For Those Us At The Shoreline: Liner Notes for An Undone Revolution
Frank Leon Roberts | August 23, 2019
What would happen if we learned to finally trust the visionary leadership of black women and black queer folk? What would’ve happened had we all actually trusted Harriet (when she tried to lead us to that railroad); or Baldwin (when he warned us of the Fire Next time) or Bayard (when he organized the March of Washington, only to be denied the right to speak at it) or Mahalia (when she told Martin to tell the story of his dream) or Fannie Lou (when she told us that we’re not free or everyone is free) or Patrisse Khan-Cullors, Opal Tomettii, and Alicia Garza when they told us that #blacklivesmatter?
The answer is this: what would have happened is the revolution would have come by now and we would all be free. One wonders: what new worlds and new realities might have already been here, had black people just been willing to abandon the veil of masculine heteropatriarchy that has kept us lost in the wilderness? These are the questions that sit at the center of the organizing ethos of The Baldwin Hansberry Project, the Harlem-based grassroots organization that I lead, which seeks to mobilize historically silenced voices within the black community.
Named in honor of James Baldwin and Lorraine Hansberry, at The Baldwin Hansberry Project we believe that the only way that black people will ever find freedom is by freeing those within our community who we have historically been silenced. This means listening to queer folk. And black people in prison. And listening black people who identify as women, both cis and trans. And listening black people who do not speak in the eloquent language of the academy. And black people who are differently-abled. At BHP, we believe that it is only through this kind of radical “bottoms-up” approach to organizing will the project of black liberation ever be complete. As Malcolm X once put it, “it’s got to be freedom for all of us or freedom for none of us.” Until that day, the revolution will be forever be undone.
At the Baldwin Hansberry Project, we believe in the importance of supporting and training what we call “shoreline people.” In her gorgeous poem “A Litany of Survival,” the late black lesbian warrior poet Audre Lorde once spoke of what she referred to as people living “at the shoreline, standing upon the constant edges of decision.” Lorde writes:
For those of us who live at the shoreline
standing upon the constant edges of decision
crucial and alone
for those of us who cannot indulge
the passing dreams of choice
who love in doorways coming and going
in the hours between dawns
looking inward and outward
at once before and after
seeking a now that can breed
like bread in our children’s mouths
so their dreams will not reflect
the death of ours;
For those of us
who were imprinted with fear
like a faint line in the center of our foreheads
learning to be afraid with our mother’s milk
for by this weapon
this illusion of some safety to be found
the heavy-footed hoped to silence us
For all of us
this instant and this triumph
We were never meant to survive.
And when the sun rises we are afraid
it might not remain
when the sun sets we are afraid
it might not rise in the morning
when our stomachs are full we are afraid
when our stomachs are empty we are afraid
we may never eat again
when we are loved we are afraid
love will vanish
when we are alone we are afraid
love will never return
and when we speak we are afraid
our words will not be heard
but when we are silent
we are still afraid
So it is better to speak
we were never meant to survive.
For Lorde, the “shoreline” is that place where the sand is subject to erasure. It is that murky place that is full of sediment and residue. To speak of the “shoreline” is to speak of a place that is neither here nor there, but rather permanently lodged in the in-between. At the Baldwin Hansberry Project, we believe in the inherent power of mobilizing the people who have historically found themselves occupying the shorelines of black social justice movements: the people who have been invisibilized and pushed to the margins of the margins.
At the Baldwin Hansberry Project, this is the place is where we linger and this place is where we lead.
Our call to action is this: meet us at the shoreline and sail away into a horizon where perhaps, at last, we can all be free.