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The Brooklyn Rail

SEPT 2020

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SEPT 2020 Issue
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Black Joy Is Not Canceled

“Could you show me how to use the asthma pump?” In the wake of COVID-19 this was probably not a question a nurse wanted to hear, but it was a genuine question that warranted some support. I had never used an asthma pump and my newly diagnosed bronchitis had made breathing hard. Needless to say, I received no assistance. Returning to the doctor a week and a half later with shortness of breath, I was told I had the symptoms of COVID-19 and was then asked “Would you like to take a COVID test?” In the back of my mind, I was scared of this question, but I also knew that it was better to know than to walk around with a heaviness in my chest that was different than anything I had ever experienced. I mean, there were fatalities all over the world, of course I wanted to take a test. But then I paused and wondered, “Would this be a question if I were not living in this Black body?”

On Easter Sunday before our family’s Zoom call, I got word that I tested positive for COVID-19. An avid rule abider (except for when folx in schools are not doing right by Black and Brown children), I was confused, hurt, and scared to death. While Black Twitter affectionately renamed COVID-19 “Rona” I recounted every single place I had been to make sense of how I could have possibly gotten it. 800 miles away from everything I knew and loved, I would have to fight in a way that I had never fought before. Frustrated weeks prior because my mother encouraged me to stay in Athens, GA during spring break, I was happy that I had not returned to New York. This could have been even more detrimental as I could have gotten my parents sick.

For exactly one month, COVID lived in this Black body. Petrified of the news and the many Black bodies that Rona took for ransom, I had to shut everything off for my sanity. As I tried to conjure up the strength to finish my first year in a PhD program—breathing difficulty, loss of smell, on and off fevers—I received strength from my community, the US Postal Service, and Amazon. Though Amazon operates within the confines of White supremacist capitalist patriarchy, it was my only hope for receiving countless bottles of Fiji water, a humidifier, Mucinex, Vicks vapor tablets, zinc, elderberry, vitamin C, ice packs, Tylenol, peppermint oil, ginger tea, and anything else that Lisa Dunn (my mama) could send through the mail.

Nevertheless, I (we) prevailed. My community—old co-workers, family members, classmates, and professors at my current institution—were with me every step of the way. Some three swabs to the back of my nostrils and antibody tests later, I was reminded how incredibly grateful I am to have been blessed with such amazing people in my life. Though the experience was painful, it was joy filled. Joy was in conversation with my Hollywood-actor godbrother who discouraged mucus producing foods. To this day I remind him that he sent dirt through the mail for me to drink, but it helped. Joy was a good friend sitting on the hood of her car outside my door so I would not feel lonely. Joy was a bachelorette party via Zoom with my girls. Joy was still being able to attend class with my dynamic advisor and our after class check-ins to make sure I was okay. Joy was my little sister’s playlist. I got up some days and danced to keep my lungs clear. Laying on my back was not advised. Joy was late night phone calls with my best friend after she worked tirelessly at the hospital. Joy was my lungs opening up every time I laughed via Facetime. Joy was writing about Black girls and the importance of access to an education that is steeped in history, healing, and healthy relationships.

Warrior poet, Audre Lorde, reminds us that the erotic is that which is deeply rooted. The erotic of joy is at our core, not something that can be taken away, but something that we must tap into to survive and resist. While experiencing COVID I had to dig deep to recalibrate and recenter myself. This Black girl body found joy in all the pain, all the media coverage, all the fatality. As we continue to move through this pandemic, hypocrisy, and plantation capitalism, we must know that Black joy is not canceled and it is this same joy that has brought us this far. We have and always will resist. I am a witness and a believer that joy will carry us all through, WE WILL WIN because our joy is our justice.

Athens, GA


Damaris Dunn

Damaris Dunn is a native New Yorker and educator, currently pursuing a doctoral degree at the University of Georgia?s Mary Frances Early College of Education. Her research interests are educational equity and Black girl joy.


The Brooklyn Rail

SEPT 2020

All Issues