After Hours 7.29.21
Discussion 2: Black Joy
by Dr. Chandler Puritty
Chandler here again with some unfiltered thoughts. This time I’ve been thinking about Black Joy. I’ve spent weeks ruminating on this topic. I’ve interviewed my friends on their thoughts to try to help me get some clarity but it may have just confused me more... What is Black joy? What does it mean? How does it function? What purpose does it serve?
I usually think of Black Joy primarily in opposition to Black trauma. I’ve noticed that the narrative surrounding the lives of Black Americans is usually through a white lens and that lens tends to center trauma. How many more movies do we need depicting slavery and poverty and gang violence? I might be more understanding if these projects were wholly produced by black creatives but in most cases- they’re written by white people to center some sort of white-savior story line with blackness serving as a backdrop.
Then I think, what about telling the stories of black success and joy? Give us films about the Black people who have risen above who have overcome the obstacles set before them- you know the Oprah’s and Obama’s of the world (Who would have thought having an O name could be so powerful). But I catch myself because that’s a slippery slope to a talented tenth kind of thinking- that only a few select group of black people are “capable” of thriving in this system and that their success is because they’re “different” and “not like the others”. You know the idea of pointing to Obama in a group of lower income children and saying if he can do it, you can do it! Which erases the privilege he experienced due to his lighter skin and white upbringing. He’s a Harvard grad for god sakes!
I think I went on a bit of a rant there but I digress. Black Joy is something wholly separate from Black “Excellence” as seen through the white gaze. First we’ll start with some examples. When I spoke to my friend who is a black man finishing his PhD in Neuroscience at UCSD, he said that doing things for people he loves is what brings him joy (I think we can blame this one on his Cancer moon and rising). Then I talked to my best friend and she said that watching her 3-month old baby grow and being with her every day is what brings her joy. She also finds joy in engaging in conversation around black liberation particularly with white audiences (probably the Aries moon at work- it loves a good fight!) Luckily I did a good enough job of deflecting that they never asked me what brings me joy but I’ve given a lot of thought to it recently.
The short answer about what brings me joy is that it is constantly changing (except for food- food ALWAYS brings me joy). When I was in high school, my joy was reading alone in my room, playing with my Great Danes, and academically outperforming my predominately white peers (everything’s a competition to an Aries sun!) When I was 18 at Howard University, shaking my ass in a dark basement with walls covered in sweat and music that shook the floor brought me immense joy. When I was a grad student at UCSD, I found most of my joy through building community and supporting and advocating on behalf of my black peers (This feels like my Libra rising). Sometimes is smoking a quick blunt or playing my music too loud or laughing so loudly the police are called (true story). Now as an Encinitas resident, I find joy in caring for my plants and cats, in seeing the ocean every time I get in my car, and in being supported by such an amazing community like Threadspun.
So what is Black Joy?
Well it’s hard to describe but I’ll have to take United States Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart’s words about pornography and say “I know it when I see it”. To be aware of this country’s history and treatment towards one’s ancestors and still be able to move through life, to crack a smile, to dance- that’s Black Joy. I always say that one’s capacity to feel joy is directly linked to the pain one has experienced, and because of that, the Black American capacity for joy is unlimited. If ever you see me or someone who looks like me in the throes of joy and feeling, I simply ask that you appreciate it and let us be (no policing or participation required). Black Joy is radical, revolutionary and magical... and must be protected at all costs.
*I nor any single black person has the power to speak on behalf of an entire community and I thank you for taking the time to listen to my perspective.
*if you appreciated this piece, feel free to venmo me @Chandler-Puritty. I also take cashapp $ChandlerPuritty
- Dr. Chandler Puritty