Friday, November 7, 2008

Barack Obama and The Black Radical Imagination

I told myself I wasn't going to blog about Obama's victory on Tuesday night. I told myself I wasn't going to write about what has already been said. I told myself these things on Wednesday morning when I had time to reflect on the events of Election Tuesday, the events of my life, and the Event of this year.

The last time I saw my Mother alive was when I rode the train into the Bronx to vote for Barack Obama in the New York Primary on February 5th, 2008. I went to visit my Mother first. It felt difficult to leave her, though it was getting late and the polls closed at 9pm. As I visited her, trying not to reveal to her my heartbreak at the sight of her condition, my heart broke some more. I knew she was leaving me and there was nothing at all I could do but let her go.

My Mother was born into poverty on the island of Antigua in 1933. Many years later she would make it to America, meet my Father and give birth to two children. She was a beautiul woman, a witty and elegant woman and a religious woman. And though we would clash later on in life, she and my Father, early on, gave me such faith in the power of my imagination. They believed in me so much and this belief has carried me to this day when I reflect back on how difficult it became as I grew older and realized the limitations that racism, sexism, and classism put on my imagination and how I had begun to internalize these societal ills myself. But still, I had the love and respect of my parents to count on in those days when I lamented the lack of resources available to artists, and felt held back and humiliated that I was black, female, wildly imaginative, and from the Bronx. All around me I had images of what I was supposed to be; pregnant early, drug addicted, incarcerated, and HIV+. And because none of those things happened to me, it did not mean that I did not engage in risky acts that could have ruined or held back my life. I was no different from the people around me. I just happened to not get caught. I clung instead, like an immigrant, to the dream of this country that had expanded my parents imaginations from the islands they came from. I inherited this. Slavery was over. Mental slavery, however still had us. Well, it certainly had me, though I struggled hard to loosen each shackle. Which brings me to Dr. Robin D.G. Kelly's wonderful book, "Freedom Dreams: The Black Radical Imagination." In it he discusses the many movements in history blacks started and were apart of from slave rebellions, to the Back to Africa Movement, The Black Feminist Movement, the Civil Rights Movement, the Communist Movement and my personal favorite, The Surrealist Movement, and so on. What I took away the most from Dr. Kelley's book was the notion that though some of these movements failed or did not go as far as people hoped they would that the capacity to dream a life that is better than the one you have, where there is equality and respect for the imagination is the most radical a person can become.

Is this what the Republicans feared about Obama? Not so long ago it was considered illegal to educate slaves. Knowledge meant rebellion. Responsibility. Justice.
Change. Of course, Obama would seem a threat to people who believe this. Many Republicans poo-pooed his vision, his hope. They ridiculed his experience as a Community Organizer. This has its roots in slavery. If people were to come together...? If the slaves were to organize and plan, slave owners would lose their labor.

The Radical Imagination is not a dangerous thing. Our imaginations, in their most natural state, unaffected by any form of oppression, is blissfully unfettered. In society's such as ours which run on the oppression of others, those who dare to dream a different dream, who say things others won't say and suggest we all deserve a fair share, are considered radical.

Read 'Freedom Dreams' and know that the lenses Dr. Kelley chooses to examine the radical imagination have little to do with race. The wisdom and right to our imaginations is our human human heritage and we can explore it with excitement, freedom, and love.

So today as I celebrate my 34th Birthday, I think of my Mother on the last day I saw her alive moving her head in such ectasy to the song 'Ave Maria,' playing on a CD I bought her for her last birthday. In the last few months of her life, it was all she listened to and though it pained her to do so, and though she was humiliated by how her illness made her look, she danced in the way that she could, dreaming (probably) of returning to a place she learned as a child there would be no pain. And I wept, wept, wept without her knowing, wept still clinging to dreams of her full recovery, Never doubting that at the very least, it was possible, even though that recovery would never come. But I don't for a moment believe, even months after her death, that my belief in a full recovery for my Mother, even in her weakened state was at all denial. I may even be radical enough to say that the possibility of my Mother's full recovery was even likely, and this I know she knew.

To My Dear Sweet Mother, Igena, I thank you deeply for gifting me with such radical dreams, and a wonderful, wonderful life. You are so loved. So appreciated. So missed. Ashe.

No comments: