The poet Toi Derricotte revolutionized Black feminism with one line in a poem, “joy is an act of resistance.” With that one line, she gave Black women an opportunity to rethink the work of racial justice. Finally we were given permission not to just be mules for the work of racial justice- carrying a kicking and screaming country into a better future. We were given permission to also see our joy as giving a middle finger to white supremacy. And when we stop to think about this one beautiful sentence, it unlocks a world of truthfulness. Historically, America has both been completely uninterested in the joyfulness, the happiness of Black women and has actively worked to villianize our joy. Our dancing. Our hair. Our laughter. Our desire for luxury and access and opportunity. Our sexuality. Our dress and jewelry. Our jokes and conversation. Our songs. Black girls and Black women alike have our joy misconstrued as disrespectful, arrogant, or perpetually inappropriate. Our joy is suspicious. And what right have we to joy when we have so much work to do? Ms. Derricotte, with the wonder that only poetry can unearth, gives an answer. We arent just pursuing racial justice when we are organizing or voting or protesting or speechmaking or volunteering or working… we are also pursuing justice when we indulge in joy.
This was my entrance into joy, and I am so grateful for Ms Derricotte opening the door, through the lens of resistance, so that I dont work myself to death- believing that is the only way to speak truth to power. Her words gave me permission to indulge. And now I want more, not only as a part of the resistance, but because I am human and my human dignity demands that I, too, experience unadulterated joy.
So I am opening my life for a joy as thick as my thighs. A joy that jiggles and wiggles. A joy with some heft and tiger stripes. I want a joy as big as my belly, rolling over on top of itself with abundance. I want a joy that inhabits every curly coil on my head, thats weaved through every twist, every braid, and yes, every wig. I want a joy as full as my lips, as wide as my nose, as bright as my eyes. I want a joy that tumbles out of me.
Im a girl that laughs easily and loudly. I always have. I delight in people who are funny, in people who tell the truth, in people who do or say the unexpected, in people who are weird. And when I delight in their presence and express that delight through laughter, people notice. I chuckle. I snort. I wink. I give high fives. I guffaw because I love when people are being their true selves and speak from who they are. And Im so self-conscious of it. I dont necessarily laugh at inappropriate times, but I laugh when no one else is. I am very easily amused by people. And for awhile, I tried stop. Tried to tamper myself down. Tried to force myself not to laugh- even when I really wanted to. I tried to appear more serious, tried to pretend you had to work to get a reaction out of me.
It didnt last long. Because I want to enjoy my joy. I want to be with people who delight in my laughter, in people who understand what Im communicating my delight. I dont want to put a lid on my joy- I want it to overflow.
Ms Derricotte said I could, so Im going for it.
Can I tell you one more thing? I pursue racial justice because it too brings me joy. This does not mean that its always easy or never disappointing. This doesnt mean that I am always happy or ever hopeful. I simply mean that the pursuit of Black freedom brings me joy. And so when I talk about racial justice and the silly absurdity of white supremacy, I am compelled to laugh. In the words of Zora Neale Hurston, “I like myself when I am laughing and then again when I am looking mean and impressive.”
Typos aplenty just so you can prove your love and grace unto me and my humanity.