What Black Joy Means To 7 Black Women
Black women face a double whammy when it comes to discrimination — being a member of more than one marginalized group leads to more opportunities for prejudice, and the damage caused by racism is distinct from other forms of trauma. With so many legitimate reasons for Black women to feel despair about the world, sharing light moments is a distinctive, even radical choice — and it may be why “Black joy” has resonated with so many.
According to Google Trends, interest in the phrase peaked in December 2018, but the movement traces its origins to 2015, when writer Kleaver Cruz founded The Black Joy Project. Why Black joy, and not just "human joy"? In the age of #AllLivesMatter, it’s important to address the significance of a hashtag intended exclusively for Black people. Cruz wrote on his website, “I decided that my social media timelines needed some smiles amidst the sharing of important information, thoughts, art, photos and videos that can be upsetting and at its worst depressing and traumatizing.” Like many social movements, #BlackJoy spread rapidly because of the internet — Cruz also shares firsthand stories on an Instagram account dedicated to The Black Joy Project.
For women especially, the act of being joyful while Black can on a particular resonance. Bustle spoke to seven Black women about what Black joy means to them, and how they express it.
"Black Joy. It's the joy I find in the candid conversations and belly laughs I share with my 'kitchen cabinet' (my closest friends that encourage, advise, and hold me accountable). It's also the joy I feel and know is mine because it is hard earned by proxy of my historic position and my lived experiences. I find joy in my family being safe, my daughter thriving and being carefree, my personal wins, and the bold and unapologetic experiences of all the women I know and have never met that continue to do dope things while being and because of being Black AF and woman AF."
2Laila Ismail, 18
"Black joy is about embracing your blackness and for me, elevating Black filmmakers such as Jordan Peele and Ava DuVernay, who revel in their success whilst simultaneously widening access for other Black creatives within the film industry. Black pain threatens to be the center of the traditional Black experience, however Black joy should be what defines us the most; being unapologetic, happy and free."
3Stephanie Shaffer, 22
"Black joy are those moments that have helped me overcome the various trials and tribulations of life. It’s in these moments where I can be unapologetically my goofy authentic, self in a carefree space. Most importantly, it’s the love I receive from my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, my culture, and my loved ones."
4Shannon Ikerd, 44
"Black joy is simply the intersection of being appreciated and appreciating [one] another. It's those laughs and smiles that you share with folks you love, respect and can be authentic with."
5Shamika Moore, 29
"Black joy, to me, means being yourself, loving yourself, and enjoying your life and successes unapologetically. It means walking with pride and not standing for naysayers. Black joy and Black excellence, consequently, give the Black community a platform to express and acknowledge personal growth, give support to others, and build upon relationships."
"Black Joy for me is being mentally and spiritually comfortable in your dark skin and kinky hair. It's a place of self love and acceptance where you begin to appreciate your journey and experiences as a person of color knowing that you would not change a thing.
Living in Jamaica, I've never been faced with a situation where I'm made to feel uncomfortable because of my race. I live in a country where I am the majority, however growing up my standards of beauty was always defined by European or caucasian features.
My ‘Black Joy Moment’ came when I embarked on my natural hair journey. I realized for the first time that wearing my hair the way it grew naturally from my head did not make me ugly or less feminine. That was a huge milestone for me. I feel an indescribable power and pride when I see others who have shared my experience dominating in their respective fields while looking fearless and fabulous."
"I firmly believe that joy is both an act of resistance and self-care, especially in this political climate where there is so much hate-fueled rage. It's so easy to become consumed by that hate and, sometimes I do, but Black joy, to me, is about finding reasons to rejoice, to be happy, to love despite and in spite of a world giving me a million reasons not to."
Being joyful in the face of trauma and tragedy is a radical act. These women's stories show how Black joy encompasses a radiant defiance.