Ingrid LaFleur in Conversation with Rasheedah Phillips - Believer Magazine
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Ingrid LaFleur in Conversation with Rasheedah Phillips

by Constance Collier-Mercado
Illustrations by Samar Haddad
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Ingrid LaFleur in Conversation with Rasheedah Phillips

by Constance Collier-Mercado
Illustrations by Samar Haddad

Ingrid LaFleur in Conversation with Rasheedah Phillips

Constance Collier-Mercado
15 Snaps

This interview is not the first time Ingrid LaFleur and Rasheedah Phillips have shared space across physical or virtual realms. From July to October of 2019, LaFleur curated the large-scale interactive art exhibit Manifest Destiny, for which a number of prominent Afrofuturist artists contributed work. Phillips participated by giving a lecture titled “Quantum Womanist Futures,” Phillips fused ideas from art, history, and physics, and notions of nonlinear time to address the presence of Black women across overlapping iterations of the past, present, and future. More recently, from March to June 2020, LaFleur moderated a series of digital conversations called “What Does the Afrofuture Say?” as an offering from her creative think tank and consultancy firm, the Afrofuture Strategies Institute. She once again reached out to Phillips, along with a host of others, for a conversation, in early April, about the impact of COVID-19 on the Black community.

Ingrid LaFleur, forty-two, is a curator, artist, Afrofuturist, and pleasure activistby which she means she has “developed a pleasure principle to bring more joy into [her] life… and resonate that pleasure deep into the future.” She spent the first ten years of her career making a name for herself in the international arts scene, and in 2010 she returned to her hometown of Detroit to invest the fruits of that experience. She has accomplished this in projects such as her Afrofuturist arts, film, and book club series, Afrotopia; the Decolonize Your Destiny podcast, which she started in 2019 as a road map to self-sovereignty and liberation through the daily practice of decolonization; and DINKINESH, her pop-up boutique specializing in Afrofuturist cultural production.

In 2017, LaFleur ran for mayor of Detroit, and her campaign featured an intersectional Black feminist platform centering art, technology, and local economies in music and cannabis. She wasn’t elected, but her candidacy demonstrated her deep love for the people of Detroit, and she garnered support from a range of poets, artists, and activists in the community. She continues to work toward the implementation of ideas such as universal basic income, investment in creative economies, and human-centered governance using co-creation planning sessions at the local level. LaFleur’s meditative art installations, Traveling to Turiya and The Resonance, as well as the performance piece Take Root Among the Stars, are objects of my personal admiration, as they mirror my obsession with communal methods of healing, the binary star system Sirius, and the Dogon people of Mali, whom I regard as prototype for all Afrofuturist scholarship. In these astral experiments, LaFleur investigates the use of crystals and sound mapping as ways to cleanse intergenerational trauma and to travel cosmically.

Rasheedah Phillips, thirty-six, is likewise an accomplished artist and Afrofuturist. She is also an author, mother, and public interest housing attorney with Community Legal Services of Philadelphia. She is the founder of the Afrofuturist Affair, a grassroots community promoting Black speculative culture through events and creative writing, as well as a cofounder of the Community Futures Lab, a Black Futurist community space and quantum time capsule (archive) of Black communal pasts and futures in North Philly; and of the Black Quantum Futurism collective, a multidisciplinary collaboration exploring futurism, creative media, DIY aesthetics, and activism in marginalized communities; and of House of Future Sciences, through which she has written, edited, and self-published a speculative fiction collection and numerous anthologies. She is a founding member of Metropolarity, a corner-store sci-fi experiment and thought collective working for the people. I’ve followed Phillips’s work since the 2014 publication of her short-story collection, Recurrence Plot and Other Time Travel Tales, and have consistently used her scholarly writings on cyclical structures of time, temporal mapping, and the “Black grandmother paradox” in my own creative practice.

