Black Folks didn’t have to go find surrealism, their lives were already surreal.” Richard Wright
As I prepared to write this article, there were three books that led my spirit: Freedom Dreams: The Black Radical Imagination by Robin D. G. Kelley; Will, by producer, rapper, actor, and motivational speaker, Will Smith; and Just As I Am by the incomparable Ms. Cicely Tyson. Additionally, I am filled by the improvisational music of the transcendent John Coltraine. It has been our intimate relationships to music, poetry, philosophy, spirituality, and our stories of liberation that have helped us redefine ourselves.
The American Dream has long been inextricably linked to the Undeniable Nightmares of Black Folks and other People of Color. Our existence in the Americas has been one of working to use irrational means to deconstruct what others have rationalized (most often in the way of violence). With that said, here’s a question for you:
When was the last time you granted yourself permission to dream again?
As we look at the realities of violence that we see on a daily basis, the idea of dreaming of a new way of being (especially at a time when we are all supposed to be “Woke”) seems virtually impossible.
In Will Smith’s memoir, he details how he used his imagination to help him navigate the tumult of living in a home where domestic violence, order, love, rigidity, honor and dishonor coexisted. It is this same survival apparatus of seeing beyond our current conditions that has allowed us to not only survive but thrive and excel within the unthinkable and inhumane.
In her memoir, Ms. Cicely Tyson discussed how she selected acting roles that allowed her to use her platform to educate “I had an enormous responsibility to use that forum as a force for good. As a place for which to display the full spectrum of our humanity.” She felt her roles had to both “mirror the times and propel them forward,” which speaks directly to the multidimensional power of truth, while imagining what is and what can be. The power to dream forward.
Something powerful happens when we have time and space to dream beyond our circumstances.
Unfortunately, with all of the vitriol and violence, we are seeing a rise of bitterness and cynicism. Quoting Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in his book, Robin D. G. Kelley notes that “‘Bitterness and cynicism will poison our personalities.’” We have seen this poisoning exist in many, if not all of the Liberation movements.
The cynicism becomes even more pronounced as we see injustice being hurled at every turn: the murders of Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery and so many others; attack on protesters by white vigilantes like Kyle Rittenhouse (and the subsequent verdict); the fight against Critical Race Theory being taught in schools (if Critical Race Theory was actively taught in schools, these issues would be less prevalent/nonexistent, but I digress); the continued disenfranchisement of or Indigenous Sisters and Brothers, and how Dreamers and Dreamers-to-Be are being treated in border towns in the U.S. We find ourselves hard pressed and too emotionally/spiritually exhausted to dream beyond what we see.
Yet, it is the imagination of the Dreamers who can see a life beyond borders where they can contribute their gifts and talents in new ways. It was and is the power of our First Nations Sisters and Brothers that continue to see our connection to all things living and nonliving. It is the imagination of those who live in (intentionally) underresourced and over-policed communities that inspire them to re-create and re-design humanity built on their terms.
Remember: There were rational arguments made to support colonization. It is time to give ourselves permission to be irrational and dream audaciously in order to build a society worthy of our next generation.
By Dr. Kecia Brown