For Everyone Who Dares to Be Happy
I’m still reeling from Oprah’s Golden Globes speech, and so are millions of others. It was the kind of speech we most closely associate with Barack Obama; one in which someone speaks truth to power in a direct but respectful and elegant way. From racial inequality to sexual harassment in Hollywood to the freedom of the press, Ms. Winfrey danced from one heavy topic to another with the kind of ease only someone with over 30 years of television experience could exhibit. At a time when we’re often divided about everything, Oprah gave us a moment to come together.
People were so swept up in the current of emotion they started speculating about a 2020 presidential campaign. We’re so starved for eloquent public speaking that we, as a public, latched our liberal hopes onto Oprah almost immediately. But we weren’t allowed to stay in that hopeful place for very long.
Megyn Kelly immediately questioned the effectiveness of the night’s speeches and the sea of black dresses. A meme started circulating about Oprah. It had two pictures: the top showed a victorious Oprah clutching her Cecil B. Demille lifetime achievement award, a quote from her speech splashed across the bottom half: “Our culture is broken by brutally powerful men”. Below it, a photo of her planting a kiss on Harvey Weinstein’s cheek, from a Globes ceremony of years’ past, with the caption, “…like this one?”; it’s a photo that almost every woman in that Globes audience probably has, given Weinstein’s reckoning is still fairly recent news. The Guardian went after her “neoliberalism”.
There was an immediate attempt to discredit her, something I’m sure she’s used to as a black woman in a white male-dominated industry. Oprah likely brushed it off as she made her way back to her sprawling Hawaii estate with Stedman. But the immediate attacks bothered me. I’m a fan of Oprah, I won’t lie, and if I saw her name on a 2020 ballot in competition with Donald Trump, you don’t even have to guess which candidate I would choose.
However, what irritates me about this situation has nothing to do with Oprah, and everything to do with this culture of outrage and hypercriticism that begins almost immediately after anything, positive or negative, happens. It seems, at every turn, there’s someone waiting around the corner to suck the joy out of everything, literally everything. If you want to enjoy a moment, and you want that feeling of euphoria to last more than a few minutes, no matter how slight, you can’t share it online.
How can a person find happiness in a society dominated by so many opinions, so much talking, so much negativity? I guess you either ignore it or you give in.
I got married October 21, 2016, two and a half weeks before Decision 2016, and then ventured off to Europe for two weeks the same month Trump became the 45th President of the United States. I was leaving for two weeks to celebrate my marriage, to inaugurate my new life journey. But it was also convenient timing; I was fleeing what I knew would be a tumultuous, and at times unbearable, year.
Getting married during the 2016 presidential campaign season was like trying to bake a cake during an earthquake, like trying to run a marathon with a sprained ankle, like taking part in a job interview during an Imagine Dragons concert. I deserved to be happy but the only way to do it was to block out everything around me.
My husband and I spent our honeymoon in Europe, 2 weeks drinking, eating, and touring our way through London, Paris, Amsterdam, and Berlin. The last night in Berlin, we met up with one of my college friends, Chris, at Monkey Bar, the chic lounge overlooking the Berlin Zoo, atop the 25 Hours Bikini Hotel. Before we went in, we stopped at a Christmas Market out front and nibbled on cake pops from a local baker. Two weeks after we got home, a terrorist drove a truck through that same market, killing 12 people and injuring 56 others. I had tried, pretty successfully, to block out the negative, but it seemed hell bent on finding me and stomping over my positive memories, seeping into the parts of my life that had remained unscathed by everyone else’s fury. On an extreme level, this is what the last year has been like; moments of pure joy and discovery juxtaposed with anger, sadness, and at some points, death.
You could say I was living in a bubble. Not the online echo chamber kind of bubble, where I was boosted through each day on the power of reinforced liberal beliefs and think pieces and support. But a bubble in which my happiness was impenetrable. In which I got angry about unarmed black men being killed by police but thought “that wasn’t my experience”. In which I was infuriated by outright discrimination against POC and LGBTQ people but I thought “that wasn’t my experience”. I felt the pain but I didn’t know it on a personal level. So, subconsciously, I felt removed from it, and thus, it was easier not to think about it.