In her essay “Black Quantum Futurism: Theory and Practice—Part One,” the titular piece in a 2015 self-published anthology, Phillips details how time exists according to Black quantum principles: not in a straight line from past to present, but in a kind of bicycle wheel whose many spokes are plot points. She explains that we each operate under our own sense of time, and so there are an infinite number of temporal “wheels” interacting at any given moment. In another essay, “Communal, Quantum, and Afrofutures: Time and Memory in North Philly,” written as part of the third book in the Black Quantum Futurism anthology series, Phillips takes the idea of cyclical time wheels to its natural conclusion by discussing the impact of redevelopment across the shared space-times of an entire community, in this case the rapidly gentrifying neighborhoods of Sharswood and Brewerytown, in North Philadelphia. She shows how the temporal mapping of many time wheels in a single community can act as data points that highlight disparities in who has access to the past or future, depending on race, class, gender, and other factors. 

It’s no secret that Afrofuturist thought can be a revolving door of sorts. An expansive, multi-hyphenate, highly generative door—perhaps better described as a portal than as a mere entryway, but revolving nonetheless. Our conversation was no different, briefly touching on subjects as seemingly disparate (or connected) as blockchain technology and healing crystals, but consistently pivoting back to each woman’s art practice as a grounding force. This repeated sankofa toward the arts mirrored, for me, the natural rhythms of an exhibition and how the viewer might move through that kind of space. In a way, this introduction functions as the catalog essay for such an exhibition. Our exchange certainly evolved to include a catalog of insights both metaphysical and material.

We spoke via Zoom, in early May, while quarantined in Johannesburg (Ingrid), Philadelphia (Rasheedah), and Atlanta (myself). Over the course of our interview, we discussed many losses brought about by COVID-19 but also collective possibilities for survival on the other side of this moment. 

—Constance Collier-Mercado

I. ART AS TIME AS THE BODY (OF WORK)

THE BELIEVER: Rasheedah, much of your practice centers on the use of time as a tool for Black liberation and Black survival. Can you speak to some of those ideas?

RASHEEDAH PHILLIPS: What I think about with my work is this history of linear time constructs and understanding the ways history has constructed Blackness. When we’re talking about how Black people in America today are displaced, mistreated, oppressed, we’re thinking about systemic racism, systemic oppression. Often, we talk in these kinds of spatial terms. Especially in my legal work around housing, we talk about spatiality.

What I like to emphasize is that time is the thing. It’s at the heart of a lot of what we’re talking about. It’s the co-opting of the future, this idea that Black bodies don’t deserve to make it into the future. That was literally written into our constitution, into the US Constitution, anyway. When this land was stolen, right, we weren’t calculated to be a part of that. Now we see this play out with the mortality rates of Black people infected with COVID-19. When we talk about housing and stability, at least in Philadelphia, 70 percent of the people being evicted are Black women. In these ways, Black people are cut off from their future. Their time is literally compressed. We’re also cut off from our past, disconnected from the Continent, our histories, our lineages. So I talk about that. What does that mean? Where does this linear construct come from? Where does this sense of the future being in front of us come from? Where does this sense come from that the future is one place that we all make it into or don’t make it into?

From the very beginning, when we’re talking about things like Manifest Destiny, Thomas Jefferson, and expanding into the West, he was not talking about space. He was talking about the future and staking a claim on the future. He literally uses that language in his speeches. The pandemic is an opportunity to think about that in very real ways. You hear everybody kind of being like: “Time is weird now,” right?

BLVR: Yes!

RP: The days are blending into one another in these particular ways. This feels like an opportunity to rethink our structures, how time works within our organizations. I do a lot of training for legal services organizations around racial justice and supervision. I’m asking people, like: How are we restructuring our work environments, our work culture? This white-supremacist work culture that says: You have to live nine-to-five and you have to do things a certain way and work takes up this much time. I’m interrogating these structures and trying to bring that into my work while time feels flexible and fluid.

BLVR: Ingrid, something Rasheedah just mentioned about the way Black bodies are trivialized reminded me of a conversation you had for an Arts Salon held by ADAMA [the African Diaspora Art Museum of Atlanta]. You talked about your role as a curator and as an Afrofuturist, and how it is centered on the concept of Black bodies. Some people are ambivalent about the phrase Black bodies being placed front and center, but in this space of the pandemic, we’re watching literal bodies piling up, in some places in makeshift freezers outside hospitals. When we talk about survival, we have to focus as well on the people who did not survive, who will not survive this. And yet we don’t want that focus to diminish or pathologize Black bodies as a type of trauma porn, like how they are sometimes treated on social and digital media. How do we bring it more toward the kind of work that, let’s say, Mamie Till-Mobley was doing when Emmett Till was murdered and she said: “Let the people see what they did to my boy.” Her choice to have an open casket at his public funeral was incredibly controversial at the time. How do you make sure that when you focus on Black bodies in your work, you’re doing so in a way that does not further dehumanize them?

