This introduction appears in the issue “Undisciplined Archives: Dreaming Across Black Geographies” (Volume 10, Number 2). Click here to subscribe and download the entire issue.
* To contextualize this issue in The Arrow Journal, this introduction briefly references some of the anti-Black violence over the last few years. However, I do not mention specific details and primarily focus on Black aliveness.
Throughout this special issue, contributors approach their lives as archives. They interweave personal testimonies with social critique. Their pieces are offerings or ofrendas that capture personal and collective reflections on Black dreaming in this moment.1 Allow me to enter the same way.
The contemplative paths I travel take dreaming seriously. I’ve learned to nourish dreams from family members, ancestors, and spiritual teachers. Dreaming in the shape of night dreams and meditative visions guides me as a Blaxicana (Black, Mexican, and Xicana) artist-scholar. The “old ways” I reclaim and reimagine through solo and collaborative work have many names, among them rootwork and plant medicine. These ways of knowing, while diverse in expression, honor both ancestors and the earth. Because these ancestral traditions take the interconnectedness of people, place, and things seriously, they ask how personal dreams matter for the collective, whether that collective is a community or the planet. From grassroots organizing, I’ve also learned how to collaboratively vision as we (re)imagine the present and hold the future close. However, dreams were not a focus of my writing or research until 2020, in the midst of profound collective mourning and collective care.
After the murder of Breonna Taylor during a police raid in 2020, I couldn’t sleep. The question “Was Breonna Dreaming?” kept visiting me and kept me awake. That same year, the COVID-19 pandemic accelerated in the United States, and Black, Indigenous, and other historically-oppressed folks were (and continue to be) unduly impacted. Black Lives Matter protests ignited worldwide following the police murder of George Floyd. At the same time, I was co-creating another special issue with fellow Black geographers for Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers (TIBG).2 Our virtual meetings became a nourishing tradition amid amplified uncertainty. Along with reimagining academic writing, we paused together. Thank you to Lioba A. Hirsch, Nathaniel Télémaque, Rita Gayle, Victoria Ogoegbunam Okoye, Danielle Purifoy, Celeste Winston, and Francesca Sobande for this tender community of practice.
In all this context, I struggled to write until I returned to the question, “Was Breonna dreaming?” I wrote an essay called “Prologue: Black Dream Geographies.” This homage to Breonna Taylor’s life also raised questions about Black ways of knowing sleep and dream.3 I offered the term Black dream geographies to describe the study and experience of Black dreaming in space, place, and time, all of which are deeply shaped by long legacies of oppression, resistance, and thriving. The essay is called a prologue because I “caught a vision” while writing it, in which writers, activists, and practitioners gathered around the theme of Black dreaming. The idea for the issue you’re reading now took shape.
A surprise connection ultimately brought this issue to The Arrow. Managing Editor shah noor hussein and I participate in the Black Geographies Lab at University of California at Santa Cruz, a graduate student and faculty lab that supports the study of Black Geographies as both an academic field and a political project. When shah invited us to pitch ideas for The Arrow, the opportunity immediately resonated. The journal’s issue on embodiment and racial justice,4 guest edited by Kelsey Blackwell, is required reading in many of the classes I teach at UC Santa Cruz. In this and other issues, the journal is committed to contemplative practice, politics, and activism. An issue on Black dreaming needed a capacious home, one that could hold legacies of oppression and thriving, theory and practice, and the material and metaphysical dimensions of Black dreaming. “Undisciplined Archives: Dreaming Across Black Geographies” required a space where those of us who bridge ways of moving in the world as spiritual activists, artist-scholars, and practitioner-teachers could create without dismissing aspects of our work (and ourselves). I am ecstatic to gather here.
“Undisciplined Archives: Dreaming Across Black Geographies” builds on multiple lineages of Black dream work. In the call for submissions we named some of these, from ancestral practices and spiritual traditions, to activists, scholars, and visionaries who evoke Black dreaming. The works (and lives) of Lorraine Hansberry, Alexis Pauline Gumbs, Robin D.G. Kelley, Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., Cara Page, M. Jacqui Alexander, Langston Hughes, Kevin Quashie, Toni Morrison, and Audre Lorde especially inspire this issue. We’re guided by ancestors who literally followed their dreams to create collective possibilities, such as Harriet Tubman and the Underground Railroad or George Washington Carver’s agricultural inventions. Though I’m naming individuals, their works and lives have been integral to movements with roots within and beyond the academy. Among these, Black feminism and the Black Radical Tradition prepared the ground for this issue. Emerging theory and practice from the healing justice movement sparked our invitation to think and feel about Black dreaming. From these lineages, we know Black dreaming can incite creativity and transformation. More often than not, popular approaches to dreaming emphasize the individual alone. We’ve inherited lineages that lift up the collective and liberatory potential of dreaming.
