I write this for Black folks, as we do not have many safe spaces of our own.
I do not need to know you, to understand you. I do not need to have met you, to see you.
Because I am you, and you are me.
I was in Puerto Rico, at a restaurant, when I was told that there was a mass shooting at a Buffalo grocery store. I did not fully tune into what my friend was saying. At that moment, I was too excited to try mofongo for the first time.
It was the next morning; I was lying in bed and finally checked my Instagram account. I told myself I was going to be off social media to enjoy the trip. I sat in my room at the Airbnb and it felt like the walls were closing in on me. I read the headlines that have now dominated many of our social media feeds and I felt devastated and helpless.
I withdrew into myself for most of that morning. Sad, angry and scared. I felt the spectrum of emotions. It was difficult trying to grapple with each one. Brittney Cooper teaches us that anger is not a bad thing, it can be harnessed and used as a political response to white supremacist violence.
Even so, how do you navigate the world when someone is trying to kill you? I now must add a grocery store to the list of spaces that a white supremacist will terrorize me. The anger did not go away, it may never leave. James Baldwin said that to be Black “in this country and to be relatively conscious is to be in a state of rage almost all of the time.”
However, that afternoon I did go to the beach, I sat in the Caribbean sun and a cool breeze. For the rest of my trip, I leaned into joy. A very specific type of joy: Black joy.
Black joy choses to laugh, dance and celebrate life. This is not the same as “happiness.” Black joy is astutely aware of the systemic racism and anti-Black violence that is present in the daily lives of Black people. It is to say that, Black joy is a protest, a resistance that chooses love.
Anti-Black violence was and still is a political maneuver to imprison, regulate and terrorize, Black people. Black joy is to be subversive and choose a radical politic of self-love and love for all Black people.
My heart goes out to the victims, and their families and friends who lost someone they loved in that Buffalo grocery store. My heart goes out to the Black community as we continue to navigate collective traumas. I felt guilty that I could not do anything.
My longtime friend Dalitso quickly reminded me guilt was futile, white terrorism does not concede because I go on vacation. Dalitso told me to use the time I had to heal, he gave me the much needed permission to soften into myself, reflect on what I needed, wanted and dreamed for myself moving forward — an emotional space not often afforded to Black people.
At that moment, that’s all I could do. I did not want white supremacist violence to win and steal my joy. I went to Puerto Rico to celebrate one of my best friend’s birthdays, to be in community with other Black and brown people, to eat good food, to explore and to heal. So that is exactly what I did.
The state-sanctioned violence as a means to control Black people from living joyful and gratifying lives can be traced back to when the first slave ships arrived in 1619. Centuries of oppression have made Black joy essential to our individual and collective survival and ability to thrive.
Black people, I encourage you to sing, dance, stretch, make an appointment with a therapist, take a sick day just to binge watch your favorite show, call the homie, take a nap, foster a dog for the day, and/or be in nature. Black joy does not have to be on a Caribbean island. Acts of Black joy can be small gestures, spontaneous moments and simple everyday occurrences.