The toil of talking Blackness, tumbling down the narrowest of roads to youthful suicide, lynchings masquerading as private hangings, of taking the bits and pieces of our living, parceling them out for amusement, for entertainment, for late-night tv fodder and buzzworthy hashtags, is exhausting. Being tasked with uncovering the joy for a month out of year full of 52 weeks, 365 days, requires the craftiness of an adept magcian skilled at the art of fanciful make believe. Maybe I am bitter, maybe New York is making me sour. To be fair, I am a happy man — a diligent and doting father, a somewhat better than average son, forgiving friend, a determined lover. I have joy, the joy in my child’s eyes is borrowed from mine. I see it.
But also while I write this, I have the dubious challenge of writing words to conjure a joy that water in Flint cannot muster; a joy shithole countries and dream-deferred immigrants cannot see nor celebrate. The elation and joy I want to feel, will almost always feel subdued; a part of me recognizes that the art in living is accepting both the shallow and deep of the waters we wade in, that both sun and shower encompass all of the existence we bear fruit to here on God’s green atlas of an earth. However, the other part of me sees the Charlie Brown-esque way the rain cloud seems to travel the furthest, farthest and longest when backpacking above the heads of my people. There are police officers on trial in Baltimore who literally kept toy guns to plant near the bodies of those involved in police shootings. There is no sense of joy, of freedom, in a system, in a world where this is considered acceptable, on any measurable scale of what one would call “happy” or “joyful.”
I can give you names —Fred Hampton. Trayvon Martin. Tamir Rice. Emmitt Till, my father . Names of bodies and loss and lack; names lost and forsaken, spirit defeated and broken, all in the quest of liberation, of a joy just beyond the tips and grasp of finger; “joy” being so agile in it’s escape from the embrace of the American Black experience. I cannot speak of the Parisian, the European. I do not know what their joy looks like. But I recognize that there is a way in which one labels and names the things that are uniquely their own, mainly because America has forced us to do so. “Black Girl Magic,” the BET’s and Hannah Magazine’s and CRWN’s of the world were not born out of need and want for exclusivity when it comes to the celebration and love and embarrassingly beautiful acknowledgement of the joy apparent in the Black experience, but more so from a people being pushed away from tables, off of lunch counters, into jails, to the backs of buses, to the edge of noose, to the fringe of conversations at water coolers and board rooms. Their names are sun-dried into memory, and an honest depiction of what may happen when you get too high on your cloud, too smiley for cameras, too authoritative, too responsible for your own joy. Black joy has far too often been a prelude to murder, to an unquestionable death.
I want the freedom to write about three legged ponies and an absence of water in my mothers kitchen, dried ketchup stains and crunchy leaves beneath boot crud, about medieval jousting, the Irish famine; fantastical daydreams about lovers in showers, easy-to-wash hair waving freely by a bar of soap and a ring of dirt circling the tub bottom like some conclave of young army berets; the time and opportunity to re-imagine a post apocalyptic world of hygienic robots and mutant cat ladies; vast complex, universes of intergalactic warships cruising at obese altitudes; of pine cones and watery nostrils and annoying cats and too-loud-televisions and masturbation techniques or excellent dissertations on pop tarts. And maybe I can, and should.
But I am Black, and Black makes me feel silly writing about the lightweight way in which we carry stories, how we tend to them in harvest without blinking for Sojourner; so many things I have written have been about a blood lost, an arm broken, a Black hung, a body being run into the ground by labor or white hands. I want to rub the joy into my face like soot into hands, see the soil sift and tumble, dirt of oppression lifted away into a fantasy land where tropisms and the fantasy of nonexistent oppression is welcomed with open arms, unabashed and unaffected.
How to account for the missing, for the ones still not able to access the joy I am being asked to write of? Often, when brothers and sisters get sent “up top” or upstate to federal prison, the ones who are doing the time with them, visiting and calling and letter writing, are often asked to take pictures and “live for them.” The almost entirety of Blackness comes with the weight of living for everyone else before you, for the ones to come after, even for the ones who are here, but cannot find their footing or ways about the world constructed in order to keep them from attempting to seek and find the joy we tend to take for granted. How do we make up for the ones who once had a thing, and no longer have it, or never had the thing, so that if the thing came to them in a dream, or a job, or a smile or handshake, instead of a bullet or a gavel or a slamming of a cell, they would not perceive there to be a difference? How do we muster the the energy to find this thing, this joy that we flippantly want others to bask in, enjoy, love? There is no joy in that. I am tasked with finding it for a reader. There is no joy in that.