Fig Tree Logo

Sounding Board

Expressing joy is a way to oppose oppression, hate

Gail Hammer  Photo courtesy of Gonzaga University

Gail Hammer, associate professor of law and coordinating attorney for the Gonzaga Law School's Clinical Legal Programs, believes that finding and expressing joy is a way to oppose oppression and hate.

In acknowledging the ancestral land of the Spokane Tribe in a workshop on "Joy as Resistance" for the recent International Conference on Hate Studies, she invited support of tribal sovereignty as a way to "reject generations of systemic erasure and genocide, and amplify Indigenous voices," she said.

"Indigenous existence is resistance," she said.

"Social change requires an array of approaches," Gail said. "Using expressions of joy doesn't downplay the negatives of oppression and hate."

Hate and hate speech as tools of oppression can keep people in fear, and when people are afraid, they are more easily controlled, she said.

Gail pointed out that tools of oppression sadden and depress people, leaving them depleted and discouraged. Fear can immobilize them and prevent effective action.

"Resistance to oppression requires liberating brain function from the primitive brain to create a path to the prefrontal cortex," she explained. "Joy facilitates that movement, inviting fluid, expansive thinking and facilitating effective action.

Gail suggested some techniques for choosing actions to facilitate joy, making joy possible in troubling times.

First, people can connect with joy by gathering those around who can share their inner joy and radiance. These people help create a home base as a place to recharge.

Second, people can find and engage their own source of joy, their own source of radiance. The arts and music can be powerful paths for choosing joy.

Gail then asked: "Who are your people? To whom do you belong?  Who helps you recharge? Who's on your side? Who lights up when they see you? What brings you joy? Drumming, running, dancing, researching, reading? What makes you lose track of time? What makes your heart sing?"

For help in identifying what brings one joy, she invited looking online for Martin Seligman's surveys on "authentic happiness."

She also invited finding alternative definitions of situations from those offered by oppressors using hate speech. 

"When people create their own definitions, they re-envision what a situation is. Joy can help," said Gail, using the idea of people pushing against each other's hands from the Alternatives to Violence Project.

If two people stand facing each other, with their palms against each other's palms, when the first person pushes against the second person's hands, the second person naturally pushes back. If, instead of pushing back, the second person changes the way their hands meet to a dancing position, sings a melody to dance to, and leads the first person in a dance, it redirects and redefines the pushing and adds an element of fun.

Another technique comes from the Honk Movement, which creates agents of social justice around the world.

Street bands with brass and percussion instruments go to events such as Martin Luther King Jr. marches. When people with bull horns spew hate speech, attempting to define the event as a hostile confrontation, the brass band defines the event as a concert, drowning out the hate speech. Their joyful noise dismantles the oppression.

"With connections to people and sources of joy, and the ability to redefine situations, people and groups can use joyful methods to develop resilience without giving in to distressing definitions of situations," she said.

"With connections to people and sources of joy, and with willingness to use joy to respond to hate speech and attempted oppression, people can develop the ability to resist and to redefine situations in ways that dismantle hate, and have fun doing it," said Gail.
Copyright@ The Fig Tree, January, 2022