Headed Towards the Light: An Itinerant Cartographers Unfinished Guide to the Poetics of the Movement for Black Lives.
My thoughts coalesce in long walks.
I take long, slow and steady strolls throughout the city examining the network of disparate thoughts that float through my mind. Each step makes a critical connection. Each street corner reminds me of another data point. My mind elongates in tandem with my strides, expanding to compute a thousand daily concerns and musing.
Over the past month I have walked through several valleys of understanding. I’ve taken a really long and hard look at how I’ve been operating over the past year. At first, it was difficult even to focus on it all. Every action, speech, rally and interaction with police was blurred together in one side splitting mental imprint of stress, anxiety, hope, rage and fear.
As I strolled through city blocks in DC and Brooklyn, I unpacked these dense imprints to examine the impact this year had on me. As I unpacked them, I could feel myself decompress and a weight slowly begin to lift off my shoulders. Unencumbered by these chains of constant anxiety I saw a bit of my former self start to return.
I began to remember how much I enjoy playing the dozens with friends and family. I remembered how calm I used to feel before the hurricane of constant organizing. I began to be able to appreciate, for the first time in a long time, how truly wonderful, amazing and beyond my wildest dreams this past year had been.
Despite the pain and agony of constantly reacting to another death, another sign that we are not meant to survive this system, I realized that I have been blessed with a wonderful, radical and radically supportive community. I have been blessed with an increased faith in my abilities and decreased need to prove my worth. I have been blessed with a spiritual awareness of the world and my place in it. I have become more acquainted with my internal power and more comfortable standing in it.
With each step, I was able to gain more and more of this perspective and more and more weight fell off my shoulders. Yet something has been missing. There has been an almost indiscernible feeling of internal lacking, of waiting from something to enter my life and complete my sabbatical.
I realize that I’ve been waiting, somewhat foolishly, for my old self to return. Yet the more I reflect, the more I realize that he no longer exists. Part of him grew up over the past two years and part of him was buried in Baltimore. In his place is n older, more patient, more jaded and more self-aware blend of echoes of my father and the person I was as a kid.
Walking is one of the few things that can slow the torrent of coupled thoughts that often race through my mind. It is one of the few forms of meditation that brings me to the particular sort of calm in which I feel the most myself. It is a reflective, active calm like the mind of an athlete ready to jump. Even though the blood begins to rush into my hands in anticipation, unlike an athlete, my movements are entirely metaphoric.
It is perhaps ironic then that after my walks I could not describe to you much of what I saw nor could I give you directions to where I went. I have no mind for mundane details. I remember only the slight details a painter might use to accent a work or the descending notes a composer uses to let you know the piece was ending. I tend to only remember the details useful for storytelling.
It might then be even more ironic that I have come to think of myself as a verbal cartographer. I cannot, for the life of me, tell you how to get from point A to B but I could describe, illustratively and in exquisite detail what the journey will feel like. I could point out to you, if you were interested, the history of significant ruins you might encounter along the way. I would end each map with a key explaining why the journey is so viscerally important. Yet I’m very bad at directing folks to where I feel they should go because it assumes a specific singular destination.
I think this is why I prefer poetry to prose.
A rarity of words,
Like a lover,
leaving the ring on the counter,
in lieu papers;
communicating more in questions begged,
than answers given.
But I digress.
I have, over the past year, developed more interest in complicating journeys than prescribing destinations. Perhaps it’s fatigue. Perhaps it’s uncertainty. Perhaps it’s a begrudging humility. Likely it’s all three. Either way, I’m more interested in poetry than prose.
“I speak here of poetry as a revelatory distillation of experience, not the sterile word play that, too often, the white fathers distorted the word poetry to mean–in order to cover a desperate wish for imagination without insight.”
Lorde, Audre. “Poetry Is Not a Luxury.” Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches.
In another life I would have been a cartographer.
I can see myself devouring the latest missives from the “new world.” Immediately incorporating them in my maps. The outlines of coasts getting more and more accurate as times goes on. The descriptions of the people and culture getting more vivid and useful.
But the edges of the map, of the known world, would always be illustrated with the myths I felt to be true. The gryphons of the cold wintery north, dragons of the distance east, the giants that laid waste to the northern desserts. Over time we will discover the eagles, the alligators, the massive blue whales and giant squids that looked like krakens and myth will turn into science and we will pretend that we understand the world.