INGRID LAFLEUR: I’ll start with the definition of Black bodies. I don’t always use the term. But I am very intentional when I use it to illustrate how the state, how people, are socialized to see us. I think we need to understand when that happens. That’s when we become a Black body. I am trying my best to liberate the Black body simply because it is being Black that people are reacting to. It’s not our soul, our laughter, or anything else. It’s literally the Black skin. We need to remember that as we’re strategizing for our future. Because those forces are present. I believe that we create our own realities, and we can definitely manifest a particular destiny. But that doesn’t mean that on a meta level we’re not affected by oppressive forces. It is in the fabric of how the United States operates. Anti-Blackness is completely embraced, in the deepest core.

I just learned of a person dear to me who passed away, so I’m in grieving mode. But I don’t feel like I’m ever not in grieving mode. Just another day in quarantine. It’s not like all of a sudden people are gonna give a shit about us, to be very blunt. Right now, Detroit is a hot spot for COVID-19, and you have white supremacists at the capitol like: Why do we have to go on lockdown when Black people are dying? We don’t care about Black people dying!

They are actually risking their own health to live in a way that would put them further at risk. We’re witnessing the dehumanization explode and take shape in all these other ways that are not necessarily a surprise, but it’s just so blatant. It’s just so physical. Black death has become a type of porn, for sure. Some of us are mourning and in shock, and some of us are celebrating it, in the United States and maybe elsewhere.

This is why I center Black bodies: because it’s the liberation that everybody needs. There’s no way you can work in climate change and want to save whales and hate Black people and think that’s not going to affect anything. I think that’s our crossroads. But, yeah, Black bodies is harsh; it’s cold: it’s meant to be. And when I use it, there’s a point to it. To talk about a particular system that sees us that way—that barely sees us in the first place. How do we fight anti-Blackness and make sure it doesn’t impede how we’re manifesting our futures? 

II. ANCESTRAL TECHNOLOGY, MODERN COMPOSITION

BLVR: Ingrid, in your “What Does the Afrofuture Say?” series, you’ve modeled a way to do something different. One of the conversations you had was with artist and Afrofuturist Alisha B. Wormsley. You talked about the feeling of not being able to get past the shock of it all. You said: “The movies already told us how this ends and it’s not good.” Thinking about dystopian narratives, what the movies tell us that shock looks like, and whom they tell us survives, the idea of shock is symbolized by the person who wasn’t prepared. And those who don’t survive are depicted as living in population-dense urban environments and, by association—the movies don’t really focus on us—typically Black and of-color spaces. I would argue that you’ve modeled a more sustainable type of survival as a Black woman “prepper” from Detroit, quarantined in the cultural hub of Johannesburg—which is another urban environment—and operating from a place of “I can be fragile, I can be in shock, I can be in community, and we can still get something done.”

So this question is for both you and Rasheedah: For the budding Afrofuturist, the person who is just getting into this realm, what steps can they be taking to be prepared for massive shifts? We’ve seen with COVID-19 that this could pop up at any moment. How do you mentally prepare to see possibility on the other side? 

IL: Rasheedah, do you want to go, since I just spoke? 

RP: I think for me what came to mind when you were talking is Octavia Butler. She is the person who prepared me, to the extent that I am prepared for this. Which, I don’t know—it’s a heavy question. But I feel like I would advise starting with Octavia Butler. I would advise reading Black folks, watching Black folks. We might not have big-budget productions, but Afrofuturists have been creating films about various aspects of apocalypse, of worlds ending, for many years. Turning to their visions of how this plays out has been very useful for me. The thing is, although COVID-19, this pandemic, feels different—it is different—we’ve also been through apocalypse before. Communities are always undergoing these kinds of urgencies.

