Abundant Joy: 9 Black Diasporic Voices Imagine a Better World
Natasha Marin Asked a Hundred Black Diasporic Voices About Power, Love, and Safety
Once upon a Black Imagination…
There was a whole city where our men could just cry. Men (trans men are men) from everywhere could come to cry surrounded by beauty, good food, fresh air, sunshine, and the love of their brothers. Years of blinking back what has been long earned come to a sighing end and the era of uncried and overdue tears can at last begin. We men cry first for ourselves, for all the years we didn’t. Then we cry for everything else—we hold ourselves and rock and sway and sob. The air hums with sighs and shaking shoulders.
Nearby the City of Tears is the City of Laughter. In this city, women (trans women are women) come from the fringes of their most unreleased selves to laugh and cackle and kick and thighslap away the hours with their sisters. They begin with themselves—laughing in screams and peals and snorts—and end with the absurdity of those who have struggled to keep this liberation from them. They laugh with radical rebellion—long and loud— hearty with relief. Those arriving at this City are smiling on the way in. Sisterhood seems safer when we are laughing together as though we are alone.
And forever the City of Tears and the City of Laughter would exist, like sustainable healing communities. And we would laugh and we would cry. And no one but us would be watching.
In my collection, I have gathered over one hundred Black Diasporic voices to respond to the following prompts:
When do you feel most rooted/indigenous?
When do you feel most powerful?
What does it sound like when you claim yourself ?
Describe or imagine a world where you are loved, safe, and valued.
When I began this work in 2019, I didn’t realize that my life would change so radically. I didn’t realize that I would have to become my most powerful self to bring this collection of Black Voices to fruition. With the COVID-19 pandemic, everything was in turmoil. From a place proximate to not existing, I allowed the power of these voices—the voices of my community in this world (and beyond)— to prop me up when I couldn’t do it on my own. Our imagination gives way to our truest power, and now I am imagining (and manifesting) a better world for me and my children. I value creativity, boldness, honesty, open communication, connection, and enduring friendship. I escape to my imagination and find abundant joy.
UNIVERSITY PLACE, WA, USA
The plastic table is yea high and square, grooved aluminum around its edge. One side of the table is against a kitchen wall. I sit there with my shoulder quietly pressed into the yellow wall paint. Although my table seats two, I’m the only one sitting. Grandma Turner stands at her countertop. She’s cutting a sandwich in half, the long way, which I like. When she’s done, she places the plate before me and leaves. Then I’m alone in a sunlit room. I’m eating peanut butter and jelly on Wonder bread. Leon’s not home yet. He has Billy Dee hair that’s silver with waves my grand-momma loves. Leon’s teeth are dark and spaced far apart—he has a surprising smile. A sandwich in their house tastes better somehow. Maybe cause I’m left alone to daydream as I eat. Maybe cause the curtains wave to me from the window over the sink. No one waves or shares imperfect teeth when you’re grown. No one brings you a plate of food just because.
SEATTLE, WA, USA
Oh, when I imagine a kind of world like that, I think I just mainly imagine not being afraid to go outside and get kidnapped or murdered because I’m female or just because of my skin color.
SEATTLE, WA, USA
A world where I am safe and loved is full of hand holding and tenderness, things are beautifully balanced and I can rest wherever I desire, I can play wherever I desire, I can love whomever I desire. Kindness and community are priceless commodities that cannot be bought or sold… only received and given in unlimited abundance.
LUIS MAURICIO RODRIGUEZ-MOORE
SEATTLE, WA, USA
If humans could only understand other’s problems and pain, then that’s one step closer to a safer future.
LAUREN K. ALLEYNE
HARRISONBURG, VA, USA
It’s a world that has divested itself of the hunger for power and domination, where the cancer of white supremacy has been fully excised, then the body politic is in full remission. It’s a world where I can bring the full gift of my awesome and miraculous humanity and it can be received, expanded, and reflected back to me. It’s a world where we all do that for each other. And that love labor lifts us all. It’s a world of abundance and vitality and balance and joy. It’s a world I don’t always believe we can get to, but which I have no choice but to believe is somehow someday possible.
SEATTLE, WA, USA
A world where I feel safe is a world that isn’t always watching for every little mistake I do so they can have a reason to pull me down.
