“Fly girl, outer-space up high girl Fly high, Black butterfly”
For months I could not dream. Not dreaming is particularly frightening for a Pisceas, since we are known creative and imaginative creatures who tend to live in our own fantasy worlds. For most of 2015 I feared sleeping. At night when I closed my eyes I was haunted by nightmares of dystopian worlds in which me and my friends were under attack by a tyrant police regime hellbent on annihilating us. In one particular nightmare I barely escaped capture by a paramilitary group chasing me across a blown-up Brooklyn bridge.
Perhaps the nightmares began after the murders of Mya Hall and Freddie Grey, during those months in New York City when we took the streets to grieve and rage and resist. My nightmares were in fact a reflection of the genocide against Black people in the US I witnessed and experienced daily. Each day I awoke drained, tired, paralyzed and terrified. I spiraled into depression, afraid to leave my house and engage in a world wherein people like me — Black, queer, gender nonconforming, femme — die everyday.
Trauma from structural oppression impacts every aspect of our lives and beings — our communities, our relationships, our bodies, our spirits, and our psyches. My inability to dream, to image worlds outside of the fucked up one in which we inhabit, and the nightmares I experienced were symptoms of the psychic terrorism of anti-black violence. Each day I was passively internalizing images of the Black death. My Facebook timeline functioned as an obituary, a litany of names and pictures and tributes to Black gender non-conforming folks, women, girls and men shot in the back by police and beaten in classrooms.
Systems of domination wage wars against our psyches and imagination, constantly presenting us with realities in which, to put simply, Black people are dying in the present and have no possible future. The psychic oppression we experience as a result of anti-black state violence disallows the possibility for a world wherein Black people can live, let alone thrive. Under systems of domination, during times of hopelessness and pessimism, what compels us to keep fighting, to keeping on keeping on?
Octavia Bulter asks: What good is science fiction’s thinking about the present, the future, and the past? What good is its tendency to warn or to consider alternative ways of thinking and doing?…And what good is all this to Black people? Imagining Black futures is a critical intervention and generative practice in Black liberation. In order for me to be alive right now I had to be able to dream and conjure images of resistance, presents wherein my people fought and resisted police violence, futures beyond white supremacist cis heteropatriarchy that I wanted to inhabit. Our imaginations nurture the fire of liberation. They allows us to experiment and explore alternative realities like: what does a world without police and prisons look like? And how can we exist and love outside of the gender binary, transmisogny, and systems of domination.
I remember distinctly the day I started dreaming again. It was sometime in late December. I had left New York for the Bay Area for a self-care trip in hopes of recuperating from my declining mental health. My good friend from college, A-lan, and her beloved daughter, Indigo-June, visited me one day. After some heavy conversations about navigating the world as Black people, Indigo and I went on an adventure in the garden and playground at the house I was staying at. We spotted some butterflies near a lavender bush and Indie, fascinated, begin chasing them. I picked Indie up and screamed, “I didn’t know you could fly!” Tickled, she began to flap her arms as we whizzed around rose bushes and aloe plants. I whispered in her ear and to the Sun, “Fly girl, outer-space up high girl. Fly high Black butterfly!” Later, after hours of flying and skateboarding Indie and I sat in exhaustion. I looked at her and cried tears of gratitude for the gift of vision and imagination this little human helped me return to. For a day of being carefree Black butterflies.
Let us dream and conjure, collectively, Black queer futures without prisons and police, without gender-based violence, and let those imaginings be the blueprint for freedom. It is our ancestral birthright. Dreaming and world making is a tradition inherited from enslaved ancestors who dared to fight, love, and fuck for a future without chattel slavery. Keep dreaming, and hold tight to those dreams.