The political events of the past months have forced me to contend with the stakes of my work as a black feminist scholar and an Afrofuturist in entirely new ways. On the morning after the election, I called my mother in tears. She told me we as black people are particularly good at surviving conditions we were never meant to survive, and that we would do as our ancestors did and endure the unendurable.
Yes, this is the narrative we as black women so often hear and believe about ourselves. Survive today.
Make it until tomorrow.
Endure. Your survival is resistance.
Your presence here, now, in this space, is transgression.
But that narrative grows less comforting to me as I begin to witness palpable terror about the future for black people, and for immigrants, queer people, Muslims, and other people of color. It seems the widespread exercise of speculating the future is neglected until the futures called into being contain violence for us, against our souls and against and our bodies. This muscle of futurity is one we have largely forgotten to flex. We are deeply out of the practice of radical speculation.
Doing the work of imagining black futures is an urgent obligation. It is no longer a luxury. I use this language Audre Lorde gave us in Sister Outsider, when she told us poetry is not a luxury. She says, “It is a vital necessity of our existence. It forms the quality of the light within which we predicate our hopes and dreams toward survival and change, first made into language, then into idea, then into more tangible action.” (36)
Lorde was writing about poetry, but I argue speculative fiction works toward our dreams even more explicitly, sheparding us into conversations about hope and change, making them into language, allowing us space to play in our futures and pasts, and prompting us begin to imagine tangible action.
Fortunately, there are those among us with similar investments who practice speculative thinking as a way of life. Afrofuturists and other black authors of speculative fiction work to imagine futures where we exist and survive. They imagine worlds where we thrive, and histories that never came to pass, and contend with later consequences of current oppressions. They have utterly rejected versions of the future that erase us entirely, whether they come from within science fiction or from white supremacist fantasies. So, in this time that necessitates an urgent black futurity, turning to black speculative fiction authors to inform this project makes sense to to this project which is not solely about black imagination—it also attaches this radical speculation and future play to the current moment, grounded in social technologies and tools black people are using to combat oppression.
Of poetry, Lorde wrote: “If what we need to dream, to move our spirits most deeply and directly toward and through promise, is a luxury, then we have given up the core-the fountain-of our power, our womanness; we have give up the future of our worlds.” (39)
Political Afrofuturism is a refusal to give up those futures.
What We Have
Our men do not belong to us. Even my own father, left one afternoon, is not mine. My brother is in prison, is not mine. My uncles, they go back home and they are shot in the head, are not mine. My cousins, stabbed in the street for being too—or not—enough, are not mine.
Then the men we try to love, say we carry too much loss, wear too much black, are too heavy to be around, much too sad to love. Then they leave and we mourn them too. Is that what we’re here for? To sit at kitchen tables, counting on our fingers the ones who died, those who left and the others who were taken by the police, or by drugs, or by illness or by other women. It makes no sense. Look at your skin, her mouth, these lips, those eyes, my God, listen to that laugh. The only darkness we should allow into our lives is the night, and even then, we have the moon.
Alice Walker wrote a poem in honor of Jesse Williams
Here it is
the beauty that scares you
-so you believe-
For he is certainly gorgeous
and he is certainly where whiteness
to your disbelief
has not wandered off
No. It is there, tawny skin, gray eyes,
a Malcolm-esque jaw. His loyal parents
may Goddess bless them
sitting proud and happy and no doubt
at what they have done.
For he is black too. And obviously
with a soul
made of everything.
Try to think bigger than you ever have
or had courage enough to do:
that blackness is not where whiteness
wanders off to die: but that it is
like the dark matter
between stars and galaxies in
holds it all
together. – By Alice Walker
Last time, I saw myself die is when police killed Jessie Hernandez
A 17 year old brown queer, who was sleeping in their car
Yesterday, I saw myself die again. Fifty times I died in Orlando. And
I remember reading, Dr. José Esteban Muñoz before he passed
I was studying at NYU, where he was teaching, where he wrote shit
That made me feel like a queer brown survival was possible. But he didn’t
Survive and now, on the dancefloor, in the restroom, on the news, in my chest
There are another fifty bodies, that look like mine, and are
Dead. And I have been marching for Black Lives and talking about the police brutality
Against Native communities too, for years now, but this morning
I feel it, I really feel it again. How can we imagine ourselves // We being black native
Today, Brown people // How can we imagine ourselves
When All the Dead Boys Look Like Us? Once, I asked my nephew where he wanted
To go to College. What career he would like, as if
The whole world was his for the choosing. Once, he answered me without fearing
Tombstones or cages or the hands from a father. The hands of my lover
Yesterday, praised my whole body. Made the angels from my lips, Ave Maria
Full of Grace. He propped me up like the roof of a cathedral, in NYC
Before, we opened the news and read. And read about people who think two brown queers
Cannot build cathedrals, only cemeteries. And each time we kiss
A funeral plot opens. In the bedroom, I accept his kiss, and I lose my reflection.
