Why Black Joy is Necessary Even When Just Being Ok Isn’t

    June 29 2020  |  Inspiration , Culture

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    When I was little more than a high school underclassmen quickly coming to grips with the things around me, enjoying life’s small pleasures like the freedom that comes with one’s very first driver’s permit, the world always had a very unflinching way of balancing my reality. In the case of my first car – a battered, brown Toyota Corolla that was a hand-me-down from my older brother – it was “the talk.”

    No, not that talk. The other talk. The talk Black families give their over-eager yet unsuspecting sons and daughters, nieces and nephews, cousins and play cousins, about the dangers of driving while Black.

    “The talk” is one part of a much larger survival guide – a cultural manuscript given verbally and passed down through generations with one goal in mind: to teach young Black boys and girls how to survive America. These talks aren’t meant to scare you out of living your life. They are meant to ensure that you don’t die before you’ve had a chance to live one.

    Such discussions from Black elders are both forceful and endearing, equally meant to tell you what’s required of you to “be ok” in any given situation, and that no matter the circumstance, you’ll “be ok” if you follow their advice. This was our parent’s way of emphatically telling us that being ok can mean many things, and that we would need to get comfortable with those shifting variations.

    Today, in a world with some parallels yet largely different from the reality my elders faced, being ok is still very far from a linear emotion. Each day brings a new set of challenges, and the crippling thought that the next day, week, or month, could be worse. So how exactly do we condition ourselves to be ok when the things that trigger mental trauma seem to outweigh us?

    How to “Be Ok” (as Much as You Can Be)

    Following countless police killings of unarmed Black men and women that are undeniably rooted in systemic racism in America, this racial reckoning in our country has a way of steering your feelings even though you have both hands firmed planted on the wheel. 

    And although self-care and emotional well-being are near impossible some days, on others, when you do have the ability to take greater care of yourself, it’s imperative that you take action. 

    This moment in history has a peculiar duality of feeling both defeating and curative from one heartbeat to the next. Some days you’re suffocating in hopelessness and other days renewed by an overwhelming sense of optimism. There is no escaping either emotion, but let’s talk about how to spend those freeing moments the latter provides.

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    Take Time to Rest & Rejuvenate

    There are many forms of protest and resistance. Resting, by all accounts, is a form of both. This fight for racial justice will be long. It’s been long. You can’t continue to fight, learn, and unlearn without the proper rest. 

    Black bodies are not only in danger of police brutality in America but from the mental and emotional bruisings inflicted by a racist society. While racial triggers can often evoke an emotional outpour, the real damage is done internally. That’s why it’s so important to check out, rest, nap, cook, meditate, or whatever activity takes on the form of rest and rejuvenation. 

    Like donating, marching, protesting, volunteering, voting, and teaching, without the proper physical rest and emotional healing, we won’t win this fight.

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    Be Present and in the Moment

    When my mother, father, and uncles all separately gave me the “Driving While Black” talk, much of that discussion surrounded the importance of understanding the moment, and how critical every second could be – how every second could mean the difference between living and not living beyond that moment. 

    Being present meant that I would quickly recall my training to make it out of that moment with the police. The same goes for many of us trained to endure this racial awakening. When we’re teaching our allies we must be present; when we’re sharing our experiences we must be present; when we’re having the difficult conversations that create change we must be present; when we’re breaking down existing structures to create space for new ones, equitable ones, we have to be unwavering in our presence.

    This isn’t necessarily easy work, but it is necessary work. The emotional burden will be taxing, and mental fatigue is all but guaranteed. That’s why it’s essential to rest and ‘be in your body’ for the moments that could help define this movement.

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    Find (and Hold Onto) Joy

    Black people have been joyous since 1619, although dating back to 1619, the lives of Black people have been far from ideal, equal, or just. We’ve always found and rooted ourselves in joy no matter the circumstances surrounding our injustices. 

    Similar to other critical junctures in American history where we inched towards the precipice of change, we need to channel that joy–Black joy–now more than ever. 

    Black joy might look like Zoom calls with family and friends. It might be a socially distanced bike ride. It might be a solo dance party in your living room because that’s exactly what you need to feel like yourself. No matter the form this joy takes, find it, bathe yourself in it, and take stock of the moments where you find yourself happy in your own skin.

    When I was given “the talk” about driving while Black in high school, I didn’t know it then, but I’d grow to appreciate–adore, even– the sense of duty and responsibility my family felt towards my life. They knew my Black skin would make my existence more difficult than it should be, and if I had any hope of experiencing the joy I was deserving of, I’d first need a clear understanding of the things that could strip me of it.

    Black parents have long known that their Black children would never truly be safe in America. So while many may deem it overprotective parenting or some measure of extreme correction, they equip us with invisible armor before we step out into a racist and unforgiving society. Part of that prep work is purely for the survival of the Black lives they hold dear, but it’s also a proactive measure to allow their children to experience joy by both avoiding or escaping potential trauma. 

    Finding moments of joy while navigating survival is something Black folks have been doing forever. The work isn’t easy, but being ok, and experiencing joy in those moments, represents the resilience we need to ensure that Black Lives Matter now and forever.