As a Voodooist, I must start off by giving honor and respect to my ancestors who have come before me, faced similar circumstances of oppression, love, and resistance, and crossed over to the ancestral plane when their work here was done. My mother, Mia Lajoyce Harper; her mother, Helen Harper; my maternal uncle, Benny Harper; my paternal grandmother, Mary “Bamboo” Dean Neal; the love of her life, Willie “Bo-Bo” Richard Dean Sr.; his mother, Willie Ida Dean; my paternal great-grandfather, Daddy Clarence Robinson; and his mother, Mama Josie Henderson. I also give honor and respect to my spirit guides and guardian Orishas Ogun, Oshun, Obatala, Oya, Sango, Yemaya, Orúla, and to Elegua for opening the spiritual crossroads.
I sit here writing on occupied Canarsee-Lenape Native land also known as Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn, New York, days away from the 2020 presidential election (you’re probably reading this post-election day), having to choose between two candidates who have created policies that have directly impacted Black communities. It seems like an apropos bookend to an already tumultuous year for Afro-Americans. I’m just within walking distance from Weeksville, one of America’s first free Black communities, and can't help but to think about legacy. I also can’t help but to think about how Black folx legacies have been constantly and consistently interrupted by “whiteness,” its perpetrators, and its complicit bystanders since the Maafa, Black Holocaust of Enslavement began in 1619.
So what are melanated folk to do?
A few years ago, I remember watching an interview of Baba Dick Gregory, a recent ancestor, civil rights activist, and comedian, who was also called a conspiracy theorist. If by conspiracy theorist we mean calling out white supremacy and corrupt corporate interest and involvement while being highly entertaining and centering joy, then consider me an “A” student of the Gregorian conspiracy theory school of being unfuckwitable. In the interview, the reporter posed the question, “What are Black people to do in this current political climate?” to which Baba responded, “NOTHING!! This ain’t yo biznit!” This highly controversial and radical sentiment resonated and reverberated deep in the seat of my soul. I could feel each of my millions of ancestors begin to stir within me a spirit of defiance. Me, a Black queer person who’d always felt an almost religious responsibility to do more—be more; carry the weight of “my country” on my shoulders while being complacent with receiving half of what those not nearly as qualified as me felt entitled to—now had permission from one of my idols to simply do nothing. I began to think about all of the times throughout history when Black women were forced to save this country—nursing the babies of their oppressors on their breasts until, at times, their milk dried and their own offspring had nothing to eat. Doing absolutely nothing is, now, the work.
This system will not save us. Has it really ever saved anyone? The answer is and will always be no. My people have always known this. My grandmother, Bamboo, would always tell me, “If you start off right, ya end right.” However, the arrogant bastards who founded this country needed a Bamboo, because they never got the memo. A country founded on the premise of exploitation and bloodshed is incapable of producing anything other than the same.
The Maroons knew this.
All throughout the Americas as well as the Carribean, many settlements of escaped enslaved Africans and indigenous peoples were formed, away from slavery, in some of the harshest terrain imaginable, from the swampy marshlands of Lousiana and North Carolina to the treacherous mountainous Taino territory of Puerto Rico to the caves of Cuba. Incredible military tacticians and strategists who were known as some of the fiercest warriors in history, the Maroons produced seminal figures like Queen Nanny of the Jamaican Maroons, Dutty Boukman of Haiti, and Gaspar Yangar of Mexico, who each led successful insurrections against their colonizers. Not only did they understand the importance of creating systems outside of and in direct opposition to imperialism, they fought like hell to preserve and protect themselves.
Since moving from Houston to New York a decade ago, I’ve aligned myself with organizations for queer and trans people of color (whose names I’ll keep private for safety reasons) that partner with local businesses to create a system which does not rely on law enforcement for protection. This line of defense has provided a little sense of safety. Yet again we are faced with some of the harshest terrain imaginable, the historical context of another racist president, Black people still being hunted like wildlife, and a large percentage of white people still believing that we live in a “post-racial” America. This all contributes to a diminished quality of life for Afro-Americans hoping for some type of reprieve.
I now live my life as a Maroon and this is where I’ve found joy and liberation.
As a visual and performance artist, my current work is a conversation between the absolute irreverence of Dick Gregory and the unmitigated tactical power and strategic ability of the Maroons to center their own joy while facing a system profiting from their oppression. Somewhere between the skyscrapers of New York City and the sky high maple trees upstate in Woodbridge, I found myself heeding my ancestors’ collective call from on high to strategically do nothing. Thanks to a fateful meeting with Kamra Hakim, the founder of Activation Residency’s Rest as Resistance, a Black trans lead artists’ residency experiment that hosts a weekend for Black and brown trans and queer activists, organizers, and artists on the front lines, I found a safe place to unpack my trauma. Amongst a curated team of QTPOC healers, spiritualists, and artists, nightly fireside chats with s’mores, an outdoor clawfoot bathtub, a hammock between two trees, a wooden hot tub, an outdoor sauna and a vintage RV spread across twelve bucolic acres of wilderness, I felt safe to explore outwardly as well as inwardly.
The most magical moment happened when we recorded “LIST OF DEMANDS,” a bounce track, at the Outlier Inn’s state-of-the-art recording facility and everyone in attendance at the residency had an opportunity to lay down chants from the BLM movement over a New Orleans-inspired beat. We all spent the remainder of the weekend oscillating between nourishing our bodies and our minds, resting, twerking, healing, and shaking our asses to our new hit song completely uninterrupted by whiteness.