Black Futures is one of those books that expands the possibilities of what a book can be. It’s an anthology, but one that takes into account the digital world. Black Futures creates space on the printed page for the ways we spend our time online from the images we capture on our smart phones to the digital spaces where we congregate and create and organize to the music we listen to. And that was, I think, my favorite part of Black Futures. For better or worse, the internet is part of our lives. And a great deal of the shaping of our black future is taking place online.
But Black Futures is not only an archive of Black people engaging with the Internet. This is a book with a playlist that is not only a track listing in the book, but available online so readers can listen to the music as the mix it was intended to be. There is a declaration to protect Black life, countless calls to action, conversations between Black thinkers who imagine what a black future will look like, Black art, and articles and essays on everything from AfroIndigenous farming to political resistance to Black joy.
The anthology includes Keisha’s final monologue in the Pulitzer prize winning play Fairview, a moment in the show that upends traditional theater while centering black people in an utterly unique way. The monologue is an entreaty for fairness, something black people have rarely known and it is an unforgettable moment where the audience becomes part of the story. When I came upon the Fairview excerpt, I was thrilled because I was fortunate enough to see the play on stage, in the before, when we could attend theater and be challenged by exhilarating playwriting. I was there as I sat in the audience and listened to Keisha imploring the world to be fair to her, to all of us who look like her.
In a piece about the Black Simmer forum, we learn that even in a virtual space like The Sims, where anything should be possible, systemic racism still affects how black people can use the space and black people’s ability to outthink systemic racism shapes the solutions we create to be part of spaces that don’t try to accommodate us.
The pieces in Black Futures create room for interrogating race in America in a multiplicity of ways. How is black leisure affected by racism? How do we sustain joy? How do we reclaim our bodies? How do we preserve archives of our work, our existence? Not only do the assembled pieces ask questions, many also offer answers. They offer ways forward.
Or, as Jason Parham writes in “The Flesh Gives Empathy,” “I would like to assemble a new roadmap. Black skin as nonapology. Black skin as hammer. Black skin as symphony. Black skin as sanctified and sanctuary. Black skin as promise. Black skin as sermon and prayer.”
Co-editors Kimberly Drew and Jenna Wortham have curated an eclectic set of works. No matter what takes your interest, you will find something engaging or challenging or memorable. In an interview between Tiona Nekkia McClodden and Shawné Michaelain Holloway, Holloway shares an anecdote about when McClodden told her, “I’m trying to get free,” which is an interesting way to think about black futures, that in one way or another, we are all trying to get free. The book is a testament to the expansiveness of blackness and a bridge to our future and howe we get free. And we do have a future. As artist Alisha Wormsley declared in her art installation that has now become so much more, “There are black people in the future.” Or, perhaps, there are black people in our futures.
I have edited an anthology or two and it is thankless work, not the curation of the content, but all the administrative responsibilities—author contracts and permissions, edits on so many pieces, wrangling a lot of content under intense deadlines. As such, I have an immense respect for anyone who embarks on such an undertaking and does so as impeccably as the co-editors of Black Futures have. We will have a live chat via Zoom with co-editors Kimberly Drew and Jenna Wortham to talk about the Black Futures project, how it came together, how they chose what to include, and much more. You can register here. Participation is limited to 1,000 people. There will be ASL interpreters. And there will be plenty of time for audience questions. We hope to see you there.