An Invitation To Dream
Kai Wright: I'm Kai Wright and this is the United States of Anxiety, a show about the unfinished business of our history and its grip on our future.
Speaker 1: We cry wolf a lot and say every two years, this is the most important election of our lifetimes. I hope folks believe this when we say it this time.
Speaker 2: Warnings people like former US Attorney General, Eric Holder, who is now bluntly warning American voters that it is now too late to rely on the mail to get your ballot in.
Speaker 3: I'm terrified at the moral apathy happening in my country. They have become, in themselves, more monsters.
Speaker 4: Walmart has taken all firearms and ammunition off its store shelves as a precautionary measure in the face of potential civil unrest.
Speaker 5: I felt very powerful in that I did matter.
Kai: I do realize that every four years, the presidential election comes right after Halloween. That's how the calendar works. That sequence seems so much more notable this year; a national fright just before we tally the votes.
There are already at least 93 million votes to be tallied, a record early turnout. In Texas, more people have already voted than in all of 2016. Several other states are also pretty close to that marker.
The counting, that will start Tuesday, and maybe won't have an outcome right away, or maybe we're going to linger in yet another weird liminal state waiting days or weeks for the results.
This week we figured let's just take a deep breath and use the waiting period to spend a moment in our imaginations, facing our fears and finding our way to some hope for the future. I'm going to invite all of you into an imagination exercise with me a little bit later in the show. To help us get started in this project in the first-half here, I'm joined by our senior producer, Veralyn Williams. Hey, Veralyn.
Veralyn Williams: Hey Kai. How are you?
Kai: I am very well. Anxious, but ready. You and I and our whole team, we have spent a lot of time talking about imagining the future as a political act, both the challenges and the necessity of that. One thing that's happened in that conversation is every Monday, we ended up talking about the TV show Lovecraft Country.
For those who don't watch, or haven't watched, this as a sci-fi horror series about a Black family in the middle 20th century that discovers literal monsters alongside the everyday white power monsters in their lives. They have to summon magic in order to survive. Veralyn, you have been our lead enthusiast for this show. What got you hooked on it?
Veralyn: It's let me have a world to escape to during this time. It's been a time to spend time with radical Black love, power, unapologetic anger. That is exactly what I've needed while processing the selection cycle. I'm trying to embody all the sheroes on this show, including, and maybe especially Hippolyta.
Hippolyta: All those years. I thought I had everything I ever wanted, only to come here and discover that all I ever was, was the exact kind of Negro woman white folks wanted me to be. I feel like they just found a smart way to lynch me without me noticing a noose.
Josephine: Don't it just make you angry?
Kai: That's from an episode in which she is indeed unapologetically angry. HBO, which airs the show, also produces a podcast about it called Lovecraft Country Radio. It's hosted by the writer and thinker, Ashley C. Ford. You, Veralyn, got in touch with Ashley. We're going to start our journey of imagination by listening to your conversation with her. First, tell us why you wanted to begin this trip we're all having with her.
Veralyn: I wanted to talk to another Black woman who is thinking about love, power, and unapologetic freedom. We're all me, you, Ashley C. Ford simultaneously watching this show. We're also living through everything that 2020 has presented us, including this election.
Ashley C. Ford: You have to think about the fact that the first film ever screened at the White House was Birth of a Nation. Horror and racism and the indomitable spirit are baked into the foundation of what America is.
Right now, as we try to figure out what the soul of America, the United States of America, what the soul of that is, what it looks like in the daylight without the cover of night, when we bring these monsters and these horrors into view, what do we see?
How big are they? How scary are they? Can we beat them? Are we going to do it? Are we going to make it? Is the nightmare over? Is the nightmare just beginning? Is there a sequel?
Only the future can tell. All of those questions are up for debate right now, just as they would be in any good plot of any good horror movie.
Veralyn: You've described yourself as a horror enthusiast. You've tweeted in the past about wanting to write your own horror movie. Where does your relationship with the genre and horror come from?