But a run-in with a racist in my building, my safe space, jolted me awake. Popped that bubble. It reminded me that though I’m a husband and a solotrepreneur and a doting son, and I try my best to radiate and attract positivity in almost everything I do, there are instances where I’ll always be seen as black first, everything else second. That’s a reality lingering over everything in this era. This black cloud of difference. This feeling of inferiority, not self-imposed, that I’ve refused to acknowledge. It punctuates date nights, and career breakthroughs, and movies, and afternoon walks, and dinners in the West Village. It even affects my marriage.
That run-in with the racist was a collision bound to happen, because I’d been outrunning reality. I’d dared to be happy in 2017, and it seemed 2017 just wasn’t having it. I had to get angry about something, and there, in the final months of the year, I was gifted with a reason to fume, rant, and join the livid chorus.
For anyone who’s ever been married, the first year is hard. You start to realize that all those idiosyncrasies you’d previously written off are now a permanent force in your life. Your expectations of your partner shift and change, and you go through a sort of metamorphosis as you try to hold onto yourself and find your place in your relationship. But even as nuanced and difficult as that sounds, it’s actually a lot of fun, and outside of my career and my creative writing, that’s where I chose to focus my energy.
Actually, I had a lot to be grateful for, to celebrate in 2017. Aside from crossing the one-year mark in my union, my freelance career continued to grow, I could see the light at the end of the tunnel with my first fiction novel, I learned more about my health than I’d ever learned before, and this was probably the year I’d been the most consistent with working out and eating well. I made lots of great contacts. I created lots of great new memories.
Yet still, anger was never far behind me.
Because there was so much to be angry about. Not within my home, not between my husband and I, but between the world and me. Things were going horribly wrong in Washington, D.C., and thus on Twitter, and internationally. I often wondered if I had the right to get excited about date night at a new French restaurant in SoHo when people were losing their rights or perhaps even my own rights were in danger?
The overwhelming consensus is that no, I shouldn’t get excited about that restaurant. People should not have been happy last year. Tired, frustrated, enraged, borderline infatuated with Trump, these were all acceptable social positions. But happiness? As far as 2017 is concerned, that was a foreign concept.
I’ve never been one to defend Taylor Swift, and it likely won’t happen beyond this very paragraph, but she caught a lot of flak for an Instagram post in which she talked about how wonderful her 2017 was. Immediately, the Twitterverse dragged her, the chorus chimed in. “How can you be happy when x tragedy is happening?” I get what they’re saying but their logic is faulty. If we were to miss out on happy moments because someone somewhere was having misfortune, we would never be afforded an opportunity for happiness. That’s martyrdom. People are always suffering—it’s not okay, it’s actually quite awful. But what can we do aside from being outraged, upset, unrestrained tweeters? The way people attacked Swift, that’s what I feared would happen if I shared my high points of 2017. So, I kept it all to myself, and instead looked ahead to 2018.
But it’s dangerous, to deny yourself joy because someone else doesn’t have it. Do you forgo your paycheck because there are poor people in America? Do you skip dinner because people are hungry? No, you collect your check because you still need to pay your bills. You sit your ass at the dinner table because your body needs nutrition. Well, guess what? Your soul needs nourishment too, and you can’t starve it because other people have opted out or have been denied those benefits.
Over the holiday break, I tweeted a CNN article about Obama’s radio interview with Prince Harry. In it, he spoke about the downsides of social media. “One of the dangers of the internet is that people can have entirely different realities. They can be cocooned in information that reinforces their current biases.” I thought it was a poignant warning, one that any of us could identify with, regardless of what we believe. But it only took 3 or 4 retweets before the Obama hate showed up in my mentions. I was able to enjoy that article for about .5 seconds before Twitter ruined it.
It’s Oprah’s speech, it’s my memory of cake pops at the Christmas market, an article about Obama, my building, anger keeps testing my resolve.
I still dare to be happy, this time with my eyes and ears open. It’ll be harder. As I write this, I’m trying not to get angry about an unpleasant email exchange that stunk up my afternoon.