Shifting Into Black Futures
A Celebration of Radical Possiblities
by Destiny Pitters
Main photo (credit: Stephanie Keith, Getty Images)
February, as recognized by a handful of Western nations, marks the celebration of Black History Month. Usually indicated by a collection of palatable MLK Jr. quotes on social media timelines, Black History Month has slowly sagged into a performative gesture, an annual routine to show that you were, in fact, awake for a moment during high school history. Ironically, it can feel like a weight on the backs of Black folks, requiring us to do emotional and educational labour for those outside our community, and this is no less true in an online, pandemic reality. After the “umpteenth reckoning” that our society has had with Black death in 2020, as Zeba Blay puts it, we are long overdue to reinvigorate our movement as a celebration of life. What would it look like if instead, February was a celebration of radical possibilities, of the future, for us, by us?
Shifting into Black Futures does not mean a wholehearted dismissal of the past, especially not in a society that even now is dead set on erasing important educational tools like critical race theory. The reality is that there is no future without a past, and every step forward that we take is bound both by the trauma of oppression and the creative adaptability of living on despite this. But, at a certain point, it is no longer good enough to simply survive, and it is certainly not good enough to recount a disconsolate history of survival on a yearly basis. So, while there is an incalculable significance to Black history, it’s important that we also practice envisioning the Black community’s collective future, because demanding change also demands that we daydream, imagine, and envision what we look like when change comes to fruition.
Image of a colourful sunset over a body of water with text that reads: “I do not know where tomorrow will lead but I do know I am free to give my all with audacious hope for what could be.” By Morgan Harper Nichols.
Who are your leaders in the future? What do they look like and how often do they smile? Not your billionaires, politicians or general officers, but the hearts of your community who would organize to keep you safe, warm and fed in the midst of health and housing crises? What systemic change would it take to avoid these crises at all? What does affection look like between Black neighbours, friends, families? Are Black queer and trans kin finally being loved and protected? Do we appreciate this land? How do we show solidarity to Indigenous communities who welcome us here? What does the new generation enjoy that you worked hard to secure? What are the binaries and boundaries you still haven’t thought of? Who are you listening to to figure it out? These are questions that should be asked today, tomorrow, and for the rest of our lives. When we prompt ourselves to think about what the future looks like, it’s an anti-oppressive practice that asserts that we will be there, surviving present turmoil, and thriving for years to come.
Though the undercurrent of this hope seems obvious, it should be made explicit: there is no celebration of life, or a future, if we aren’t acting against oppressive structures right now. Just like with Black History, you can’t show up to a Black Futures Month having done no work for the prior 31 days of the year or the coming 306. Outsiders must ask themselves: how comfortable are you with Black futures if you still think features of a Black present are uncomfortable? Do you intend to show up to the party without showing up to the protest? Is your future the fruit of reform as opposed to abolition? Really, the biggest and perhaps truest display of allyship to the Black community is ongoing dedication. Day in and day out, show up with us - fight with us, scream, cry, tear down with us, so that we can dance together, laugh, sing, be together, and cheer on the future.
“Bodies” from Carefree Black Girls, Zeba Blay, 2021. Essay excerpt online: https://zebablay.substack.com/p/bodies-5c9
“Why are states banning critical race theory?” Rashawn Ray and Alexandra Gibbons, Brookings, 2021. https://www.brookings.edu/blog/fixgov/2021/07/02/why-are-states-banning-critical-race-theory/