In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

  • "But … There Are New Suns!"
  • Ruha Benjamin (bio)

Thank you everyone for coming. We are so happy to have all of you here!

[Call and Response] When I say, "There is nothing new under the sun," you say, "But … there are new suns!" [x3]

These words of Octavia E. Butler acknowledge the "nothing new" status quo that everywhere surrounds us and, at the same time, conjures a restless resistance to submitting to that quo. "There is nothing new under the sun, but there are new suns" animates this gathering. These prophetic words direct us to look at reality squarely and then propels us to find a round room to craft alternative realities. Indeed, it is the work of Butler that first inspired many of us, and it is certainly what prompted Moya, Ayana, and myself to begin building this Imagination Incubator.

What we're after is not escapism, but a kind of visionary realism that holds in tension the deep injustices that are etched into the contemporary landscape with an unapologetic (some call it "crunk") commitment to creating something different—more just and more joyous—for ourselves and for our children's children. After all, we come from a long line of skinfolk who did just that—who resisted and rebelled, infiltrated and instigated, collaborated and created—in other ways. Like them, we don't accept the truism that this is just the way things are and will always be.

"This" being the casual and spectacular forms of violence and indifference that sometimes come swiftly—as with the bullets that pierced the body of a young Michael Brown and the even younger Aiyana Jones, and the growing list of people-turned-hashtags. But more often "this" comes slowly and less visibly—as in the preventable, premature death of hundreds of thousands of people whose bodies are pierced by noxious fumes-turned-asthma, because of the deeply racist geography of this country. [End Page 103]

Environmental justice activists and public health scholars use a somewhat morbid indicator of what they call "excess death." With it, they predict how many unnecessary lives are lost within any timeframe, usually a year. We all die eventually, but the questions they ask are, "At what age? With what degree of suffering? And with what degree of preventable illness?" In a national study, they calculated over 83,000 excess deaths per year in the African American community alone—the equivalent of "a major airliner filled with black passengers falling out of the sky every single day, every year."4

So what this body of research explains is that racism gets under our skin and into our bodies—not just through a vigilante's 9mm shotgun, as in the case of Travyon Martin, but through the everyday stress and strain of living in a society in which black life is valued less. But—and here's the kicker—if white Americans comprised their own country, they are still much worse off than many populations around the world, so the inequities that make up the fabric of our country get under everyone's skins, but with varying degrees of severity. Ultimately, no one is completely immune.

So when we speak of "Black to the Future," we are saying not only do black lives matter in the here and now, but that, in fact, any future that we may conceive as more just and more beautiful must reckon with blackness. What does it mean that in the American imagination, and by explicit design our nation's laws, cast black people not simply as noncitizens, as in "others" or foreigners, anticitizens, and "threats" opposed to the body politic? You cannot naturalize a threat. You can only dispose of it. In fact, many of our policies—from public safety to employment to housing—continue to be guided by an ethos of black disposability.

Saying "Black to the Future" is to say, not only are black folks not going anywhere, but we are making ourselves at home in a future that mainstream depictions would like us all to believe is a whitewashed, colorblind utopia free of (almost all) blackness, except the token variety. Instead of a future free of blackness...