Black Women Plant Seeds Columns

In Search of Black Joy

Kristina Button

Last November, we collectively offered up prayer and fasting for the life of Julius Jones, a Black man wrongfully convicted of murder who was set to be executed. At the eleventh hour, Jones was granted clemency by the Governor of Oklahoma. Jones’ sentence was reduced to life without parole. It is not ideal that Jones’ was spared from execution but then sentenced to life without parole, which is just another kind of death sentence. It also seems like a cruel jest for Governor Stitt to wait until practically the last minute to grant Jones clemency when activists had been calling for that very thing for over a year. The situation isn’t ideal, yet our brother still breathes. 

The criminal (in)justice system forces Black people onto a collective emotional rollercoaster. The ups and downs wear on us. It forces us to find joy in the bare minimum of “justice” delivered by the system. We literally live and die by this system. The anti-Blackness present in the criminal justice system (and in all the other systems and structures in society)  threatens our livelihood. We are endangered humanity. 

Anti-Blackness pervades every corner of the globe, and one of the ways we practice resistance to the erasure we so often experience is by letting the world know that we still here and we ain’t going nowhere. In doing this, we practice Black Joy. 

Anti-Blackness prevents our collective flourishing. Studies show that encountering stress-inducing societal events actually decreases our life expectancy. This is why it is so important for Black people to be selective about what we choose to engage in. We must protect our peace. Even more importantly, we must intentionally participate in Black Joy. 

Realistically, we may never be able to escape anti-Blackness but we can immerse ourselves in Black Joy through our daily practices. What we choose to read, who we choose to do business with, what spaces we choose to inhabit, and what art and media we choose to consume are all opportunities to engage in Black Joy. 

Black Joy is birthed out of our ability to show up and show out in a world that has counted us out. Our collective joy is the only way that we have been able to press on in the midst of oppression. It is a tool that has allowed us to fight against white supremacy by finding joy in our existence.  Black Joy is a means of survival for Black people. 

Black Joy is our collective celebration of ourselves and one another, like when we celebrate with our elders after achieving our dreams. Black Joy is experiencing joy in new and unexpected ways like communing with one another as we debate over what ingredients should and shouldn’t go in potato salad. Black Joy is swag surfing across the stage at graduation. Black Joy is taking a regular degular Happy Birthday song and turning it into a Mississippi Mass Choir anthem. Black Joy is in the way that we do Black worship in our Black churches. Black Joy is seeing other Black people shining and choosing to celebrate alongside them, bearing witness to their triumph in the midst of adversity. 

When we prioritize Black Joy, we are able to show up to the spaces where we feel called to practice justice as our full selves. Our joy gives us the tools needed to resist anti-Blackness and push back against white supremacy in our world. It is critical that we cultivate Black Joy now so that future generations can live in freedom. Go forth and live your Black Joy.