I like to theme each month. January’s theme was, “satisfaction,” where for 31 days I challenged myself to not spend anything. No spend January only allowed for grocery shopping, which meant no money was spent on my usual items: coffee, alcohol, occasional Soul Cycle classes or pick-me up retail therapy items. Last December, I focused on “gratitude,” where I tried to recall all the ways I was grateful for 2020 (yes, that was difficult). Last November, I explored “balance.” The previous month I was in a particular crazy time with work and special projects that left me feeling incredibly unbalanced — leading to mood swings and poor eating habits.
This month, February, is Black History Month, and I am focusing on joy.
As a Black woman, joy is not always the easiest element to find in a world that constantly objectifies and dehumanizes Black bodies. Joy is not always easy to find when you are made aware of the increased policy brutality that exist in this country. The heightened racial awareness this past summer has led many individuals worldwide to care about the Black story. Although it has not numbed the pain, released triggers or minimized trauma — with more and more people interested in learning about our culture, journey, and the struggles we deal with daily, I have been finding a lot more joy and redefining what the word means to me.
Black joy is showing up as your true, authentic self. Too often, history has taught people of color to make others feel comfortable first. This is completely backwards and a large part of the systemic racism that exists in America. Too often Black men and women have to look “presentable” in outside (read: white) environments. I promise you there is a lot of healing and happiness to be found in showing up as your true self — whether that’s not having to code switch in work settings, speaking out against a microagression without the fear of being stereotyped as an angry Black person, or feeling comfortable for turning up to an event or grocery store with a head covering. Black joy is showing your humanness without being harshly judged.
Black joy is not feeling guilt tripped into thanking allies. Allies have had a lot of positive and negative press in the past twelve months. Do we need them for the movement? Absolutely. After all, it takes a large mass of people invested in liberating work to succeed. But do we need to thank them for showing up? Absolutely not. Being an activist — or someone who stands up and fights for an oppressed community or marginalized cause — is the right thing to do. Activism should be good acts done out of second nature, without the expectancy of a thank you. Personally, the few times I thanked allies last summer, it was seen as a stamp of approval, as if they were waiting on me to thank them so they could move on. It made me feel like simply reposting a social injustice meme or hashtagging #sayhisname was good enough for them. Admittedly, seeing people take responsibility and rewrite wrongs is a good thing, but I don’t think caring about social justice issues and systemic racism warrants a thank you.
Black joy is community. It’s about finding your tribe and holding onto them tight. As the old adage goes: there’s strength in numbers and getting around people who lift you up and make you feel good, will bring a lot of joy to your life.
Black joy is rest. It’s knowing when you need a break and creating spaces of rest when you need them.
As you continue to celebrate Black History Month in whatever way you see fit, I hope joy finds you.