Joy & Caution: The Complicated Happiness I’m Feeling As A Black Woman

If you are struggling with “joy and,” it’s alright. It will be a long time before we no longer have to view joy alongside heavier feelings.

Just like 2020, the election felt extra and much longer than it should have. With the results came a breath. We’d been afraid to take it for so long that we almost forgot how it felt to not be holding it in. But after that breath came a realization of too many things all at once.

Black people, in moments of what might be joy for some, never seem able to experience joy on its own. It is always mixed with something that makes it heavy instead of euphoric. It is joy and more work, joy and fear, joy and caution — always “joy and.” This election was no different. We were stuck in between two candidates that didn’t particularly find us important and essentially were left to decide between the devil we were familiar with and the unknown.

We were hesitant with this joy. It came after months of Black women risking their lives and their sleep to organize voters in parts of southern states that are often deemed wastes of time. The election fell into Joe Biden’s lap after Indigenous organizers trekked hours off of reservations together to vote at the nearest polls. Elderly Black people cast what might be their final votes, putting this election over their health — considering coronavirus is still very much raging. Latinx organizers rallied new voters in states where they are the majority but only acknowledged in negative terms. Young people were at the forefront of the fight despite having been told the entire election that what they wanted in a candidate was simply too much to ask for. And we got this: a moderate democrat who is still very behind on some of our most pressing issues. After the win, minimal credit was given to people who spent their time making this win feasible without a paycheck, people who more than earned it.

The night the win was announced, there were protests on the streets both by angry Trump supporters and Black Lives Matter organizers. The combination of simultaneous protests both by racists and oppressed groups highlighted all the hurdles that we haven’t successfully crossed. At the end of the election, we still have to come to terms with just how many people proudly screamed how much they hate us. We were also faced with the number of individuals that saw how much pain was caused over the course of the past four years and happily voted for four more.

Immediately after the results were confirmed, we were warning each other to stay safe while celebrating out of fear of retaliation by angry white people. It was a win, but it wasn’t the win that we needed. It was a win, but it didn’t mean that the fighting stopped. We were still struggling with the past that is Joe Biden and Kamala Harris’ career history. It has not completely left our minds that many of the policies they enforced and cosigned earlier on tore through Black neighborhoods and were exceptionally punitive. They are responsible for pain in a number of oppressed communities — too many to count. We were torn between holding them accountable and hoping that they have changed enough that we will be able to continue to get through to them.

Joy around this presidency felt too premature. After all, how do you celebrate when homegrown terrorists have taken their hoods back off and will be blending back into the background? At least with Donald Trump in office, they were front and center at all times; we knew who we would not be safe around. We barely made it through 24 hours of election results before influencers began demanding we extend an olive branch to both the Trump family and their followers. Trump supporters were being humanized in a way that they had never humanized us. Black people were asked to be sympathetic — forever the bigger people, even when it was our humanity many of Trump’s supporters disagreed with. It was joy and emotional labor. We were being asked to forget they had ever put our lives at risk for the sake of our country — the same country that we ultimately rescued from the brink of destruction despite it never viewing us as valid parts of it.

While we brace for the remainder of the year from hell and the transition into this new presidency, I, like many others, have had to remind myself that I am allowed a multitude of emotions at this time. Knowing that there is so much fighting left to do is hard to grapple with. I wish that this election had meant the end of it all, but there is no good magic attached to the end of our ballots.

There is no reason to extend forgiveness or olive branches or grace to anyone that made a point to denounce our existence with their whole chest. There are many reasons why the United States seems to encounter the same problems over and over again. When things are terrible, we try our best to forget it ever happened, regardless of who was hurt or who we lost during that time. But in forgetting, we seal our fate. How are we to move on if we don’t appropriately address the many ways our lives were affected? How do we change or grow without calling out everyone we knew (be they family members, acquaintances, or the like) who was complicit in hatred and bigotry? As uncomfortable as it may feel, there is no way to bring us together without staring our country in the face and seeing all the racist, classist, xenophobic, sexist, misogynistic, and ableist foundations that keep us stagnant. We owe that to ourselves and to all the wonderful people who were lost who didn’t have to be. We have the opportunity to be better, and we shouldn’t squander that.

If you are struggling with “joy and,” it’s alright. It will be a long time before we no longer have to view joy alongside heavier feelings. We are complex, and we shouldn’t punish ourselves for not being simple in a country that is complex. I hope we will be pleasantly surprised in the first 100 days of Joe Biden’s presidency and that we won’t have to fight for as much as we are currently imagining we will. If that is not the case, however, it won’t be anything we haven’t already faced before.

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