Like many of you, yesterday I was sitting in my house minding my own Black History/Futures Month business when Beyonce did this:
My first reaction:
“Wow. Thanks to musette Tunde Olaniran for letting me know Beybe gave us something new. There is so much going on here and a lot of it gave me feels (tears…Blue Ivy opening and then that baby boy vs the riot squad??).”
“Overall it reads as Bey slaying (sp) no to govt/popo killing us with no impunity, and I’m absolutely here for it.”
Then I came back to say: “this video keeps on giving. Each viewing there are so many gifts and blessings. Each line is conversational, it is constructed to be used in pieces or as a whole to transform a situation. Spell casting place-based brilliance.”
And this Sunday morning I have watched it several more times, and realized that above and beyond the level of excellence I expect from Beyonce, she is serving visionary fiction here.
But before I even get to the visionary fiction aspects of this work: the references made throughout this video are so satisfying, so uplifting – New Orleans is in the pace, in the lighting, in that black southern mythical witch Marie Laveau finger lickin life and death Sunday church realness. Beyonce rocking her long blond hair preference but meeting haters with braids. Every single outfit, every move, all three perfect seconds of the conqueror Blue Ivy, all of it. Stanned out.
Like, I love that only a chorus separates the middle-fingers-up promise of how she will respond to good sex from the black-bodies-dancing Sunday church spirit catching. Pleasure activism. This is real life.
And then…so visionary fiction, a concept Walidah Imarisha taught me, which we have been popularizing with Octavia’s Brood, centers traditionally marginalized communities, posits change as something that is bottom up and collective, neither utopian nor dystopian. Visionary fiction understands that there is no neutral ground, that art is either advancing or regressing justice.
I think parts of this video (a video which also has non-radical elements, I know, I’m open to that conversation) are as radical a seeding of visionary futures as the lunch counter sit-ins. Stay with me – after the country saw black and white people sitting together at that counter they couldn’t unsee it – it was an option, it was a possibility. It was an aspiration.
In this video, at a point where Beyonce has already taken us from the adorable to the raunchy to the ecstatic, and instructed us to get in formation!!!!, we get to see a riot squad surrender to the body brilliance of a black boy in a hoodie, dancing in the middle of the street.
One day after Trayvon Martin’s birthday. And, as my friend YK Hong points out, one day before Sandra Bland’s birthday.
Then we pan over graffiti which says, in case you are in any way confused: Stop Shooting Us.
Then, a police. car. sinks. into. the. NOLA. waters.
With the Queen Bey as a human sacrifice to keep it down!
I/We cannot unsee these things, they speak so completely to the longing to drown the impulse of white supremacy, of violence against my/our people.
And then, finally, one of the central lyrics is basically a visionary fiction mantra:
I dream it
I work hard
I grind til
I own it
We create from what we can imagine. We are living right now inside the imaginings of people whose mental illness makes them believe they are superior to other human beings. This video is part of the resistance, the new imaginings that we use to pull ourselves towards liberation.
I feel so proud of Beyonce, so moved by director Melina Matsoukas’ vision in action, and just want to say thank you everyone who shaped this incredibly timely work. We needed this, and we need more artists to deliver this kind of flawless politicized work. Art is our public sphere, our culture shaping cauldron. This is a precious black love offering.
These are my notes (roughly what I said) for framing the closing plenary of the EGA.
Apocalypse is not in the future. It is a current condition. In places like Detroit, where I live, or New Orleans, where I just was for the ten year anniversary of Katrina…or hearing the news from Syria, or the Marshall Islands where my family lived for a while, the apocalypse is all around us. It is happening now.
Apocalypse is not linear, with an end point. I was raised with a Christian concept of apocalypse….four horses, and scene. But there are places that are post-apocalyptic, people beginning again in toxic soil, surviving after what was an end to the economy or environment as we knew it.
Apocalypse and temporary utopia co-exist. We are all interconnected, which means we are all, right now, living in an apocalyptic time. When I go to California I take three minute showers and don’t flush anything, then I leave and I go back to “normal”, instead of holding that the water crisis is interconnected.
The reality now is that there is no science that can account for our future. According to Movement Generation, we are living in the effects of our technology and pollution from 40 years ago, it takes that long for the impacts to fully show up. In 40 years we will feel our impact now! There is no science, no math, nothing to account for the survival of places like New Orleans. Now is a time for imagination and magic that can move us beyond what we think is politically possible now, which is simply not enough.
This is why I write science fiction (after spending so long in social justice work). To cultivate radical imagination. I believe, Octavia’s Brood proposes, that all organizing is science fiction, all efforts to bend the arc of the future towards justice, is science fictional behavior.
How we do that work really matters.
Emergence is the way complex systems and patterns arise out of relatively simple interactions (give examples). We are all interconnected. Denying that, we die. Surrendering to that, we live.
Relationship is key! Relationship, quality relationship, may in fact be everything. To create a shift, we have to learn to be in authentic relationship with, to listen to, voices that are ‘on the ground’.
What does that mean for you? Do you just go up to an organizer and write a check? Perhaps. But aligned with the Jemez principles, ground up happens at every level. In your foundations, it means putting more power in the hands of program officers, who are forming relationships with the field. In organizations it means really listening to the organizers in the field for strategy. And so on.