Ashley: Horror was a really great place to learn how to process fear, because it becomes very apparent to you when you're a kid who likes horror, that you're either going to have to stop watching this stuff, or you're going to have to figure out what to do with your fear and where to put it so that it doesn't sit on top of you and keep you up all night. I think even before I could really verbalize it, something in me realized I was learning something from horror. Emotionally, I was learning how to do something with my fear.
Veralyn: Was this modeled for you on any level?
Ashley: When I lived in Missouri with my grandmother for a year, we went to the movies every Saturday. We used to sit through the credits because she wanted to read all the credits after a movie finished.
You start to realize like, oh yes, people make this. They don't go out and film it as it's happening and then make a movie out of it. It's like somebody came up with an idea. Somebody created this monster. A makeup artist came in and turned the person into a monster using makeup and movie magic and stuff like that, and just the dissection of what was happening there. You can't be super scared of a monster when you see them sitting in the makeup chair and getting their makeup done and stuff like that.
I think that that's what my grandmother modeled for me was like, this is all story; this is all art. It makes you feel a certain way, but if you stick around long enough, you get to see that it's made up of many, many pieces and not just some great source of evil.
Veralyn: In the world of Lovecraft, there are many terrifying monsters we've seen in horror movies forever; ghost, witches, wizards, giant bug-eyed, vampire [unintelligible 00:08:02] carnivorous four-legged creatures, and police officers.
In 2020, anyone living at the intersection of any combination of race, class, gender, immigration status on and on, are living with the same undeniable fear that the main characters in Lovecraft for grappling with. As someone, you, who is living at the intersection of a few of these things yourself, what's been your experience watching it and working on Lovecraft Radio?
Ashley: There's more intersections in like you would even know, like as a Black woman, as an artist, as a person in this country right now, as a person who has both police officers and felons in her family, you know what I mean, like direct relations.
What this show has done for me that I think a lot of people have appreciated well beyond me is that it has never pretended that you won't be dealing with all those things at the same time. Those things that we should be focused on are never ending. There's always something we're not talking enough about. There's always something falling through the cracks. There's always something missing. The truth is that that's real. That is the absolute truth. Just like we see with Dee in episode eight of Lovecraft Country.
Diana: Lady, where's Dee?
Leti: I don't know.
Diana: When is he coming back.
Leti: I don't know, Diana. Go inside. Call your uncle. tell him you're here.
Diana: Wait. Leti.
Diana: Behind you, there's-- [choking]
Leti: You okay?
Ashley: That's one of my favorite episodes because it shows that we're losing things through the cracks. We're losing people. We're losing lives. We're losing kids. We're losing hope. We're losing faith all the time.
At the same time, we're moving towards something new, and different. We're always being pulled toward the future, whatever the future may be. We do get to set some intention, and what we want that future to look like. We do get to decide just enough in our days to decide what kind of person we want to be in that future, even when that's really, really, really hard to remember.
Veralyn: Ashley, at a time where it feels like life keeps happening to us, would you agree that Lovecraft Country is a reminder that we do have power?
Ashley: Yes. This show is constantly making me think about power. It's constantly making me think about the little bit of power I have, and the responsibility that I have because of that power. If there's one thing this show has shown me as much as the world has shown it to me over the course of my life, it's that the problem is not always that there is power; the problem is that we have limited definitions of power. We only think of power over and not power to, or shared power.
Veralyn: Thinking about magic as a metaphor for power, as Lovecraft has set up, why is magic useful? Quite frankly, why is horror useful for thinking about all of this?
Ashley: I think horror is useful because horror is essentially about hope, and the indomitable human spirit. When you watch a horror film, what makes it interesting is the idea that somebody might make it to the end. At least one person might make it to the end. If they don't, still a horror film, but the reason you watched it was to see if they were going to make it. You have to be cognizant at all times of the fact that white supremacy, if you want to go there, white supremacy really is the biggest monster.
Veralyn: The lie of white supremacy?
