After the monochromatic inauguration of Sir Trump Devoid of Funk, Penthouse Populist, Twitter Bully, and Bland Brand, I’m viscerally reminded, again, of how my pursuit of happiness remains contaminated by hypocritical contradictions, double-standards, embedded in America’s violent DNA.
Starting with Thomas Jefferson’s Declaration:
“…We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
Contrasted by his 1769 Virginia Gazette advertisement: “RUN away from the subscriber in Albemarle, a Mulatto slave called Sandy, about 35 years of age, ... Whoever conveys the said slave to me, in Albemarle, shall have 40 s. reward, if taken up within the county, 4 l. (pounds) if elswhere within the colony, and 10 l. if in any other colony”
So, Obama phases into Trump, and a mature African American man pledges to weather this current wave of hyper-masculinity, while holding these truths to be self-evident: I find absolutely nothing trifling about finding and maintaining happiness. I find my happiness absolutely nothing to trifle with. I will not let politics, history, or election results dictate or dilute my happiness.
I don’t mean happy-go-lucky, either, a Ben Carsonian update on minstrel do dah day. I mean happy. In stride. Synergies ringing like a vibraphone’s flourescent notes. Connecting to epic reasons for living as unique as fingerprints, and repping an inner fortitude and Fandango that catalyzes and inspires other folks, even when we’re all facing and negotiating drama, and the isht is hitting the fan.
What’s a happy Black man got to do with anything?
“The warriors we need to step forward now aren’t the confrontational kind, but healers,” insists cultural critic Greg Tate, in his essay, “Love and the Enemy,” from Flyboy in the Buttermilk. “Folk who know how to reach into where we really hurt, to the wounds we can’t see and that nobody likes to talk about. If Black male leadership doesn’t move in the direction of recognizing the pain and trauma beneath the rage ... if we don’t exercise our capacity to love and heal each other by digging deep into our mutual woundedness, then what we’re struggling for is merely the end of white supremacy — and not the salvaging of its victims.”
Remarkably, in this season of victims falling in Chicago, New Orleans, and other major American cities, as Trump blithely muses on why can’t nuclear weapons be used, I’m advocating and channeling insanely counter-intuitive questions: What would happy Black men mean to the African American community? How could happy Black men enrich American society? What does a happy Black man sound like? Think about? How does a happy Black man navigate life’s inevitable dramas and traumas? How could the meditations and musings of one happy Black man inspire happiness in other Black men? Who can teach Black men to be happy? When have we ever heard a Black man speaking candidly, creatively, spontaneously – and publicly – about his ‘pursuit of happiness’ and the importance of joy in his life?
I don’t want another brother to dismiss happiness, because ours has never been a national priority. I don’t want another dude to dismiss happiness as corny and unmanly and irrelevant to being real, because happiness has been designated and assigned and claimed as the exclusive domain of history’s philosophers, parchment, and patriarchs.
Frankly, I’m through reacting to the worst my society has to offer. I’ll still confront unjust power in the stylish, enduring manner of my ancestors and teachers. I’m able to maintain a molten core-joy while resisting racism in all its structural and interpersonal forms.
But I am prioritizing, embracing, craving and exploring my complex humanity as an African American man regardless of who’s president. I am a son, brother, father, grandfather. I am a lover, apprentice to wiser elders, straight man crafting brotherhood with my gay Homeboy. I am an orphan seeking affirmation after the deaths of my mother and father. I have confronted, survived, and transcended my youngest daughter’s rape by her Black stepfather. I am done with surviving. I’m done with Black History Month packaging. I’ve been ordained by anonymous, daily, often agonizing work, in search of timeless health and lasting jubilee.
Inspired by the imagination of Hugo Award-winning author N.K. Jemisin, I’m claiming, forecasting, a ‘Fifth Season’ of Black Male Joy. Jemison defines a Fifth Season as “an extended winter ... triggered by seismic activity or other large-scale environmental alteration.” Gil Scott-Heron called it ‘Winter in America,’ an extended season of being dangled between atrophied ‘unalienable’ rights and hungry bounty hunters.
I’m envisioning a Fifth Season of Joy, a large-scale alteration in the ecology of Black Men. A new season that still defines freedom as a refusal, a resistance, an alert engagement, with what’s wrong in the world, but also has us learning to tap our inner Briar Patch of emotional power and potential and unique beauty, which has been, at worst, beaten out of us, and, at best, tainted as taboo for Black men.
I’m charged by a line I cribbed from an Earth Wind and Fire song --“… if there ain’t no beauty, you gotta make some beauty.” I’m consoled by a ferocious humanity at the crossroads of creation & death. I’m down when a righteous fist is needed. But it’s hard making beauty with clenched fingers. It’s time to just know what needs be known. A happy Black man could be a Big Bang of rearranged molecules. H2O on it! Harris to the second power.
I’m conjuring The Black Man of Happiness. I’m casting my counter-spell to violence in a vital voice of ecstatic insight. No promises. No easy answers, prescriptions, pre-packaged advice whispered in the voice of a meditation teacher or scolding librarian. The Fifth Season of Joy will value whatever my volume, comprise unique celebrations, and culminate in an Oral History of Happiness echoing across time.
A happy Black man? Oxymoron? Democratic slaveholder? President Trump? En garde avant garde!
Peter J. Harris
Peter J. Harris is the author of The Black Man of Happiness: In Pursuit of My ‘Unalienable Right,’ which won the American Book Award in 2015. Writing from Los Angeles, Harris is founder of The Black Man of Happiness Project, www.blackmanofhappiness.com, a creative, intellectual and artistic exploration prompted by one elemental question: What is a happy Black man?