On August 5th, the African American Policy Forum hosted our fifteenth episode of the hit series, Under the Blacklight. Titled “Storytelling While Black & Female: Conjuring Beautiful Experiments in Past & Future Worlds,” this episode explores intersectional storytelling and centers the experiences and insight of Black and female writers.
AAPF Executive Director Kimberlé Crenshaw is joined by the revolutionary and genre-defying N.K Jemisin and Saidiya Hartman, whose work provokes a glimpse into a commonly untold history and demands a radical reimagination of our lived reality by archiving and writing the violence of the past into their imaginations of a limitless future. They dive into conversation on their utilization of historiographical and archival research in tandem with their creation of fantastical worlds to address the gaps in dominant narratives about slavery and its aftermath in the United States.
Crenshaw kicked off the episode by identifying the “Twin Pandemics” we currently face -- the spread of the COVID-19 virus and growing visibility of state sanctioned violence against the Black community. In light of the intersectional vulnerabilities that COVID lays bare, we are pushed to consider the decisions, structures, histories, and laws that pave the destructive highway for COVID’s invasion and state surveillance of our bodies and communities. We ask the question: how can we curate this moment from our own lives to help shape the future?
In the first segment, Crenshaw and Hartman discuss excavating past erasures, highlighting the precarity of Black life in this present moment, linking it to historical violence and erasure. Hartman calls attention to historical precedence, bringing into consideration how we navigate and archive moments of crisis through the framework of critical fabulation - a practice she developed to encapsulate the approach of resurrecting forgotten histories to be more fully imagined. Drawing parallels between the Spanish Influenza and the Red Summer to the present twin pandemics, Hartman identifies the overwhelming presence of white violence and racist terror in the past and present, where Black precarity lay at the hands of both fellow citizens and the state. This glimpse into history urges us to consider the social distribution of death and the importance of the visibility of Black precarity as the pandemic plays out - we must fight against the dominant narrative where Black life is deemed as precarious and disposable. We must abolish the structure that maintains Black death as our norm.
Building off the idea of bringing past histories into the vernacular of the present and future - Crenshaw points to “no trespass” signs and gatekeepers, which limits how we access the past as and cultivate imaginary futures when our alternative realities are restricted fantasies. Here, Jemisin presents a glimpse into speculative fiction as multicultural, multi-gendered and multiracial; however, vanquishing “no trespass signs” and storming the citadel of a white, cisgendered, and heteropatriarchal genre was no easy feat; Jemisin discusses facing backlash and institutional critique for being both a successful Black and Female science fiction writer. Jemisin links this to reframing and archiving -- of pushing the boundaries past the limitations of internalized policing of our own possibility and of the genre by reimagining literary spaces so Black women's stories can be told.
From this comes an essential component of anti-racist praxis and a key takeway from speculative ideation - trusting black women, their visions and their methods of storytelling. There is a responsibility here for both archival writing and the archivist within each of us to consider how these twin crises will be remembered. We must curate this moment and participate in the telling of how we got here so that we might make a difference in the writing and imagining of the future. N.K. Jemisin and Saidiya Hartman leave us with a deeper understanding of the urgency and importance of pushing back against the established status quo. We must speak into existence intersectional experiences and histories in order to combat dominant narratives of oppression, exclusion and erasure.
You can listen to the remaining comments from the fifteenth installment of “Under The Blacklight” as a podcast, or watch a replay of the event on YouTube (here).
Until next time...