“It’s the sound of the sirens,” that bothers her most. With a strained face, my mother tells me about the loud, intrusive sounds that are dominating her neighborhood in Detroit. Although she lives fairly close to a hospital, she rarely heard sirens before corona. “My heart sinks every time I hear them.” For her, they are the sounds of sickness and possible death, the last thing the 71-year-old wants to think about. I don’t want to think about it either. I live in a state of constant worry about my mother living alone, although our daily FaceTime chats keep us close. It is during those chats she tells me about the sirens, unfortunately, more than once. I always cringe to keep from weeping, but sometimes, it’s uncontrollable.
I’m a Detroiter quarantined in Johannesburg, South Africa. I flew here from Kigali, Rwanda, and before then, Accra, Ghana. I’ve been on the African continent since late December. I moved to Africa because I feel safe here and I believe she sits at the center of the future. I was studying Rwanda’s decentralized government system that seemed to successfully address the trauma from the 1994 genocide. I thought Rwanda would serve as a useful example for the United States, which has a pattern of producing policies that ignore the traumas of its residents. Now, more than ever, I believe the United States should be looking to Africa as an example of how to deal with pandemics and the traumas that are emerging.
I thought Rwanda would serve as a useful example for the United States, which has a pattern of producing policies that ignore the traumas of its residents.
Joburg was supposed to be a short trip. However, around the same time, the pandemic was entering Detroit, the South African president, Cyril Ramaphosa, announced the borders were closing and I could no longer leave the country. Many African nations quickly followed suit, one by one they began banning flights from Europe and the US. I felt a bit of glee when reading this. It was as if we were finally witnessing a reversal of neo-colonial power.
As of this writing, according to Google, South Africa has 11,350 cases and 206 deaths. Detroit has 9,676 cases and 1,156 deaths. South Africa’s numbers are closer to Detroit, except the death toll is five times higher, and that is where my heart breaks. Why does Detroit have so many more deaths than the entire country of South Africa?
With all the wealth and resources of the United States, why are Black people dying at a disproportionate rate all across the nation? It needs to stop. When I log onto my social media there are memorials to the recently deceased almost every week. Although I have sweeping views of Johannesburg that provide respite from social media and the news, it doesn’t stop the deaths or the worry.
At first, I worried that people’s stories weren’t being documented before their passing, then I became angry. Why has stopping the spread of the virus become a race and partisan issue? Where is the humanity? To be frank, reading about the United States right now is frightening.
I’m watching my brothers and sisters back home struggle against economic and social systems that were constructed to disregard them as human. I’m angry that as they mourn, Black Americans have to simultaneously fight for justice, even when the crime committed was clearly documented, as in the case of Ahmaud Arbery. In this time of quarantine, we need to care for each other, heal, and grieve. I am amazed at our ability to fight while also imagining a new destiny for Black communities.
Our imagination keeps us alive. The U.S. media will have you think that Black death is inevitable with statistics expressing our future demise and erasure. The policies that are creating that dystopian vision don’t seem to be changing anytime soon. The thought of it all is overwhelming. Thankfully, within our imagination, we can design a beautiful Black life.
In the present, we can create a future vision and action-plan around cultivating Black life. We can begin developing new strategies that respond to pandemics and keep our communities prepared and resilient. For instance, automation implementation is rising and remote work will most likely remain. Perhaps more Black Americans will learn to work in emerging technology, industries that are shaping the global future. Remote work would also provide Black Americans the ability to work anywhere that feeds their soul.
As long as we imagine beyond current constraints, we can envision solutions that give birth to new ways of living. We have been given the opportunity to reimagine socioeconomic systems that are in harmony with earth and humanity. As our society shifts, it is time to imagine the evolution of Black life.
As the founder of the Afrofuture Strategies Institute, Ingrid LaFleur implements Afrofuturist foresight and approaches to empower Black bodies and oppressed communities. Her mission is to ensure equal distribution of the future, exploring the frontiers of social justice through new technologies, economies, and modes of government. You can find her at ingridlafleur.com, afrofuturestrategies.com or @maisonlafleur on instagram