We need more ‘trauma-free Blackness.’ Here’s a start
I was scrolling through Facebook one evening when I noticed an odd image that someone had posted on my page. It was a screenshot of a solitary Black man on roller skates, freeze-framed in the middle of a country road flanked by horse pastures.
As I clicked on the video I braced myself, expecting to see a Black person being brutalized by police or accosted in public by White strangers. But that’s not what I saw.
The man flashed a wide smile and he started to dance. He had a gray beard, but he skated like someone 20 years younger: rolling his shoulders, shimmying his hips while Mary J. Blige sang “Not Gon’ Cry” in the background. Soon I was smiling, too.
The video had no caption, but I had a name for what I was watching: It was a snapshot of what I call “trauma-free Blackness.”
Here’s my wish for a new year: more trauma-free Blackness.
Last year was a rough one for most Black people. We watched videos of Black men being brutalized or killed and read about Black women fatally shot in their homes by police. We’ve watched a pandemic devastate our community. At times I, too, have felt exhausted by what one writer calls “the relentlessness of Black grief.”
But my boogie-down skater buddy reminded me of something I had almost forgotten: There is a Blackness that exists outside of trauma.
There are vast regions of Black life that have nothing to do with suffering or oppression. We lead lives that are also filled with joy, romance, laughter and astonishing beauty, but those stories don’t tend to grab the headlines. It’s time to change that.
What follows are my favorite examples of “trauma-free Blackness” — striking expressions of Black life that aren’t filtered through the lens of racism.
I also asked my CNN colleagues to join me in creating a list of our favorite trauma-free moments. To do so we pored through movies, TV, music, art, literature, internet memes and other slices of Black culture. It’s by no means an exhaustive list — just a good place to start.
This in no way means to minimize racism’s impact on Black people. I’m a Black journalist who believes such stories are needed now more than ever.
But Black lives should matter outside of trauma. Any true racial reckoning should acknowledge all of our humanity — not just when we’re dying.
These examples show why.
I’m proud of what one author called “the rugged endurance” of Black people. We’ve found a way to laugh, dance and create art of breathtaking beauty despite everything we’ve experienced. None of that resilience, though, would be possible if we hadn’t created a set of traditions that help us survive.
Credit: Evely Hockstein/The Washington Post/Getty Images
The magic of Black girls’ play — Black children weren’t always allowed the same freedoms as other kids on the playground, but witness the joys of Double Dutch. Here Taylor Blackwell, 9, jumps rope while her mom Danielle Blackwell and sister Jaelynn,12, turn on June 27, 2020, at Black Lives Matter Plaza in Washington, DC.
Credit: Joe Sohm/Visions of America/Getty Images
North Carolina A&T’s marching band performs during halftime of Howard University’s 93rd annual homecoming game in 2016 in Washington, DC.; an annual homecoming Greek Step Show competition, also at Howard University. Credit: Cheriss May/NurPhoto/Getty Images
Credit: Jose Carlos Fajardo/Bay Area News Group
Credit: From TwinsthenewTrend/YouTube
KD French sang lead AND backup for a song she wrote about how hard it is to keep off the pandemic pounds, left; rapper Conceited became a hugely popular meme for his reaction during a battle rap moment. Credit: KD French, From Ultimate Rap League/YouTube
Marcus Bridgewater, aka “Garden Marcus.” Credit: Dana Hammarstrom
Sometimes it feels like almost every Hollywood story about Black America is framed through the lens of anger, violence or despair. But these movies about Black people offer romantically, funny and inspiring alternatives.
Regina Hall, Jada Pinkett Smith, Queen Latifah and Tiffany Haddish, from left, in “Girls Trip.” Credit: Michele K. Short/Universal Pictures
Nia Long and Larenz Tate in “Love Jones.” Credit: New Line Cinema
Keke Palmer played a young spelling-bee champion in the 2006 film, “Akeelah and the Bee”; Tyler Perry as Madea, whose tough-talking character inspired a string of popular movies. Credit: Saeed Adyani/Lions Gate Films/The Tyler Perry Company
Tyler Perry’s “Madea” movies — Some say the “Madea” movies are modern-day minstrel shows that reinforce stereotypes about Black people. But Perry’s Madea is a character that many Black families can relate to: a sanctified matriarch who will quote the Bible to you one minute and spank you with a leather belt the next.
Micheal Ward and Amarah-Jae St. Aubyn in a scene from “Lovers Rock.” Credit: Amazon Prime
Beyonce performs at the 2018 Coachella Valley Music And Arts Festival in Indio, California. Credit: Larry Busacca/Getty Images for Coachella
Earth, Wind & Fire combined spiritual uplift with dance grooves to become one of the most popular soul groups of the 1970s; Stevie Wonder entertains students at the Dance Theater of Harlem in 1976. Credit: Michael Putland/Hulton Archive/Allan Tannenbaum/Archive Photos/Getty Images
Chance the Rapper performs at the 2017 Firefly Music Festival in Dover, Delaware. Credit: Kevin Mazur/Getty Images for Firefly
Jill Scott performs during the 2018 Essence Festival on July 6, 2018, in New Orleans. Credit: Paras Griffin/WireImages/Getty Images
Louis Armstrong blowing his trumpet in a publicity photo from 1960. Credit: Bettmann Archive/Getty Images
For decades roles for Black television actors were confined to criminals, nannies and characters “scratching and surviving.” Now many are thriving in roles and shows where racism and suffering are no longer center stage.
Lakeith Stanfield, Donald Glover and Brian Tyree Henry, from left, in an episode from Season 2 of “Atlanta.” Credit: Guy D’Alema/FX/Everett Collection
Raven-Symone, left, and Orlando Brown in an episode of “That’s So Raven.” Credit: Tony Rivetti/Disney
“Key & Peele’s” spoofs of college football player introductions have become classics. Credit: From Comedy Central
Issa Rae, left, and Jay Ellis in a scene from HBO’s “Insecure.” Credit: HBO
Some of the most famous books by Black authors focus on the tragic impact of racism. But there are Black writers in sci-fi, romance and other genres whose works transcend race.
Author N.K. Jemisin Credit: Laura Hanifin
Authors Octavia E. Butler, left, and Beverly Jenkins. Credit: AP, From Beverly Jenkins
Author E. Lynn Harris in 2008. Credit: John Bazemore/AP
One of the most popular slogans from the Black Arts Movement of the 1960s was “Black is beautiful.” No group has reinforced that message like Black visual artists, who have created some of the most gorgeous portrayals of Blackness. Now they’re finally getting the recognition, and museum space, that was denied to many of their predecessors.
Romare Bearden. The Street, 1964. Restricted gift of Artworkers Retirement Society. Credit: Romare Bearden Foundation. Licensed by VAGA at Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY.
Romare Bearden Credit: Anthony Barboza/Archive Photos/Getty Images
Harmonia Rosales’ “The Creation of God.” Credit: Harmonia Rosales
Jean-Michel Basquiat in 1985. Credit: Patrick McMullan/Getty Images
Credit: Kay Rufai
Correction: A previous version of this story contained a photo that misidentified “Deadly Sexy” author Beverly Jenkins. That image has been replaced.
Contributors: Illustrations for this story were done by CNN’s Gabrielle Smith. Photo editing by Rebecca Wright. Visual editing by Allie Schmitz. Animation by Melody Shih.
Jobber Wiki author Frank Long added to this report.