Black History Month in the UK has been celebrated since October 1987, to commemorate the achievements, culture and heritage of Black people.
It is rooted in the US version, which started during the 1920s. Celebrated in February, it coincides with abolitionists Frederick Douglass and Abraham Lincoln’s birthdays.
We’ve sought to share the lived experiences of Black people over the years to educate and to push forward change – yet the inevitable history of subjugation has largely clouded the narrative, and created stereotypes of Black people, many of whom have come to associate it with struggle and (essentially) trauma.
Challenging the derogative depiction of Blackness has often led to the prioritisation of Black joy: the Blackness that is free from trauma. This is what we need: to grant people within the Black community the natural, humane liberty to unapologetically express their happiness without having to constantly be chained to the scars of the past.
Black people obtaining and freely living in their joy is not a denial of the harsh experiences of the past. Rather, it is like choosing peace, innovation, healing and progress as part of the Black experience – which is why I choose it.
The fatigue of racial battles and protests is real. I personally do not believe in a racialised form of joy that is ascribed to Black people alone. Nevertheless, Black history in essence has historically been robbed – emotionally and physically.
We shouldn’t even need to coin a term such as “Black joy”, because joy is universal. Yet regaining joy in its truest form – in a way that considers the Black experience – requires us to focus on it.
Black people have a unique way of expressing joy during pain. This can be observed throughout Black history, thinking about beautiful songs that were birthed out of Black movements across the world – from Nelson Mandela’s prison time on Robben Island to the American spirituals, and even Reggae influences in the Black movements in the UK. The power that is created in pain is often collectively shared via creative mediums.
Following the death of George Floyd, I too experienced first-hand an intense racial fatigue, which affected my mental health and wellbeing. Constantly seeing Black death and trauma at work and in my personal life led to me feeling very drained. Self-care and wellness became an antidote for me, along with a journey where I decided to seek alternative ways to better serve my community as a Black woman – while staying involved with advocacy and empowering the communities I serve.
The real joy, of course, starts with yourself – and I had to start internally, by looking right in the mirror to embrace every aspect of my Blackness that I had been taught to dislike or minimise.
Being comfortable in your own skin, along with all the imperfections you carry, allows you to exude joy from the inside out. Self-care and healing, along with indulging in creativity and art, is something I found to be quite grounding. It opens space for exploring a world of creativity, but also normalises seeing positive images of Black people in spaces that showcase happiness, freedom and peace, without having to be pinned down to the past.
Personally, for me, I do not link Black joy to oppression or resistance, because I like to feel what I feel, without the need to commodify it or link it to the very elements that I desire to be absent from: struggle, oppression and resistance. I give in to the purest form of joy without resistance.
Introducing self-care to protect and preserve my mental health helped me to cultivate joy. Self-love, for many people, is an ongoing journey, but the more I embrace myself in my entirety – whether that be aspects of my culture or my Blackness – the more I experience the joy that comes with it.
I love that for me, and I want it for everyone, especially those in the Black community who have had it taken away.
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