Ashley: Yes. Even the people it affects it infects. Growing up in that environment, some of it is there in you. You have been taught and corrected in the ways of white supremacy. You absolutely have.
This show is not just about what it does to you to be affected by it and infected by it. It also talks about the ways that you can try to use it. It backfires or it works, because we are still having the conversation long after the question has been asked, whether or not the master's tools will dismantle the master's house. Will they? Will they really? We have to keep asking ourselves.
Veralyn: So far, I feel like the answer is no. how do you think about that for your own life?
Ashley: The master's tools, I do not think will dismantle the master's house, but I do think that what is left of the master's house may be useful. Maybe there's something in the rubble. It is going to have to be transformed and reimagined. Sometimes I think that. Other times, I think, "Burn it all down and sweep it all out the door. Never look back. We're just going to clean slate, start something new and go forward."
I don't think you can do that. You can't clean slate. We carry so much already in our blood and in our histories and in the stories, we tell each other about the world versus the stories that are true about the world.
Our identities, there's so much there that people have to be able to deal with, and nobody really wants to hear that. People don't really want to hear that not being able to deal with something emotionally actually affects their lives.
Veralyn: There's a way in which even in Lovecraft and in our own lives, our families have made so many sacrifices for us, so that they're not living their full lives for us, for our future. Now we're in the future making sacrifices. When do we get to just cash in? When do we just get to be the fulfillment of the sacrifice?
Ashley: I don't know when we get that. That's the hard thing is that I truly believe that the worst thing that happens to children are the unlived lives of their parents, and they have been handed down the unlived lives of their parents, who were handed down the unlived lives of their parents. That's just not how we were made to survive or thrive. It's not.
Veralyn: How did you get to that understanding? Where does your deep understanding of that come from?
Ashley: None of it worked. None of it worked. I know what it's like to be a workaholic. I know what it's like to be a person who is on their hustle and on their grind constantly, who comes from nothing, and is just trying to be a good person while reaching, reaching, reaching for something better for themselves whenever they can. Trying to snatch a little piece of happiness thinking that sleep is for weak people, thinking that needing love is for weak people, all those things.
I know what it's like to be the person who, hardcore, goes, "Feelings shouldn't matter." How can feelings matter when you need to survive? Lo and behold, they kept mattering. They kept affecting me. There were times when the difference between me being able to eat or not eat was whether or not I got up, and out of a depression, and got myself to a job that I hated and I couldn't do it.
I didn't think it was real that you could be that sad, you could be that hurt, you could be that traumatized that you lost what felt like lost control of your will. I didn't think it was real until it happened to me, because nobody around me ever affirmed in any way that that could be real. Everyone around me made me think that if you could in any way be affected by your feelings that strongly, something was wrong with you.
I tried five million different ways to pull myself up by my bootstraps, and it didn't work until I started taking care of myself and realizing that my feelings were not obstacles to my productivity. They were information about who I was, and what I wanted.
Veralyn: One thing I've been saying a lot in this 2020 ratio pandemic, COVID, is that I have to actively choose joy for my survival, I have to actively-- I think when I say that on social media, #choosejoy, some people might look at it and roll their eyes and be like, "Okay, good for you." It's like, "No, it doesn't mean that it's easy." Literally, it's hard for me to get out of bed, and then I think about something that brings me joy, and then I'm like, "Okay, let's do it." It's a choice.
Ashley: I understand because I was the same way. A lot of people are not in a position where they even really have the access or the resources to make that choice. To be able to really practice cultivating joy for yourself. I think of it as necessary. I think of it as incredibly--
Veralyn: So necessary.
Ashley: -revealing, but I am so aware of the privilege I have, and being able to even engage in the practice of it. I grew up around people who, where would they have had the time, space, or energy to practice cultivating joy. "What? What does that even mean?"
I try to be really respectful. I'm never telling people like, "If you got problems, it's your fault, because really you should get some therapy. You should start meditating, and you got to start cultivating some joy in your life." I'm not telling people that because I don't know their life. I don't know what they have.
