Black Radical Imagination: A Meditation

In a recent lecture at Oakland’s Laney College, master of American letters Ishmael Reed spoke of how the CIA and FBI have been deeply involved with the suppression of the writings of black radical intellectuals since the 1950s.

When influential black writers like Richard Wright, Lorraine Hansberry, Ralph Ellison, and James Baldwin were loosely affiliated with the Communist Party, several mechanisms were put in place to monitor, suppress, and discredit their work. William Maxwell’s F.B. Eyes: How J. Edgar Hoover’s Ghost Readers Framed African-American Literature gives a detailed account of this activity. Mechanisms like this are still in place today, under the guise of “think tanks” like The Heritage Foundation, and far more nebulous organizations that use their power and influence against the Black Radical Imagination. But why?

I first came across the term Black Radical Imagination in Robin D.G. Kelley‘s book, Freedom Dreams: Black Radical Imagination in 2002. In that book, Kelley first outlines Surrealism’s potential to be an applicable aesthetic/practice to the contemporary problems facing, not just black people, but all who are under the yolk of oppression imposed by nationalism, imperialism, sexism, trans/homophobia and other forms of mind and body control intent on denying us our natural inclinations towards free expression and The Marvelous.

It was my attempt to express the power of Black Radical Imagination that eventually became The Afrosurreal Manifesto. To me, the freedom dreams of black Americans must serve as a blueprint for others because the power of those dreams are evidenced in our everyday lives.

From music, to literature, to political policies ranging from labor to domestic, the primary results of Black Radical Imagination have been the template that so many social and artistic movements have been inspired by and followed since. Anyone who wished to struggle for their own humanity, self-determination, and independence would be wise to begin with the solutions, salvos, and practices of black people in resistance.  We have more to say because we have more to lose.

In light of recent events (the militarized police state and supporting citizenry actively hunting down black and brown bodies with zero accountability, as seen in the deaths of Mike Brown, Rekia Boyd, Oscar Grant, Eric Garner, twelve-year-old Tamir Rice, and countless, nameless others), the propulsive power of Black Radical Imagination is more important now than ever.  It’s hard to see with so much blood in our eyes, but those forces are losing, and they know it. Their panic, their fear of phantasms and ogres — their Afrosurreal nightmares of “otherness”— is the cause. Their fear grips them, and they lash out against it like a drowning man, flailing their arms, striking out against an invisible foe. They are not long for this world, and they know it.

Their guns cannot save them. Their television shows, their speeches, their laws; nothing can save them, and they know it. They sit in their darkness; angry and afraid, and absolutely powerless. So, like a cornered animal, they lash out. They are the wolf in the trap, gnawing off their final paw, determined to make the rest of us feel their pain. They are losing, and they know it.

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