For “Undisciplined Archives: Dreaming Across Black Geographies,” we invited contributors to build on this dream lineage while expanding its scope. Most art, scholarship, and activism related to Black dreaming focus on waking dreams like aspirations, daydreams, or collective visioning. Outside of spiritual or religious spaces, less analysis has been devoted to what might be called more metaphysical modes of Black dreaming, such as sleeping dreams, ecstatic visions, or prophecy. Similar to aspirations and collective visioning, these dreams are expressed in Black lives, art, and movements. Alexis Pauline Gumbs reminds us that visions guided Harriet Tubman’s co-creation of the Underground Railroad.5 Tricia Hersey of The Nap Ministry urges Black folks (and everyone) not only to rest but to dream. Likewise, contributors to this issue point to the significance of sleeping dreams and more metaphysical modes of dreaming. These dreams illuminate still other dimensions of Black aliveness and Black thought. However, they’re often stigmatized or treated as entertainment in popular culture. They’re dubbed folklore in a pejorative sense, or they’re considered too “out there” for scholarly (and activist) concern.6
In a recent thought-provoking piece, Matthew Harrison and J.T. Roane ask, “What alternative forms of life emerge from the archive when we focus on the neglected metaphysical fulcrums of Black thought, and how might they animate new directions in the fields of Africana religions and Black studies?”7 We can extend these questions to other academic fields and to grassroots activism. We can apply them to contemplative practice. In this issue, contributors ask themselves and readers to be “out there,” and “going there” is brave. Even attention to less explicitly metaphysical modes of Black dreaming faces resistance.8 By inviting an expansive understanding of Black dreaming, “Undisciplined Archives: Dreaming Across Black Geographies” archives multiple dimensions of Black dreaming. This issue contributes to vital conversations in the academy about Black ways of knowing ecologies and the Divine. Our collective contribution responds to calls to attend to healing and embodiment in social movements as well as scholarship.
In “Undisciplined Archives: Dreaming Across Black Geographies,” contributors reflect on Black dreaming through peer-reviewed articles and short essays, art and poetry. All of these contributions appear in the issue’s digital edition, with an abridged print edition. We especially welcomed and highlighted submissions from Black, African, and Black diaspora contributors. Along with the politics of research and activism noted above, too often Black communities have not been involved in the archiving or analysis of our dreaming when it is the object of study. We received contributions from Black dream workers who identify as curators, writers, scholars, cultural workers, and more. Among recurring themes, contributors explore the role of place and home in Black dreaming. They also map Black afterlives with radical imagination, approach dreaming through the body, and honor relations with nonhuman nature. In the words of Black feminist geographer Katherine McKittrick, these pieces are deliciously “undisciplined” as they defy singular fields and genres.9
In the article “Sleeping in Kwame’s Room: Dreaming of Amphibious Freedoms,” Anthony Kwame Harrison remembers a journey to his birth city of Kumasi, Ghana. It begins with a stirring dream before Harrison explores the many dreams that make up a (home)place, from sleeping dreams to dreams of Independence. He invites us to consider how diasporic relationships across place and time nurture Black dreaming. Similar to Harrison, Stephanie Burns honors a homeplace while sharing lessons about Black dream work. As she recounts dreams and remembers (healing from) Hurricanes Katrina and Ida, the music of artist Dawn Richards becomes a musical thread. In her work, physical and dream landscapes of New Orleans, deeply intertwine. Morgan P. Vickers turns our attention to dreaming with absent or lost places. In “Dreaming through Submergence,” Vickers remembers Black towns submerged by white-led state and federal institutions in the twentieth century. While addressing the violence of submergence as another afterlife or legacy of slavery, this essay reimagines these towns as “unsinkable havens;” Vickers asks what these spaces can teach us about possibilities amid past and present anti-Blackness. Dreaming takes multiple forms here, from the submerged aspirations of Black townfolk to radical imagination.
In their writing, Sienna L. Morgan and Bushmama Africa reimagine Black afterlives in multiple senses of the word. In “Groundmother: Planted To Celebrate A Life Well Lived,” Morgan mobilizes imagination to depict her late grandmother’s garden in the afterlife. Beyond imagining, we witness this vibrant garden, and Morgan brings us to Black ways of knowing death. In “Breonna’s Dream,” Bushmama Africa expands on these ways of knowing as she envisions the journey of Breonna Taylor’s soul after death. As a priestess of Oya, the Yoruba deity who watches over the dead, Bushmama Africa (aka Oya Miwa) brings a Yoruba/African indigenous philosophy of the cosmos to this vision. Imagination becomes a medium for witnessing the afterlife, and she offers a cosmic response to the question, “Was Breonna Dreaming?”
