Stop Disrupting Black Joy With Your Fear

By Keisa Reynolds

Often we hear how important it is to learn how to spend time alone, Ive heard people say that you dont really know yourself until you have really spent time alone.

I agree with the sentiment so much. This piece was meant to be an essay about how great it feels to spend time alone and learning how to enjoy it. Then the murder of Alton Sterling happened, Philando Castile the next day. Then, I discovered we never learned to say the names of Stephanie Hicks and Essence Bowman, and we still struggle to uplift Mya Halls.

I experience joy when I spend time by myself. Sometimes it feels impossible when black joy gets snatched on a daily basis. It’s not easy learning to spend time alone when you are told your body is perfect for harassment and violence. Spending time alone, no matter how many of us have to do it, doesnt feel radical, especially when youre learning how to survive in the face of violence.

Spending time alone is a luxury for many people. There is always potential danger no matter who you are, however, the higher social status (real or perceived), the less danger you face, and the danger you do face looks very different than most. Its easy to not think about it, because no one should have to. Living life is a luxury for many people. Theres a kind of personal freedom in taking advantage of living life, doing what you want, what you can.  

I imagine the sense of personal freedom Sandra Bland felt as she drove to Texas to start a new job. I imagine the sense of personal freedom Alton Sterling felt when he figured out how to make money outside of the system that denied him professional prospects. I imagine the sense of personal freedom that Rekia Boyd felt as she enjoyed being out with her friends like the average 22-year-old before she was shot in the head by a Chicago police officer.

Many of my friends who are, and are accepted as, white heterosexual cis men walk home at all hours of the night without a second thought. Walking with my ex, a white man, in the South Loop at 10pm on a Saturday did not make me feel any safer; it reaffirmed how easy it is to navigate day-to-day life as a man, specifically as a white man. I would have taken a cab or requested an Uber instead of walking around. While safer than walking alone, requesting a ride still isnt the safest option for women, femmes, and gender nonconforming people. If there is another black person with me, the idea of safety in numbers goes away; the more of us, the greater the possibility of danger.

Black people face being perceived as a threat or receiving threats, sometimes both. Even our laughter can be seen as disruptive and threatening. Being a queer black feminine person is not a risk, nothing about my identity is a risk. The violence black people experience, including the violence we face at the hands of law enforcement and vigilantes, does not happen because we bring it upon ourselves.

It is summertime here. I would like to do the following: go camping, take a road trip with friends, hold the hand of a lover as we stroll through the park, sit on a restaurants patio while sipping mimosas, wear sundresses, wear a smile. I can and will do those things, and I will experience joy when I do. I will also experience sadness because the countless lives weve lost that wont be able to.

Experiencing joy and personal freedom is a right reserved for all, not a few. Black joy, whether or not it is accepted, is a gift to the world.