2016 Was the Year of Black Joy


Last month, at a Yale library, a poster burned. It was a small poster, really, and kind of an eyesore (chintzy neon lettering hovered over a faded Tschabalala Self printout). Did the poster’s background art enrage someone so much that it had to be torched? Maybe (it depicted cunnilingus, and I guess some people think that’s gross). But a more likely version points to this: An anonymous vandal objected to the poster’s message of “Black Joy.” I guess some find that gross, too.

In 2016, black joy was in music, television, sports, and politics. It was everywhere, and boy, did we need it. The spotlight on America’s black-body paranoia had been brightened once more. I can’t tell you how many times I watched a black man die on a two-by-four-inch phone screen in 2016. The number is equal to the times I witnessed a white man escape punishment for his crime. It stunk, it hurt like hell, it made me feel broken from within.

Some would call that “black pain,” which seems fitting. You can inflict black pain, sure, but you can’t kill black joy. Black joy is a feeling, and it’s warm and soft, like a pair of slippers resting under a vent. If it smells, it smells like grandma’s cooking; if it has a taste, it tastes just south of too sweet.

Black joy doesn’t ruminate over bougie nonsense like ambiance. In your broke-down Camry you can belt to Beyoncé’s “Freedom,” shove a middle finger at that morally bankrupt ex of yours via “Sorry,” and move on to the next dick, boy, by way of “Don’t Hurt Yourself,” Beyonce’s clamorous duet with Jack White. Or better yet, you can watch Beyoncé pay homage to Michael Jackson and the Black Panthers in her implausibly perfect Super Bowl performance, which was black joy, if it were sentient and grew feet.

Truthfully, music frequently punctuated 2016 with moments of black joy. For example, there’s something about Chance the Rapper and listening to “Angels” that charges my entire body to bounce. (To call it dancing would be generous.) The song diffuses an energy into the air, and it pulses in revelry. Where did this guy come from? Black-joy heaven? Mars? (It couldn’t be Chicago.)

As if to sweeten the deal back in August, Chance posted a photo to Twitter annotated with the caption #BlackBoyJoy. He didn’t coin Black Boy Joy, but the hashtag crystallized a branch of black joy that hit its stride as of late. Think of Jaden Smith and his gender-bending aesthetic. Maybe you don’t get it, but he doesn’t care. Or consider Cam Newton and his touchdown dabs. Have you ever seen someone so elated to excel at his job? (Some of you didn’t, and elected to tear him down.) In June, I watched LeBron James collapse on the court floor after waging a virtually impossible win in the NBA Finals. Yes, black joy can draw tears, but they’re the kind of tears that you wish for again, and again, and again.

The Olympics marked a defining moment this summer. A lot of nonsense took place, but none of it involved Simone Biles, who was perfect. She is the greatest gymnast of our time and there was no greater joy than watching her collect gold after gold. There was also Usain Bolt who, for crying out loud, was so exhaustingly fast that he found time to turn his head and smile before sweeping first place. And joyously commenting on it all was Leslie Jones, finder and seeker of the American Dream. Tweeting from the couch pivoted into an ad hoc Olympics correspondence job for Jones. Name something more American than that.

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Source: New York Magazine | Ashley Weatherford