The Audacity of Black Pleasure


by Jallicia Jolly


I adore Detroit summers. The calm of the crisp summer breeze creates a soothing serenity. The cacophony of laughter, music, and car horns filled my ears while strolling down the river walk with my friend. As I reveled in the joy of witnessing black and brown pleasure, I remembered how revolutionary these public expressions of love are amidst tides of hate and violence.


Suddenly, my friend and I noticed a crowd gathered around the parking lot. Tow trucks, police officers, and families filled the space of the open lot for what seemed to be a massive towing event. It was a public spectacle!


“It looks like they’re towing all those vehicles,” my friend exclaimed. As I nodded in astonishment, my wide eyes wandered to the bike holder on a silver 2006 Ford Fusion that was gradually lifted onto one of the trucks. “That’s your car!” I yelled in disbelief. My friend raced across the pavement and towards the crowd. I followed.



With focused dedication, the workers of the towing company lifted at least 10 vehicles. As we approached the tow truck driver, he explained that the city hired him to pick up cars “illegally parked” near the river walk. After accepting my friend’s frantic plea to pay the cost ($200) to receive her car, the workers released the vehicle. They chuckled as one joked: “do I get to have $50 out of this?” I cringed.



I felt incomplete as I saw sullen black and brown faces while driving away. The assaults on pleasure meant more than just no more fun. It meant no transportation to home and work. It meant possible unemployment. In the context of constrained income and an increasingly dehumanizing carceral state, it meant arrest for minor offenses. “That was the money I just worked for today,” stated my friend.


I thought about witnessing working class people enjoying the suffering of other working class people. I pondered the psychic toll that arises from such explicit and implicit acts of terror that occur alongside quotidian activities such as parking, driving, and playing music. I wondered how marginalized people could develop a sense of community that moved beyond the deep feelings of non-belonging in a world that tells you that you are not deserving of pleasure.



Black pleasure is a political act in the era of anti-black (& poor) state sanctioned violence. It is more important than ever to secure healing spaces that revive spirits as they uplift souls. As I’ve learned, calls to embrace black joy become revolutionary in the wake of the dehumanization of the militarized carceral state.

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