Black Artists for Freedom

Writers join Black Artists for Freedom coalition on Juneteenth Day 2020.

African and Black writers joined the Black Artists for Freedom coalition on Juneteenth Day, June 19, 2020.

Black Artists for Freedom, a new coalition of more than 1,000 actors, musicians, filmmakers, writers, painters, poets and others, launched on Friday with a powerful statement on the occasion of Juneteenth, the holiday that celebrates the official end of slavery in the United States 155 years ago.

“As Black artists and thinkers, we are energized by the current protest movement led by Black activists. They are working in the spirit of the Black Radical Tradition to reclaim our freedoms,” the group said in the statement, titled “Our Juneteenth.” It added: “Through this statement, we hope to amplify the movement’s work and to call out our own industries for what they are: institutions that promote colonialism, capitalism, and racism, and that function in exploitative and disruptive ways.”

Joining the coalition were many of your favourite writers who signed the group statement. They included;

  • Igoni Barrett
  • Alice Walker
  • Angie Thomas
  • Bassey Ikpi
  • Bernice L Mcfadden
  • Bethany C Morrow
  • Bisi Adjapon
  • Bryan Washington
  • Chike Frankie Edozien
  • Chinelo Okparanta
  • Claudia Owusu
  • Deshawn Charles Winslow
  • Edwige Danticat
  • Gbenga Adesina
  • Ishmael Beah
  • Jamaica Kincaid
  • Jesmyn Ward
  • Kalaf Epalanga
  • Kechi Nomu
  • Koye Oyedeji
  • Kwame Dawes
  • L. McKinney
  • Ladan Osman
  • Lesley Nneka Arimah
  • Leye Adenle
  • Maaza Mengiste
  • Marlon James
  • Masande Ntshanga
  • ML Kejera
  • Mwende Katwiwa
  • Mukoma Wa Ngugi
  • Nadifa Mohammed
  • Namwali Serpell
  • Nicole Dennis-Benn
  • Nikki Giovanni
  • Novuyo Rosa Tshuma
  • Nozizwe Jele
  • Panashe Chigumadzi
  • Pemi Aguda
  • Saeed Jones
  • Safia Elhillo
  • Saidiya Hartman
  • Sofia Samatar
  • Tayari Jones
  • Teju Cole
  • Terri L McMillan
  • Tinashe Mushakavanhu
  • Tochi Onyebuchi
  • Tracy K. Smith
  • Wayetu Moore
  • Yaa Gyasi
  • Yara Monteiro
  • Zinzi Clemmons
  • Zukiswa Wanner

Apart from the group statement, some of the writers gave individual statements. Below are a few of them. All the individual statements can be found here.

Tayari Jones,
Tayari Jones,

Black freedom will result in a joyous explosion of creativity, but before that, there will be the rest that is the reward for centuries of struggle.  Rest is a luxury. Rest is the time in which we will renew ourselves. It is our time to dream, to imagine. We do these things now, without the extravagance of real respite. Just imagine what we will dream up when we are not sleeping with one eye open. I, for one,  will love to see it.

Tayari Jones, novelist

Nicole Dennis Benn
Nicole Dennis Benn

Black freedom is being able to find a home in the world, comfortable and safe in my own skin; never having to explain myself or shrink myself to make others around me feel comfortable ; never having to be on guard for the hand that may reach out and touch my hair, my armor; never having to swallow my fire in order to appease anyone for the fear of being called angry or bitter; never having my talent and worth assessed as less than, but a worthy asset to the culture—be it now or for future generations of black queer women and men, and beyond.

Nicole Dennis-Benn, writer

Terry McMillan
Terry McMillan

Black freedom will only be visible to us because we will know when we look at each other that we don’t  feel the need to explain who we are, why we are valuable, brilliant, beautiful, resilient, strong, and fearless, because it will be understood. But a wink would or could validate that we know we have arrived.

Terry McMillan, writer

Helon Habila

Black freedom to me is to live wherever I want, however I want, and to watch my children live, without that nervousness described by Frantz Fanon.

Helon Habila, author, professor

Marlon James

I wonder if black freedom should also mean white freedom. I hesitate, because that centers the narrative on white people, but I think about the mental contortions required to support equality, but choose order over justice every time. The brain work it takes to come out against bigotry, but prop up and benefit from institutional racism. The effort to slide in the no-man’s land of class, which allows for a convenient stereotyping of redneck uncle Cletus, when it’s the Amy Coopers in the park that are trying to kill us. That thing in the back of their heads like a recurring cancer, where they are just waiting for the black woman to detonate her anger over nothing, or the black man to whip out his rape-hungry big dick. The bondage of never seeing whiteness beyond only two viewpoints, whether through the white supremacist outlook running through everything from the screams of Richard Spencer to the theories of Harold Bloom, or through the nonentity lens, a “dude, I don’t see colour” stance that routinely disables their ability to see the absence of it. It’s hard to look at what they are going through as real bondage because it comes with no suffering. That’s because all the suffering has been transferred to us.

Marlon James, novelist

Mukoma Wa Ngugi. Photo/Ali Ghandtschi
Mukoma Wa Ngugi. Photo/Ali Ghandtschi

In this time of the double pandemic of Covid-19 and racism, I find myself leaning more and more on  revolutionary Afro-diasporic writers and thinkers such as Malcolm X and Maya Angelou and the hope they had that relationship between Africans and African Americans would be radical and political. And how heartening it has been to see demonstrations of solidarity by Africans.  It is my hope that we will keep walking along the same—though always changing—Afro- diasporic revolutionary tracks they laid in the 1960’s.

Mukoma Wa Ngugi, writer, scholar

Namwali Serpell
Namwali Serpell

Toni Morrison once said: “All of my life is doing something for somebody else. Whether I’m being a good daughter, a good mother, a good wife, a good lover, a good teacher—and that’s all that. The only thing I do for me is writing. That’s really the real free place where I don’t have to answer.” I yearn for that specific, human, black, female freedom: to not have to be “good,” to not have to answer to anybody but me. To write as I wish, to feel at ease to do me, for me.

Namwali Serpell, writer

Jesmyn Ward
Jesmyn Ward

Black freedom is my son, tall and broad, running through a cool future morning: he jogs without worrying that those in power will think him game. It is my daughter sitting on her couch in her home, eating cereal while laughing at an old sitcom: she laughs without worrying that police will ram her door and take her spoon for a weapon. It is my grandmother, healthy and whole, swimming through the deepest part of an amber river without pain: she swims without worrying that the deprivation that America has imposed on generations of us has turned her body against her, stressed her to illness, to death.

Jesmyn Ward, writer

A Igoni Barrett Photo/Victor Ehikhamenor
A Igoni Barrett Photo/Victor Ehikhamenor

The phrase “All men are created equal” was written by a white man who is today believed to have kept his own multiracial children in slavery. Black freedom is knowing this fact and what it reveals about the perversions of privilege; it is also about seeing the interconnections between Sally Hemings and Breonna Taylor, Paul Bogle, and Patrice Lumumba. To quote Ken Saro-Wiwa, we all stand before history.

A. Igoni Barrett, writer

Chinelo Okparanta
Chinelo Okparanta

When it comes, Black freedom will mean having the space to exist in all our diverse forms, divine beings that we are. Black freedom will mean taking up all the space that we desire, never worrying that we might soon be forced to gasp for air. Black freedom will mean not having to fight for every right. Black freedom will mean having the privilege to be able to disengage from the legacies of slavery and colonialism.

Chinelo Okparanta, writer, professor

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