What Would You Bring Back to the Before?

Dear Friends,

I don’t know if it’s my just own Instagram algorithm, but I’ve seen what feels like an increase in articles acknowledging our continued collective burnout, our anxiety around an implied return to normal and what that might entail, and now conversations about what to take with us into the next normal and what to leave behind.

Of course I am thinking about Octavia Butler’s Kindred as I am writing this note to you; Black artistry continues to write the framework for our understanding. A story about time travel and love and learning from the past also provides us with a framework to understand that if we are going to go back in time, or to the before, then we should pack a bag of tools for the journey.

What from today would you bring back to the before times if you could?

If we follow the rules of time travel, then absolutely the question is also about changing the course of the future. I think, in answering that question for myself, I would take back to the before the sense of collective journeying through system-wide failures that, for a moment, seemed to allow many folks to understand the precarity under which legacy Black cultural organizations have operated for decades. Never did I imagine the conversation to shift so drastically in the direction of the oppressed, not even for a moment.

Another thing I would take back into the before times would be the spotlight on the impossibilities of the caregiver (however it might be defined) and the ever-increasing demands from work culture. My father is no longer with us to benefit from this change, but I think often of the ways his workplace—of which he gave 30 years, more than half his life—did not move to accommodate a 24-7 caregiving necessity for my mother after she had two strokes. Instead, in the before, his workplace actively worked to push him to early retirement. Last week, a RO team member had several family emergencies all at once and needed to be the caregiver for those sick and shut in. She tried to promise that in between grocery runs, and prescription-filling, and all that, that she would be able to work on RO things. I assured her she should take the time that she needed, and reminded her of one of our core values: You can’t do it alone; practice in community. Because we have multiple team members per collaboration, we can lean in when someone needs to lean out, and the work can continue. Maybe that’s my version of work collective care?

I’d take all of the statements and gestures of solidarity into the before, too. And ask How does this play out over the long haul? How can you craft language that truly fits into the fabric of an organization, of the work, that doesn’t rely on Black or Trans or Asian death, its subsequent spectacle tomobilize? To many folks who penned those statements and are living new truths: How are you reconciling the hurt you might have inflicted upon others in the before, and making space for their feelings of betrayal now?

Inherent in the exercise, too, is a packing of the bag for relics, artifacts, and tools for a future. From the before, I continue to bring the prevalent insistence on Black life that Black folks have carried for generations—this idea that Black folks have lived and loved and created art, insisted on our inclusion in the archive for whatever future day. And maybe, I might bring nothing else.

May it all be resurrected anew for a new day.

What are you packing? For what future? For what past?

In Black love,