There Is Freedom in the Water


"We are wading through waters, deep, angry, cleansing waters, releasing fear and shame and enslaving silences in our wake."
-- Marlon Riggs, Letter to the Dead

"Otherwise. Otherwise than this. To begin here in the otherwise, as the otherwise, is to pose a question about tears born in dreams."
-- Ashon Crawley, Otherwise Ferguson

I am pregnant with a vision of otherwise futures and possibilities. It keeps me up at night and it is kicking hard, reminding me that the free world that must be is yet to be. The doctor says it's not a boy or girl but a dream continuously dreaming. My feet are swelling, I am short of breath, and I am seeing things that I have never seen before. It exhausts and overwhelms me with miraculous joy. And it is moving in me like bodies in water -- like our ancestors trembling and whispering a thousand secrets at the bottom of the Atlantic. This vision, I imagine, is a body of water that will lead us to the other side. See, child, you have to wade in the water if you want to get free. Water reminds us that we have the capacity to expand and adapt; that our survival depends upon it.

The movement for Black lives must consider these things. And It must always consider the least of these -- bodies whom are always left behind in the quest for Black liberation: Black fat bodies, Black femme bodies, Black disabled bodies, Black stripper bodies, Black hoe bodies, Black HIV Positive Bodies, Black gender deviant bodies, Black poor bodies, Black unconventional bodies, Black depressed bodies, and Black malnourished bodies. These -- and so many others -- are all aspects of the Black body: messy, complicated, and whole. This is a metaphor for the movement that must be; it must hold all of us. Where is the reflection of the least of these? Why are they perceived a threat? How might body positivity and freedom in our bodies lead us to the other side? I'm posing these questions not as a demand for answers but as an invitation for us all to reckon with what it means to truly get free.

Wade in the water. Wade in the water, children. Wade in the water.

Body positivity asks of us to examine our relationship to our bodies, the spaces it occupies, and the worlds around it; it asks of us to wade in deep, angry, and cleansing waters and to wash ourselves free of bias, shame, and enslaving silences. Body positivity taught me how to see myself and not be afraid of what I saw. It taught me how to look inward -- a soft, tender place we're often taught to be afraid of -- and spend time familiarizing myself there. It's where I first felt free, like being washed anew, in the Jordan, on Sunday morning, dressed in all white, immersed in a body outside of and bigger than my own. Body positivity is, too, movement work. And it is important to remember this because the physical labor of movement work tends to push us away from our bodies so much that we forget who we are, how to feel, how to take care of our body and our most erotic selves; the selves we've allowed ourselves to silence and not listen to.

We must also remember that it is not only systemic/state violence and overlapping oppressions that distance us from our bodies, but we ourselves interpersonally and inter/intra-communally, especially when we're not honest about things we often deem as trivial: desire. Liberation Theory 101 says that when we center those closest to the margin we all get free, not those closest to our beds, our erections, and our notions of desirability as informed by white imaginations and insatiable cravings for white validation. In the words of sister-warrior Audre Lorde, "Our erotic knowledge empowers us, becomes a lens through which we scrutinize all aspects of our existence, forcing us to evaluate those aspects honestly in terms of their relative meaning within our lives. And this is a grave responsibility, projected from within each of us, not to settle for the convenient, the shoddy, the conventionally expected, nor the merely safe."

In my personal work, I deeply value and make use of the erotic--the power to deeply feel in our bodies. It requires me to consider my deepest and non-rational knowledge and to always think about simultaneity and intentionality -- to think about both what I do, why I do it, how I do it and how I feel while doing it. In my forthcoming documentary, No Fats, No Femmes, I am attempting to theorize and do work around the politics of desire. I am daring to say that whom we are attracted to, and whom we fuck and love in our bedrooms deeply informs how we move throughout the world, particularly Black publics, including but not limited to: the Black press, the Black church, Black academicians, the Black literati, and the Black left. We cannot relegate the erotic to the bedroom only. We cannot. We must recognize how personal preferences are connected to how bodies are often policed outside the bedroom. We must resist and undo homo/hetero-normative impulses, and the masks of racial, sexual, and class respectability that limits our capacity to stretch and swell abundantly like the water. We have nothing to lose in this way.

Freedom is not yet here. It is imperative that we always remember this. Black futures depend upon it. Black futures demand that we're not content with loving our black lives without question; that we always question and consider who is left behind. We don't have the luxury of parsing out race, from class, gender, size, dis/ability, and sexuality. It is critically imperative that we approach movement work through an intentional -- perhaps, proactive -- intersectional lens because it is vital that we expand and shape a movement that is all-body loving and all-gender honoring. And this is not to tokenize or exceptionalize people in spaces but to push us to be as abundant as the water -- to soft river and vogue our way to freedom, following in the Black radical footsteps of Harriet, leaving no one behind.

Illustration by Sharee Miller.

This post is part of the "Black Future Month" series produced by The Huffington Post and Black Lives Matter Network for Black History Month. Each day in February, this series will look at one of 29 different cultural and political issues affecting Black lives, from education to criminal-justice reform. To follow the conversation on Twitter, view #BlackFutureMonth.