“Why can’t we just let Black people enjoy something?”
If Joy turns to misery when it is challenged on the harm it creates, it was never going to save you.
There is Joy and then there is joy. It may seem like Joy only liked you as a child, but it’s not really her fault that she visits less and less now that you are older. She can survive better that way. This world is out to kill her, to stamp her out. And the more time you spend in it the less you can expect her to appear. It’s only natural.
My most Joyful and Blackest moments are the same.
My Blackest moments were all experiences I had before I knew there were other types of moments. The family reunions where a group of aunties taught me at least 5 different types of slide line dances. Where my favorite aunt tried to bring me something vegetarian because my siblings and I were the only ones who didn’t eat meat, but then she realized she put turkey in it. When it was the thought that counted. When we had cousin sleepovers regularly and because there were a million of us we never had enough space to sleep. And if I didn’t see my cousins and aunties all the time, I felt them. When this was just life.
Now that I am older, life seems to increasingly come with the demand to operate away from my family, even the ones I choose. With the demand to make rent, and sell parts of my soul to do so. Joy is no longer the rule, but the exception. It’s easy to begin to call joy the day you get to spend in bed and watch Netflix, or VH1, or whatever the fuck brings you calm when the synapses won’t stop firing. If Joy won’t come to you, you go out and hunt joy in what you can find. And trust me, there is nothing wrong with that. But joy ain’t Joy. You have to fight not to forget this.
This past weekend, social media indicated that many people found joy in the Royal Wedding. In its decadence. In the browning of the elite class. In a Black girl princess. Others found only pain. In its decadence, and perpetuation of capitalism. In the dangerous idea that elite classes with brown faces are any better, and in its broken promise that representation is a fix for legacies of racial violence. In how celebrating this Black girl princess overshadowed celebrations of those who aren’t attached to white men, to white nations, to white violence—or who are just regular Black girls who never should have needed royalty to be celebrated.
But for those who found joy in the event, the people who made it known that they didn’t were easily interpreted as simply trying to rain on parades. “Why can’t Black people just enjoy things?” many repeated. Some even acknowledged that celebrations around the Royal Wedding could be ultimately harmful, but bemoaned being reminded in the moment. Those who spoke about why the ceremonies were painful to them “want us all to be woke and miserable all the time.”
Like many families, mine had its fair share of problems, even at our Joyous occasions. There were arguments. There were fights. There were drunk uncles, and aunts, too. There were secrets that should have been told, and others that shouldn’t have been, but were gossiped about anyway. Most importantly, there was poverty.
As a child, I was aware of all of this, even if I didn’t know the implications fully. And yet still I had Joy. Joy did not mean there were no issues. Joy did not mean those of us who needed to speak had to be silent—in fact, the more silence was demanded, the more Joy began to run away. Joy never depended on how easily we can overlook when others are harmed. Joy just meant that we could be together in love. That we could depend on each other for what seemed like forever.
If Joy turns to misery when it is challenged on the harm it creates, it was never going to save you. It is a fragile and insufficient stand-in, a red herring. It is self-care as overspending, as self-medication. It is an understandable desire, yes, but one that we shouldn’t have to settle for. The more time you spend in this world the less you can expect true Joy to appear, but you do not have to embrace this world or its demands. You can reject it.
In a Facebook post, George Arnett argues that Black joy is “only scarce when our idea of joy or excellence is exclusively tied to accessing worlds in which we don’t belong or being embraced by those worlds.”
“Woke” Black people who name their pain aren’t the ones responsible when it becomes difficult to enjoy the things that cause them pain. A world that tells you things that cause pain are the only things you can enjoy is responsible. That tells you if you look for anything else you are destined to be miserable forever. But that world is a lie.
There is nothing in this world worth silencing Black people over except our liberation. The joy I find in my VH1 shows, in my Netflix shows, in my problematic faves, is nothing compared to the Joy that would surround all of us if the systems that allow those things to be were gone. This is why I welcome anyone calling the shit I turn to for entertainment out, especially when I know the call out is done with love for us. Joy is not tied up in these insufficient indulgences. These are placeholders, for there is something greater. Always.
My most Joyful and Blackest moments are the same because Joy and Blackness are the same. This world is here to stamp Blackness out, but there is a time and space outside of this one. My most miserable moments were all experiences I had before I remembered there were other types of moments, Blacker moments. Whatever Joy you experienced in the past is real, and can be real today. If only you believe in it when they demand you sell your soul for their alternative instead.
Editor’s Note: May is Mental Health Awareness Month and National Masturbation Month. This is also the month that we celebrate Mother’s Day. At BYP, we will be exploring these topics alongside the theme of Imagination and the Arts, and we are interested in publishing works that address these topics and the things surrounding them.