In the struggle against oppression, against inequality, ‘killing joy’ and going beyond ‘happiness’ is incredibly important. In a sense, being involved in a struggle against oppression means being involved in a struggle against happiness. In this blog post I make an attempt at explaining why.
It’s a national holiday. You’re at a family dinner party back home. Even though you don’t really like these type of social gatherings, you’re trying to enjoy the festivities. The mood is lively, liquor is being poured and jokes are being cracked. In the midst of the warm, cozy, homily atmosphere, your distant cousin, whom you really only see once a year at one of these gatherings, drops that one comment about women, queers and/or people of color (henceforth POC). You, trying to be a good person (whatever that may mean), point out to that cousin that they shouldn’t say that. “Come on! It’s a joke! Don’t be such a buzzkill… don’t act like a killjoy”, they say, “you’re ruining the mood!”. You, trying to defend your argument, are met with rolling eyes and uncomfortable laughs in an attempt to shoot down your arguments. C’est la vie d’un killjoy.
What is a ‘killjoy’? A ‘killjoy’ is someone who spoils the pleasure and happiness of others. A ‘killjoy’ is someone who brings up problems and issues intertwined with the happiness of others. It’s a branding of those whom associate themselves with feminism and anti-racism. It’s a diagnosis in which feminism and anti-racism are labeled as ‘melancholic attachments’. Killjoys are seen as ‘holding on to’ things of the past, as if, by not mentioning obstacles, that these obstacles would disappear magically. It is presumed that sexism and racism are things of the past, it is presumed that these are foreign to us. It is as if mentioning these obstacles, that feminists and anti-racists are putting these obstacles in place. As if we are in our own way.
This move of being blamed as a destroyer of happiness, a ruiner of mood, is something feminists and anti-racists face on a daily basis. According to Sara Ahmed, being involved in a struggle against oppression, is in a sense being involved in a struggle against happiness. Feminist critiques of the ‘happy housewife’, Black critiques of ‘the happy slave’, queer critiques of heterosexuality as ‘domestic bliss’, disturbing these images of happiness, disturbing these fantasies, means disturbing happiness. A happiness that we were never allowed. A happiness that was refused to us. Being oppressed asks of us to show signs of happiness, to smile in the face of the oppressor, to comply with whatever is asked from us, to show docility. In the words of Fred Moten and Stefano Harney, we have to refuse what has been refused to us.
What does it mean to refuse a refusal? Moten and Harney phrase it as a refusal of what was ‘first refused to us’ and through this refusal ‘reshape desire, reorient hope, reimagine possibility’ and, most importantly, ‘do so separate from the fantasies nestled into rights and respectability’. But, what was refused to us? It goes without saying that the list is endlessly long, modernity and coloniality have erased and displaced many things, and in doing so refused them to us. One of these many things is the ambiguous concept of ‘happiness’. Happiness has been, and still is, refused to us through many ways. This refusal has to be refused. We have to refuse this refusal. By refusing this refusal we disturb the fantasies of happiness, the happiness that is experienced in spite of us, of women, of queers and of POC. The golden laminated happiness created and being uphold by modernity, through the extraction, displacement, erasure and refusal of the oppressed, has to be refused. By refusing this we disturb ‘happiness’, by refusing this we are labeled as ‘killjoys’.
Being a killjoy means being in the hold. In the break, entering and reentering the (broken) world in an attempt to join it. The hold is ‘the hold in the slave ship’, the hold is ‘the hold we have on reality and fantasy’, the hold is the space of ‘the commons, the fugitive, matricidal, queer’. The hold is in ‘the cistern, on the stroll of the stolen life’, the life stolen by modernity and stolen back. The hold has a hold on us, and we have a hold on the hold. Residing in the hold means siting on the fold, on le pli, it means ‘holding on to’ what is presumed as not having a ‘hold on us’ anymore. And by doing so hold the institutions accountable that reproduce that which is holding us down, that which has a ‘hold on us’.
I’m well aware that by writing this I’m ‘killing the joy’ of the blog. ‘Ruining’ its joyful aesthetic. But I hope, by now, you see why it’s important to ‘kill joy’ and why it’s important go beyond ‘happiness’. Going beyond ‘happiness’ in our pursuit of dealing with oppression. As Sara Ahmed puts it, we should be ‘willing to cause unhappiness even if unhappiness is not [our] cause’, we should be ‘willing to cause unhappiness by not making happiness [our] cause’. We should refuse what was refused to us.
- Ahmed, Sara. Living a Feminist Life. Duke University Press, 2017.
- Harney, Stefano, Moten, Fred. The Undercommons: Fugitive Planning & Black Study. Minor Compositions, 2013.
- Mignolo, Walter. Walsh, Catherine. On Decoloniality. Concepts, Analytics, Praxis. Duke University Press, 2018.
Zouhair Hammana is a PhD candidate at the department of Media and Communication. His PhD research focusses on the engagement of teachers and students with cultural diversity.