Seeing our work in the future

Mural of Alain Locke on exterior wall in Philadelphia, PA
Mural of Alain Locke on exterior wall in Philadelphia, PA. Photographer unknown. Photo found on Streets Dept Blog.

For me, writing these blog posts feels like walking on eggshells. Kind of a “damned if I do, damned if I don’t” situation. They are part of the fellowship process, but I struggle to do them. The struggle is not in the writing itself–writing is easy for me. I find myself deliberating for extended periods of time, for much longer than I would like, on the content itself. Writing five potential posts, then, in that Goldilocks sort of way, deciding which one feels just right. How much do I want to say publicly about my research in its infancy? How much of me do I want to reveal in this forum? Why am I so conflicted???

Much like I do with my research questions, I meditated on the issue of this internal blog post battle. What I found out next will shock you… just kidding, it’s not shocking, but I just wanted to say that, haha. In seriousness, I discovered that my embodied discord was rooted in the ways that marginalized people are often used and discarded. Whether it’s medical research, community organizing, producing for media, or [insert a extensive list of industries], there is a long history of BIPOC (Black Indigenous People of Color) being wrung dry of our ideas and tossed out like a husk, while those who have stolen our aspirations, hopes, and, essentially, our future successes profit financially and socially. How many brilliant Black people have died in abject poverty and obscurity because a successful song they wrote or ingenious invention they constructed was never credited to them? I wish I had an exact answer, but even if it were just one person, that is one person too many.

I wouldn’t necessarily call this conflict fear or paranoia, but cautiousness. A particular brand of cautiousness founded in real life events, both past events of my own and past events of family and community members. As some people say, “It’s not paranoia if it’s real.” This cautiousness. This cautiousness. It’s a cautiousness that many people who live at the intersections of multiple oppressed identities encounter daily. It’s a cautiousness forged in the fires of lifetimes of harm. And here I am, approaching these blog posts with the weight of centuries of institutional violence on my African American + Boricua back.

Anyway, the blog posts will come. Each will be pieced together like a sturdy, hand-sewn garment, threaded with cautiousness.

Research journal excerpt:

It’s so interesting that Alain Locke is considered the “Father of the Harlem Renaissance” and he was a Philadelphian.

I don’t think I have ever thought of a New Yorker [who was born in New York City] when I think of the well-known artists and thinkers of that time.

“I am thrilled that you participated in this upcoming Bulletin… In twenty years, I’m glad there will be folks able to read about you.” – Gabrielle P. Gary, 2/25/2021

I read the quote above in a recent email from a staff member at my alma mater and, immediately, tears began spilling over my lower lids. It was the first time someone had conveyed to me, in this way, that they see my work in the future. While it might seem like a few kind words, this had such a deep impact on me as a chronically ill Black trans person. To me, this also implies that someone, twenty years from now, will be looking for work by me or work similar to mine. Gabrielle’s words are welcome encouragement as I continue to conduct my own archival research, looking for the presence of people like myself in the books, essays, letters, and newspaper clippings of decades gone by.

The idea of my work existing in a place where others can access it in the future, physically and digitally, has led me to creating a finding aid, in English and Spanish, for my own archival papers. There are so many of us whose lives are not prioritized by archives and collections spaces and this lack of priority is evident when examining how poorly we are archived/collected by these same institutions that won’t even hire us. With the same love I mentioned in my first blog post, I’m taking the time to be proactive in caring for my personal archive because I already know how special collections and museum archives neglect BIPOC lives and work.

To other Black people, Indigenous people, and people of color who might come across this blog post, I hope that Gabrielle Gary’s words spark something in you, too. Please know that you are worthy of your work existing in a future that handles it with the same care and reverence that it shows the work of others. It is my hope that you are blessed with the time, energy, and resources to label those family photos you’ve been “meaning to get around to” and to catalog your VHS home movies, if that is your desire. May the impact of your contributions to your loved ones and community be felt and celebrated now and in the future.

Copyright 2021 by Wit López. All rights reserved.

Wit López (they/them) is an award-winning multidisciplinary maker, performer, writer, advocate, and public speaker based in Philadelphia. Through the use of various media, their work is tied together by exploring the use of absurdity and Black Absurdism as tools for radical joy, healing, and empathy. In 2019, Wit was awarded an Independence Foundation Fellowship in the Arts for Visual Art for their practice in fiber art and woodworking, and an innovative Cultural Advocacy Fellowship at CCCADI in Harlem, NY. They were also one of 10 recipients of the Leeway Foundation Transformation Award for 2019. To support their curatorial work of organizing the QT Noir Arts Festival, Wit has received 2018 and 2019 Leeway Foundation Art and Change Grants.