I live in Philadelphia, where the city, the mayor, literally dropped a bomb on a section, in West Philadelphia, where they’re continuing to recover.[1] When we talk about time, that might have happened in 1985, but that community’s still impacted. Even after rebuilding, the ground is still sour in that sense. So when I think about prepping and I think about survival, I turn to the tools we already have and that we’ve already cultivated to survive the apocalypse that is America, both since we were forced here and since our Native siblings were attacked on their own land. Those tools prep me for these moments when I know the Black community is going to be first attacked, first impacted, or impacted most greatly by things that are happening in the world.

In a way that’s sort of timeless, the Afrofuture does not  contemplate just technology or just moving into the linear future, but it naturally calls back on the past. Survival tools that my enslaved ancestors had to utilize, for instance. Black lives have always had to deal with this kind of sci-fi reality. I’ve watched all the pandemic movies, like everybody else, but I’ve also watched a lot of Black folk indie films that deal with what the future looks like: a white-supremacist future, and Black people surviving in that white-supremacist future, and the ways we call upon both tools that don’t exist and tools from our lineages and our ancestors. Our cultural tools.

IL: Survival can look like a lot of different things. That’s the first thing we need to understand. Just like apocalypse looks like a lot of different things, as Rasheedah is saying. A place like Detroit is prepared for the disruption of our food-supply systems. Or the fact that water shutoffs were supposed to stop at the start of the pandemic in Detroit, but people’s water wasn’t turned on, so activists continue to distribute water. Oppressive systems were in place before COVID-19 simply because the city government doesn’t really value Black bodies, especially in the state of Michigan. So Detroiters had to come up with ways to survive and exchange resources and just kind of keep it moving.

This is a really good time for us to assess all the assets within our communities, including the really kind of basic things to help sustain ourselves. Being very aware of where we are. What is in walking distance? Gardens? Do you have access to fresh water if something were to shut off? Can you have a rain catchment system?

We have to consider that we don’t really understand what this economy is doing right now. Capitalism is super fragile anyway, so this could be a deep depression or it could be just a slight recession. Whatever it is, we need to be ready. It’s a great time for us to get into cryptocurrency, to consider: What is the market? What are the different crypto coins? Every coin is different. They have different value systems so you can choose something that really works for you. That’s something, in terms of liberation: to be able to exchange goods outside of this larger global economic system. If we could do that across the African diaspora, that would be amazing.

BLVR: Ingrid, to follow up on your comments about blockchain and cryptocurrency, I’ve been noticing Bitcoin machines in my majority and historically Black neighborhood, which is freaky to me, that they’re in our neighborhood already. What is blockchain technology? How do you think it could be useful? 

IL: Blockchain technology is a digital ledger that no one can edit, that basically tracks and records all transactions in peer-to-peer exchanges. You do not have a bank, a third party, to validate the transaction, to make sure you actually have the Bitcoin to give me if you want to buy my coat, for instance.

One thing we love about the fact that there’s no third party is it means it can’t just arbitrarily stop the transaction. Right now, you’re asking for permission from your bank when you use your debit card to pull money out. This way, using blockchain, you are actually holding the money yourself in your own electronic wallet, or in other ways. And you are completely responsible for your money.

The other thing about blockchain technology is there are multiple copies of the ledger on different servers. If somebody wanted to attack us to end the cryptocurrency we’ve created, there would be another copy of the ledger in Atlanta, in Philadelphia, in hidden servers across the world, so no one can destroy or disrupt the function of that cryptocurrency. I think that’s really important to understand when we think about, for instance, Tulsa, Oklahoma, when they came after Black Wall Street.[2] They burned it to the ground, people lost their money, and that was it. Now we have a way to have multiple records, so it’s less easy for your accounts to be compromised or hacked.

BLVR: Blockchain sounds like a way to own the means of production, in a way. You have much more control over how your currency is held and your access to it.

IL: With cryptocurrency, you are able to have more access to the money than if it were in the bank. You have no power when it comes to the bank, period. It could shut down and not give you your money. However, people have lost their money with cryptocurrency. Wallets have been lost; people don’t know codes; people die. Things happen. So there is another risk when you don’t have a third party involved to help secure your money. 

BLVR: It could be a useful tool when we’re talking about survival and being able to think along multiple fronts.

