Black Imagination, A Vital Way Forward

We need everyone to vision a future in which all Black Lives Matter.

02/01/2017 10:54 am ET | Updated Feb 02, 2017
Mawena Yehouessi
Artwork by Mawena Yehouessi

Of the many things we’re compelled and encouraged to do first in the face of Trump’s attacks on our basic rights and humanity, dreaming isn’t necessarily one of them. But in the face of unimaginable assaults on our futures, we absolutely cannot cede our ability to imagine for ourselves.

No doubt, contemplating the possibility of what can be may feel like a luxury when threats like losing healthcare, being denied access to clean drinking water and being kidnapped away from your home and family by police or immigration thugs are ever present. And yet, for those of us living in the U.S. and for those who live in constant danger of physical harm to our families, sometimes our dreams and imaginations are also the only places we find reprieve.

Today marks the first day of the third annual Black Futures Month (BFM), a month-long celebration where Black people visualize the kind of world we need and want. A visionary spin on Black History Month, BFM is designated space to both meditate on our history, and equally as importantly, to imagine the building blocks of a society where we affirm our right to thrive. BFM is a reminder to the rest of the world that Black people, despite how people perceive us and despite the stories told about us, have a deep desire and aspirations to live beyond your expectations. This is BFM and this is how we carry on.

We desire and imagine futures that you’ve never dreamed.

We reconcile our need and desire to dream while combating the onslaught of attacks on our families, on our bodies and on our nation by not allowing ourselves to be limited by your story.

We invoke dreaming and radical imagination as a survivalist movement strategy.

And we use our dreams and our imagination liberally.

Black Futures Month is a reminder to the rest of the world that Black people have a deep desire and aspirations to live beyond your expectations.

We do all of this because we have to, but also because we know the goodness and rightness of our own dreams, even when it feels impossible to dream. I learned the hard way that people with power can tell a story about you, about who you are and what you’re capable of, about your worth – and whether the story is true or not, it shapes the way people treat you. And that’s something Black people are forced to contend with every single day. But our best weapon against the attempted sabotage of our dreams has always come from within – our self-love. Our self-love tells us that our imagination can never actually be taken from us. Though the world has tried.

White people have long tethered the humanity of Black people to the whim of white imagination. The stories policymakers and racists tell about people like us and the places from which we come are predicated on assumptions imagined long before we were born by people who meant us harm. Those stories may be true for some individuals, but are untrue for whole communities. Those stories may have shaped the way people understand our place in the world, our trajectory and our value – but we do not assent. And those stories may have shaped people’s expectations of us, our desirability and our abilities – but they have never shaped us.

To combat the oppressive hegemony of white storytelling, imagination – our biggest aspirations and most precious dreams, whatever they may be – will always be the fundamental first step to self-actualization and freedom. In recent years, we have gained ground in telling new stories, from Afrofuturism to Black imagination to contemporary re-imaginations of “the incredible myths and world-views of Black people and the Black diaspora,” Black people in these times may be more ready than ever to dream a world that is just for everyone. And that does not mean ignoring realities of the journey ahead.

While we must guard our imagination fiercely, more of us – all of us – must dare to spread what we dream up. For many of us, doing so is a direct action of one, courageously creating a large, spacious place to be expansive with ourselves and to take up space, to call in a bastion of Black joy and abundance where the affirmation of our dignity and humanity are not up for debate, but acknowledged, lengthened, widened and nurtured. This is a place of unabashed desire and satisfaction. And when we find spaces to dream and imagine, what we once understood to be merely possible becomes exponentially more real. When we use dreaming and radical imagination as a strategy – like organizing, like communications, like fundraising – we can set concrete goals based in our highest visions and work in tandem to realize them.

Through dreaming and radical imagination, we can manifest and develop the communities and build power to create the conditions that we need and want for our lives. The prejudicial legislation, biased and deadly policing and interpersonal and intra-community violence Black people experience at the hands of law enforcement, officers of the courts, prison workers and vigilantes are all consequences of imagined ideas, assumptions and perceptions about who we are inherently. Because oppression is so limiting to our physical and psychological well-being, we must commit to making space to dream – to making space for the wellbeing of our desire and our spirit to flourish.  

We need everyone to vision a future in which all Black Lives Matter.

I have come to understand our obligation to dream and radically imagine the world we want and need as one with deep-seated moral and ethical implications as well. We have a duty to dream and radically imagine with fervor and passion and to embrace creativity, innovation and a fail-fast-to-learn-fast approach – a duty to yield ego and build collective power. We have a duty to have intimate and human conversations with people with different political opinions without compromising our integrity or our own imagination, the kind of conversations that can realize real improvements in all of our lives, conversations that start movements and facilitate the process of organizing our country into a safe place for all people. It’s a dreamy process – as it should be – and it’s a process and a space that leads with inclusivity and a commitment to justice, not intimidation and fear.

Black people deserve dream space. We deserve to laugh and to delight, to muse and to meditate. We are a deeply rich and imaginative people, and we are more than what happened to us.

In many ways we have long been creating the world we need and the spaces that we deserve. Now is the time to make a commitment to dream even bigger and more audaciously than ever before.

This Black Futures Month and beyond give yourself permission to dream. And then dream big. Bring your imagination to life. We need everyone to vision a future in which all Black Lives Matter.

This post is part of the Black Futures Month blog series brought to you by The Huffington Post and the Black Lives Matter Network. Each day in February, look for a new post exploring cultural and political issues affecting the Black community and examining the impact it will have going forward. For more Black History Month content, check out Black Voices’ ‘We, Too, Are America coverage. 

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