A case for this: the (new Black) here and now

Writer and cultural strategist Lisa Marie Brimmer sketches an invitation to black post-blackness, a spiral encompassing the resurrection of the everyday, a history comprised of multitudes, and cosmic acts of world building in the here and now.

1Kerry James Marshall, untitled water study for Gulf Stream, 2004. Collection Walker Art Center, Minneapolis.

intro-diction.In describing the Black Arts Movement in her essay “Black Post-Blackness: The Black Arts Movement and 21st Century Aesthetics”, scholar Margo Natalie Crawford describes a pliable blackness: a blackness which can be shaped and unshaped. Crawford states, “Black post-blackness is the circular inseparability of the lived experience of blackness and the translation of that lived experience into the world-opening possibilities of art.” (2) The world-opening possibility brings with it the art of the everyday, and the creation of this.

This is to black post-blackness as now is to the almost here. This is an anticipatory measure, meant to interrogate our 21st century time. Crawford assumes that there is a circular inseparability of the lived experience and the act of its “translation” into art. I wonder if there are other elements ordained to this circular inseparability? That Black post-blackness is more than a dyadic system of oscillation between the one and an other?

An Invitation

I want to invite you to this: a new black thing which is this. This thing which is to be celebrated, and a story that must begin here and a story that has been on the run until now. This is something that causes, urges, or otherwise invites a reply from…a talking back to…this call to that response. Somehow conversely I want to think of a this as a Blackness that can be a welcoming in the late becoming of the 21st century.

This: (Pronoun) “Used to identify a specific person or thing close at hand or being indicated or experienced.”

Oxford English Dictionary

This is not a turn, but an honoring. If there is anything that can be new about a 21st century blackness that is both particular to 2018—and our precarious moment in the governmental bind of democracy and freedom of speech—it is perhaps a sincere commitment to a history that includes, but extends beyond, our known, black middle-passage blues.1 By this I mean acknowledging the plurality of blackness that (can) include the more recently migrated—rather than kidnapped and relocated—communities who (may) understand their black situation in the diaspora as one which confronts mine, or any other historically black situation of the Midwest. 

This—to which we are all invited—is an acknowledgement of what a more expansive loss might look like other than our (kn)own middle passage blues. This is a summary as much as creed, a clause as well as a dictum. This lives beyond the written word, the taken photo, or the capture of social music or media. This is where we need to go if we are to move forward.

This is where we might be able to think together across difference as quickly as a plural Black-post-blackness suggests. We must allow circumstance to engulf history in order for us to find our conditions mutable.2 For what is liable to change, what is pliable and soft can be tooled to our needs for a future. And we should make very sure we are careful how we survive the end of the world we are living through, here and now. We should make very sure we understand what powers of choice might be at hand.

The cosmic act of world building necessitates that we pay attention to circumstances as they tend to inform (mine, yours, and collective) motivations. If I know I want to get out, it is important that I can identify what I am attempting to get out of. If I want to keep something, let me find the rationale. If something must go, let me find a way to grieve.

This is an opportunity to acknowledge the trespasses against blackness (as other, as self); this is to acknowledge our cross-generational teachings, failings, and successes.3 The fault of memory. The trial of story. This is also to queer our understandings of failure and success.4 This is as much about a close-read Adrienne Kennedy’s Funnyhouse of a Negro5 as the love of fresh denim or a gold chain.

Circumstances of this new blackness break beyond these sizes, locations, and positions in historical time: middle passage, colonization, the Fugitive Slave Law and William Wells Brown’s Clotel,6 Madonna’s “baffling” VMA tribute to Aretha Franklin,7 Aretha Franklin’s Black Ass Funeral,8 the thirteenth amendment of the constitution, Ava DuVernay’s Netflix original The Thirteenth,9 the American pattern of imperialist western expansion,10 the Kardashians’ “low grade hip hop realness” in drag on Network TV. These are all circumstances that drag forward, and are ingrained into this broad black here and now. 

Some of these are circumstantial violences that predict and inform our approach to this new blackness. Some of these are all rationales, producers, and products. Let’s embark on a blackness that is precisely holy in its multitudes. An eternal blackness that is, was, and will be for us.11

Resurrect (like) this; Spiral out (like) this

“come. celebrate. this/ is everyday. everyday/ holy. everyday high/ holiday.  everyday new”

Danez Smith, Don’t Call Us Dead (17)

Danez Smith’s celebrated collection, Don’t Call Us Dead, offers an example of this. This, a black anticipation of an “everyday high/ holiday. everyday new”. To Smith, this is almost joy, or rather an observation of what can be called a moment of presence.

Smith opens the collection with washy meditations on the everyday, meditations that come as/with the resurrection of the gone-too-soon black boyhood as a universal.  When we construe the alluded resurrection of a black boy as a stand-in for black life, we are using story in order apprehend the here and now. This.

Here, we are talking about Black Lives Matter. We are talking about Minneapolis. We are talking about the intersection of a black/queer/poz/boy/man/poet who is alive. We are talking about difference as a matter of the life/line between a birthday and death. We are talking about the way that Smith coaches us through the pass in his insistent discrimination between a child and an adult: “That boy was Trayvon, now called RainKing. / that man Sean named himself i do, i do.”. Line by line, Smith paints Blackness as a thing to be celebrated, elevated and reprised.

