A Vision of Possibility: Five Questions for Kimberly Drew & Jenna Wortham, Co-Editors of Black Futures

Jump into this explosion of a book, bounce around, let it take you where it may. Black Futures is visual, literary, experimental, speculative, futuristic; the experience is immersive, eye-opening, revolutionary, sober and celebratory — perhaps the best invite you will get all year. Kimberly Drew & Jenna Wortham have curated a collection of extraordinary voices and visions, into one great conversation. We had the honor of asking the co-editors of this indelible archive five questions on everything from how this book came about, our collective love/hate relationship with social media, to rituals for self-compassion and care.

 

“Joy is an act of resistance” and this book is a statement of beauty, a celebration of joy. Tell us how this book came about?  

Black Futures started as all great contemporary love stories do — on an app! Back in 2015, we connected over Twitter DM after Jenna had started to conceptualize what it might look like to create a multimedia project that could hint at the incredible cultural flourishing and intersections that she’d observed online and in the world. Take, for example, Beyonce’s inclusion of popular YouTuber Evelyn From the Internets during the On The Run Tour. How could a media project conserve and make available some of the beautiful and undeniably important conversations, cultural contributions and more that were being shared over the Internet?

Black Futures takes a look at the intersection of race, technology and art — and many of your contributors have built their platforms on social media. As problematic as social media can be, it’s been a powerful tool for elevating new voices and organizing. Where do we and our social media go from here? 

It’s safe to say that we are all in a love/hate relationship with social media and our devices and yet, it is impossible to ignore the incredible ways that social media has served to create connections that drive us, inform us, entice us and challenge us to be more curious about our own beliefs. Where do we go from here? Perhaps, we take some time to sit with where we have been. Perhaps, we sit with our own archives (or the archives that resonate with us) and begin to craft beautiful ways to ensure that they are committed to memory for generations to come. All too often, Black culture is at the risk of erasure or co-option. As co-editors of this anthology, we wanted to create a project that could counteract the forces of white supremacy and also inspire a generation of Black folks to see ourselves as we are right now, as we might have been, or how we could be if we were able to sit and love on ourselves with intention.

Art is a reflection of who we are and what’s happening in our society — the product of hard questions and vision, something that often challenges the very idea of justice and equality. What do justice and true equality look like for the Black community? 

Justice and equality looks like survival. Justice and equality means silencing the inner voices that tell us that our lives and our contributions don’t matter. Justice and equality is a new system, or set of systems, that are not intricately and historically designed to enact state-sanctioned violence on marginalized people. Art is an essential tool in our journey towards this desired outcome. As Sarah Lewis details in her brilliant essay for “Vision and Justice,” which also appears in Black Futures, this is our birthright and legacy. She writes: “When do we have the audacity to state that the narratives that represent your life, that of your ancestors deserve, and consider them valuable enough to spread out a bit more, to take up a few more rows of stacks in the library, seats in the auditorium, spots on the rosters of speakers?”

In order to move forward, we need to understand what our past is, who our people are. What does it mean to build an archive for Black Futures?  

First and foremost, it means recognizing that a single archive is never enough! We hope people feel empowered by our book to think about what they would record and store away from this moment and consider what feels important to write down and save for future generations. If anything, it also means taking ourselves seriously, and recognizing that all of our contributions are significant, from our tweets to the clothes we design and wear to the works selected by our chosen families or art institutions. Generations before us had collections like Toni Morrison’s The Black Book (1974); Akasha Gloria Hull, Patricia Bell-Scott, and Barbara Smith’s All the Women Are White, All the Blacks Are Men, But Some of Us Are Brave (1982); and countless other texts, and similarly, we wanted to create a book that could serve as a guide to this unprecedented moment of connectivity and production to ensure that it would not be lost in the annals of history.

We all know we need to put on our oxygen mask before we help those around us (easier said than done, we know). What are some of your rituals for self-compassion and care? 

Jenna: I think a lot about what Resmaa Menakem says in My Grandmother’s Hands: Racialized Trauma and the Pathway to Mending Our Hearts and Bodies, which is one of my favorite texts for healing justice. He writes: “There’s a way out of this mess, and it requires each of us to begin with our own body.” What he means is that one of the most powerful tools against state violence and systemic oppression is to love on ourselves, and care for ourselves, and I always encourage people to try and find one small way to work a wellness ritual into their daily lives, whether that be sitting in stillness, buying flowers, making a cup of tea, or my personal favorite: Just lying in bed for a few minutes after I wake up, before I grab my phone and head into the day. I love to give thanks for the gift of a new day, no matter what challenges it may hold.

Kimberly: The journey to self-compassion and care is a lengthy one and often something that I unabashedly seek from others. I think all too often we’re instructed that self-compassion and self-care has to be a singular journey, but I find that to be a product of ableism. When I am seeking new ways to be tender, I call upon my friends. I look to them for new modalities, new teachings and new forms of nourishment. Finding ways to love ourselves is a life-long journey and, at this stage, I know above all else that I don’t want to be on that journey alone.

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