It’s easy to focus on the painful parts of Black British history, the violence inflicted on our ancestors and still being experienced by Black people today. But Black joy – which is often overlooked – should be just as much of part of Black History Month. Bellyaching laughter, feeling quietly delighted or grinning so hard it hurts, and swelling with pride – they are all a form of resistance. Black joy is resistance.
This year hasn’t been an easy one for Black people globally. This summer the world was ablaze as history repeated itself and global protests took place for Black liberation. A pandemic has changed lives and disproportionally affected Black people. Guardian reports found Black and ethnic minority workers were overrepresented in the sectors worst hit by the economic crisis caused by coronavirus. And the Office of National Statistics found that Black people were four times more likely to die from COVID-19.
But it’s important to find joy in painful times; to look at our history and see the parts that help us heal, make us feel valued and of course feel happiness. So we spoke to 11 Black millennials on who brings them joy and why.
Niellah Arboine on Josephine Baker
Arboine is Bustle writer and editor at gal-dem, based in south London.
“I’ve always enjoyed watching dance and seeing someone express themselves through their body and movement. And I just can’t not smile watching black and white videos of dancer Josephine Baker pulling silly faces and shimmying across the stage.
Baker lived her life authentically. She was openly bisexual, went where she was wanted – leaving behind the U.S. to perform in France – and even had a pet cheetah at one point (obvs you can’t do that now). But she was way more than a performer.
Baker was also a big supporter of the Civil Rights Movement, refusing to play at segregated venues and even spoke at the March on Washington besides Martin Luther King. And in France during World War II, she became a spy for the French Resistance, hiding secret intelligence in her sheet music written with invisible ink. Dancer and part-time spy? What’s not to love.”
Sophie Duker on Sikisa Bostwick-Barnes
Duker is an award-winning actor, writer, and standup comedian behind the Wacky Racists club night.
"In the waking working-from-home nightmare that is big, bad twentytwenty, the little doses of Black joy I get on the TL are potent inoculations against ennui, grief and the corona crazies. My feed and life light up simultaneously with heroes like Gbemisola Ikumelo or Enam Asiama, and one absolute fireball I think y’all need to get to know is Sikisa Bostwick-Barnes.
Sikisa is a phenomenal performer with Barbadian roots (Rihanna eat your heart out). Sometimes known as Twix (cause she a snack) you’ll have seen her most recently on the Jonathan Ross Comedy Club spitting one of my all-time favourite Beyoncé jokes (no spoilers, go watch it) and she’s one of the stand-ups I can’t wait to see back at work whenever we next step back into real-life comedy clubs. Twix moonlights as actual stage siren Onyx Fatale (Burlesque Idol Winner 2018 donchaknow), collabs with the legendary Cocoa Butter Club among others and never serves up anything less than boss vibes, huge laughs, dynamite smile. If that isn’t reason enough to stick her in your metaphorical black girl magic social media medicine cabinet, Idk what is."
Sophie Williams on Nicole Byer
Williams is a 33-year-old anti-racism activist and author of Anti-Racist Ally and Millennial Black, living in London.
"To me, Nicole Byer is the absolute epitome of Black Joy. Any time I’m feeling down I know I can head over to her Instagram and get an instant boost from seeing her learning to pole dance, crying actual tears of joy over how much she loves growing tomatoes, or zooming around with her ‘skate gang’ (a group of people she’s assembled to learn to rollerblade together).
Whether she’s hosting Nailed It or one of her many podcasts (Best Friends and Why Won’t You Date Me? are my personal favourites), Nicole is always two things – joyful and unapologetically Black.
She doesn’t shy away from talking about her experience as a Black woman, and where society needs to step up and make changes, but it always ends with a “tee hee hee,” reminding us that Black Joy is never far away!"
Banseka Kayembe on Beyoncé
Kayembe is a 28-year-old freelance writer and founder and director of Naked Politics, a platform that empowers young people and amplifies their voices.
"Anyone who knows me knows I am completely obsessed with Beyoncé (I mean, who isn’t?) and to me, this year in particular, she exemplified Black joy. It’s been a difficult year for Black people, we’ve had to be confronted with our mortality through endless online reels of George Floyd’s death and others, and there’s a huge emotional and mental toll that comes with the reality of dealing with racism every day.
Beyoncé’s visual album Black is King was released this summer and was a beautiful ode to Africa, showing the immense richness, depth and nuance within African cultures. The film is not short on luxury; for example, the song “Mood 4 Eva” reflected a vision of Blackness that isn’t afraid to be unapologetically regal and over the top. The heart-wrenching lyrics of “Brown Skin Girl” remind us that our skin is beautiful and a joy to behold. Outside of her artwork, Beyoncé continues to be vocal on issues around systemic racism and has made being unapologetically Black an indelible part of her persona.
The jaw-dropping visuals, dancing, and culture that she’s been able to capture so incredibly couldn’t have come at a better time for Black people. Her art in Black is King is a dedication to Black joy and a reminder that simply by being joyful in the face of struggle is in itself a form of resistance."
Shonay Shote on Adele Oni
"A woman that embodies Black joy to me is Adele Oni, who played the badass protector Tea in the Netflix fantasy The Witcher. I first met her on set when I photographed her for the series A Black Actress, which is my way of celebrating Black women and the beauty we have. The energy Adele brought to the shoot was unmatched; speaking to her you, are filled with an immense sense that you are in the presence of someone who knows themselves. She also has a seriously infectious laugh.
