Updated: Aug 10, 2019
The L1 Collective’s Insurgent Media Cypher is a gathering call for potential L1s who feel themselves responsible for the proliferation of amplified Black voices through the development of strategic and systemic Pan-African cohesion, for the utilization of culture and connection in pursuit of Black liberation, and for the harnessing of the power that collective naming yields. If what you read resonates, contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information on how to join the L1 collective.
When do Black folx imagine themselves? Where do they? Why do they? How do they? These are critical questions and their answers must always inform Black liberatory strategy. More specifically, they must inform the systems through which aspiring revolutionaries and the communities they serve communicate. When members of the Diaspora imagine themselves beyond the current and tangible parameters of oppression, they propel the entire Diaspora toward a revolution of minds and ideas that will result, in one way or another, in concrete political and economic power.
We’ve seen this happen through Afro-Futurism, as a genre, across mediums.
When Octavia Butler wrote about Lilith Iyapo, a Black woman left in an induced slumber for two hundred and fifty years, who woke to the news that humanity had been transported from earth because-put simply-we’d destroyed it, she drove forward a speculative narrative that posed questions about human in/ability to absorb evolved, unfamiliar, and unconventional cultures, reproductive partners, and equitable and sustainable societal norms.
When the afro-futurist pioneer wrote, also, of a young woman who watched a marginalized community take on the gigantic task of maintaining its humanity at a moment when society seemed to acknowledge it least, she burst open a world of ideas about what Black humanity actually is, how it interacts with the environment it finds itself in, and how iterations of its best and worst qualities will manifest irrespective of the nature of deep and dire issues that plague those to whom it belongs. Butler highlights, in Wildseed, that loss feels familiar and foreign all at once for a people whose oppression has transformed and evolved, but not dissipated. She conveys the vitality of dreams as a realm of communication and knowledge. She also communicates that questions linger about the foundation of existence when power is diffused, but not reclaimed.
In both works, Butler highlights the potential for Black healing; a potential that may or may not have been conveyed through other means.
Alexis Pauline Gumbs shares, through her Afro-Futurist narrative, BlueBellow, her vision of Black people in London who see mermaids in their mirrors; mer-metaphors for ancestors demanding, seeking, pleading for a reconciliation of worlds, of narratives, of struggles, of pain. She highlights Black sisterhood as a remedy for even ancestral visits disguised as delusions triggered by Black anxiety and stress. She conveys the deep need for intergenerational healing, including those both walking among us and moving beyond the grave.
And what of Sun Ra’s “Space is The Place”? Both the film and its soundtrack are a mandate addressed to the Diaspora. Allow free, Black expression to transport us to a place all our own, Sun Ra seems to tell us. His film is rife with metaphors for the Black dilemma, with his self-portrayed character engaging in a card game, for the duration of the movie, that will decide the fate of the Black race. The metaphors continue as NASA scientists kidnap him in an effort to coerce from him the secret to his strategy for Black ascension. When the scientists can’t coopt and render impotent Sun Ra’s knowledge, culture, or calling, they attempt to assassinate him. Their attempt fails and Sun Ra successfully empowers Black folx to, essentially, use collective imagination to transport them to a planet on which they’ll be safe; even requiring passengers to leave behind their “white parts” and take only their Blackness to the new world. We see these projects as art, as stories, as an escape for Black folx from depressing realities; but we often fail to see that they are attempts at the communication of pragmatic and realistic ideas, hidden from white gaze and thus protected from white supremacist scrutiny and destruction. We don’t realize that these are messages spoken, instructions given, and strategies shared. Not only should we hear them, receive them, and consider them, but we should examine them for clues as to how to continue such conversations. To do that, we have to innovate our conceptualization of communication, in general.
We, unquestioningly, acknowledge talking, texting, emailing, canvassing, petitioning, and social media engagement as forms of communication. These tools are undeniably valuable in their unique ways and, yet, they are informed by white hegemony and polluted by white comprehension. We’ve long resolved that the master’s house will not be dismantled with the master’s tools and, so, where does that leave us? In a much better place than the alternative would allow; with sacred ancestral guidance and cultural context clues.