I know that if you have the time and space and you can do it, if you have what you need to invest in yourself in that way, I really hope you go for it. I don't hope you go for it because I'm like, "You should do that." I hope you go for it because it feels great, eventually. If you're really in the practice of it, eventually, and you know this, it feels so good when you feel bad and you know what you need to feel better.
This is a time I think of a great intention if you have the time and the will to gather you some intention and point it in the right direction, like now is the time to do that. That power, that magic is everywhere right now. It is in the air, and we see it.
We see the evidence of how quickly things can change. We see the evidence of when we've built up these invisible institutions and systems that we think to ourselves, that's the way it's got to be, and somebody came in and just said, "I'm not doing that," and now that's not the way it is.
Do you know what that creates? A little bit of magic. Not because it was the right thing to do, don't get me wrong, but because what it does is it plants a seed of imagination. The potential to plant a seed of imagination is there. You can do two things with finding out the world is not the way you thought it was. You can despair, or you can imagine. I think this is a great time of imagination.
Kai: That was writer Ashley C. Ford in conversation with our senior producer, Veralyn Williams. This is the United States of Anxiety. I'm Kai Wright. We'll continue imagining our future after a short break.
Kai: Welcome back. This is the United States of Anxiety. I'm Kai Wright. This week, we are imagining our future. Before the break, our senior producer, Veralyn Williams, was talking with writer, Ashley C. Ford, about the HBO show Lovecraft Country and how it's been a companion text as the election and the pandemic has unfolded for both of them.
Ashley says that in moments like these, we can either despair or we can imagine. At least right now, I have personally decided to start imagining, and I want to invite all of you to do the same along with me.
Here's what I want to do. Let's create a pre-election time capsule of our imaginations. Cast your imagination to some point beyond the election. Could be a day, could be a decade, could be a generation wherever your heart takes you. What do you imagine there? What do you imagine for our country? What do you imagine for your community, however, you define that term? How do you imagine yourself?
I hope you'll take this exercise well beyond partisanship or any specific political candidate. We are imagining things. Let's think way, way bigger than that. Then I want you to pick up your phone and record a voice memo of your musings. Email it to me at email@example.com. You could also just start tweeting your musings to me right now. I'm at Kai_Wright or the hashtag #USofAnxiety.
Do this sometime before the election results start coming in on Tuesday because remember, we're going to try to create a time capsule of our pre-election imaginations, and then we'll play them back for you.
Now, as inspiration to get us all started on this exercise, I called up three people we met along the way of making this show in 2020, three new friends who I think have just inspiring imaginative boundary-breaking minds.
First up is Deidre DeJear, who we introduced you to way back at the start of the campaign just before the Iowa caucuses. She was the Iowa state chair for Kamala Harris's primary campaign. As a person in her early 30s, she is remarkably young to already have so much influence among Iowa Democrats. I wanted to hear where she's at this late stage in the campaign, what she's imagining. I got her on a video call earlier this week.
Deidre DeJear: Hi, are we visually recording this?
Kai: We're not visually recording this.
Deidre: Okay, perfect. I just got back to my house. I was going to do it in the car, but I have terrible service.
Kai: Do you have a voice memo app on your phone?
Deidre: I just feel like you judged me by asking that question, but do you know what--? All right, I am officially recording on the voice memo. I [crosstalk] to download one.
Kai: Well, I'm glad. Probably, you had to run and get you a phone because you have one of those flip phones, I'm sure.
Kai: It's so nice to talk to you. We're doing a few things here. We started our journey in 2020 on this show with you in Iowa. It feels like you all have been through so much. We've all been through so much, but it feels like Iowa has truly been on a journey.
Deidre: Yes, we have come a mighty long way. People have been taking this election very, very personally in light of the pandemic. We had a derecho over the summer. I never heard of what a derecho was, but it's like basically this online hurricane that annihilated so many of our communities.
