Tuning In For Black Joy

Photo: Courtesy of HBO.
Like millions of Black people around the world, I’ve spent the past few days cycling through a range of heavy emotions. Generation after generation, perpetual exhaustion is passed down as one the many culturally inherited traits of the Black community as a direct consequence of racism — especially in the United States, a country that was built on the blood, sweat and tears of Black people — but more than ever, the rampant anti-Blackness we're seeing right now makes it even harder to get through the day. As Black people, it can be impossible to tear our eyes away from the chaos unfolding before us; we feel guilty for wanting to detach from what's going on just for a moment, but know that we can't muster up the energy to keep rallying around the cause without rest.
But if you're struggling to stay in the game today, there's something you need to remember: self-care is revolutionary.
On Sunday night, Timbaland and Swizz Beats' gospel edition of their viral Verzuz Battle provided two hours of pure, unfettered Black joy. Featuring gospel icons Kirk Franklin and Fred Hammond, Black people were able to catch their breath after a week — a lifetime, really — of being suffocated by anti-Blackness and white supremacy. We didn't forget what was unfolding in the streets of Minneapolis, Brooklyn, Louisville, or Los Angeles (how could we?), but just for a moment, we were able to rest.
Since the 1800s, gospel music has been a source of strength for the Black community; the genre has carried generations of Black people through various trials and tribulations. Even if you're not religious, you can feel the power in songs like Mahalia Jackson's "His Eye is On the Sparrow" or Tasha Cobbs' "Break Every Chain." Sunday's Verzuz battle had a similar effect. With over 250,000 people tuned in for the Instagram Live event, the Verzuz church.
Though we weren't in one building under one roof, something special was happening. It was a gathering of souls by the metaphorical riverside so often sung about in gospel music, a place where Black people could laugh, sing at the top of their lungs, weep, and find rest. It was a spiritual reset and recharge, an opportunity to go back into the war zone with renewed strength.
Only hours later, HBO's Insecure provided a similar respite. The fourth season of the Issa Rae original series offers a different reality for Black viewers, one that doesn't blatantly involve police brutality or Black death. Issa Dee (Rae) is still working on herself, her career, and her love life, and she's doing the best that she can. Sunday's episode, directed by writer and actress Natasha Rothwell (Kelli on the show), focused on Issa's formerly fraught relationship with ex-boyfriend Lawrence (Jay Ellis). The pair spent the evening together, going from a crowded bar to a local art show to a quiet restaurant — something that many of us haven't been able to do since March due to COVID-19. There was banter, flirting, vulnerability, tears, and even lovemaking (I'm sighing as I write this), but most importantly, Issa and Lawrence were Black people just living their lives safely and happily.
It feels superficial to be so invested in the happiness of a fictional TV couple in these difficult times, especially one that's been through as much as Issa and Lawrence have. But representation is a powerful tool that, if used effectively, can play a powerful part in anti-racism efforts. Black lives matter, so that means our stories matter, too — and not just the ones about suffering.
We need the narratives about other Black experiences; Black people falling in love (The Photograph), Black people saving the world (Black Panther), Black kids just being kids (Selah and the Spades). Centering Black experiences leads to normalization, which leads to humanization. And that's what this is about, being seen as human after centuries of racist dehumanization.
Practicing joy by leaning into the spaces that make us feel good, like music or television, isn't trivial by any means. Don't take my word for it — the late activist Audre Lorde said it herself: “Caring for myself is not self-indulgence. It is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.”
So, watch every episode of your favorite TV show and blast your favorite album so loud that the streets can hear, if that's what you need to refuel. We need you here with us. Your existence in itself is resistance.
To help bring attention to the police killing of George Floyd, you can sign the petition here, or donate to local organizations like Black Vision Collective or Reclaim the Block via the Minnesota Freedom Fund here.

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