These are the many tensions in my soul. The observed and the felt. The diagram and the dreamscape. Different understandings fueled by a desire to know and explore, driven by the most ardent curiosity. A deep sense of the world in its totality but lack of understanding.
Of it’s beauty.
Dialectical, symmetrically assembled choreography of masses, forces and networks of consciousness that I feel a deep, ethereal connection to.
I will forever be in debt to writers like Audre Lorde and Octavia Butler and Adrienne Maree Brown and Alexis Pauline Gumbs for giving me language to explore and illustrate the edges of the map. I will be in debt to thinkers and spiritualists like Erika Totten and Omolara Williams McCallister for reminding me that there are many levels and kinds of understanding and multiple dimensions on which to know a thing. It is debt shared by all the Black Queer Feminist in my life whose power and energy inspire me, especially my sisters who taught me how to dream.
This is all to say, after a month long spiritual sabbatical, I wish to share with you a map of the edge of my understanding. I wish to illustrate, in the best medium I have available to me [poetics], the uncharted territory that my movement family and I have been exploring in the past year in the Movement for Black Lives.
A Unfinished Map Towards Liberation:
The topography is vigorous,
A land of dynamic forces.
Energies that are both waves and particles:
neurons firing in our brains
and chemical reactions to historical, economic, existential and social stimulants.
There are forces of beauty and wonder,
forces of oppression and human limitation.
There is bondage and emancipation.
Growth and decay.
Blossoming and withering.
These forces etch themselves unto the landscape of human experience, craving systems of opposition, obstacles to forward paths and valleys of understanding.
The west side of the map is our past: clouded in the fog of war, myth and dogma.
In the middle lies our present: dense, humid and warming.
Towards the east is our unknowable future: shrouded in mystery and wrapped in anticipation.
To the north is the observable world of facts and figures and
in the south lies the equally true world of dreams, feelings, imaginations, the science of living and other knowings.
Liberation lies to the SE of our present location.
“The man who knows something knows that he knows nothing at all.” Erykah Badu – On and On
As we travel towards liberation, we must ensure we are equipped for the journey. It is a rough road for the ill-prepared. We could not climb the mountains of true understanding without collecting the theory and analysis of the north and weaving them into the dreams and internal knowings of the south. Unfortunately, our species is not yet equipped to walk a straight path towards liberation. It will be meandering journey of starts and stutters.
On the frayed edges of the map are the metaphysical oceans where the forces of the land coalesce and pool. The rocky bays that connect these rivers of forces to the oceans of power filter out the impurities of domination, hierarchy, and inequity. Still, the depths of these oceans are dangerous to the unpracticed swimmer. The call of God is a siren to the unlearned ear, pulling you into these jagged rocks and in these oceans lay a terrifyingly transformative power.
Notes on the oceans of power:
From my travels in the south, I learned to bottle my dreams so that I can access this power. I see my sisters access it at protests. I drink from it nightly and feel it overwhelm me when I speak truth to the world. I sense is flow through me as my mind flows unto the page.
I intuit that this emotional energy, this transformative power, has the capacity to shatter this land.
I can access it at any time.
Sometimes, when I allow myself to access this power, shutting down highways, testifying in the Wilson building as knowledge coalesces effortlessly in my mind and flows freely from my lips; I think that the power is right when it suggests that I should break the world.
I am terrified, infatuated and addicted to this embodied power.
- My movement family and I access this power together.
- Collectively we both heighten it and hold it accountable.
- I believe that this power is our salvation.
- I have recognized this power as my birthright.
- I have invited you, before I was even aware of what it was, to drink from my dreams and stand in this power with me.
“I see protest as a genuine means of encouraging someone to feel the inconsistencies, the horror of the lives we are living. Social protest is saying that we do not have to live this way. If we feel deeply, and we encourage ourselves and others to feel deeply, we will find the germ of our answers to bring about change. Because once we recognize what it is we are feeling, once we recognize we can feel deeply, love deeply, can feel joy, then we will demand that all parts of our lives produce that kind of joy. And when they do not, we will ask, “Why don’t they?” And it is the asking that will lead us inevitably toward change.