Adele's philosophy to life is rooted in her strong sense of belief in herself and God. Seeing her smile and hearing her words of encouragement is to know the power of Black joyfulness. It's important to acknowledge and honour women like Adele, who are out here living life to its fullest. It is a reminder that, as Black women, we are so much more than what the media portray us to be."
Deborah Ababio on June Sarpong
Born in Ghana and now based in Essex, Ababio is Executive Assistant to British Vogue editor Edward Enninful OBE.
"A stream of names and faces came to mind when I think of Black joy, but one name that stand out is the wonderful and fabulous Ms June Sarpong. I have known June for years now, mostly I first saw her on my TV screen as a child, back when she was presenting shows. I always remember feeling a sense of pride in seeing someone who looked like me – a fellow dark-skinned gorgeous Ghanaian – on screen. I have followed her career throughout the years, read all her books, and was so proud she was appointed at the BBC's first-ever Director of Creative Diversity.
I finally had the pleasure of meeting this incredible woman last December. We were in our homeland, Ghana, for the #YearofReturn festivities, a government initiative aimed at encouraging members of the African diaspora to visit Ghana in remembrance of the 400th anniversary of slaves landing in the U.S. I tried not to fangirl too much. Thankfully, her famous and infectious laugh made me feel so relaxed. She was as amazing as I had always imagined she would be and I am so honoured to have been able to work with her and now call her a friend. Remembering our meeting now makes me smile still.
She recently took over Victoria Beckham’s Instagram account as part of #SharetheMicUK, an incentive where 70 accomplished women joined forces to magnify the voices of Black Women, which was the vision and brainchild of another incredible Black woman, Vanessa Kingori MBE. I was glued to June’s takeover as she used that platform to bring awareness to causes and injustices within the African diaspora."
Jade Bentil-Ojo on Melissa Cummings-Quarry & Natalie Carter
Bentil-Ojo is a 27-year-old Black feminist historian and PhD researcher from South London.
"Melissa Cummings-Quarry and Natalie Carter have epitomised the very essence of Black joy ever since they launched Black Girls Book Club in 2016. Created as a testament to their friendship and the spirit of love, companionship and sisterhood that binds so many Black women together whilst living in the midst of a social order that places us on the bottom rung, BGBC has become a haven for Black women and girls across generations.
Throughout the past four years, Melissa and Natalie have crafted spaces to welcome Black women from all walks of life to commune with each other and talk about our shared passions: reading and living good! Watching them expand the vision of BGBC by launching The BGBC Literature Festival in 2019 and hosting events that intentionally centre Black women authors, who are customarily shut out by British publishers, has truly been a joy to witness. I’m looking forward to being able to laugh, cry, debate and share space with them once again in the not-too-distant future.
Their forthcoming book, Grown: The Black Girls’ Guide to Growing Up is sure to be a ground-breaking guide for young Black girls and I can’t wait to read it in 2021."
Chanté Joseph on Miquita Oliver
Joseph is a social creative, writer, and host of Channel 4's How Not To Be Racist.
"Miquita Oliver was the nation’s cool big sister while hosting the infamous Popworld on Saturday mornings. She curated a style of interviewing and discussion that formed the basis and wry tone of many popular publications today.
She’s been on a difficult – and extremely public – journey, that we spoke about on my podcast last month. The whole world, gossip-hungry press included, were privy to her scandals, job losses and even bankruptcy. Yet, here she is, coming through even stronger with a wealth of experiences and stories that make her so interesting.
Miquita bore the brunt of being a hypervisible Black woman in the media, but she’s a fighter so, of course, she still graces our TV screens with her cheeky personality and inviting smile. I look up to and appreciate Miquita’s craft and resilience. It bewilders me ever time I meet her how effortlessly cool and positive she is!"
Victoria Sanusi & Jasmine Braithwaite on Tobi Akingbadé
Victoria Sanusi, 26, and Jasmine Braithwaite, 28, co-host Black Gals Livin' podcast.
"For us, Tobi Akingbadé is the embodiment of Black joy through her confidence and amplification of others. Not only is she one of Britain’s brightest celebrity reporters (working with the likes of Metro, Evening Standard and NME) but she's also behind the Yellow Cup Pod.
Not only is Tobi incredibly beautiful, but she's also an amazingly talented journalist whose work rate is sublime. We’ve seen her juggle many projects at once, and we’re stunned by how quality is never sacrificed. (Did we mention she produces and hosts the podcast by herself?)
We continue to be astounded by her strength and resolve she showed when being struck down with COVID-19 in March, and how she turned around and helped others. On an episode of Yellow Cup, she interviewed several people who have survived the virus as well. Tobi is a phenomenal Black woman who constantly supports others no matter how big or small they are."
Habiba Katsha on Clara Amfo
Katsha is a 25-year-old writer from East London.
"Clara Amfo is one of the first female presenters I’ve seen in the public eye who is unapologetically Black. From the way she wears her hair to her bubbly and bold personality, she is the epitome of Black joy. As someone who works in the media myself, it’s gratifying seeing another Black woman killing it in her industry whilst being unafraid to be herself.
She continuously uses her platform to speak about the injustices of Black people whilst also spreading positivity. To me, Black joy is about a person being bold and happy in who they are, and I think Clara is the perfect embodiment an example of that."