On Using Imagination as a Tool of Political Warfare

By Nakia Brown

*I am a Black woman in Baltimore, Maryland. When I am using us, we, or our, I am speaking as a member of the greater collective of people of the African Diaspora in America.

In the midst of institutional racism and the continuous murder of people of the African Diaspora upon American soil, I believe that imagination can serve as a powerful tool for political warfare. It is within our creative minds that we can develop alternative realities. For is there not a creativity in the forces that oppress us? Does the poet not hide the true meaning of their words behind metaphors as racism hides behind eloquent political rhetoric?

In the continuing developments of the Freddie Gray trial, I have listened to a plethora of grassroots organizers in Baltimore discuss plans of police and policy reform. These individuals may not classify themselves as artists, yet it is unwise for us as leaders to reject the creative element of our identity. That which lies within the artist who creates soulful music also lies within the grassroots organizer, the city official and local community leaders who diligently work to develop new systems in which Black life can live unapologetically.

Unfortunately, we have learned to be creative in dehumanizing ways: cultivate new physical behavior in public, developing non-threatening speech or laughing lower on wine trains. This is the primary role of creativity non-white people have been accustomed to. From this experience, we lose the most crucial part of the creation process, which is the journey of positive self transformation.

Poets take the world as it as and reimagine it upside down. Yet, what is it that pushes the poet? The same thing that pushes the Black Lives Matter Movement. Imagination. We see a better world on the horizon, a better way in which we could exist which is the only reason we strive for it. We have not lost hope for the possible even if that means at seemingly impossible means. Hope is merely more reasonable fantasy.

It is my charge to not lose this crucial, innovative part of ourselves, especially now as we may find ourselves increasingly needed in our communities and families during this time. It is my hope that we look to our imagination as a source of strength and not a childish toy, that we may foster our imagination and nurture it. That we may be lively in the 21st century human rights movement against police brutality in America so that we may not lazily replicate the efforts of our ancestors. We have learned this art of creation from our mothers as their wombs were the first canvas in which our portrait was drawn.

Scientific studies have indicated how the imagination can be suppressed when under severe circumstances of work, citing that chronic stress can make it “harder to think outside of the box.” With continuous exposure to violent police videos, economic inequalities, and the emotional ramifications of the prison industrial complex, mental health has been a strong battle cry within the Black Lives Matter movement. Such trauma of our oppression may make it difficult to battle it. We should find ourselves in spaces where we can strengthen our creativity by intentionally exchanging repartee with those people who are masters of the art of eloquence or listening to music that inspires us. It is no longer acceptable for one to passively incite imagination; it must be strategic as a means of survival. The element of possibility that imagination presents will keep us energized in times of hopelessness and dynamic instead of dreary.

This is not to make a case that academic frameworks are not valid components in the pursuit of freedom. Indeed, they are necessary, but once one has attained the facts of history and has understood the timeline in which tyranny has reared its barbaric head, what then? Does one wallow in the pities of human despair, awaiting a charismatic patriarch of the black movement to make speeches and organize? Such dependence on invisible social figures hinders one’s imagination, for one does not think of the vast ways in which their freedom can be sought. One follows without question and seeks to replicate their leader’s rhetoric and actions. Racism is not only a team sport; it is a creative collaboration between scientists, educators, bankers and politicians. Hate is a creation of those that have despised love.

Imagine, if we, young adults who have strayed far away from the land of wondering, remembered parts of ourselves that colored outside the lines and did not question ourselves until others told us to. Would we have fought harder? Stronger? Would we not think to ourselves at night whether we are doing enough or anything at all if we believed that we were stronger creators of victory than the creators of destruction? I have seen just as much creativity in a community planning session as I have seen in a basement gathering of artists in the studio. Creativity is how we have left our presence upon the world. Our structures in Kemet, our extensive language and hieroglyphic writings serve as proof of the disciplined ways in which we organized our imagination. In order for us to combat white supremacy in realistic, attainable ways, we must reclaim our imagination just as much as we are reclaiming our bodies.

Photo: Shutterstock

Nakia “Fire Angelou” Brown is a spoken word artist, writer, actress, event organizer and activist. She is currently studying Integrated Arts at The University of Baltimore and plans to travel to West Africa next summer.

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