A few days ago I was so inspired by Chance the Rapper’s unfiltered and unwavering joy during MTV’s Video Music Awards that I had to write about it. And after chatting, my co-workers and I came up with the idea to hashtag #BlackBoyJoy. This tag already existed on social media, often used at the ends of posts from folks sharing adorable pictures of their young black sons smiling, playing with water hoses, attending their first football game, graduating and more.
I decided that the hashtag could use a resurgence and attached it to Chance the Rapper and a list of young black entertainers who all share one thing—joy. This hashtag is a celebration of black childhood and the innocence of it. 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.
According to the American Psychological Association, young black men are considered threats at an earlier age. “Our research found that black boys can be seen as responsible for their actions at an age when white boys still benefit from the assumption that children are essentially innocent,” said author Phillip Atiba Goff, Ph.D., of the University of California, Los Angeles.
There is such a thing as black children being innocent and joyful despite society’s constant need to remind us that our young men scare it. #BlackBoyJoy is about the young men who play Nintendo and kickball, and those who kick it on the street corner and the front stoop. Despite what society and police who have occupied our neighborhoods claim, those kids aren’t always “up to no good.” Those innocent black youths exist, too. #BlackBoyJoy is a celebration of smiling, laughter and joy at a time when our people are dying in the same streets on which they live.
Black boys deserve to be happy; they deserve more than a hashtag alerting us that they’ve been killed by police in a city near you. And if social media allows us to spread a message of black positivity to the masses, then we’re going to strap a hashtag to a catchy phrase and keep sharing. Black boys deserve to celebrate their innocence before society forces them to be men; and black men deserve the chance to embrace their boyhood without a history of racist oppression hanging over their memories.
We love you black men. We love the boys you were and the boy that still lives in each of you.
Check out the beautiful celebration of #BlackBoyJoy here!