What of the way that Michael Jackson moonwalked across the stage during Motown 25? Did he not use his body in a way that was completely foreign to his mainstream audience, but that resonated, deeply, with us? A moment that lasted only two and a half seconds seemed to say to us that Black people could deny physics; that we are wizards, all powerful and unfazed by the confines of an oppressor-defined reality; that we already possess all we need to walk on the moon.
When Fred Hampton proclaimed “I am the people! I am not the pig!”,he immortalized and undergirded the revolutionary spirit of Chicago; sending chills down the spines of Black folx with a message that manifested more than a sense of community and a naming of the enemy. He communicated with us the importance of self-determination in this struggle, the power of standing on principle, and the utility of those principles as glue.
When Grace Jones brandished and flaunted her androgyny, what did she want us to know? Was it that the construct of gender in its mainstream manifestation is hyper-white and impractical for beings such as ourselves? Did she also intuitively understand that she was modeling for Black folx precisely what the consumption of and hunger for Black bodies by white appetite looks like in real time?
Remember how your mother would wash your hair in the kitchen sink with warm water and coconut scented shampoo? Remember that she didn’t have to verbalize that she loved you because her fingernails on your scalp said it all, because her scent somehow affirmed that she would always be yours and that mothering you came as natural to her as breathing?
There are keys to revolution buried in the exchanges with your best friend in which you trade glances and burst out laughing, without saying a thing. Sisterhood is the best medicine; an antidote for misogynoir and the battles we don’t discuss. Black queer folx’s belly deep laughs possess a magical quality and an inexplicable, organic contagion that, alone, have the potential to build community.
When you make love to another Black person for the first time and you feel luxuriously dipped in chocolate, wrapped in love, uplifted in ecstasy, what lessons are there to extract? Black bodies certainly do not exist to comprise the oppressor's source of exploited labor. They are for more than perverted hypersexualization by those disconnected from our collective spirit, our collective purpose. Our bodies are for loving, for worshipping, for pleasuring, for feeding. Our bodies are for us.
To get free, we must ask ourselves how the spaces we occupy speak to us. What do we feel, hear, understand in our daisy dukes and Fashion Nova surrounded by candy paint and engulfed in parking lot pimpin? What do we internalize at the barber shop or on the yard? Let us also pose questions about what it means to us and for us when we dap each other up, when we pray, when we dance, when we smoke, when we shoot. To conjure freedom, we have to not only internalize, but explicitly name that we have a language all our own. We have to ask ourselves why we prioritize MailChimp and Wix, Instagram and Facebook, The New York Times and Buzzfeed at the expense of instead of in addition to the intentional and strategic use of that language. Black envisioning, Black influence, Black ritual, and Black experience teach us that there exist, just within our grasp, galaxies of possibilities for a simultaneously age-old and brand new system of communications. They teach us that we can build that system piece by piece, story by story, thought by thought, exchange by exchange. History demonstrates for us that we must be careful to protect that system from the dangers of white comprehension. Our “words” must be visible, but opaque; impossible to decipher and distinguish to those for whom they are not meant. If we fail to take those precautions, our system will be absorbed and demolished; crushed, like every other aspect of Black autonomy, by the weight of capitalism and white hegemony and robbed of its breath because we underestimated the forces that seek to turn even our principles to profit.
If we successfully build this system, our potential for mobilization, for understanding, for radicalization, for healing will increase exponentially; with every Black public housing complex, apartment, block, street, neighborhood, city, state, country, world, universe plugging in and being fed, being connected, being informed, being warned. If we are successful, battle cries will ring further than we could ever have imagined and prayer calls will be more powerful that we have ever experienced. If we are successful, the revolution will not be televised, but broadcasted on platforms only we can see and through frequencies that register only with us.