I am tired of writing this poem, but I want to say one last word about
Yesterday, my father called. I heard him cry for only the second time in my life
He sounded like he loved me. It’s something I am rarely able to hear.
And I hope, if anything, his sound is what my body remembers first.
Biographical information from Literary Hub:
"Christopher Soto (aka Loma) is a queer latinx punk poet & prison abolitionist. They were named one of “Ten Up and Coming Latinx Poets You Need to Know” by Remezcla. Poets & Writers will be honoring Christopher Soto with the “Barnes & Nobles Writer for Writers Award” in 2016. They founded Nepantla: A Journal Dedicated to Queer Poets of Color with the Lambda Literary Foundation. Their first chapbook “Sad Girl Poems” was published by Sibling Rivalry Press in 2016. Originally from the Los Angeles area; they now live in Brooklyn."
Read more here
A Poem about Intelligence for My Brothers and Sisters
A few years back and they told me Black
means a hole where other folks
got brain/it was like the cells in the heads
of Black children was out to every hour on the hour naps
Scientists called the phenomenon the Notorious
Jensen Lapse, remember?
Anyway I was thinking
about how to devise
a test for the wise
like a Stanford-Binet
for the C.I.A.
being the most the unquestionable the outstanding
the maximal mind of the century
And I’m struggling against this lapse leftover
from my Black childhood to fathom why
anybody should say so:
I try that on this old lady live on my block:
She sweeping away Saturday night from the stoop
and mad as can be because some absolute
jackass have left a kingsize mattress where
she have to sweep around it stains and all she
don’t want to know nothing about in the first place
“Mrs. Johnson!” I say, leaning on the gate
between us: “What you think about somebody come up
with an E equals M C 2?”
“How you doin,” she answer me, sideways, like she don’t
want to let on she know I ain’
combed my hair yet and here it is
Sunday morning but still I have the nerve
to be bothering serious work with these crazy
“E equals what you say again, dear?”
Then I tell her, “Well
also this same guy? I think
he was undisputed Father of the Atom Bomb!”
“That right.” She mumbles or grumbles, not too politely
“And dint remember to wear socks when he put on
his shoes!” I add on (getting desperate)
at which point Mrs. Johnson take herself and her broom
a very big step down the stoop away from me
“And never did nothing for nobody in particular
lessen it was a committee
used to say, ‘What time is it?’
you’d say, ‘Six o’clock.’
he’d say, ‘Day or night?’
and he never made nobody a cup a tea
in his whole brilliant life!
[my voice rises slightly]
he dint never boogie neither: never!”
“Well,” say Mrs. Johnson, “Well, honey,
I do guess
that’s genius for you.”
Be nobody's darling;
Be an outcast.
Take the contradictions
Of your life
And wrap around
You like a shawl,
To parry stones
To keep you warm.
Watch the people succumb
With ample cheer;
Let them look askance at you
And you askance reply.
Be an outcast;
Be pleased to walk alone
Or line the crowded
With other impetuous
Make a merry gathering
On the bank
Where thousands perished
For brave hurt words
But be nobody's darling;
Be an outcast.
Qualified to live
Among your dead.
Watch Crystal Valentine and Aaliyah Jihad's powerful performance of their poem "To Be Black and Woman and Alive" in which they call out black men's misogyny and patriarchy.
h/t: HuffPost BlackVoices
Childhood rememberances are
always a drag if you're Black
you always remember things like
living in Woodlawn with no inside toilet
and if you become famous or something
They never talk about how happy
you were to have your mother
all to yourself and how good the
water felt when you got your bath
from one of those
Big tubs that folk in chicago barbeque
in and somehow when you talk
it never gets across how much you
understood their feelings as the
whole family attended meetings
About Hollydale and even though you
remember your biographers never
understand your father's pain as he
sells his stock and another
And though your're poor it isn't
poverty that concerns you and
though they fought a lot
it isn't your father's drinking that
makes any difference but only that
Everybody is together and you
and your sister have happy birthdays
and very good Christmasses and I
really hope no white person ever has
cause to write about me
because they never understand
Black love is Black wealth and they'll
probably talk about my hard childhood
and never understand that
all the while I was quite happy
BLACK LOVE IS BLACK WEALTH. Say it again.
Welcome to Womanist Expressions, brainchild of Caitlin Gunn and Kidiocus Carroll.