Iowa has been through quite a bit, but man, we've been resilient. When I say we're taking ownership of things that are happening in our community, we don't have a choice. I don't know if you saw any of the stories, but our absentee ballot requests, our mail-in ballot requests are through the roof; through the roof. I don't know what the outcome of this election is going to be, Kai, but I can say that I'm really proud of the output.
These people are coming together in ways that I could have never imagined. Typically, you see political parties and candidates organizing communities, creating meetings, and telling people what to do. We don't have that right now. When I talk about taking ownership, people are signing up. My house is going to be a staging location. Come and pick up signs at my house. Come and drop off ballots at my house. I'll take them to a secure location. They don't need to be told what to do because they know what's at stake.
Kai: Well, that is a good segue to what I really am here for, is I'm going to ask you to imagine a world beyond November 3rd. This country, the whole country beyond this election, what do you imagine?
Deidre: I warn everybody, regardless of their party, to take a step back and to think about what we've learned over these last four years. I want to see us really focus on the value of visionary leadership.
We have a leader in office, right now, who lacks vision beyond his own personal biases and his own small circle. That's a challenge with not just Donald Trump. That's a challenge with so many leaders across our country. They lack the vision because they don't understand the communities that were elected to serve, and they don't understand how to resolve the challenges that exist within these communities.
I also want people who are willing to be vulnerable. We're all imperfect people. I think COVID has given us a lot of space to give people grace, but what we've seen so often in leadership is that people will not acknowledge their vulnerabilities. By not acknowledging, acknowledging their vulnerabilities, they're not facing those demons and trying to resolve the internal challenges that they may have, that better positions them to be good, effective leaders.
I did recently start a pack. It's so funny that you're talking about my dreams because the pack is called 2020 Vision Pack. It's around uplifting visionary leaders. I feel very, very strongly about that because even though I'm a black woman, sometimes I see people in leadership as being untouchable, like they got it all figured out. They're just not prioritizing me. What I've come to realize is that most of our leaders don't have it all figured out. We have to be honest and true about that.
Kai: That's your imagination for the country. Now, I want to ask you to imagine for your community.
Deidre: I'm a firm believer. If we're going to be writers of our future, we must be readers of our past. We must understand, the John Lewis's and their triumphs, but we must also understand their pitfalls.
My vision for my community is that we engage multi generations to problem-solve. We can't just have our elders in a room solving problems anymore when we're not in the room to understand how they got to that solutions.
Kai: What do you imagine for yourself post-November 3rd, [unintelligible 00:29:08]?
Deidre: I just want to continue to be the change. I was raised that when you walk into a room, you find out what's wrong, not so that you can hate on it, but so that you can help fix it. However, I can add that value, I'm signing up for it every single day out of the week.
Kai: That's Deidre DeJear in Iowa offering her answers to my questions about what we can imagine for ourselves beyond the election. Next step, I talked to Dr. Gail Christopher, Executive Director of the National Collaborative for Health Equity. We first spoke with Dr. Christopher right as the pandemic was first landing in the US. Back then, we talked about her work on racial healing, and how urgent that healing felt given the racial disparities we were already seeing in COVID infections and deaths.
I wanted to hear what she can imagine now, not just beyond the election, but beyond the pandemic.
Dr. Gail Dr. Christopher: Hi, Kai. How are you?
Kai: Dr. Christopher, hi. It was a little over six months ago when we last talked to you on the show at the beginning of this lockdown and this pandemic, I can't say that I imagined six months later, I would still be sitting in my bedroom, talking into a microphone to you in the way I was then, but here we are.
Dr. Christopher: I resisted the phrase 'new normal' for at least five months. I said, no, it's not the new normal; it's the new now. I may have to give in at the moment, because it looks like this will continue, at least for another six months, which is hard to imagine, but yes.
Kai: It is this obviously pregnant moment. For me, at least it feels like we're just standing at this passageway, and on the other side of it over these next coming months, it's going to be momentous, no matter what happens on November 3rd. I want you to first, for the country, imagine whatever event horizon you want to give it, thinking about COVID. What do you imagine?
