“Black Joy” – New Course at RIC

sadhana bery's course

RIC’s Africana Studies Program is committed to furthering the Black intellectual tradition that centers the study of Black life from the perspective of Black people.

A new course titled “Black Joy” was created by Assistant Professor and Africana Studies Program Director Sadhana Bery in response to the needs of Black students.  

“I would hear Black students in my classes express their weariness and despair because often the focus of Africana studies courses is on anti-Blackness and the structures of white supremacy in our society. They felt depleted when they considered the history and contemporary existence of Black people,” says Bery. “They lived through the Black Lives Matter movement and saw that even the largest Black social movement, which became a global movement, had not led to comprehensive racial justice. So I asked myself, ‘Where is the Black joy in these courses? Why don’t we ever focus on that?”

Throughout Black history, joy for African Americans has been grounded in freedom and self-determination, Bery says. This is an aspect of joy she brings forth in her new course.

“Freedom, self-determination and sovereignty have always been tied into the idea of Black joy,” she says. “During slavery, Black people fled to freedom and created their own maroon communities. During Jim Crow, many more left the South and created their own Black towns in Kansas, Oklahoma and the Midwest. During the 60s, groups such as the Black Muslims also formed communities.

“Black Joy is created in everyday life – in gatherings, storytelling, family cooking traditions, gardening, music, self-care . . . in a plethora of spaces,” she says.

“In fact, Black joy itself is a form of resistance to anti-Blackness,” says Bery. “It’s a refusal to let racism dictate your life.”

Bery asked her students to think about what Black joy means to them. Many of them said Black joy is being in a space with other Black women (all of the students in this particular course are Black and women). They said that they felt joy in not having to explain themselves.

Another student said Black joy is being free of other people’s judgments, including self-judgment.

Someone else found joy in connecting with the ancestors, while another found it through self-expression. These are just some of the responses of her students. Their main project will be to interview Black people across age groups, genders, sexuality and class about their experiences of Black joy. The students’ findings will become part of a display at the end of the semester.

“Ultimately, by the end of this course, I want my students to know that even in the most brutal conditions, African Americans did more than survive, they created joy,” Bery says. “If we look at Black life historically, we see the resilience of Black people, their strength and their refusal to be defeated. They created joy in whatever space possible in whatever way possible.”

Africana Studies faculty member
Assistant Professor Sadhana Bery

For more information on this and other courses in the Africana Studies Program, contact Assistant Professor and Africana Studies Program Director Sadhana Bery at sbery@ric.edu.

Established in 1972, the Africana Studies Program at Rhode Island College is one of the oldest Black studies programs in the New England area. RIC offers both a major and a minor in Africana studies, with an interdisciplinary curriculum that encompasses the social/behavioral sciences, humanities and the arts. Courses in the program enable students to gain both a historical and contemporary understanding of the variegated experiences of people of African descent throughout the world. Africana studies is an ideal field of study for students who aspire to careers in education, law, public policy, public health and social work.