
Malone went on to say that the Black community faces enough challenges due to the preventable issue of racism alone. But that even in the darkest times in a white supremist society, Black people still find a way to laugh and love.
Rather than romanticize the struggles of the Black diaspora, Black joy reveals Black folks’ humanity and their simplest need to feel free and safe in their pursuit of happiness. One way of doing this is in allyship and solidarity against a future where joy has to be defined in a trauma-inflicted context.
“Black joy is a beautiful thing but what would be even more beautiful is if all of us band together in solidarity to destroy and dismantle our system of white supremacy so that all joy is just human joy and Black folks can live freely in the world and strive,” Malone said.
This full story can be accessed for free in its entirety at Voice of OC.