Pursuit of Happiness by Joseph the Poet



“We hold these truths to be self-evident,
That all men are created equal,
That they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights,
That among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness”

The guy who wrote that held Black people captive and considered them property. His colleagues who signed it also held Black people captive and considered them property. The guy who wrote that has a monument to the National Mall. Coincidentally enough, so does Martin Luther King Jr.

I’ll let that speak for itself.

Perhaps we can’t build monuments to every Black person that’s been held captive in this country. We don’t have the stone. We don’t have the money.

And we don’t have the money to fix the pipes in Flint, and we don’t have the money to expand Medicaid, and we don’t have the money to send you on that trip because a housing crisis hit and your father, and I don’t the money because old rich white men weren’t rich enough. I’m sorry, son.

I’m sorry that I once heard someone I work for say that in HIV funding there are winners and there are losers.

But he didn’t have anything to say about why the losers are always poor Black people.

Black mother gives birth to Black baby and has the charge of making sure that Black baby becomes a Black adult and gets to live its Black life. Black father raises Black child from birth only to be murdered by the state in front of her eyes. Black child has to watch as 12 American citizens decide nobody is responsible for her father’s murder.

Black mother sends her child on a trip to see family and her baby returned in a casket, Black body so mangled and contorted that she’s a tad uncertain that she bore this Black body from her own Black womb.

Black mother has to decide between whether to grieve privately or publicly because oppression, police brutality, white supremacy, made the decision
To execute her child in the street.
Or on the sidewalk.
Or outside a convenience store.
Or at a park.
Or in an alley.
Or sleeping on the goddamn sofa.

How can we claim a pursuit of life
If we can be choked out on video?
How can I claim a pursuit of liberty
If my prison cell was being built
Before I was being taught my ABCs?
How can we pursue happiness
If we’re still pursuing survival?

Happiness can only exist where suffering does not. 

And all men cannot be created equal
If Black lives matter is considered an invitation to an argument.


Joseph the Poet is a Black queer Southern poet whose writing life began in Columbia, SC. Having been so lucky as to find his own tribe during his senior year at the University of South Carolina, he is proof that it doesn’t matter when you start writing, as long as you start. When not writing, Joseph loves playing video games, curating playlists, and working in HIV health equity. He can’t wait for the day “Black Lives Matter” ceases to be treated as a question, and LGBTQ people, particularly queer people of color, can exist in peace. Until then, he can be found with his pen and notebook in hand, or in the Notes app scribbling down ideas waiting to be born.


Also by Joseph the Poet:


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