'Black Joy': Inspiring new book reminds Black Americans happiness looks beautiful on them

These days, self-care is what the cool kids are doing. Social media users are wont to share attractive posts about meditation and yoga, or balancing their chakras. Before athletic superstars Simone Biles and Naomi Osaka chose self-care over performing in their respective fields, women pushed for full autonomy over their bodies by fighting for reproductive freedoms. Despite self-care creeping into mainstream spaces, its importance should not be diminished.

In her new book “Black Joy: Stories of Resistance, Resilience and Restoration” (Gallery Books, 288 pp., ★★★ out of four, out Tuesday), Tracey Michae’l Lewis-Giggetts delivers a collection of ebullient essays showing how self-care and joy play out in the day-to-day lives of Black people.

Lewis-Giggetts shows how Black joy operates as a hidden tool in the practice of Black resistance. Self-care was also a central theme within the Black Power movement. In addition to its survival programs, which focused on nutrition, clothing and health care, party members and leaders Ericka Huggins and Angela Davis practiced yoga and meditation during their incarceration.

They're trying to ban 'Maus': Why you should read it and these 30 other challenged books

"Black Joy: Stories of Resistance, Resilience, and Restoration," by Tracey Michae’l Lewis-Giggetts.
"Black Joy: Stories of Resistance, Resilience, and Restoration," by Tracey Michae’l Lewis-Giggetts.

During the eruption of Black Lives Matter protests in 2020, media outlets mostly spoke about, and showed footage of, protestors looting and rioting. As Lewis-Giggetts shows in “Black Joy,'' running parallel to the pain and desperation associated with police violence were acts of pleasure and love. Between marches, protestors danced and sang. Men proposed to their girlfriends, and some couples even had weddings in the middle of BLM protests. “The engagements and weddings that happened in the middle of marches were too often considered anecdotal for some but were actually intentional acts of defiance,” Lewis-Giggetts writes.

Blacks have been dehumanized for generations. By choosing joy and acts of love – such as engagements and marriages during protests – in the face of trauma and turbulent times, Blacks are exercising their humanity. When Biles and Osaka prioritize their mental health over entertaining America, they were biting back at perceived stereotypes of Black self-worth and giving flesh to all of the enslaved men, women and children who were forced to entertain slaveowners on Sundays and holidays. It is true that expressing joy in the face of police violence and inequality will not change the hearts of people. Neither will Black joy change laws; but Black joy is one of many subtle ways to challenge authority.

In his supremely informative book “The Body Keeps the Score,” Bessel van der Kolk explains how traumatic feelings become trapped inside of the body, throwing off the nervous system. Meditation, breathing and movement are strategies that can release trauma and restore the nervous system back to its normal state.

More: Rare Toni Morrison short story 'Recitatif' to publish as book with intro by Zadie Smith

In “Black Joy,” Lewis-Giggetts paints a beautiful picture of Blacks passionately and lustily swaying their glistening bodies against each other to the blues in shadowy hole-in-wall clubs. She also writes of how Black grandmothers, mothers and aunties rock back and forth while moaning sweet nothings during Sunday church service. Lewis-Giggetts even shares a narrative of how, as a little girl, she would stand naked in front of the mirror mouthing her favorite Mary J. Blige songs, or mimicking the off-kilter flow of E-40. Lewis-Giggetts describes how these joyful and carefree performances made her feel like she was at one with the universe.

This type of body movement, along with meditation, yoga and deep breathing, releases the trauma that is trapped inside the body, helping to return the nervous system back to its original state. “The way the mothers of the church would sway to a beat provided by the shoes and wooden canes, it’s like they knew,” writes Lewis-Giggetts. “They didn’t have the fancy language, the academic jargon for it. They didn’t do any research on somatic experiencing and how moving the body in certain ways can help alter how trauma functions in the body or move it out entirely. They just had the song, and the meditation.”

Lewis-Giggetts’ new tome adds a square to the quilt of Black radical imagination, posing the question: What type of world do Blacks imagine? “Black Joy is a poetic and fun reminder that Blacks are obligated to be gentle to themselves. As with the attractive social media posts about self-care, Lewis-Giggetts argues that the acknowledgment of joy in the everyday is an act of resistance. One just has to look for it.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: 'Black Joy': Lewis-Giggetts' new book argues Black joy is resistance