The recent murders of our trans sisters in Louisiana (Monroe and New Orleans) and Illinois (Chicago) has left us feeling incredibly despondent. The current political discourse surrounding trans folks and bathroom bills has been disturbing, to say the least, but we think it is extremely important to remember that black trans women are being murdered at an alarming rate (and within our own communities). We think that it is constantly important to reiterate that you do not believe in black liberation if you do not believe that all black people should be liberated.
We think that Raquel Willis says it best.
Kindred: A Graphic Novel Adaption by Damian Duffy
We have an inordinate amount of love for Octavia Butler's Kindred around these parts. We saw this in the window of our local bookstore and we had to have it right then and there. And it was as glorious as it looks from the cover. Vivid graphics that are so true to the spirit of the story. It is very close to realizing our imagining of a film adaption of this wonderful novel.
More than 35 years after its release, Kindred continues to draw in new readers with its deep exploration of the violence and loss of humanity caused by slavery in the United States, and its complex and lasting impact on the present day. Adapted by celebrated academics and comics artists Damian Duffy and John Jennings, this graphic novel powerfully renders Butler’s mysterious and moving story, which spans racial and gender divides in the antebellum South through the 20th century.
Butler’s most celebrated, critically acclaimed work tells the story of Dana, a young black woman who is suddenly and inexplicably transported from her home in 1970s California to the pre–Civil War South. As she time-travels between worlds, one in which she is a free woman and one where she is part of her own complicated familial history on a southern plantation, she becomes frighteningly entangled in the lives of Rufus, a conflicted white slaveholder and one of Dana’s own ancestors, and the many people who are enslaved by him.
Held up as an essential work in feminist, science-fiction, and fantasy genres, and a cornerstone of the Afrofuturism movement, there are over 500,000 copies of Kindred in print. The intersectionality of race, history, and the treatment of women addressed within the original work remain critical topics in contemporary dialogue, both in the classroom and in the public sphere.
Frightening, compelling, and richly imagined, Kindred offers an unflinching look at our complicated social history, transformed by the graphic novel format into a visually stunning work for a new generation of readers.
Vast amounts of the support, leadership, and strength of black women activists during the Civil Rights Movement, the women’s movements of the 1960s-1970s and today’s Black Lives Matter movement has been overshadowed and erased in favor of black men’s and white women’s contributions and leadership. This is not new information to any of us, but it can certainly feel exhausting to have the intellectual and activist contributions of women of color overlooked, exploited, and maligned. In spite of these transgressions and oppressions, the historical memory and modern presence of the traditionally capable black women who change the face of American race relations runs strong in womanist thought and dialogue. In times when defeat and political lethargy can seem inevitable, we must remember that we are traditionally capable.
“Traditionally capable,” in this context, speaks both to the long tradition of black women’s strength and support of each other and their communities, and the expectation of that same strength. Part of Walker’s definition of a womanist reads: “’Mama, I’m walking to Canada and I’m taking you and a bunch of other slaves with me.’ Reply: ‘It wouldn’t be the first time,’”
Slavery is the reference Walker makes, but the move towards thinking about being traditionally capable in the struggle for civil rights is an continuation of that concept. Harris-Perry writes of this aspect of Walker’s definition of womanism in her book Sister Citizen, saying:
“Walker conveys the utterly mundane regularity of courageous acts of leadership and communal liberation among black women. Of course, black women would expect themselves and their daughters to perform extraordinary feats. Thus as many black feminist theologians adopted the self-description “womanist,” they accepted the imperative of black women’s strength.”
This tradition of capability is displayed in black women throughout the Civil Rights Movement, inspiring the womanist scholars and activists of the current moment who work to uphold that tradition in the modern landscape of racial, gender, and religious politics.
"Black women cannot speak for black men. We can speak with them. And by
so doing embody the practice of solidarity wherein dialogue is
the foundation of true love." -bell hooks
I would never identify as a womanist because it is a space that has been articulated by and for black women and other women of color. For far too long, black women have been left out of the societal discourse and essentially rendered invisible--their lived experiences were not valued or recognized as legitimate. Womanism, in many of its contexts, is solely for women of color, so as a black male I make no claim to that identity. What I can (and try to do) is align myself with the ideals, stand in support, and engage in critical discussion about the lived experiences of people of color through a womanist and black feminist lens. As bell hooks says, "Black women cannot speak for black men," the opposite is true for black men. Black men cannot speak for black women, but we can join in solidarity to build that foundation of true love.
Alone Atop the Hill: the Autobiography of Alice Dunnigan, Pioneer of the Black National Press
-(edited by)Carol Booker
"In 1942 Alice Allison Dunnigan, a sharecropper’s daughter from Kentucky, made her way to the nation’s capital and a career in journalism that eventually led her to the White House. With Alone atop the Hill, Carol McCabe Booker has condensed Dunnigan’s 1974 self-published autobiography to appeal to a general audience and has added scholarly annotations that provide historical context. Dunnigan’s dynamic story reveals her importance to the fields of journalism, women’s history, and the civil rights movement and creates a compelling portrait of a groundbreaking American."
There are several things that have particularly rankled our feathers in the past few months: (1) The creation and production of that horrid TV Land show "Throwing Shade" and (2) the addition of aforementioned phrase (throw shade) to the Oxford Dictionary. Lets be real, the use of the phrase "throwing shade" is black queer cultural production. Dorian Corey explains it beautifully in Paris Is Burning:
So what is the problem? "Throwing Shade" is a show hosted by a gay white man and a white woman who seemingly have no self-awareness/haven't critically reflected on their "borrowing" of black queer vernacular/cultural production for their own profit. We know that folks like to go on and on about cultural exchange and thats how the world works blah blah blah blah blah, but it is just not as simple as that. Black cultural production/black queer cultural production is labor, it is an economy. Yet mainstream discourse treats black cultural production as barely palatable, as unmarketable, until white folks recognize its value and take it up for their own means. Borrowing from the lexicon of the glorious Joanne the Scammer, we're going to operationalize this particular type of co-optation/cultural appropriation and call it a heist. Why heist? Because the definition of heist means a theft of goods, of labor.
Oxford Dictionaries: heist
'a diamond heist'
'he heisted a Pontiac'
Which brings us to the addition of "throw shade" to the Oxford Dictionary. Fine and dandy, cool yada yada yada. Why is there no origin included in the definition of the phrase? Its history is very easily traced. Yet another heist.
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.
They speak for themselves:
Welcome to Womanist Expressions, brainchild of Caitlin Gunn and Kidiocus Carroll.