Janine Jackson interviewed Darnell Moore about the Black Futures Month project for the February 19, 2016, CounterSpin.
Janine Jackson: Social movements have always been fueled and uplifted by culture — art, music, stories. And not just movements, but the human beings who comprise them. In this vein, February marks the second annual Black Futures Month, a project of Black Lives Matter that brings together different cultural forms to shed light and spark discussion about issues that affect black communities, including questions not only of police violence, but also of labor, reproductive and gender justice.
Black History Month can be a valuable reminder of African-American struggles and unheralded contributions to US society. Black Futures Month extends the conversation from where African-Americans have been to where we might still go.
Our next guest is one of the forces behind it. Darnell Moore is a senior correspondent at Mic.com, co-managing editor of the Feminist Wire, and also now writer-in-residence at the Center on African-American Religion, Sexual Politics and Social Justice at Columbia University. He joins us now by phone from Vancouver. Welcome to CounterSpin, Darnell Moore.
Darnell Moore: Thank you so much for having me.
JJ: Black Futures Month. I have to say, just to say it gives me kind of a chill.
DM: It does.
JJ: It feels transformative. Tell us more about it and how it fits within the Blacks Lives Matter movement.
DM: It’s really the brainchild of Tanya Lucia Bernard, who is an artist and organizer, arts and culture lead at BLM, and Opal Tometi. They organized this last year. And the goal was to really push the conversation forward. That is, to think about creative ways to utilize the imagination, to move us from problem to solution, to move us from sort of looking at a past that’s very stagnant, to possibilities of what a present and future might look like. And one of the ways that Tanya thought we could do that is through the medium of art. Because we realize that art and culture can be windows and avenues to not only creative expression, but also consciousness-raising and also to visions of what a black future might be.
JJ: Yeah, it’s not a rejection of Black History Month but, as Tanya Lucia Bernard has said, black people are more than what happened to us.
DM: That’s exactly right.
JJ: Which I also found a very powerful statement. There’s such a feeling that we’re retrenched, that we’re fighting to just make things not be worse, which is why this feels so exciting and energizing to think, well, let’s dream about how things might be.
DM: Yeah. And I mean I just would add, you know, one of the things that I have been thinking through all of last year is the space that we have to actually dream, to imagine, to vision possibilities for what a black, loving, liberatory future can look like, is often stifled by our need to survive. People don’t really have time to dream and to imagine, because they’re literally placing their bodies on the line, whether that’s in the labor force or protesting to live. So this is an important call to us to stop and to meditate a bit and to conjure a future, and to pull out of ourselves that creative capacity to do the work of actually building the future we want to see.
JJ: The recent suicide of Ohio Black Lives Matter activist and musician MarShawn McCarrel was a reminder, if any were needed, that these movements are made of human beings and people who may have many areas of struggle. And even if you would never do anything else, it doesn’t help us to deny that the work of organizing can be isolating, can be depressing, and particularly when of course, as you’re saying, the subject of your work is trauma. But art also speaks to that as well. There’s also a healing element, I think, of art in this way.
DM: Indeed. As someone who, you know, I did a clinical counseling program, and while I haven’t practiced as a therapist in some time, and that was a very short stint, I think I’m still living my life very much concerned about the stakes of emotional justice, healing justice. That is to say, I’m thinking about the ways entrenched forms of trauma work themselves out in our lives such that we can begin to either build worlds utilizing the stale, traumatic energy of our past, or that energy can eat at us and eat us away.
DM: I mean, often I found a lot of organizers turn to the work as a way to sort of cope, without realizing that one needs space and/or mediums to address a lot of the trauma that we’re attempting to respond to.
JJ: I think one of the things that is most exciting to many people about Black Lives Matter is the way that it is focused on process as well as outcome, in terms of engaging people in the work, making sure people are represented in the work and are included in the work, and not just about the big goals that might be recognized outside of the movement.
And that brings me back to corporate media, of course, who—they exhibit the sort of “great men” theory of history, as many textbooks do, and they don’t really seem to know what to do with Black Lives Matter, which doesn’t operate on that model. Media talk about it as only about race, or only about police, and they don’t seem willing or able to really engage a movement that is intersectional, that is complex, and that doesn’t act or look the way that they think it should.
Having said that, I find that less worrisome than I might, because of the ways that many people are finding to talk around the dominant media and have the conversation anyway. On some level, that’s what’s most exciting.
DM: Yes. You know, what I find so exciting about this moment is the way that people are democratizing media by force, and that is, they are creating the common narrative necessary for our survival. If that means taking to Twitter or Tumblr or creating blogs or interrupting mainstream corporate media outlets by offering intervention through Black Twitter or other forms, I really appreciate that. I do think we are in a moment where the counternarrative is sort of the goal, the offering of the counternarrative is a goal of movement organizers. And folks who have really established themselves in social media outlets, and those who haven’t, realize that and are doing wonderful work. They’re realizing the power of the word —
DM:—of the image, and what it means for us to curate those on our own terms.
JJ: Well, we use February as a hook, but the work of Black Futures Month doesn’t really end with the end of February, does it?
DM: No. In fact, that’s what—it compels us to think beyond the 28, 29 days of a month.
JJ: Always the shortest month, right?
JJ: Well, one of the worst things that corporate media can do, I think, is to tell us, in ways subtle and not at all subtle, that the way things are is the only way that they can be. And I know that that’s what Black Futures Month is engaging in upending. And I think it’s also part of the idea behind your new project, “The Movement.” Tell us a little bit, in the time we have left, tell us about that and some of the stories that you’re telling with that.
DM: I’m really excited to be hosting this new digital series that is a part of Mic’s new repertoire. And, in short, “The Movement” really is attempting to do a couple of things. One, stretch the boundaries of what we imagine a movement to be and who we tend to center as our heroes and sheroes of various movements, to state that this movement that we’re part of, Black Lives Matter, is an iteration of a long genealogy, a long history of black liberation, queer liberation, of various interconnected movements. I want to see this moment as—it’s distinct in character and maybe in mode and form, but it is part of a long history of black liberation struggle. And that is to say, just because one doesn’t have millions of followers on Twitter, or they’re not being lifted up as leaders, does not mean that every day, ordinary people, black, brown, queer, disabled, indigenous, in our communities haven’t been doing work.
And a point of this digital series, it’s a mini doc that centers on those folk. It analyzes problems, but it does it through really paying attention to people in their communities who are unsung heroes, who are creating solutions for those problems.
There’s this idea that black people in urban space worry more about police violence and blue-on-black violence than we do on, quote unquote, “black-on-black crime.” The way that we can dispel that myth of black-on-black crime, what I showed and what we show in there, is we do care about various forms of violence. And here is a group that we covered in Camden, Cure for Camden, that is doing that.
All the way to stories on food deserts in Native American spaces and communities to covering the only black woman-owned legal marijuana dispensary in Colorado.
So we’re doing some interesting things. And it’s aesthetically beautiful, but I’m hoping that the narratives are powerful and offering hope. And not only hope, but saying to folk, Look, our people are always working. They’re always working, some of whom aren’t working with the benefit of fanfare or big budgets, and yet they’re still working and putting their hands at the plow.
JJ: We’ve been speaking with Darnell Moore of the Feminist Wire and of Mic, where you can find the new digital series “The Movement.” Darnell Moore, thank you so much.for joining us this week on CounterSpin.
DM: Thank you.