Imagining a Black Future - Cultivating their own Black Future
The following are remarks from a talk for the African Diaspora LLC, Afrofuturism series at Elon University
If I asked you to close your eyes and imagine the next 10 years,
what would it look like?
Would the world exist?
Would you exist?
What would you do?
Who would you be?
How will you rest in this world?
These questions are weighty in this present age. It feels weird to think so far out in COVID-19 world.
With systems and governments literally pushing us back to the death dealing system that is capitalism, it is hard to consider the future with today being so perilous.
However, for those who are Black
whose ancestors navigated slavery and colonialism,
imperialistic visions of assimilation and survival logics,
And the ritualistic sacrifices of state sanctioned and enforced policing and violence,
this is not a new phenomenon for us.
We, who engage in confessional Blackness,
that is a sociopolitical orientation that reject the prevailing anti-Blackness that attempts to usurp our imaginations and self-concept, those who understand Blackness as an ontological and phenomenological mosaic that exists outside of one space, one locality, or one type of translation or performance.
For those of us who are elevated in our Black consciousness,
WE are grounded in the legacy of conjuring a future despite the challenges.
When John invited me to come and speak with you about the imagining a Black Future and the personal commitment to creating Black futures, I thought about who are the ultimate manifesters and dreamers that I knew.
Who creates and constantly challenges us to consider the limits that we place on our imaginations?
And my mind went to the ultimate sages, seers, and prophets: Black Queer Folks. No offense to our cis-het siblings, I know that I call the names of the usual uplifted Black heroes and icons. However, when I think about what a Black Future means, I often look at the margins of our queer siblings who tend to have one foot in the world and one foot into what the future could be.
To tell the truth, Black Futures have always been made possible by Black Queer folks challenging us to dream and re-calibrate our imaginations to be more expansive.
Seers like Pauli Murray whose life work broke barriers in law and religion. Pauli Murray envisioned a world in which there was a pure sense of community. Murray spoke of the tension of hope in the midst of strife but truly believe that they could travail and make room for legacies of lawyers, professors, and priests to see the possibility of not only being in the room but changing the world by their mere presence,
Visionaries like Bayard Rustin who orchestrated one of the greatest displays of political action in the 60s and pushed his colleagues and counterparts to include all Black people in the dream for equality,
Dreamers like Audre Lorde and June Jordan whose writings gives us permission to seek pleasure, to embrace anger, and to tell the whole truth so that freedom can exists.
Prophets like adrienne marie brown and Alexis Pauline Gumbs who invite us to consider a world beyond…to imagine and reimagine our taken for granted realities and center pleasure and love and joy as the key informant of the world.
These folks and so many others shake and agitate us to consider what are we fighting and striving for when we think about the future.
Their words and witness invite us to consider:
What are our hopes built on?
Who are we including?
Who are we leaving out?
Can there be a future if we don’t center the forgotten or dejected among us?
Alexis Pauline Gumbs, love evangelist, writer, and scholar writes,
I am writing you from the future to remind you to act on your belief, to live your life as a tribute to our victory and not as a stifling reaction to the past… We have the world we deserve, and we acknowledge every day that we make it what it is... We shifted the paradigm. We rewrote the meaning of life with our living. And this is how we did it… We let go. And then we got scared and held on and then we let go again. Of everything that would shackle us to sameness.
For Gumbs, the future exists beyond where we are currently experiencing. Drawing from the literary lineage of Octavia Butler, Gumbs speaks to the fact that our dreaming and resistance shapes our future selves. Her words are an invitation to see the glimpses of a different future. She looks to mothering relationships, ocean mammals, Octavia Butler and fugitivity as ways to see what could be possible.
I understand how difficult it is to imagine actual change in today’s climate. We have been conditioned to believe that systems and institutions shape our future by holding society in stasis.
What does it mean to imagine a Black Future that doesn’t contain state sanctioned violence and Black death?
What does it mean for a future where Blackness is celebrated instead of commodified?
How can we plan for a future that doesn’t repeat the present or the past?
The answer is embracing the impossible as possible through dreaming.
As a therapist and a future social work educator, I am invited to walk along people who are committed to change. With my clients and my students, I constantly invite them to engage envisioning or dreaming as a praxis for development. Dreaming harkens back to our ancestors and elders; it is a cultural legacy that provides us ways to conjure what can be possible.
Dreaming often feels lofty or even flighty. In a culture that exalts grind culture as the ideal, it is difficult to even find time to dream. Dreaming isn’t merely about rest, albeit important. Dreaming allows us to expose the limitation of our own thoughts and capabilities. Over the pandemic, I have watched a ton of TV and one of my favorites was Lovecraft Country. For those who haven’t seen Lovecraft yet, it is a historic fantasy show that exposes the ultimate monstrosity: whiteness.
In one of the episodes, one of the characters, Hippolyta, is transported into another dimension. What she originally, she thought was an imprisonment was actually her pathway to true liberation. Hippolyta gets to name or dream multiple possibilities of what she can be and who she can become.
So, what can Hippolyta tell us about imagining and cultivating a Black Future:
1) Do not dismiss the dreams of old
2) A Black Future worth living is worth fighting for
3) Use your rage and resentment as an anchor
4) Never be afraid to confront the things that shrink or limit your visions
5) Embrace the technologies of future vision to impact today.
6) Our futures are meant for communal healing, flourishing, and endless possibilities.
So, in closing, I invite you to dream. To listen to our siblings who are telling us that more is possible and join with them, only then will there be a future worth fighting for.