A Black woman is smiling with pure joy in an off-the-shoulder yellow dress symbolizing joy as resistance in intersectional feminism

Resistive Joy: Sustaining Our Activism through Celebration

Resistance is the secret of joy

… wrote Alice Walker in her 1992 novel, Possessing the Secret of Joy Walker.

The reverse is also true — that the secret of joy is resistance.

Within the imperialist white supremacist capitalist cis-heteropatriarchy, we generate joy by defying dominator culture.

We generate joy by daring to love ourselves, to love our people and communities, and to love our cultures.

To insist on a better world built on that bold, brave, bodacious love.

I’ll first discuss the distinction between happiness and joy and show the lineage of joy as resistance, before showcasing the expressions of resistive joy I’ve collected.

What’s the Difference between Joy and Happiness?

Joy and happiness may sound like the same thing, but they have important distinctions.

Joy as understood in Black activist movements is often entwined with Biblical teachings. In Christianity, joy comes from God and is thus a settled orientation of the heart in alignment with the Spirit. Joy, unlike happiness, isn’t dependent on circumstances.

For education scholar Cynthia B. Dillard, joy for women of color requires three material, social, and spiritual conditions:

  • We feel joy when we feel visible and heard.
  • We feel joy when we feel respected.
  • We feel joy when we feel whole. 

Happiness, in contrast, is more muted. It’s about our ability to change perspectives in unpleasant situations and adopt a lighter energy.

Activist Brittany Packnett also distinguishes between joy and happiness. In a now-deleted tweet from 2017, she explains that “joy is resistance” and goes on to argue:

Oppression doesn’t have room for your happiness. You resist it when you find joy anyhow.

Happiness, then, can be a way to stick our heads in the sand and smooth over the unpleasantness of social injustice.

It might involve denying the violences faced by marginalized communities and trying to escape the pain of reckoning with the imperialist white supremacist capitalist cis-heteropatriarchy.

Joy is an act of resistance.

In a world that insists on our lack of humanity, our inferiority, our Otherness, our revolution starts with celebrating our cultures, our communities, our collectives, and ourselves.

Joy can co-exist with pain.

Joy can emerge alongside anger, alongside righteous rage.

Joy can accompany grief.

Related: All About bell hooks: A Visionary Feminist

In the rest of this post, I have collected some of the most joyous expressions of loving resistance I can find. Whenever you find yourself succumbing to sorrow, hopelessness, and despair, please return here and soothe your heart with these balms.


Speeches & Spoken Word


You can also follow the custom Spotify playlist full of beautiful defiance I played while writing my book by clicking on the image below.

spotify playlist joy as resistance
Click here to open the Joy As Resistance playlist in Spotify

Essays & Other Writings

Joy is one of the most irresistible ways we can challenge the imperialist white supremacist capitalist cis-heteropatriarchy.

May your struggle be powerful, soulful, and above all, joyful.

Pleasure is the point. Feeling good is not frivolous, it is freedom.

Adrienne Maree Brown, Pleasure Activism: The Politics of Feeling Good

Share This Joy

If you can think of someone who has been struggling with the injustices in the world around us, please consider sharing some joy by sending them a link to this post.

Thirteen people are dressed in beautiful colorful clothes and holding up a hand to the audience, representing the idea that joy as resistance should be shared within a community
Photograph by Dazzle Jam

Learn More

Cynthia B. Dillard (2019). To experience joy: Musings on endarkened feminisms, friendship, and scholarship. International Journal of Qualitative Studies in Education, 32(2), 112–117.

Jessica H. Lu & Catherine Knight Steele (2019). ‘Joy is resistance’: Cross-platform resilience and (re)invention of Black oral culture online. Information, Communication & Society, 22(6), 823–837

Featured image by Asa Duggar

Similar Posts