IL: Yeah, there’s cryptocurrencies that have been created with the sole purpose of serving lower-income communities across the world. They’re used only within those spaces. We have examples of how we can create our own currency and have it exist within a particular ecosystem. It’s really exciting in that way. You can also create a decentralized, autonomous community. The community can create the cryptocurrency, monitor it, and everyone can see the records and budget. I really love that way of working together, because it creates a level of transparency we’ve never experienced before. It also speaks to cooperative economics, which is a major principle—a legacy principle—that we’ve always instituted for survival.

III. STUDIO SESSION: OBJECT ENERGIES, COSMIC FEEDBACK

BLVR: Rasheedah, you seem to emphasize that we’ve been here before, that we need to look back at things that came before us. I got a bit of the spiritual out of that as well. We’re always in a space that requires us to look back at our histories and figure out what Grandma and them were doing. What Great-Grandma and them were doing, so we can pick those things back up as needed. You talked earlier about reading Black texts. You’ve got a litany of Black texts that you have put out. One was your short-story collection, Recurrence Plot and Other Time Travel Tales, which has a scene that you’ve used in your community and artistic practice. Your character is visited by herself from the future and is told to get a watch, place it against a mirror, and repeat back to herself, “Who am I? Where have I been?,”and then she’s able to time-travel. You have carried that forward, outside the story, and it has been in several of your installations. You also got these little door-hangers to send instructions to people in the mail. What was the importance of using mirrors and asking: “Who am I? Where have I been?” as a kind of portal?

RP: Thank you for noticing that. I think it’s really important and extremely intentional that we make our work accessible. We emphasize different entry points for people to think about, grasp, and practically utilize these ideas. The mirror, the candles, the watch are objects I use to underscore thinking about everyday ways in which we time-travel. These everyday objects that store up memory, that store time. The simplest example is the lamp in a room: it’s always there; it’s always witnessing. We think of these things as inanimate, but they’re not. They have life; they have energy. As Black folks, we are often cut off from our cultural artifacts that store memory and time. They’re in museums; they’re destroyed; they’re buried.

It’s also pushing back on, overwhelmingly, the notion that in order for a person to be a time traveler, they have to be a white man, a scientist, or have some type of machine or some privilege that allows them access to the past or the future. When you look at time-travel stories coming out of the Black community, they’re very different. Octavia Butler doesn’t call [her novel] Kindred time travel; she calls it a grim fantasy. But it plays with time travel and elements of time displacement. There’s no machine, right; the time travel is happening through her body. It’s happening through her ancestral line. It’s happening through her ancestor pulling her back involuntarily.

Looking at those elements and how we as Black women experience time differently—just by virtue of us being at these intersections of Blackness and womanhood—I have developed these concepts called the Black Grandmother Paradox and Black Womxn Temporal. The grandfather paradox is one of the tropes of science fiction and time travel that says if you go back in time, you can create these paradoxes where you’re killing your grandfather and you’re never born and all this silly stuff. If you’re thinking about it from the perspective of how Black folks experience time, that’s not a paradox. It is not a paradox for us to bring the past into our present. That’s a natural kind of—what you call spiritual. Our ancestors being present with us. Maybe not in this physical plane but on a temporal plane. Creating altars. Things that we as Black folks just kind of do.

While I don’t necessarily have a dedicated spiritual practice, these time experiments are for me a spiritual practice in the sense that I am calling forward other ways of thinking about time and bringing in what is considered the past, what is considered dead, what is considered a paradox of time. It’s actually very generative, how we deal with and think about time. But when we’re stuck in this grind, if we’re essential workers or we’re positioned differently, our time, our temporality, is put to the side. We’re tethered to linear time constructs, labor constructs, poverty constructs that condition our experience in certain ways. That’s what these time experiments are about: taking everyday objects and thinking about how a mirror modifies time.

A lot of this work is also trying to move out of ableist conceptions of time and what I think of as ableist time travel. Trying to deemphasize, in some ways, vision as the medium through which we do everything and emphasizing other senses, like hearing and touching. Trying to move away from these privileges of time travel, mobility, and how we access survival. It’s about expanding our temporal landscapes from being located just in our bodies and being purely subjective—meaning that only we experience it—or objective, meaning that the state is determining what time it is, and instead, having this kind of hybrid that includes communal time. I talk and write about that a lot, how communities come together to create time.

