There’s Nothing More Threatening to Whiteness Than Black Joy


Imagine living in a place where your unhappy is commoditized. A place where your body is othered, your skin reviled, your phenotypical features maligned, and your love denied. Imagine that. Now, imagine being happy anyway. Despite and in spite. Happy.

I say all this to say that Black Joy, specifically that of, with, between, and for Black women, is a threat to the status quo: White Supremacy. And, when we maintain our joy, whiteness will contort itself into pretzels to shut us down.

I have wanted to write about Black Joy for some time now. Many people who know me know that I take great pride in disrupting especially violent places and spaces with my laughter, a couple of slices of pound cake, and a funny anecdote about life, love, or the random. For me, carrying around my Black Joy and doling it out for every melanin-enriched person I see is meaningful to me. It is personally gratifying but, beyond that, it is a central tenet in my life. You could say I live by an ethos of seeking out, establishing, and preserving Black Joy.

That isn’t as easy as it sounds though. I can’t say that modern efforts to stave off and root out Black Joy are as pronounced as the era when one could be maimed by a slave master or mistress for even turning up the edges of one’s mouth at a joke or viciously humiliated for enjoying the company of a friend in public. But, sadly, there are occurrences every day which remind us that Black Joy is still very much under attack in this country.

RELATED: We Love Amandla Stenberg’s Badass Black Girl Comic

There are many things that – if done while Black – can get one arrested or even killed. This includes standing, shopping, listening to music, and needing help. To this list, we added “laughing while Black” after a Napa Valley, California wine train company kicked off 11 women (10 Black and 1 White) who were “disrupting” other train riders with their joy. Last week, those same women were awarded an undisclosed amount after they sued the train company in a multi-million dollar lawsuit. This is just evidence that, even in public spaces where most people are allowed or even expected to express joy, Black women are excluded.

Actress and activist Amandla Stenberg told NBCBLK that,

“Any struggle, any difficulty you’re facing is giving you a tool that you can utilize in the future. That’s why when you’re experiencing these struggles and you choose to do your thing and love yourself regardless, it’s like a revolution.”

Singer India.Arie echoed Stenberg when saying,

“It’s a release of constructs around what you feel you have to be in order to be an acceptable version of yourself in society.”

For these women, their joy is found in loving themselves and having the freedom to express that love in public. Just like the women on the wine train, their happiness is innately connected to their authenticity and self-expression.

Black Joy is inherently connected to self-love. When Black women come together, when we laugh, fellowship, cry, and heal, we resist the ubiquity of whiteness. We push back against our own erasure. While it is disheartening to know that our joy is often answered with exile, seen as a threat, and marginalized as ‘radical’, it is also gratifying to live in a moment where so many Black women are resisting this exclusion.

Collectively, we are pushing back against those forces which seek to annihilate us. And, I’m grateful that, in my little corner of the Universe, I get to contribute to our liberation.


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Jenn M. Jackson

Jenn M. Jackson, PhD is a co-Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Water Cooler Convos. She is a native of Oakland, CA. Jenn is a radical Black feminist scholar who believes none of us are free until all of us are free.

3 Responses

  1. Mary Burrell says:

    They do get upset when we celebrate ourselves.

  2. says:

    Celebrating our blackness is glorious. We are not ashamed of who we are and we will express our black joy whether people like it or not.

  3. Shawna says:

    Very enlightening story. Wish I could type more…