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The Politics of Black Joy

Manifestation of Resistance

by Diamond Marie Gonzalez St. Baptiste

Art Credit:  Sugar Shack by Ernie Barnes

Black identity is a politicized identity. In this essay, the author confronts anger as something that lives alongside this identity and explores the revolutionary act of Black happiness as an effective tool against white supremacy.

I have spent the last few weeks fueled by a cosmic and righteous anger. I’ve known this almost ancestral anger from the first moment I realized the reality surrounding my Black identity. I grew more and more familiar with it as I became more familiar with the layers of class, race, and gender within late stage capitalism and colonialism that made my life inherently political.

 In the 2014 podcast transcript,  “We’re Trying to End the World ”, Frank B. Wilderson III explains the politicalization of Blackness. Willderson III explains under our current racialized system of capitalism, Anti-Blackness will shape the “collective unconscious”. The collective unconscious criminalizes Blackness. This criminalization of identity continuously politicizes the existence of Black folk who are constantly being used as an example of exploitation.

I had known this anger that surfaced for most of my adult life but since the back to back deaths of George Floyd, Breanna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, Nina Pop, and Tony McDade, I had let this anger take hold of me. It carried me to protest and kept me up at night to sign petitions and email public officials. I thrived in this anger. Not only was I frustrated by the cavalier attitude surrounded by Black death, but I was exhausted that I had to reteach allies who have recently decided to understand the politics of Blackness and how deeply Anti-Blackness is ingrained in a system that benefits them. I didn’t see how rest or a return to small happiness would support the momentum this moment of clarity had behind it.

“Black joy is revolutionary.”

I had heard the term “Black joy is revolutionary”, I had wholeheartedly believed in the idea. It wasn’t until I was in Prospect Park on Juneteenth as Diana Ross’ “It’s my House” played on the speaker closest to my small picnics’ blanket.  I could imagine my tias in Puerto Rico, my aunties in New Orleans, and my mother in Florida all two-stepping to the same song, celebrating the same moment.  I looked around and witnessed a joy that connected every Black person that laughed from their picnic blanket and bellowed into their hands as someone jumped into a double dutch game. I noticed that despite the fear, fatigue, and frustration that stemmed from living through a global pandemic and an international call to action Black people were still actively seeking joy. People talked over the borders of their picnic blankets and imagined six feet boundary lines created by COVID-19 precautions. We were all at each other’s cookout taking part in a revolutionary form of celebration.

“Celebration and rage have been tools of Black revolution.”

Celebration and rage have been tools of Black revolution since the beginning of racialized economic systems. As displaced Africans were moved across the diaspora, celebration continued to endure the system of slavery and the subsequent inequal societies that were shaped by slavery. Communal celebration continued despite restrictions on autonomy and expression; Marriages were performed despite them not holding any legal value in the eyes of pre-abolition law. “Jumping the broom” became a symbol of unity, joy, and celebration. Slave marriage was a joy that defied the laws placed on black bodies.

Carribean carnival emerged as a communal celebration following the total emancipation of Black people in Trinidad. The outward expression was not only celebrated through ritual, elaborate costume and dance but was a political and satirical tool of the masses to reflect the newly freed colonial subjects’ thoughts on colonialism. The performers in carnival wore devil masks along with french dress, Using their freed bodies to present themselves as a mirror to their once masters.

Music of the diaspora incorporates joy and resistance. Despite having been subjected to changing forms of oppression, Black joy has manifested itself into Jazz, the blues, soul, funk, rock, the list goes on. We all have an uncle that dances like he’s on Soul Train when at the family get-together and I’d go as far to say that Uncle Willie is a freedom fighter. That kind of joy, that joy in-spite-of, continues to transcend time, space, and the new fight every generation of Black and brown folk face.

It is so revolutionary that we’ve brought it to the frontlines of our protest. Viral videos of crowds of young Black folk dancing, singing and celebrating their existence at protest have circulated social media. Videos of young Black and Brown LGBTQIA community members vogueing as they protested, using a dance form of an underground counterculture of that took over the 80’s and was used to celebrate the array of queer identities. Ballroom culture, the underground gatherings that consisted of dance, music and costume, much like carnival, allowed marginalized black and brown, gay, bi, trans identities to celebrate themselves. To see this element of culture surface alongside protest, demanding the humanity of black folk to be seen supports the idea that there is something impactful about marginalized masses using their bodies, their music and their customs to continue a fight against white supremacy.

Wilderson III says in “We’re Trying to Destroy the World.” that what keeps working class folk from actively dismantling systems of oppression is that “Normally people are not radical, normally people are not moving against the system: normally people are just trying to live, to have a bit of romance and to feed their kids.” I’d argue that Black identities experiencing romance, that feeding black children is a radical act. What I experienced on Juneteenth as groups of individuals celebrated Liberation Day communally was political beings use the simple act of happiness as a political tool. That afternoon Prospect Park became somebody’s mama’s house and we were all the aunties, uncles, cousins and siblings two-stepping like we were in a Soul Train Line. It’s this Black, resilient joy that we experience despite suffering and that we raise our children to know that radically moves against the system.

Born and raised in Brooklyn, Diamond Marie Gonzalez St. Baptiste is a writer and poet inspired by the Negritude movement of art and scholarship, who uses the themes of identity, the meaning of Blackness and folklore as a base for her work. As the community Programs and Outreach Associate for MoCADA, her work is informed by a culture rooted in ritual acts and performance. Diamond is also working towards a PhD in the humanities while undertaking personal research on the cosmology within literature of the diaspora, with a focus on Afro-Brazilian poetry.


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