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Our Imagination and Theirs: A Reflection on Race and January 6

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Drawing:left side: Black woman holding up a fist with caption "tear gas"; right side: 2 white men with caption "free pass"

Let’s radically push ourselves and imagine possibilities full of curiosity, safety, joy, solidarity, consent, healing, and resting.

Imagine crowdfunding, mobilizing and arriving at the U.S. Capitol steps with thousands of people who (mostly) looked and identified the way you did, then rushing the halls and chambers where the U.S. Senate meets. People of color don’t imagine or envision actually doing such a thing, mostly because we simply aren’t allowed to.

If people of color imagined and broadcast on social media that we were rushing toward the Capitol or the White House, we’d be labeled as terrorists, unpatriotic and dangerous. If we’re being completely honest, most of us wouldn’t even be able to make it anywhere close to that far without being subject to violence. The tear gas would be thrown in our faces within the first fifteen minutes of us assembling to rush into those “sacred” halls.

A different vision

And there’s another thing. Our imagination builds on a different foundation. We dream of co-op grocery stores, universal healthcare, accessible free education and safe housing. Our radical imagination meets the needs of our communities, instead of feeding into the online conspiracy theories like the ones that fueled the January 6 assault on the Capitol. Our imagination isn’t one of violence, but rather of community. We are learning to imagine community care, without police violence or the carceral state. We think of anti-capitalist practices, not greed.

The violence seen at the Capitol was an expression of white privilege, the privilege to imagine without permission. White supremacists have long dreamed without boundaries or punishment, distorting how they even imagine and live in a world that limits and oppresses people of color. As we’ve seen, police can and do brutalize “citizens” during peaceful Black Lives Matter protests. They’ve been granted “white imagination” because the system of white supremacy grants unlimited imagination to white people.

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This is the same system that granted white people the “imagination” to steal an entire culture and commit genocide against the First Nations. This is the same system that has punished, criticized and criminalized people of color who imagine or dream of a completely different world that feeds and houses our communities. White imagination is the ideological reflection of white supremacy, with its violence, imperialism and racism.  White imagination not only centers whiteness but also rewards those who prize their white identity and allows them to do the most harmful things while feeling righteous.

A radical and inclusive imagination

In contrast, look at the kind of imagination displayed in Rev. Raphael Warnock’s victory in the Georgia Senate runoff.  That dream was realized by the work of so many grassroots organizations that were able to uplift not only Warnock’s voice as the first-ever Black Senator from Georgia, but so many other Black voices.

This historical milestone is encompassed in the ways many organizers are dreaming of a world where our democracy is a representation of the many people who live in America. This is an imagination that dates back to W.E.B. DuBois, when he first introduced the idea of Abolition Democracy in Black Reconstruction in America. DuBois’ radical imagination was based in freedom, intelligence, and solidarity with all laborers. Abolition Democracy, as used by Angela Davis, involves abolishing the current systems and institutions which have given power to white imagination. We now need to rebuild a collective society that is equitable and sustainable for all. Although I assume DuBois would have a lot to say about what has happened in the South, I imagine (and hope) his spirit carries us as we continuously struggle against the same people who have oppressed us. As we continuously reclaim what he once imagined for this country.

Our imagination can’t continuously be blocked by this unfair system. To imagine we need to let go of any set preconditions, especially the idea that has been forced upon us that things are “just this way.” Because it doesn’t have to be this way. The landmark uprising in defense of Black lives has shown that our radical imagination is being embraced by millions of all backgrounds. It’s not only about envisioning a different world but living in one. This is where we allow ourselves to be grounded in a new imagination that wins, not only in the South, but throughout this country and globally, where organizers are reclaiming our spaces. We have to be willing to radically push ourselves into an imagination of possibilities full of curiosity, safety, joy, solidarity, consent, healing and resting.

As stated in Black Reconstruction, “If freedom is good for any, it is good for all.” Freedom is being redefined, under the leadership of Black, Indigenous, People of Color. A new generation is engaged in multiracial coalition building as we organize, win, and dream of more victories.

All power to our radical imaginations!

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