the spectacled black joy: an interrogation of cynicism

questions about joy & blackness in the social media age.



yesterday, i preached for the first time in several months. it was both redemptive and liberative since i have had a very protracted journey in realizing my call to ministry - which included having a former pastor tell me i wasn’t called simply because i don’t have male reproductive organs.


after service was over, a young, Black girl - maybe around the age of 12 - came to me and said “i am going to preach like [you did] one day.” and it hit me. like a gutteral jab. like an onslaught of warm cement careening down my soul. like a purpose i’d yearned to fulfill flying into the back of my throat like an unsuspecting fly i met while riding my bike in open-mouthed wonder.


it was joy. an unusually unfamiliar yet spectacular joy.


after all, when i set out to pursue theological education - leaving my family and my home - i told myself that one day i would be in the position to stand before little Black girls and show them who/what i had desperately wished i had seen in the church growing up. so, when the young lady spoke her aspiration to me, it was a divine confirmation and consolation for the years of doubt and damage i waded through in the aftermath of being denied a chance at self-actualization.


but. beyond such a special moment shared with a beautiful, young hopeful, something else about the exchange ripped off a layer of skin that i had been unaware was even a-peel on the surface.


it was the question of joy in the midst of cynicism. it is easy to see how much joy - particularly Black joy - has been cropping up as a response and a resistance to the cultural production of evil (def’n: the ways in which a society can produce misery and suffering in relentlessly systematic and sublimely structural ways).


and certainly, unbridled and unbothered Black joy has many revolutionary properties - especially, when there are enterprises dedicated to Black death and destruction. yet, i wonder if all spectacular joy must be transported into spectacle? is the antidote for cultural productions of evil, cultural productions of joy?


“certainly...Black joy has many revolutionary properties - especially when there are enterprises dedicated to Black death & destruction. yet, i wonder if all spectacular joy must be transported into spectacle?”

i suppose the answer lies in the why and the who. if taking pictures, capturing videos, and posting media of Black people enjoying varying levels of contagious laughter and fun is intended to encourage others (particularly, other Black people) to pause from the daily dose of micro-aggressions, racist behaviors, and structures of white supremacy, then so be it. but if sharing Black joy on social platforms is to help nullify the fullness of our experiences as Black people in the aftermath of the enterprise of slavery, i’m wholly uninterested.


something about using Black joy in that way, feels exploitative. sporadic. and, almost disingenuous. a quick hit/fix in a world constantly soaked in sadness and suffering.


what is more, i long for a spectacular joy that creeps up, creeps in, and wants to be kept a sort of sacred secret - doing the intense work of countering years of self-protective cynicism that has eroded bits and pieces of my sense of wonder. and, comforted me into believing nothing will change about the ills we are facing as a society.


and, i think that’s the point - the reason the interaction with the young girl at church slapped me so forcefully. because there are some forms of joy that are meant to be healers of the soul; reserved for intimate conservation - not public consumption. this is not to say that sharing Black joy is erroneous. however, we must understand that choosing a self-serving joy is also holy work.


“there are some forms of joy that are meant to be healers of the soul; reserved for intimate conservation - not public consumption. this is not to say that sharing Black joy is erroneous. however, we must understand that choosing self-serving joy is *also* holy work.”

therefore, i send these notes of caution to cynicism and all the other imps & isms that have shrouded my sense of being as of late:

  • i am intentionally filling my well with a joy that will erase the defense mechanisms cynicism/imps/isms have tethered into my psyche.

  • i am putting forth a conscious effort to find myself in awe instead of approaching life with critique

  • i am healing - one day at a time - all that has crushed my soul and demanded me to smile and nod the next day


thank you to my friend and colleague, Karla Felecia Scaife, whose original post inspired me to interrogate what has been impeding my joy. I invite whoever reads this to do the same. write a letter to the imps that confine and restrict your breath. and challenge yourself to find a selfish joy that belongs to nobody else but you.


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joyfully mine,

-shh

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