Dr. Christopher: I have been ending all of my speeches with when they say, "What should we do?" I say, you must visualize the outcome that you want to experience and feel on Inauguration Day.
I am imagining a new administration. I am imagining a moment of hope, and the possibility of fulfillment in this country. Every crisis we've ever really had has catapulted us to a new level of somehow working toward our aspirations as a country. I'm going to imagine that this experience will catapult us in that direction.
I can say that no matter what the outcome is, there is a heightened sensibility that we do have to do things differently. I'm imagining that the voices of reason will predominate, and that we will know that we have to work together collectively, to come out of this pandemic; the twin pandemics of the belief in racism and racial hierarchy and its effect, as well as so evidenced by the disproportionate outcomes and lethal impact of COVID-19. I'm hopeful. I imagine a new direction, a positive direction for the country.
Kai: What might the end of the pandemic look like? As a public health expert, what might it look like when we get on the back end of this?
Dr. Christopher: I believe that we will be reflecting on how we need to revise our health care delivery system. I hope that we come out of it with a deeper respect for the human body, and for the immune system, and for wellness and wellbeing, literally.
Right now, social determinants are really social determinants of the illness as we study them. We need to really transmute that understanding to what is a social determinant of health? What does it take to be healthy?
I would also say that we know that connection to other human beings, intimate connection and affirmation, seeing ourselves in the face of the other and receiving positive feedback, that's fundamental to being healthy. This gives us an opportunity to, once again, understand that our relationships with one another, our relatedness as a society in a culture has something to do with our health and wellbeing as well.
Kai: However, you would define community in this conversation, what do you imagine for community?
Dr. Christopher: That was a perfect segue, and I didn't realize it in terms of emphasizing our sense of connectedness. I believe that this experience of physical isolation has heightened our innate intuitive understanding of our need to be connected. We're going to see community have much more salience for folks in terms of, what community am I part of? How am I nurturing and supporting that community?
That book came out a few decades ago called Bowling Alone. It was documenting how we were becoming more isolated. We're going to be the most together people we've ever been. [laughs]
Kai: Than we've ever been.
Dr. Christopher: We do need each other. If we didn't know that, we know it now. Again, back to the health model, I think we're going to design our communities and redesign them in ways that are flexible. We're building that muscle for the first time, and it's going to show up in our communities. It's not going to be a bad thing.
Kai: What about for yourself, Dr. Christopher, what do you imagine for yourself?
Dr. Christopher: Well, first of all, I have to say I am humbled and honored to be healthy. I view all of these lives that have been lost, I view it as my responsibility to honor their loss by accelerating my work in healing.
I'm also thinking very deeply about how much I value my family. They did quarantine with me for over four months. I truly miss them now that they're not here. It is making me think about, how do I want to structure my life in a way that might allow me the gift of that connection more regularly, more frequently, because it's just fed my very soul and heart.
I've also been on a spiritual journey. A lot of people will tell you that, this time alone is making you look spiritually at what matters. I would say to you that we're always imagining the future. I believe, spiritually, that we are always creating the next phase based on what we are projecting, what we're thinking, what we're believing. I'm happy to engage in this exercise. We should all engage in it because it's up to us to imagine the future that we truly want, and to be disciplined about what we're putting out there into the world.
Kai: That was Dr. Gail Christopher of the National Collaborative for Health Equity. Somebody listening to her tweeted, "This is pre-election medicine." That's exactly what we were hoping for. Again, these conversations I'm playing for you right now, they're meant to be prompts. As Dr. Christopher said there, we have to imagine the future we want.
What future do you imagine, for the country, for your community, however you define that term, and for yourself? Record a voice memo with your musings and send it to me. Send it to firstname.lastname@example.org. You can just start tweeting me now at Kai_Wright with the hashtag #USofAnxiety.
