Black Joy is History

bmeofficerKefeshe Bernard
pink and white background, with black woman in afro and words "Black joy is Liberation"

October is Black History Month in the UK, which I always found sort of strange. The change in seasons during these weeks is always a bit of a shock to the system. It’s strange because I slowly start to see myself and my friends withdraw ourselves from the community we know and love. Whether it's being swamped under mountains of work as term starts; taking more time for ourselves; or surrendering to the welcoming arms of seasonal depression once again. It has never felt like the right time to celebrate our ancestors, our history or our futures. 


But despite that, it's almost as though the melancholy of autumn and crisp air only serves to make Black joy shine even brighter. Yesterday afternoon, I was walking along Jesus Lane talking to my sister through my earbuds, my hands were wedged firmly under my arms, my college puffer wrapping around my layers of vest, t-shirt and sweater. As usual, I was wearing my headscarf wrapped tightly around my scalp, in an attempt to protect my locs from the cold, drying and moisture-sucking air outside. I was walking briskly, keeping my head up and pace fast to get home as soon as possible. In spite of all this, I found myself stopping in the middle of the pavement to laugh. My little sister had just made a joke that I simply could not ignore. Such a small moment reminded me of the immense beauty in Black joy. The way our laughter seems to stop time and take precedence over whatever was happening at the moment. The way Black people run or bend over when laughing. The way laughter amplifies our smiles so much that it can be heard from a mile away. It didn’t matter that I was cold and thinking that my melanin was not made for this country, all that mattered was a moment of joy and laughter shared between myself and my sister. 


This brings me to now. I’ve been thinking all day about what to write for my first blog post, wondering if I should take the time to highlight some of my favourite Black historical icons. Or perhaps frame it more as an “Agony Aunt”; of how Black History Month always seems to serve as a melancholy reminder of our ancestors' struggles and the struggles we continue to face today- constantly being undermined, overlooked and unheard. 


Instead, I want to focus on how important Black joy is in a space like Cambridge- who has a firm and undeniable history of oppression towards Black people. 


Joy’s Jollof Pot and Josh’s Bagels are just two examples of Black-owned student business coming from the brilliant hands of Black British Cantabs. Both of which demonstrate the importance of food to the Black community- allowing a space to provide love, nurturing and compassion to one another. My personal social media and conversations have been literally abundant with songs of praise towards these Black students. Sharing excitement for their entrepreneurship, or that it's the best thing you will ever taste, a real authentic experience in this here Cambridge. 


Or another example is, the queue for Gardies after an ACS “Fleek Thursday” night. Black faces grinning from ear to ear and sort-of-cold, sort-of-sweaty as they chatter loudly about the night's adventures. Featuring a few side glances at the walls, searching for a familiar smile or two among the pictures printed on those green and white tiles. ACS Club nights is also how I met a number of my close friends- laughing, dancing and singing along to the sounds of our people. This Black Joy is something so truly incredible to witness and always makes me feel so proud to be here. Taking up space, singing my songs and laughing loudly in the middle of these cobblestone streets and Hogwarts-esque buildings. 


So I think that’s what I want to take away from this Black History Month. That for many, history is not the things written down in books or government records. It's the memories of running and laughing until your stomach hurts in a community of like minded individuals. It’s the lingering feeling of sweat on your brow and bruises on your feet after dancing so much you forget what life is like without dance. It’s the little pockets of Black joy wound together with historical wins, losses and the everyday grind. 


Happy Black History Month to my Black people. Remember to take up space in this dusty, old white institution, because that is you making history.


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