Recently I received a copy of Octavia Butler’s Kindred graphic novel, which was adapted by Damien Duffy and John Jennings. Reading the story in graphic novel form gave me a chance to see aspects of the book that I didn’t pay as much attention to as before. One was the mechanism by which Dana traveled back in time. On her second trip back to the past, Rufus mentions to Dana that he had seen her in the water right before she came traveled back to the past to rescue him. Rufus tells Dana that he saw her with his eyes closed and that he had stepped into a “hole” in the river where he saw her in a room full of books. He also heard both Dana and Kevin before the second time Dana came back. Rufus, although problematic, has inklings of visionary insight, but does he because of his connection to his future legacy in Dana (Rufus only has black descendants as he only had children with Alice) or because he was at the edge of imagining a different society but the slaveholding, racist, sexist, generally oppressive society around him impeded that?
I’ll be honest. These past couple of weeks has made writing for me difficult. I was lacking encouragement to keep writing my fantasy novel and wavering back and forth between if being a writer mattered. But attending events like Writers Resist in Queens and reading my own work, reading from Frederick Douglass’ speech “What to a Slave is The Fourth of July,” and listening to the various other writers in the room helped to reinvigorate me.
Oppressive systems and tyrannical leaders gain power off of our silence, our complacency, our acceptance of how it imagines the world should be. Stories have helped to motivate people to keep going when times were dire. To believe in a different possibility of the world. Douglass, an abolitionist who was able to break through the chains of slavery through reading and writing, said that knowledge was the pathway to freedom. His desire to learn to read and write gave him the tools to fight the oppressive institution of slavery and determine a different future for himself. Enslaved people learning to read and write was a threat to the social order of the day. They gave the enslaved tools to question authority and to imagine something else, which is a danger to the status quo.
Recently I’ve been reading Tracey Baptiste’s YA book, The Jumbies, which is a supernatural fantasy book that takes place on the island of Trinidad. I won’t give away what the book is about; instead I suggest for you to go read it, but I will tell you that one of my favorite characters is the witch because she is truth teller. Here is a poignant passage I resonated with and that I believe is relevant for now:
“Everybody thinks they need magic. Everybody wants answers. Get rid of this boil. Help me find money. She doesn’t love me anymore. Why won’t my cane stalks grow tall as my neighbors? Everybody wants a fast, easy solution. Maybe if you took care of you’re skin, you wouldn’t have gotten the boil in the first place. Maybe if you worked harder you would make more money. Maybe that person isn’t the right one for you. Maybe if you found a better way to farm, your crop would come up better. But nobody wants to hear those things. They want a bottle. Instant success! Something to drink, or sprinkle, or spill on the ground. They want magic from nothing. Magic doesn’t come from nothing. It comes from somewhere. And it isn’t so extraordinary. It’s just work. It’s just using your head and your heart.”
In many ways, the indoctrination of an instant gratification culture obsessed with instant power, wealth and fame is part of the blame to how we got to this point. Let us learn, as Baptiste teaches us in The Jumbies, that to create true change and to fight back, we must trust our true instincts, understand our connection to the earth and that doing real magic takes work.
This week, this country has elected a egotistical bigot to become the next president of the United States. I am saddened, scared and sobered by it but I am not shocked. This country was founded on favoring white male landowners. The founding fathers were racist slaveowners who though the only men who should be seen as their equals were white, landowning men. I was not included as equal in their vision of the future of this country. This is the country where in 1915, Woodrow Wilson showed the racist film Birth of a Nation at the White House. Jim Crow, segregation, Japanese internment camps, immigrant quotas and exclusion acts, and the like were not that long ago. There are people still alive who lived through those times.
I am not going to pretend to be shocked that this country could elect someone like Trump. It feels surreal. It feels like a reality TV show and it makes sense he is now the leader of this show. But as Colson Whitehead said in The Underground Railroad, America was built on a delusion. It is a grand delusion, built on white supremacist, patriarchal ideals, like manifest destiny. I am not going to pretend otherwise. The mask has been uncovered and we need to accept it in order to move forward. This is what we are dealing with still.
I want to keep moving forward. I want to keep that spirit that kept my ancestors moving forward. Because despite all that history of them telling us we did not deserve a future that we wanted, we are still here. Maybe I am delusional as well, just like Valentine farm in Whitehead’s book, but sometimes we need to fight delusion with delusion, myth with myth. That is why I will continue fighting, continue writing stories that reflect who we really are and can be, not who they tell us we are and can be, continue having this platform to share voices who advocate for alternative presents and futures. We are not going to aid in making American great again for the select few. As Jay Smooth said, the only glimpse of America’s true greatness was our resistance and through that resistance America has reached closer to its ideals. We will continue to fight to create a new vision for America, one that lives up to its ideals, as we have always done.
And I leave you with this line from Parliament’s “Mothership Connection:” “You have overcome because I am here.”
We are here.
(BTW: The My-Stery series title is now changed to The M(N)STRY.)