That time is not necessarily smooth, but in our Black communities we embrace conflict. We move through it; we work through it. We have to find healthier temporal-spatial constructs. In some ways, they’re already within us. They’re in our DNA; they’re in our epigenetics, which have been passed down to us. We don’t have to go far; we just have to do the work to recover. Those experiments are part of doing that work to recover temporal constructs. 

BLVR: I really appreciate that answer. In a couple of videos from your time at the Onassis Foundation’s Enter Afrofuturism summit, you mention how you came up with the terminology for Black quantum futurism. The quantum element—quantum physics, quantum mechanics—is parallel, in many ways, with what you’ve termed “ancient indigenous African practice.” It doesn’t necessarily mean spirituality, but that ancestral element runs parallel to the scientific time experiments you do.

Ingrid, you’re known very much as a curator, but you’ve done various art installations as well. Take Root Among the Stars—a cosmic meditation series where you facilitated travel to Saturn, Jupiter, and the binary star Sirius—was part of the Blue Black exhibition, curated by Glenn Ligon, for the Pulitzer Art Foundation. Another of your installations, The Resonance, was a ritual healing reenactment produced by Iwalewahaus at the University of Bayreuth, in Germany, and related to the first modern genocide—of Namibian women by the Germans. [3] That was a type of restoration, in terms of acknowledging those who didn’t physically survive, like we were talking about earlier. In general, you use black tourmaline and you engage in healing installations. Can you describe those practices and what they mean to you as survival tactics?

IL: I started creating meditations because I had been in Detroit for a couple years and I noticed how hard Detroiters were working not only to survive but to create spaces of thriving. I really wanted to make sure they were able to rest and transcend the human experience every once in a while, as we’re out here on the front lines fighting.

I created Traveling to Turiya, which was an installation of over thirty sculptures that used different types of crystals. The two main crystals were bismuth—it’s really beautiful and geometric and colorful; it reminds me of a city—and black tourmaline, which represents the Black body for me. It protects you from evil: that’s the essence of the stone. I like playing with the idea that people believe that Black bodies are violent and scary and might attack. In my reality, the Black body is the one that will protect you.

The whole installation was inspired by Alice Coltrane, who is from Detroit, became Hindu, and opened an ashram in California. She was a harpist, pianist, and also the wife of John Coltrane. She has a song called “Galaxy in Turiya,” and I used that as my framework for a sound essay that goes with that installation. In that essay there’s voices: James Baldwin’s, Octavia Butler’s, Sun Ra’s, Toni Morrison’s, Eartha Kitt’s, and Audre Lorde’s. It’s a really beautiful collage of statements that kind of fortify you. I’m trying to make sure that we remember. We have all these wisdoms around us, reminding us and telling us how beautiful and how great we are.

With my performance work, it’s really about sending people into that meditation space. I love my nontraditional way of meditating. I leave you out in space. Quite literally, I leave you out in the cosmos and you decide if you want to come back. It always opens a debate for me if I want to come back. But I believe in creating a relationship with the cosmos as we are creating a relationship with Earth. I think part of our depression is that we’re separated from both Earth and the cosmos. My work is really trying to help us create that deeper relationship.

I see Afrofuturism as a spiritual technology. I don’t think you can ever separate spirituality from anything that’s going on in Afrofuturism. I think it’s a very Western concept to think that the spiritual, the spirit, is something separate. It’s never separate. Everything has energy. And that’s when we get into our quantum physics, quantum mechanics. We could get real deep into it, but everything is spiritual. My artistic practice is to make sure it’s part of the conversation and that we are unafraid to engage in spiritual practices outside of Islam or Christianity, the more popular religions in our communities. 

IV. RELATIONAL PRACTICE

BLVR: It’s been hovering in the air that in some ways we’re talking about US constructs of how to survive, but there is a larger global Black experience. You both travel extensively. How has that impacted the way your work manifests? What does global survival look like for you?