Your final inspiration for our time capsule will come from author, Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah. He is a New Yorker whose debut collection of short stories called Friday Black made him a new literary star in 2018. Since we began tonight's show, talking about sci-fi and horror, Nana felt like a really good place to end. His stories are so fantastic and weird, and somehow both dystopian and inspiring at the same time, just in the breadth of his imagination.
I first talked to Nana this spring, just before George Floyd was killed, and I caught up with him again a couple days ago.
We talked to you on the show, it was May, so a little over four months ago or something like that.
Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah: Time is weird.
Kai: Time is weird. That was after Ahmaud Arbery had been killed before George Floyd. Now this week, we have Walter Wallace Jr. in Philadelphia. It's just almost like clockwork that there will be some black person being killed in a given week.
Nana: With Walter Wallace, I saw a text about out of context, and I knew that's what it was about. I had this moment of this like, "Wow, how sad is this?"
Kai: Exactly, that that's immediately where you jumped to. There are all kinds of things it could have been. You were correct.
Nana: I had no question.
Kai: It's a ritual at this point.
Kai: I don't call you today to talk about that and to talk about death. I call you to talk about imagination. First, I'm going to ask you just to imagine the United States of America, this country. Post-November 3rd, what kind of world can you imagine for this country,
Nana: I imagine, like super, super far, I'm going to write a story about it, where the country and the world has gone away from this focus on technological material progress, and had a really genuine acceptance of a moral evolution that is really more important than how tall are the skyscrapers you can make.
People will understand through practice and through hard work and through probably after climate catastrophe, that the way of what we think is growth is very limited in its ultimate ability to sustain us as being that are not just bodies, and that acknowledge more directly. The main thing being you treat someone like you want to be treated. That's not only like how to be a good person thing, but also thought it was a bit is towards survival.
Kai: That selfish achievement would be about treating people well, as opposed to gathering things.
Nana: It would be the normal- it'd be like, this is how getting better at that is what becomes the new type of frontier. It's not about going to the moon anymore. Again, this is like far, far, obviously. This is like sci-fi far for me.
Kai: Yes, come on. Let's do it.
Nana: The idea of a single individual president would never be a thing anymore. It wouldn't be any individual person. There'd be a more council-type energy for even that level. There'd be radical differences to our government as it exists. Idea of government, how the government interacted with people, would be radically transformed.
Kai: For the country, you imagine a very hard road arriving at this very radically different place. The next level I want to ask you to imagine on is community, however, you want to define community. Maybe it's about New York City. Maybe it's about the Bronx. Maybe it's about identity being Black man. However, you define community, what is your imagination for a post-November 3rd imagination for community?
Nana: Last time we spoke, we mentioned some people giving out money on Twitter. It was like a panicky, I don't know what to do thing. I think as time has passed, there's still tons of panic, but there's more organized and people have been doing this work for a long time who I've been able to look to.
There's a food pantry that is obviously right now crazy overworked. There's a line that goes around the block, every day up where I'm at in Highbridge. I'm starting to be like I want to know how- what are ways that we can help you?
Really all that is speaking to the people who run that because they're are obviously already doing important work in the community and not just being like a observer of this critical thing that they're doing. That's a real thing, engaging with people who are already in the community, doing work, and asking how you can be of use. If everybody does that kind of thing, the space transforms.
I know most of us don't do that. We're trained to train to think like maybe not your neighbor, but your neighbor's neighbor, that has nothing to do with you. Getting away from that, I think is really just the first step.
Kai: It sounds like on all three levels, there's a lot of, you imagine just decentering of individualism and self, and a recentering of collectivity.
Nana: There's a theme there. You can see it. That has to be the way, collectivism and understanding community, and knowing that as long as you're playing this game where I'm thinking about me primarily first and last, we're always all going to be last, literally for the planet. You know what I mean?
Earth is telling you, listen, bro, time is running out now for real.
Kai: Time's up.
Nana: We're still playing around. Yes, built into the future I was saying, is that I think that people learn after they've lost, and they understand the loss in their bones. I hope we get there sooner than I think we will. I think it's going to take a lot. I think being really willing to imagine something very, very different from what we have in front of us is key. Sometimes that's called radical, but I also think it's now essential.