So the question of social protest and art is inseparable for me. I can’t say it is an either-or proposition. Art for art’s sake doesn’t really exist for me. What I saw was wrong, and I had to speak up. I loved poetry, and I loved words. But what was beautiful had to serve the purpose of changing my life, or I would have died. If I cannot air this pain and alter it, I will surely die of it. That’s the beginning of social protest.”
“Audre Lorde.” Black Women Writers at Work. Ed. Claudia Tate. NY: Continuum, 1983. 100-16.
The Movement for Black Lives is not asking for special treatment for Black people. Nor are we only asking for our needs to finally be meet after centuries of erasure or myths of pathology.
Rather, activists are returning from the edges of the known world, pointing out the holes in the dominate logics and inviting the world to stand with us in the light that shines through. We are shouting to you that this light is proof that this world is under ground, buried beneath a capitalist system of dominance maintained by patriarchy and white supremacy.
The movement for Black Lives is reminding all of us that we need to head SE towards liberation.
Years of being underground, submerged in this system, has dimmed many of our faculties while studying our surroundings [even in dimness] has brightened others. Yet all told, we have lived only in the north for far too long. We have become stagnant in our civilizations, forgotten our migratory nature and carved out pieces of the earth.
As if we could own it.
As if it didn’t own us.
We have lost much of the accumulated wisdom of the south. We have forgotten about how to be, to live in harmony with our selves, to seek to learn from the world without destroying it.
The M4BL is asserting that the particular position of Black people [especially Working Class Black Queer Women] in the system and the history invasions that forced us to flee periodically to the south gives us the second sight to help guide humanity out of the darkness and into the light.
We are giving you fair warning before we drag this whole system, amid its suffocating totality, into the above ground world we have been forced out of and almost forgotten.
We do not believe that when we return to the light we will return to a previous way of life. We are futurist not primitivists. We have chosen to be Diasporic Cosmonauts not earthly refugees. What is past is prologue, it needn’t be destiny nor our chosen destination. We believe that once in the light we must still journey east towards liberation, onwards to a new world that is better than we have ever experienced or can currently imagine.
The Movement for Black Lives believes in the fundamental ability of our imaginations and dreams to store and share transformative power. The power that we need to overcome the totality of capitalism and logics of dominance. The same power we will need to climb the mountains of true understanding.
We, beautifully flawed humans that can neither tolerate a world order that, in thinking we are worthy of its oppression, is beneath us nor wait idly by as it consumes itself, are headed towards the lands filled with the glorious black light of the power contained in the ocean of human imagination. We will not merely content ourselves to observe the effects of its absence.
Ours is a long march of trials, falters, tribulations, celebrations and lessons.
We are unlearning that all struggle must be painful and that all pain is wasteful. We are relearning the elation of change, the euphoria of spiritual endorphins that comes from exercising new muscles of self-determination.
Our wanderings in the south have taught us to embody old stories in new ways. We have become updaters and remixers not needless iconoclasts. We are Christ like in our imperfect divinity and utilizing of love, Mohammedan in our submission to the divine and commitment to study and like Moses we lead the captive, sometimes too content to settle near the lands of the pharaoh, on the long march to emancipation.
We are workers building class consciousness and harnessing the science of revolution in a new economy. Mothers who are also teachers and nurses smashing the patriarchy and midwives birthing a gender fluid world. We are the Ebony skinned neo-abolitionists delivering the supersedants to zion. We are anarchist fighting against the alienation of our transformative power. All while being queer as fuck and refusing to let these histories, texts or identities define us.
If this way of being destroys your idols it is collateral damages of a fluid world in motion.
Notes on the Underground Landscape:
“Alienation is the gap between desire and what is socially valued, between our potential to transform the world and the theft and parasitic use of that power by capital and the state.” Anonymous
Capitalism became total, and blotted out the sun, when it began selling us deficits instead of just commodities. We now have a culture of deficits and inflated spiritual debts. We are too ugly. Too Black. Too poor. Too femme. Too foreign. Or too queer to fit in. We must work, buy, sell and scrape to get closer to an unattainable able-bodied, symmetric, fit, white, wealthy, male ideal citizen.
What we have is a global system of perverted forces that create false scarcities and deficits before providing draining resources we are told will solve them. It is as if we are desert people living in a glorious oasis but being sold salt water and taught that to live is to hydrate.