Throughout this issue, contributors also take us into Black dreaming and Black dream geographies through the body. In “Smiling A Million Times,” Blacquemoss dreams through and with the body. Between the ground underfoot and heart stretching “across the globe,” inner and outer (Black) landscapes merge in this poem. In a reflection on Nope (2022), Sobande explores Black dreaming and grieving beyond a “spectacularizing societal gaze.” Her reading of Nope is distinctive, from her attentiveness to emotional landscapes captured in the film to how she experienced the movie amid personal grief. With similar attunement to inner landscapes, Jennifer Steverson brings us a dream-like portrait of celebrated storyteller and anthropologist Zora Neale Hurston. In Steverson’s “She Saw Galaxies in Us,” Hurston seems to emerge from the cyanotype collage, crafted from shades of blue.
Finally, relationships with nature and dreaming emerge throughout this issue. Jessica Lemire’s meditation on “Dancing with Ocean” approaches Ocean as kin and teacher. This lyrical article is both a call to pay homage to (the) Ocean with our full selves–however we articulate that fullness–and a theoretical contribution to the expanding field of Black Sea Studies. In “I dream fish, teeth, ancestors and bears,” Aries Jordan interprets sleeping dreams based on knowledge passed down and knowledge sought. Many of the dreams involve nature, and with vivid imagery this poem archives Black relations with nonhuman kin. In the immersive essay “Black girls are flowers that deserve to bloom,” Derrika Hunt begins by communing with lavender-hued flowers gathered at a river’s edge in Mexico. Through Hunt’s vivid text and photography, flowers affirm the lives, dreams, and abundance of Black girls. For “Gather (entsitewahwe’nón:ni)” by Saleem Hue Penny, we enter the tender memory of a lagoon, where family, cypress, and the North Star embrace the reader. Prepare to (gently) enter the depths!
Beyond taking up Black dreaming as a topic, the contributors move toward Black dreaming as a framework that undergirds all aspects of their writing–from the shape of their words on the page to how they cite academic and creative works alongside ancestors, Black towns, Spirit/God, and Orisha. Their expansive offerings invite us to dream in all forms and to reimagine the significance of dreaming. They explore the liberatory and communal potential of dreaming. Notably, none of their pieces delve deeply into nightmares or the shadow sides of dreaming. Maybe this is because the nightmares are pervasive: from white supremacy and anti-Black violence to pandemic grief and climate injustice. The contributors illustrate how to name these systemic and global terrors without them being all there is. By situating Black dreaming within context and possibility, the authors, artists, and poets offer antidotes for these times. Some of these antidotes are deeply grounded in practice, while others remind us that theory can be healing.10
I invite you to approach these pieces as the offerings/ofrendas they are. Perhaps you take your time with them. Maybe you read them out loud, by yourself and with community. Thank you to the contributors, peer reviewers, illustrators, and editorial staff who made this collective archive and antidote possible.
- Ofrendas is the Spanish word for offerings. The title for this piece is inspired by a quote from Toni Morrison’s book A Mercy, “I dream a dream that dreams back at me” (131). ↩
- Lioba Hirsch and Naya Jones editors, “Incontestable: Imagining Possibilities through Intimate Black Geographies,” Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, https://rgs-ibg.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/toc/10.1111/(ISSN)1475-5661.incontestable. Open access introduction available at https://www.academia.edu/60208915/Incontestable_Imagining_possibilities_through_intimate_Black_geographies. ↩
- Naya Jones, “Prologue: Black Dream Geographies,” Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, 24, no. 4 (December 2021): 825, https://doi.org/10.1111/tran.12496. Open access version available at https://www.academia.edu/60207324/Prologue_Black_dream_geographies. ↩
- “The Necessity of Including Embodiment and Lineage in Racial Justice Work,” The Arrow Journal 6, no. 1 (2019), https://arrow-journal.org/the-necessity-of-including-embodiment-and-lineage-in-racial-justice-work/. ↩
- Alexis Pauline Gumbs. “Prophecy in the Present Tense: Harriet Tubman, the Combahee Pilgrimage, and Dreams Coming True,” Meridians, 12, no 2. (September 2014): 142, https://doi.org/10.2979/meridians.12.2.142. ↩
- Matthew Harris and J.T. Roane, “Out There: Perspectives on the Study of Black Metaphysical Religion,” The Immanent Frame, March 25, 2022, https://tif.ssrc.org/category/exchanges/out-there-perspectives-on-the-study-of-black-metaphysical-religion/. ↩
- Ibid. ↩
- In Freedom Dreams: The Black Radical Imagination, Robin D.G. Kelley lifts up the role of imagination in the work of Black intellectuals and artists. In the book he describes being advised, by some, to forgo his focus on dreaming, even as he emphasized dreaming as imagination and political desire. ↩
- Katherine Mckittrick, Dear Science and Other Stories (Durham: Duke University Press, 2021). ↩
- Black feminist theorist and cultural critic bell hooks lifted up the healing potential of theory in Teaching to Transgress (New York: Routledge, 1994), 59. ↩