ecently, a friend asked me how I envision utopia. I struggled in my response. Unsurprisingly, my immediate answer still functioned within our current system. I failed to imagine another world. It scared me a little too. It’s easier to break something down than to build anew. The work of piecing together a new reality often feels not only impossible, but exhausting, childish, and frightening.
Where does this reluctance come from? I am desperate to break out of our current system, but when presented with the challenge to imagine an alternative, I’m at a loss. I’m tongue-tied. I don’t know what to say. There’s a strange failure of imagination. Of course, I can speak to the desired feeling under this hypothetical new system. I know that I am chasing freedom. And for me, freedom is a fleeting, deeply erotic sensation. I chase it, through writing and through political work — but in that moment, I found it difficult to put into words.
Only after internal reflection, I reached the root of my reluctance. It was obvious. Our current system not only limits our capacity to dream, but it refutes it. To dream another world is likened to a childlike idealism. If you are Black, your dreams are a punchline. If you are Black and queer, it’s unthinkable. Under capitalism, there are no alternatives. It does not invite new ways of knowing, being, or relating. There is no room for reimagining.
Like many, I was taught to believe this system too sturdy to be remade — too old and revered to be challenged. If there is to be a change, it must be made within our existing structure. History promises there will be amendments. There will be changes in policy. There will be fresh faces in Congress. America workshops itself; it may adjust, but it is built to refuse a foundational shift.
Understanding the depth of this dilemma, I sought out other ways of knowing.
Over the past few months, I’ve been reading Nalo Hopkinson, Samuel R. Delany, and of course, Octavia Butler. I’ve found Black Speculative Fiction to be both healing and instructive in our current climate. Specifically, the queer worlds of Hopkinson and Delany. Hopkinson wrestles with history and legacy, stretching far into the past and tying it to an imagined future. Her work is rooted in a Pan-Caribbean tradition. Delany breaks down our social world through futuristic or post-apocalyptic landscapes. These worlds are far from utopias. There’s often hurt, pain, and suffering; however, pleasure is central. There’s a reimagining of our relationships and our own bodies. When I read Delany and Hopkinson, there’s an indescribable rush. I’m overwhelmed by possibility. I return to the language of my dreams.
When I read Delany and Hopkinson, I feel close to freedom.
I refuse to reduce these texts to “fantasy.” Instead, I view them as blueprints for our potential reality. Delany and Hopkinson have given me deeply Black worlds and infinite queer possibilities. Black Speculative Fiction strikes a heavy blow to the “sturdiness” of our current system. It reminds me of the inherent political power of our dreams. How can I begin to envision revolution if I have not yet dreamt it for myself? I am beginning to dream a world — not in the abstract, but a real world driven by Black queer desire. I dream of a world untethered from white supremacy. I dream of a world removed from capitalism. I dream of a world where colonial expectations of gender are undone, remixed, or reimagined.
Lately, reading “realism” has been insufficient for me. It often holds a mirror to social atrocity, but what audience is that written for? What is the goal of focusing so much energy on violence and trauma? In many ways, some forms of realism limit our capacity to dream. It can force us to stick to the rigid rules of our reality. This is not to say there haven’t been incredible and transformative works in that genre. However, I believe it is important to balance our consumption of these works with expansive, imaginative, and speculative depictions of the world.
I urge other writers and readers to explore the language of our dreams. I still wrestle with the question of utopia. I don’t even know if utopia is the correct word to use. As Delany and Hopkinson remind us, no world is without pain; but still, there are endless possibilities in our most vulnerable and intimate longings. Though I have no answer to the question, through reading and writing, I get closer each day.