I have been reading Lorraine Hansberry’s To Be Young, Gifted, and Black, her informal autobiography that is peppered with her letters to the people for whom she cared the most. The people who knew her, who saw her wince and draft and revise. The people who knew how deeply she loved writing and Chicago and Black folks.
Selfishly, I have been thinking about our own ongoing exchanges of epistles. How we have been watching one another wince and draft and revise. How we are now at another place of revision. How we are approaching another threshold trying to find the language for this transgression. And it certainly seems to me that transgression is the best word to use at the moment. We are crossing lines aren’t we?
Are we weary? I fear this letter is going to become a series of too many questions because as I ask you these things I am really asking myself the things I am too afraid to admit. Maybe I felt an inkling of this last summer in the midst of my transition out of that Museum that couldn’t quite get it together. Though I don’t think I was ready to admit fatigue. But it was there, living in my body.
How do we talk about this? The mirage of sanctuary. (Is that the language we’ve been looking for?) Here we are: two Black women who have made our way to a new place, found family in one another, and felt a righteous calling to care for the cultural production of Black folks. I still feel that pull. It too lives in my body. But I am also thinking about the real moments of confusion or loneliness, an all too familiar story. I am honest enough to admit that I have always thought of the arts as a place of refuge. When I landed in that very Black Brooklyn arts institution after a disappointing experience in Chicago, it was a balm. Someone much wiser than I had taken a chance on my passion, and in turn, I found myself surrounded by an entire canon of art that was alive! Alive!
Here I am writing you, some years after that initial landing. Still very young, still very unsure of many things, still thinking the arts a refuge but cautious. Some of this trepidation is what naturally happens as one ages, certainly, and yet, how else to feel, for example, after watching the recent Whitney Biennial debauchery? So many scrambling to protect the fragility of white femininity even as Black women are asking that we look closely and critically. How does one imagine a future in spaces that are only interested in you when it is convenient? Yes, I suspect we are weary of being tokenized or taken for granted or being ignored.
I have noticed how quickly people like us —young, Black arts workers— are referred to as angry, enraged, misguided. Why don’t you give us a chance, they say. We were hoping to spark a dialogue, they say. We would really love for you to sit on this panel and explain your anger to us, they say.
I don’t know girl. I’m probably rambling. The world is very frightful right now. Children are dying. Communities are being forced to drink poisoned water. People are losing the sacredness of their holy places. Police are killing us. Bombs are being dropped.
But I am trying to make sense of where I am standing. I do not want to fold underneath my silence. As ARTS.BLACK enters into another year of production, I am acutely aware of the potency of its imprint. That I can be clear and explicit about my frustrations and also vulnerable here is a fact for which I am always grateful. It offers its own kind of freedom much like BAI offered its own kind of freedom. It was for everyone but it was also ours. These are the instances that pull me forward.
So when you ask me where we go next, I will tell you that we should go where we are loved. We go where there is a respect for our entire being, for the histories and spirits that enter with us as we enter into a place. We go where there is an insistence on recognizing that art helps us map our pasts, presents, and futures. We go to a place that will remind us to breathe, to drink water, to take care of ourselves. We go where we are seen. We go where we are valued. All this to say that in spite of my doubts, I am holding onto this truth:
It is possible to fashion the places that will hold us. It is possible to build the pyramids.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Jessica Lynne is co-editor of ARTS.BLACK