Black Joy and Beautiful Resistance

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by The Reverend Jered Weber-Johnson

In the midst of the stories of racism and white supremacy’s brutal legacy, there are other stories being told as well. Part of the work of antiracism is listening with holy regard, holy curiosity, and empathy to the stories being told by Black people, Indigenous people, and all People of Color. And, if White people listen closely, we might hear that the stories being told are as varied as the whole range of human emotion and experience. Yes, some White people are hearing clearly for the first time the full painful account of how Whiteness and the need to support its supremacy at all costs has systematically destroyed lives and communities. But there are other stories to hear too. 

In the Black community, there is a long tradition of celebrating Black Joy as a means of resistance and resilience. The concept is simple, celebrating life and enjoying life’s simple pleasures, to express joy for living in a world bent on erasing your life, is a radical act of resistance. Listening then not only to the stories of pain and grief, but joy and celebration – giving these stories your holy regard – is to witness the fullness of Black humanity in an anti-Black world. In her sermon two Sundays ago Ailsa Schmidt, touched on this idea. She said,

In the words of Frederich Beuchner, ‘Joy…is as notoriously unpredictable as the one who bequeaths it’… Where there is joy, there is God. Where there was police brutality and destruction on our city’s streets, I’ve also seen line dancing and barbeques, and for every politician using the word “thug”, there’s at least a hundred people of color posting incredible selfies, making resistance an art form on social media.”

But, hearing the stories of Black Joy might require White folks to expand the sources that inform our understanding of race and culture beyond the view of Whiteness. If our news only tells the stories of Black pain or Black crime, then we are not hearing the full story. Below are some wonderful places to begin listening to and hearing the delightful stories of Black Joy as resistance and hope. 

Perhaps nothing expresses joy be it black or any other, than through the voice and hearts of children. This little girl will give you a firsthand taste of the beauty and power in Black Joy — https://youtu.be/00kHG6sl_yA

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Check out the Black Youth Project and the work of artists and activists creating space for Black people to express joy as an act of choosing life and practicing liberation. — http://blackyouthproject.com/black-joy-resistance-need-movement-balance-black-triumph-trials/

Certainly Black Joy is expressed in music. This playlist is one place to hear and celebrate that joy — https://www.npr.org/sections/allsongs/2020/06/01/866477339/heat-check-black-joy-is-radical

Here’s an excellent look at how Black Joy is supporting the work of protest and resistance in the wake of the death of George Floyd — https://www.nytimes.com/2020/06/09/arts/dance/dancing-protests-george-floyd.html

In her powerful op-ed in the Washington Post, author Tracey Lewis-Giggetts describes a powerful moment of spontaneous joy, dancing and laughing with abandon with her young daughter in the rain. She writes, “Choosing to express our joy loudly and without reservation is directly connected to bringing our Imago Dei (made in the image of God) humanity front and center in the movement.” Lewis-Giggetts describes this experience as a relief and a respite, even rejuvenating following the recent and threefold horrific deaths of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and George Floyd. Again, she wrote:

“Our dancing in the rain wasn’t a denial of all the storms that had moved in on black people that week. It was a dare. An indignant stance of confidence in the midst of this malignant monsoon called systemic racism. Our laughter was a way to say ‘you can’t steal our joy’ to anyone who’d dare deny our humanity. Author and scholar Imani Perry, in a recent article for the Atlantic, captured this feeling well: ‘Joy is not found in the absence of pain and suffering. It exists through it. … Blackness is an immense and defiant joy.’”

 

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