Yesterday, I rang up two friends and had an extensive conversation about Black Joy with each of them. I was particularly interested in their understanding of the term Black Joy, uniquely Black experiences that brought them joy, as well as their bodies’ expressions of joy. Below are shortened versions of these two delightful conversations.
Black Joy is integral to sustaining life, sustaining culture. It is pervasive—always part of the atmosphere despite what is going on because it is foundational and prevalent in Black culture and life. We are still here today because of Black Joy.
Mpoe: Can you tell me how joy feels like in your body?
Cindy: When experiencing joy, I find that I do a lot of vocalization: “MMHHMM! AHHH!” Just very expressive sounds. Joy cannot be contained in my body; it has to come out in more ways than one.
M: What is one experience that is particular to Blackness that has brought you joy?
C: One thing that immediately comes to mind for me is cocoa butter. The idea of nourishing the skin is something that my mom was adamant about instilling in my siblings and me.
When entering Black spaces, I know that there will be someone with lotion. There is that understanding of nourishment. The tactile nature of moisturizing is so beautiful in and of itself. It is a way for me to engage with myself, see my body, feel it, and be aware of my complexion and skin texture. The act of putting on lotion, while pedestrian, is quite vulnerable, and I feel that it contributes to this idea of Black vitality. I always carry lotion with me, and it is connected to my identity—like people know that I am the girl with the full bottle of cocoa butter.
We have been through a lot, and yet, we are one of the funniest people on earth. We are one of the happiest people. When things are going on, that is when you need to laugh, because these things will whither your soul away. I am expected to take on all the responsibilities of the world from my little apartment in Calgary. Experiencing joy proves that it is worth it to keep on fighting so that I can experience more joy in my life.
Mpoe: Can you describe a uniquely Black moment that gives you joy?
Imole: I think my favorite is when someone says, “God is good,” and we will always respond with “All the time.” And when you say “All the time—”
M: God is good.
I: See?! I love that so much. There was a video of this, and I cannot remember who said it at an award show, and all the Black people responded accordingly. When used, we are always celebrating something; no matter what we are going through—whatever diaspora war broke out on Twitter that week—that there is something for all Black folks around the world to celebrate.
M: Can you describe how joy feels like in your body?
I: The first thing that I witness is calmness in my body, followed by laughter, and then I cry. When I experience joy, that initial moment of being calm is me settling into the experience. I almost always think of how we got here—not just the bad things—and that is how I end up crying. So, I guess it is a relief in my body.
photograph by Liam MacKenzie