I was obsessed with Chance the Rapper after watching him live his unapologetic best life at the 2016 Video Music Awards on MTV. He stuck to my rib so much, I asked my managing editor, Danielle Belton, if I could write about him. She obliged my random request.
Not only did I write about Chance the Rapper’s unadulterated joy, but I also called out other young black men who exhibited a similar spirit.
Warning—I am about to quote myself:
The climate in America right now is hostile, to say the least. Black men are dying at the hands of authority figures, and witnessing #BlackBoyJoy is a rare, much-needed break from the tragic headlines and hashtags. And let’s be real—the world is highly critical of young black men who express joy. So I want to celebrate this idea that young black men can be happy, too.
And of course there were many critics of the word “boy” that was tucked between “black” and “joy,” which somehow rubbed them the wrong way. People were offended that I called young men like Usain Bolt, Jidenna, Donald Glover and Anderson .Paak “boy.” So then I had to defend my use of “boy”:
Black men rarely get the chance to revel in childhood or enjoy violence-free memories of making it home before the streetlights come on or spitting out sunflower seeds. Throughout history, our boys have been denied their childhood. When we learn about the stolen youth of Emmett Till, we’re reminded that young black boys are seen as men by society or, worse, as a threat. #BlackBoyJoy presents a teachable moment to social media that allows us to reclaim the innocence of black boyhood.
I realize the negative connotation around the word “boy” and recognize the racist history of its use by white supremacists throughout our dismal history. But I did not reach back to the 1800s and yank out the tongues of slave masters to taunt black men with the word “boy”; I wanted to remind all of us that there’s a beauty in black boyhood that’s often ignored and that our boys are forced to be men much too soon. This racist frame of mind is what killed children like Tamir Rice and Trayvon Martin.
So isn’t it obvious? We need #BlackBoyJoy, and the video above, part of The Root’s Out Loud series, will tell you why.