The long buried truth is that the vocation of all humans is to live fully and in communion with their needs and shared desires. We are the intellectually nomadic bards of our own histories and songs, living well in order to share our stories with each other. The fullness to which we aspire is a facet of our species’ current and progressing social and economic development which in turn shapes our desires.
Yet we are told that in order to live we must work and observe and buy.
We are told what we must do in order to be.
The options given to us in the cold calculating north, these shadow life vocations, constantly place us under the control of others but out of relationship with ourselves and each other. Most revolutionary ethos in the west merely seek to change the ruling class without changeling the idea of ruling. Others merely put forth hollow and solitary images of individual self-determination.
Our journeys southland, to our dreams, have taught us that instead we must reframe our whole realm of living. We must stop wasting our spiritual energy tweaking the details of our alienation from our true vocation–cultivating a land we were never meant to settle in–so that we no longer have any opinions on its totality.
“In a caricature of antagonisms, power urges everyone to be for or against Brigitte Bardot, the nouveau roman, the 4-horse Citroën, spaghetti, mescal, miniskirts, the UN, the classics, nationalization, thermonuclear war and hitchhiking. Everyone is asked their opinion about every detail in order to prevent them from having one about the totality.” Basic Banalities — Raoul Vaneigem
Yet our goal cannot be as narrow as ending capitalism. This map leads to liberation, not merely away from our past. While this global society serves our bosses more than us and they exhibit more control over it, the system does not really serve them either. The same way that proximity to power is not power, having the system geared towards you does not mean it fulfills you. It does not allow the wealthy to fulfill their full vocation. Their true vocation is not power. Yet their options are limited by their determined gaze at their feet on our backs.
They are merely favored captives chained by their fathers and forced to stare at shadows of the forms on the walls of the cave; convinced that it’s not prison because they have box seats. The same gaslights they use to tell us that America is not a prison because we have cable in here.
The same can be said of emotionally stunted men and emotionally fragile whites too chained to their positions above those they oppress to run freely and gaily southeasterly towards their true vocations.
This does not absolve them [or us] of their [or our] complicity, it merely goes to show us that switching positions with them or raising everyone to their standard [as if this would even be possible without destroying the very system that enshrines and maintains that standard] is not a solution.
Reform is not revolution.
Equity is not liberation.
Notes on the Roads to Liberation[s]:
There is no one path to Liberation. The straight course from our current position to liberation is perilous and we are not equipped to take it.
We must use the analysis of the north to identify the systems of oppression that alienate us from our true vocation. We must use the dream materials of the south to dismantle them and create space for our evolving work that approaches authentic fulfilling human vocation. We must synthesis the techniques of the north and south to heal ourselves and our communities in order to clear our collective imaginations of the miasma of oppression and fog of trauma that clouds our vision. We must work together to build a new world aligned with our new vision in the shell of the old world we are dismantling. All of this must happen at once.
Yet this work does not happen in a vacuum. In order to work collectively we must address the systems of oppression; white supremacy, patriarchy and xenophobia, which has thwarted journeys in the past. This path is hard and healing will consistently be needed. The way forward is dark and we will need our theory to guide the way, our historical experience and the wisdom of our ancestries will guide us through forks in the road. We must develop spiritual practices and spiritual farms [beloved communities] that will feed us as we crawl through the darkness headed towards the light.
This is the unfinished map of the Movement for Black Lives. It is for this vision we are dragging our society kicking and screaming through the darkness and into the light. We may stumble, we may falter, we may get lost but we are committed to our task.
We fight even for those you would not fight for us. We fight even for those who would stand against us. While powerful, we are not large enough to hold this society on our backs without dropping or fragmenting parts. We cannot hold enough of it in our consciousness to ensure that precious parts of it are not forgotten. So those of you who share these visions, dreams and analyses must carry your load of the world with us.
- Only collective liberation is strong enough to carry all of society into the light without tearing it asunder.
- Only collective liberation can provide enough guidance to show us the way to the light, without it we can only fight against the darkness unsure if we are headed up or down.
- Only collective liberation can plant the spiritual fruits complex enough to feed the army of sojourners needed to bring this society into the light. And only in the light and we build the true world.
- Only in the light can we see and be our true selves.
So I invite you to drink from this cup of dreams, to stand in this power with me.
Together we shall create a revolutionary communal praxis able to wield our new analytical dreamscapes through story and song, organizing and building, through destruction and creation and ultimately: rebirth.