When we were little, my sister and I would get into fits of laughter — what my mother lovingly called “a case of the giggles.” “Looks like someone’s got a case of the giggles,” she’d say with a small laugh in her voice, as if it were some strange and easily curable disease.
Something would inevitably set one of us off and we’d spend the next hour trying not to look at each other, knowing that the slightest glance of a smile on the other’s face would send us back into an uncontrollable giggling frenzy. My mother would peek over the rim of her glasses, simultaneously skeptical of and delighted by our bouts of unexplainable laughter. “What are you girls laughing at?” She’d ask, not expecting an answer. More often than not, we couldn’t have given her one if we tried. We had gone so far down the rabbit hole of our delight that we could no longer identify its origin.
To be Black is to know this kind of incomprehensible joy — to be able to conjure, from somewhere, the strength to feel good, when the capacity to do so, in the face of everything, feels like an unexplainable miracle. These moments with my sister are some of my fondest memories. They feel like something to hold on to, to return to, or, at least, to try. What it does mean, now, to claim a joy so deep and full-bodied that — for a moment — you cannot think of anything else?
In the past few years, being Black has meant choosing survival, again and again. It has meant, to borrow a phrase from Hafiz, staying close to anything that makes you glad you’re alive.
The strength of being Black in this lifetime is knowing how to stay as close to your joy as you do your grief — claiming your right to pleasure with the same fervor you claim your right to rage. When I talk to a sisterfriend on the phone — one member of my chosen family, my tribe — we laugh loud and hard, indulge in this ritual of release until our breath has to run stumbling alongside us to catch up. This is gift of survival in this body: laughter becomes protest, feeling good becomes a gentle riot; joy: an ancient rebellion — another way to say, “I am so glad you’re alive.”
Jamila Reddy is a queer black woman from the South. Each of these identities informs the other and she likes to think, talk and write about how.