CAPITOL HEIGHTS, MD, USA
Physically, it’s usually the tropics or the country. Maybe both. Because it’s warm and green and peaceful. Somewhat peaceful … music is in the air. Loud and booming, mellow vibes from nearby or in the distance. Nobody filing noise complaints against it. Music that affirms the best of us, that encourages us to be our best selves, to relax the armor that the unreal world has conditioned us to wear, even with each other sometimes, even with ourselves. No or very few fast food restaurants. No hustle-grind pressure. Kind of like how I experienced Africa and the Caribbean, but culturally Black American and more modern—not bearing the physical scars of colonialism in its architecture, plumbing/sewage, education. A society where the needs, customs, and traditions of Black people are not a “diversity initiative” or marginalized. A place where the systems and art and daily life is built to help us be our best Black selves without apology.A place where the systems and art and daily life is built to help us be our best Black selves without apology.
On a micro level, I’ve often longed for a geographical village, big-ass homestead, or incorporated town populated by the people who know, love, accept, and respect me. Right now, we are spread all over the diaspora. I think I would feel safe, valued, and loved if I could be in their presence more often, no plane tickets or vacation time, no WhatsApp or video calls. Just walk down the street and sit on the porch and enjoy being together. Proximity matters for building sound, mutually beneficial relationships. At least it does to me.
SEATTLE, WA, USA
For me, a world where I am safe, valued, and loved is a world where my PTSD, major depressive disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, and ADHD (What can I say? When it rains, it floods) aren’t used to gaslight me into accepting the unacceptable. A world where I am no longer a subsection, marginalized by an already marginalized group. A world where I’m finally free from the pressures of having to mask behaviors that are—quite literally—out of my control. For me, a world where I am safe, valued, and loved is a world where I’m no longer crying myself to sleep at night, exhausted from yet another day spent trying (and failing) to get people to see beyond my letters. A world where I’m given the same consideration and respect that I’ve freely given to those who refuse to reciprocate. A world where others aren’t weaponizing my compromised mental health to escape dealing with their own.For me, a world where I am safe, valued, and loved is a world where I’m no longer crying myself to sleep at night, exhausted from yet another day spent trying (and failing) to get people to see beyond my letters.
For me, a world where I am safe, valued, and loved is a world where people aren’t using their Neurotypical Privilege™ to oppress me and others like me because it gives them a power they’d otherwise never have.
For me, a world where I am safe, valued, and loved is a world where I’m safe, valued, and loved.
And this world ain’t it.
LISA MYERS BULMASH
BOTHELL, WA, USA
The world where I feel safe is a place where I can walk safely at night, and in the wee hours of the morning. The sight of me passing by a window prompts a wave from another night owl, who then goes back to what they were doing. Head bobs acknowledge me as I wander through a neighborhood that is new to me, snapping the occasional photo.
If there are police officers, they laugh and hang up when Karen calls to object to Black people living their lives.
This world is multiracial as a matter of course. I do not have to stop a conversation in its tracks because someone wants more time to mourn losing the chance to crush another person’s imagination. No one has to risk life and limb to move—literally or figuratively, in work or at play, at home or in a room full of people who do not look like you.
In the world where I am valued, people work to live; they do not live to work. Ideally, I’d mandate three months of work and then three months of rest for everyone. If I work a day job, my coworker is on sabbatical; if my family borrows someone’s home in another country, my coworker continues our project in a shared virtual space I can access when I return. We do not work ourselves into the ground. Therapy is a given. So is loving, attentive day care. When my kids are in school, someone else’s kids spend the day Doing Nothing of Any Particular Value at their own pace.
There is always time for a break.Humans have decided to repair the world they have, instead of looking for another planet to ruin.
In the world where I feel loved, non-sexual flirting happens between adults frequently, mainly because humans can’t help becoming attached to someone whose difference sparks curiosity. There is no “you’re pretty for a Black girl.” There is just “pretty.” And “ugly,” because grossly entitled people will always try to ruin things.
Artists are paid like plumbers and surgeons: no one is paid in exposure bucks.
My government, my schools, and my hospitals recognize that people are messy, and expensive. And then they get on with cleaning up toxic waste. They get on with regular inspections and maintenance and care. They get on with figuring out how to teach children who learn differently, or faster, or slower. They get on with listening to their patients carefully, because sometimes it’s hard to say what’s really bothering you. They get on with treating chronic diseases, because people are not expendable.
Humans have decided to repair the world they have, instead of looking for another planet to ruin. Real estate developers and retail businesses have discovered there are other markets besides luxury retail. Hostile architecture is bizarre and shameful. And we as a people practice empathy the way healthy newborns practice breathing.
Black Powerful, curated by Natasha Marin, is available from McSweeney’s