What Role Does Whimsy Play In Survival?

Black Fae Day Interspectional

Earlier this year, I interviewed Jasmine La Fleur, the founder of Black Fae Day (her picture is at the top of this blog post). It was so great to not only learn about the events and people that inspired her, but also how #BlackFaeDay itself became an inspiration to so many people across the globe. And now, after much preparation and excitement, Black Fae Day and Black MerMay Day (which was created by cosplayer Tranquil Ashes) are coming! Are you ready? Black Fae Day will be the weekend of May 14th and May 15. Black MerMay Day will be on May 28th. All in all, it’s looking to be a Fantastical, Magical May 2022! I feel like both Black Fae Day and Black MerMay Day make two important statements: 

  1. That Black people have the right to be as whimsical and magical as they want to be. That Black existence is not solely defined by struggle, trauma, pain and “trying to get over”. Sometimes we can just be. 
  1. That Black people have a place in fantasy worlds. The realm of fantasy is not solely restricted to a European-American construction. This also means that magic, monsters and myth as well as swords and sorcery has a place for all unlike many movies, television shows and books would have you believe.

In looking at the first statement that I feel these events are making, I’m reminded that for generations, the Black experience in America has been centered around survival. During “slavery times” as my grandmother used to call it, it was about surviving work conditions in unforgiving heat, family separation, beatings, assaults and having almost no control over their lives. Survival required “remembering your place” and many were punished or killed for reading, talking or even trying to dream for something more in their lives; for a different reality from what they saw day after day. For those enslaved people who ran away, bought their freedom, developed skilled trades or defiantly learned how to read, we rarely give them credit for the incredible level of focus, imagination and determination that they must have had for those goals to be accomplished. They were dreamers.  Even in places were slavery has been abolished, Black success and aspiration were tempered with the understanding that at any time Solomon Northup’s kidnapped-and-sold-into-slavery story could become theirs. 

In the eight years after the end of the Civil War, America saw an explosion of Black businesses, Black congressmen and Black education. The first round of successful Black towns were built across the nation. Historic Black Colleges like Clark Atlanta University, Bowie State University and Fisk University were founded. And Black men voted for the first time in US History. These eight years were full of dreams, whimsy and aspirations. But then much of it was taken. Burned out, drowned, paved over and flat out destroyed in many cases. Many dreams and dreamers were decimated for daring to try to be great, fantastic… magical. 

And so the cycle continues in America, of dreamers who make it and those who are defeated. Those who are able rise to great heights and those who are crushed by the limits society places on those who dare to dream. For every Jackie Robinson, there were hundreds of Troy Maxsons whose dreams had been dashed and who used that disappointment to limit the aspirations of their own children. Sometimes it’s out of jealousy, sometimes it’s out of protection; but the question in the Black community for so long was who has the time and energy for dreams, self-care, whimsy and really doing anything outside the norm when it is a struggle to just survive? 

But with every generation, there have been dreamers and innovators that had to not only defy convention, but also defy a world that was ready, willing and able to “put them in their place”. The defiance is in the dream and the whimsy. In the poetry and the art. In the dance and the song. In the music and in the theater. The defiance is to dare that there is more than just survival. And conversely, that we need to hold on to the dream in order to make survival worth it. 

It might seem foolish to see all of this meaning in a day where Black people are encouraged to put on wings and glitter and frolic in a meadow or put on a tail and bikini and swim in the sea. But you see, there are so many days when we are still fighting for survival. It would be foolish to think that because we seek out moments of whimsy or days of being carefree, that we forget about voter suppression. Or that we don’t remember the tragic maternal mortality rates in America for Black women. We know. We just also know that pain and struggle and strife isn’t all there is to us. We know that many of our ancestors didn’t get the chance to rest or celebrate. We know members of our older generation who never had the chance to put on their fairy wings and wanted to do so, oh so badly. We know generations of Black people who were terrified to swim because fear of the water was beaten into them. By embracing our dreams, we break generational curses. By dancing and daring, we invite others to do the same. So whether it’s arts, writing, costuming or giving yourself a little dance party, I invite you to embrace your whimsy this May, and know that we will all be dancing and singing alongside you.

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