Kai: Radical but essential imagination. That's my invitation to all of you right now, as we create a pre-election time capsule together. Cast your minds and hearts out past the election- a day, a year, a generation. However far you want to go, what can you imagine for the country? What can you imagine for your community, however, you define community? What can you imagine for yourself?
Pick up your phones and record a voice memo answering all are any of these questions, then email it to me at email@example.com. Again, that's firstname.lastname@example.org.
Before we go, I want to bring back our senior producer who we started this hour with, Veralyn Williams. Veralyn, welcome back to the show.
Veralyn: Hey, Kai. I made you do this because you've asked the listeners, you've asked Nana, you've asked Dr. Christopher, you've called up DeJear and shaded her about her flip phone.
Veralyn: It's time for me to invite you to tell me, what do you imagine for this country and yourself beyond the election?
Kai: That's not fair. I'm just supposed to be hosting. [crosstalk] All right. Listen, yes, for the experiment here, you know what I imagine? How do I articulate this? I imagine a world in which whiteness is no longer at the center of everything, where we just don't have to constantly manage around whiteness.
I hope, obviously, people understand I'm not talking about white people here. I mean whiteness as an identity and a concept, which of course, it is. It's a social concept, just like any other racial marker. Imagine if we didn't have to constantly be wrestling with it, whether you're like in opposition to whiteness or you're for whiteness or whatever, if it wasn't just constantly at the center of things, what then? How would we talk about taxes, and infrastructure, or health care? You name it. What would that conversation be like? What about you?
Veralyn: We were talking earlier, and I said like, I just want-- We always talk about Black excellence. I just want Black regular. When everyone is excellent, isn't that regular? The reason that it's excellent is because we're not the norm, we're not at the center. When people say Black excellence is never- it always feels like it's as opposed to whiteness or as opposed to something, assuming that Blackness is not at the center of that statement.
Kai: The other thing literally to that, that I imagined for myself-- That was my imagination for my country. For myself, I imagine myself just rid of the desire for things, for always chasing something I don't have. I heard that a little bit in Nana in the way- what he was talking about. Just like whether it's money, or opportunity, or the latest vintage of some great wine, though, to be honest, I'm going to always be chasing that wine, but this obsession with obtaining more, I imagine myself free of that.
Veralyn: Yes, that's the trick of capitalism. I wish that I can avoid Amazon. That's been a goal of mine for a while, and still my doorbell rings every day, and it's the middle of a pandemic. Yes, I feel you. I don't know if you can begin to think about this, but how do we get there? It takes sacrifice, I think, right?
Kai: It takes sacrifice, and as Ashley C. Ford told us and as Dr. Christopher told us, it takes imagining and stating it out loud. That's what we've done here. That's what we're inviting all of you to do. Imagine your answers to these things. Imagine the world beyond the election. Make a voice memo, and email it to email@example.com.
I'm Kai Wright. It's been lovely to cover this election with you. I hope if you haven't voted, you will go do so. We will spend time with you again right here, next week.
United States of Anxiety is a production of WNYC Studios. Jared Paul mixed the podcast version. Kevin Bristow and Matthew Miranda were at the boards for the live show. With additional engineering help this week from Joe [unintelligible 00:48:02]. Our team also includes Carolyn Adams, Emily Botein, Jenny Casas, Marianne McCune, Christopher Werth and Veralyn Williams. Our theme music was written by Hannis Brown and performed by the Outer Borough Brass Band. Karen Frillmann is our executive producer and I'm Kai Wright.
You can keep in touch with me on Twitter at Kai_Wright. As always, I hope you will join us for the live version of the show next Sunday, 6:00 PM. Eastern. You can stream it at wnyc.org, or tell your smart speaker to play WNYC. Until then, thanks for listening. Take care of yourselves, and I hope you vote.
New York Public Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline, often by contractors. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of New York Public Radio’s programming is the audio record.