IL: That has actually been the reason why I’m here on the Continent. I wanted to stop looking at Western ways of construction for how we live in urban spaces, how communities interact. So I went to Kigali, Rwanda. I love that city; I love that country. I’m fascinated by its politics. It’s not necessarily a utopia, but it offers a good example of what it means for a whole country to go through deep, deep trauma and to emerge, years later, as one of the fastest-growing economies.

Global survival is looking at different systems. Really wanting to know: How can we bring that back home and interweave those kinds of practices, African traditional practices, within these very institutional spaces? As much as I would love to pick up all of Detroit and just bring it here to Africa, I can’t. So I’m constantly like: What are the changes we can make? I’m really tired of asking permission, quite honestly. I’m tired of asking politicians to act right. So what are the things we can do outside those systems that are not just sustainable but evolving and resilient? Being in Africa, it’s been really great to observe different spiritual practices, ways of relating, ways of resolving conflict. It’s been wonderful to be here and to witness it firsthand. 

RP: Traveling has disrupted my notion that America is uniquely situated in any sense or form. The more you travel, the more you understand that African diasporic communities around the world are dealing with similar situations. Although they look different, the politics are different, and the social-historical contexts are different, and at heart a lot of the issues are linked to the same things. Last summer we [Rasheedah and her partner, Camae; the two are collectively known as Black Quantum Futurism] went to ICA [the Institute of Contemporary Arts], in London, for two weeks, and we worked with a migrant community there; we did workshops with them. It was just amazing. Talking to people in Europe and Australia and South Africa, you see remnants of the same issues around housing, lack of access to water, electricity. It breaks us out of this idea of American exceptionalism.

Of course, anecdotally, we know these things. But we don’t know specifically. When I travel, I ensure that I’m not just coming and dropping into a community and talking. I’m exchanging. I’m making sure that whoever brought me there is connecting me to the Afrofuturist community. You’re not going to act like these people don’t exist. That’s a problem: bringing in other experts or artists from outside the city. It is really important that I’m not taking resources from artists who have been there, who have been ignored. I’m trying my best to redistribute the resources in some way.

I know where my expertise lies, and a lot of it is in housing law, and then what I’ve learned and built up around Afrofuturism—of course, time and temporality is my thing. I could try to work on a million issues, but focusing allows me to do more work to move those issues forward. It also disrupts this sense of linear time: that things have to have a specified end date. That, you know, if we haven’t fixed the housing crisis by next year, we have failed. At least for me and for folks I work with, when we disrupt this idea of what success looks like, what the end goal looks like, and when it’s supposed to happen, that restores hope. 

[1] On May 13, 1985, the city of Philadelphia dropped a bomb on the home of MOVE, a Black liberation and environmental justice group, killing eleven people, including five children. The ensuing fire also destroyed sixty-one homes. After the inferno, the bombing’s sole adult survivor, Ramona Africa, served seven years in prison. In 1996, the city was found to have used excessive force and violated MOVE’s constitutional rights. Both Ramona Africa and Michael Ward, the one child who survived, were paid restitution for their pain and suffering. (Ward settled with the city in 1991.) The city has yet to formally apologize.
[2] The Tulsa Race Massacre occurred over the course of eighteen hours, from May 31 to June 1, 1921. It is widely considered the worst incident of racial violence in US history. As many as three hundred people were killed and over one thousand homes and businesses were destroyed across the predominantly Black neighborhood of Greenwood. The archeological search for potentially unmarked mass graves continues today. For further reading, please visit the Oklahoma Historical Society at okhistory.org.
[3] In 1884, Germany invaded Namibia and set up the German South West Africa colony. Settlers began to arrive in large numbers following the 1894 discovery of diamonds in the region. After an attempted revolt by indigenous farmers, German soldiers committed genocide against the Herero and Nama peoples. From 1904 to 1907, approximately eighty thousand people were murdered through battle; through starvation and thirst in the Omaheke desert; and through forced labor, rape, medical experiments, and disease in concentration camps. Dr. Eugen Fischer conducted many of the experiments and used his findings to teach theories of racial inferiority during the 1930s Nazi regime. For further reading on the “continuity thesis” linking the Namibian genocide with the Holocaust and ongoing calls for reparations, please visit the US Holocaust Memorial Museum at ushmm.org. 
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