The #OptimisticChallenge dances in the face of adversity

On Chance the Rapper, #BlackBoyJoy and staying positive.

Kathryn Schultz

In an increasingly gloomy social and political climate, the newest viral challenge is a rare act of optimism.

On Jan. 12, Jay Versace — a teenage comedian who gained acclaim on Vine — tweeted a video of himself and some friends joyfully dancing to an R&B track. The song was “Optimistic” — a 1991 single from local Twin Cities ensemble Sounds of Blackness. The video was captioned “2017 GOT ME FEELING LIKE,” and featured the four teens enthusiastically grooving to lyrics like, “No matter how hard reality seems / Just hold onto your dreams,” and “Don’t give up and don’t give in / Although it seems you never win.”

The two-minute-long video has garnered over 140,000 likes and 87,000 retweets. One Twitter user dubbed it the “#OptimisticChallenge.”

The trend gained more traction days later, when Chance the Rapper tweeted a video of himself,fellow artists KYLE and SuperDuperBrick and two other friends doing the challenge.

Back in August, Chance tweeted a picture of himself posing at the VMA’s with the caption “#BlackBoyJoy.” The hashtag blew up, and soon other young, black men shared pictures of themselves being carefree and happy in a country that often criminalizes and targets them.

A happy, carefree attitude is typical of the hip hop wunderkind; when Chance raps, it often sounds like he’s smiling. He wrote a hit song about his love for his grandmother, and don’t even get me started on his verse in “Ultralight Beam.”

The socal media hashtags #OptimisticChallenge and #BlackBoyJoy inspire black youth to counter static, harmful stereotypes, and allow them to add breadth to their individual identities. These types of self-expression are undeniably powerful; the hashtags aren’t just fun trends: they’re political statements.

The uplifting power of these trends give people of color a channel to display self-love and hopefulness, which is important to recognize and praise in a political climate overwhelmingly saturated with oppression.

With all of this in mind, the #OptimisticChallenge is decidedly not for white people, including myself. We can dance to “Optimistic” — it’s a really good song — but participating in this trend isn’t for, or about, us. Instead, be inspired by the act of being joyful in spite of everything, use your privilege to actively fight structures of racism and discrimination and do what you can to promote joy.

In a culture that revolves around technology, it’s easier than ever to share ideas with millions of people, which make movements bigger and faster. Let’s support the ones that promote positivity. As the song says: “Keep pushing on and don’t you look back.”