Now. To call us, the ethereal/fictive/constructed/scientific/fugitive/passing/universal black us, alive, is to summon a black salvation, without the savior.12 This is an act of god(esse)s. The eruption of salvation becomes loud, becomes via music, becomes via objects, and subject, and memory, because personal history; this comes in time. Because black life.13

This is in their repetition of everyday and the brevity of the bars that recalls the fractured breath and measure of hip hop: the break. Crawford speaks to the ways that “radical cultural movements are imagined first, before they can happen.”14 And that imagination goes on to be reckoned with through a sort of generational transference, or maybe pattern is the sharper word, which would be considered more linear, if the supposedly subsequent generations weren’t interested in the matter and material of art making. The world-opening that is begged by Smith’s conjuring of “the everyday high/ holiday and everyday new”. What I’m saying is we black folk will always go on to define art progressively. With gestures towards forwarding ourselves from this moment into that. This “that” doesn’t always mean progress as in moving away from. This “that” means another day lived.

We must be brave enough to confront the insight Shannon Gibney provides into considering circumstance. In her sophomore novel, Dream Country, a story spanning five generations of black diaspora in order to describe the political reprisal of issues concerning a holistic black-post-black identity, she writes:

“There is no closure in this story. No Circle. Only an ever-turning spiral— characters, themes, and questions folding in on themselves over and over again. Time passes, oceans are crossed; circumstances change, or they do not.”

Shannon Gibney, Dream Country (331)

While Gibney denies the circle, she goes on to describe a spiral. Is this a new black post-blackness look? In the Black Arts Movement it was the death of the negro and the resurrection of the Black. Smith has resurrected the slain boy child, the practical everyday.

Perhaps, here in the context of the 21st century, we are marked by the shift from the circular to the forward, driving, spiral. From the middle passage to the everyday. This can be very different, and altogether the same. This is of course reminiscent of the changing same although I dare not call it a rewrite.

Labor Day15


This article was commissioned and developed by Mn Artists guest editor Chaun Webster as part of the series Blackness and the Not-Yet-Finished.

  1. See how Michelle Wright discusses what it might be to get beyond the progress narratives, the linear drives of white male dominated history in “The Physics of Blackness: Beyond a Middle Passage Epistemology” (2015). Her work is spiked in two categories: knowing and being. Wright does not believe that getting rid of time—in the post structuralist sense of the riddance—will allow diaspora to escape race.

  2. And by “it” I mean circumstance as in terms of a condition relevant to an event, as well as a material condition. And I also mean context: which is to say circumstances that help us understand an event. I intend to adhere them or collapse them here. See Keno Evol about “compression”.

  3. See Alice Walker, In Search of Our Mothers’ Gardens (1974).

  4. See Jack Halberstam, The Queer Art of Failure (2011).

  5. Thinking especially about the way in which Kennedy collapses time, and proves to offer a non-linear, non-circular departure from the experience of knowing. We might also consider the ways in which Kennedy and Baraka have been remembered differently and honored differently in real time. This difference in their critical reception as well as the trajectory of their (both outstanding) careers could be seen as the somewhat complicated discrimination between this and that. In Black Post-Blackness, this is of course inseparable from that. Defined by its not-ness of that. And yet, there must be more. There must be multitudes. There must be these. See Funnyhouse of a Negro to witness these. Think about it in conversation with Baraka’s Changing Same. See “FUNNYMAN. He is a black Negro. (Laughing)”.  See also “Man… My friends will be white. I need them as an embankment to keep me from reflecting too much upon the fact that I am Patrice Lumumba who haunted my mother’s conception. They are necessary for me to maintain recognition against myself…” and consider how blackness needs whiteness in order to be black, too.

  6. See Lisa Marie Brimmer, “Plotting a Pragmatic National Philosophy: William Wells Brown’s Clotel; Or the President’s Daughter (1853)”. English Literature Master’s Essay, 2018.

  7. See the internet. See Aretha Franklin’s historical presence and disruption. See Detroit. See Ashon Crawley’s “Sound Made Flesh” for NPR. Consider Franklin’s relationship with gospel and Motown. Consider Franklin’s relationship with Detroit.

  8. See my people about a rebuttal.

  9. See my folk about ongoing emancipation work and rhetorical use of platforms and transatlantic/global media.

  10. See the Louisiana Purchase (1803), or a land heist facilitated by seated 3rd president, Thomas Jefferson. Especially of interest as we consider our current sitting 45th. But, first see Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz, An Indigenous People’s History of the United States.

  11. See Solange Knowles’ A Seat at the Table. See Tara Betts’ F.U.B.U. for Solangé Knowles. See the accent over the e. See the queer, class commentary.

  12. See Funnyhouse of a Negro, “ALL. … I am bound to him [my father] unless, of course, he should die. / But he is dead / And he keeps returning. Then he is not dead. / Then he is not dead. / Yet, he is dead, but dead he comes knocking at my door.” (24)

  13. See the snapshot and the struggle of and in and with and for the conference at the University of MInnesota. See Black Table Arts, see Keno Evol. See about a garden of black joy. See about black joy. (Period)

  14. See Margo Natalie Crawford (21).

  15. See The Future of the Race, Cornel West and Henry Louis Gates, Jr.

  1. Crawford, Margo N. Black Post-Blackness: The Black Arts Movement and Twenty-First-Century Aesthetics. Champaign: University of Illinois Press, 2017.

  2. Gibney, Shannon. DREAM COUNTRY. New York: Penguin, 2018.

  3. Kennedy, Adrienne, and Werner Sollors. The Adrienne Kennedy Reader. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2008.

  4. Smith, Danez. Don’t Call Us Dead: Poems. London: Chatto & Windus, 2017.

Lisa Marie Brimmer

Lisa Marie Brimmer is the co-editor of Queer Voices: Poetry, Prose, and Pride Anthology from Minnesota Historical Society Press (2019). They carry a Master’s degree in English Literature from the University of St. Thomas where they were a graduate fellow. As an interdisciplinary cultural worker their work engages with environment, kinship, and culture while plotting intersectional black (/indigenous) queer liberation.  Their work has appeared in Open Rivers Magazine, On The Commons …   read more