The Other Side of Imagination

We are grateful to Aurielle Marie for helping our organization be more accountable to the values we espouse, and we hope their insight sparks robust conversation in more literary communities around belonging, activating personal responsibility, applying lessons, and change as a practice. As a nonprofit, we offer the caveat that this essay series reflects the author’s opinions and lived experience as an organizer and literary citizen.

This is the fourth letter in a series of 10 dedicated to engaging The Offing’s literary network in social justice and a value shift toward equity within our respective organizations. The letter was originally sent on January 31, 2021.

There is a backpack sitting behind a door in my living room. That door leads to a narrow hallway, which in turn leads to the frontmost door of the apartment that my fiancee and I share. The backpack is black. In it, there’s a flashlight, matches, my passport, the emergency pair of car keys, a bank envelope that contains cash, my rainy day credit card, sneakers, and a backup leash for Baldwin, my support animal. Next to my backpack is a similar bag, with identical contents, belonging to my fiancee.

Last month, I invited you into a practice of radical imagination as an extension of liberatory praxis. The intention was to, as we’ve discussed, continually reorient ourselves toward a daily and embodied investment in anti-racism and Black liberation. Imagination is a tricky algorithm. Just a few weeks later, white supremacist, fascist insurrectionists embodied their imaginations and, in turn, exceeded many of ours. I won’t narrate what I’m sure you’ve read about for weeks now (if not watched first hand), but what has brought me to the core of rage again and again since January 6th is the thing I haven’t reconciled within my liberatory practice. No matter what I dream for myself and my people, white people manage to out-cannibalize and out-choreograph even my largest possibilities. On that violent Wednesday, some of my community organizer friends were checking in with one another in group messages. A good friend remarked with fatigue that he believed we were being “out-organized.” I disagreed. “White supremacy means we out-organize our oppressors, word-for-word, bar-for-bar… it means in the heat of battle we don’t miss… and we STILL lose,” I offered, “because our oppressors do not need intention or strategy to have their ultimate political goals met.”

It is enraging to be always disquieted by inequity, state-sanctioned violence, political persecution, and police terrorism. All the while, mediocre and poorly organized white supremacists meet their goals easily with little risk, and as we’ve seen, little consequence involved. It is enraging to watch a successful insurrection that is done with no interest in making the country safer for me. I say successful because white supremacy’s function is to hoard power, and as it stands, white supremacist power has remained intact throughout these political uprisings. It was a successful endeavor because even as Joshua Williams sits in jail for participating in a Ferguson protest, even as Mumia Abu-Jamal sits in jail for his participation in political resistance, even as Assata Shakur is still named an enemy of this shell of a country, and as my name rests in a federal file under the offensive designation of “Black Identity Extremist,”a captital-full of white people made themselves arbiters of righteousness in the way only white people can: violently and yet unanswered, walked away with their lives, their freedom, and even trophies from their raid. As you read this, only some of them have been rapped across the knuckles and released back into their comfortable environments. In comparison, over thirty people were killed last year by police and white vigilantes at protests decrying police terrorism against Black people.

Black people have always had to prepare themselves, their children, their communities for the impact of state violence. This, too, is an imagination of some kind, the preservation of the very people being hunted by the State. In this way, Black, Brown and Native communities have deeply powerful, futurist imaginative power. My partner and I, like many Black and Brown folks across the country, spent the 6th and the days following planning against some of the terrible possibilities that could find us as two Black queer femmes in a Southern state. This imaginative genius, this survival is exhausting, and this month, I have only that: my exhaustion.

I’m thinking about the hours my family, my comrades, my peers, my heroes, and our broader communities spend anticipating and then preparing against the violent imaginations of our oppressors. The hours we must imagine for ourselves, survival strategies and not new delicious recipes or songs, or fabulous outfits. I am thinking of the stolen dreams and focus, the thefted months and resources that, despite our best efforts, may ultimately be out-organized by the lazy cunning of white supremacy. I am thinking of what Toni Morrison told us regarding white supremacy and the art of distraction. I am thinking of a friend of mine who decided last week to drop out of our graduate program when the University of Alabama’s English department counted their January 6th absence from mandatory training as unexcused. They were having panic attacks, and couldn’t imagine leaving their home in rural Alabama under such political tension. I’m thinking of my mother, who has chosen to neglect some of her favorite activities to learn instead how to handle a gun. “Just in case,” she said before inviting me to a class with her. Just in case. I’m holding tenderness for myself, as I run behind on eight deadlines this month while organizing safety plans for my household and Black queer communities in several states. Survival is exhausting, reader, and it costs us dearly. This month, consider what resources you find yourself in abundance of if you are not Black. And if you are, which resources this month are you reclaiming? 

Non-Black Readers: 

  1. Donate to Shade Literary Arts, a literary institution that has been working to fortify the capacity, vitality, and longevity of Black and POC writers/writing spaces, especially as it relates to fugitive voices. 

  2. Find three Black people you follow on social media, spend time with irl, or learn from in some other adjacent way. Slide some sustenance funds into their Venmo. Do this silently, without need for praise or acknowledgement. Do this as a strategy against theft. 

  3. Hold a decolonized book club with fellow non-Black folks, picking any of the previous books recommended in this series. Here are some tips to get you started:


Black Readers: 

  1. Rest. 
  2. Take a walk in the sunshine. 
  3. Phone a friend, and laugh with them.
  4. Pack a backpack. Just in case. Leave it behind your door.

On Resolutions

Here’s the truth: This year, you’ve been through a lot.

Vote, or...

I believe we each have a fight, specific and distinct to us. I do not believe that toil begins or ends at the ballot box.

With Liberty, and Justice, for All.

I invite you to orient yourself toward justice, to move as one who believes that your freedom is inextricably linked to mine, and act beyond your comfort or convenience.