Black virtuoso genius creative Lizzo opened new realms with a flute two weeks ago . She crafted riffs, rhythms, resonances that were transcendent and allowed us to experience the divine (as she usually does). Her performance was a sublime meeting of art, abolition, liberation.
The flute Lizzo played — the crystal flute — had been loaned to her by the library of congress. The flute was created for and gifted to James Madison, a long-dead united states president. Madison enslaved many Black people, among them Sukey and her daughter Ellen. Madison left no provisions in his will to free the Black people he enslaved — the idea of free Black people was literally unimaginable to him. Madison crafted laws that defined African people as 3/5th’s human — the people who cooked for him, built his plantation, harvested his crops, played music for him. Madison waged a genocidal war against the Indigenous peoples of america, and lived on land stolen from the Monacan people. Madison spent his life building a world in which Lizzo was not supposed to exist.
The very existence of Lizzo is the antithesis of Madison.
What does abolition mean? What do we mean by reparations? Ruth Wilson Gilmore teaches us that freedom is a place: it is a process of re-making and making places that are free:
Thus, abolition geography–how and to what end people make freedom provisionally, imperatively, as they imagine home against the disintegrating grind of partition and repartition through which racial capitalism perpetuates the means of its own valorization.Ruth Wilson Gilmore, Abolition Geography and the Problem of Innocence
Freedom is a continuous process through which life sustaining resources are redirected to those of us who continue to be harmed by the violence and colonial practices of the long-dead Madison.
People make abolition geographies from what they have; changing awareness can radically revise understanding of what can be done with available materials.Ruth Wilson Gilmore, Abolition Geography and the Problem of Innocence
Reparations is when the dormant accumulations (loot) of a thief are transmuted by the living, creating and creative mind and body of Lizzo: what can be done with available materials. A flute perhaps.
Reparations is signing over the flute forever to Lizzo. Reparations means entrusting the many silenced artifacts (loot) of genocide and white supremacy to the Black and Indigenous artists who will re-create a life-sustaining world out of 500 years of destruction. Landback is when the lands of Montpelier are returned to the Monacan people. (Re)con-struction of de-struction. What can be done with available materials?
I was at first angry, confused, flummoxed by the very idea of that crystal flute. Gayatri Sethi talked me through my anger, gifting me love and deep solidarity. She posed questions that guided me to light and insight. I wish they would have just given her that flute and any other instrument of her choosing lying dormant in their archives. To practice abolition or reparations or justice is to make the demand.
What does it mean to re-imagine reparations as the process through which world-building is allowed to flourish? It means schools and institutes that sustain and enliven Black genius in all its forms — it means the diversion of resources from policing, prisons, war and anything else that destroys Black existence. Black Re-construction in amerikkka re-imagined.
Gayatri Sethi and I together are raising two Black young people. One of them is a young woman who plays cello in the youth orchestra of the Atlanta Music Project (or AMP). AMP elevates the musicianship and souls of young Black people in particular. AMP is a deep love-song. The main picture of this post is a mural that adorns the side of the AMP practice space. The mural was created by the artist Ashley D. Dopson.
In the mural, a young Black woman plays the flute amid the stars. The woman in the mural materializes a dreamscape of unbounded possibility with the resonances of her instrument and artistry.
Reparations means an unbounded number of spaces that sustain Black creativity, not only in Atlanta, but anywhere and everywhere on Turtle Island, anywhere and everywhere on this planet. Landback means an unbounded number of spaces that sustain Indigenous creativity, not only in Charlottesville, Virginia, but anywhere and everywhere on Turtle Island, anywhere and everywhere on this planet. Lizzo’s performance allows us to feel what it is to transmute the lingering violence of Madison into the freedom dreamed by Sukey and her kin.
Audre Lorde teaches us that the master’s tools will not dismantle the master’s house.
Those of us who stand outside the circle of this society’s definition of acceptable women; those of us who have been forged in the crucibles of difference; those of us who are poor, who are lesbians, who are black, who are older, know that survival is not an academic skill. It is learning how to stand alone, unpopular and sometimes reviled, and how to make common cause with those other identified as outside the structures, in order to define and seek a world in which we can all flourish. It is learning how to take our differences and make them strengths. For the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house.Audre Lorde, The Master’s Tools Will Never Dismantle the Master’s House, in This Bridge Called My Back, edited by Cherríe Moraga and Gloria Anzaldúa
Lizzo creates and embodies and lives that other Circle of acceptance in which tools are melted down and re-claimed, re-shaped, re-purposed, forged into instruments of freedom. Ruth Gilmore reminds us to pay special attention to poet Audre Lorde’s apostrophes. Reminds us to pay attention as the poet Audre Lorde frees the dead master’s language from shackles, transposing it into a collective tool of liberation. The words ignite with divine energy and incinerate the old plantation. Sukey dances in the warmth of the fire.
Tricia Hersey writes in her book Rest is Resistance: a Manifesto
I was reading slave narratives while studying Jim Crow terrorism and falling asleep with the book on my chest. I was guided by Harriet Tubman, proclaiming after waking up from a prophetic dream: “My people are free.” The audacity to proclaim freedom via rest in the now.Tricia Hersey, Rest is Resistance: A Manifesto
The divine rest and healing to be found in closing eyes, sitting and being transported to a space of freedom by a flute, to be swayed in the creation of song and astrally projected to other realms. To Freedom. A Place. Freedom is when we open our souls to the possibilities of the divine. Freedom is a place created by a song.