Black Spaces are many, vast, and shape-shifting. Here are some examples: a circle of three other Black girls and I on a playground teaching each other dances and songs 30 years ago—no leader, all leaders, expert dance teachers with not a degree among us; an unexpected street corner reunion of Black artists Nathan Trice, Vincent Thomas, Dana Marie Ingraham, and I, which turned into a strident and joyous soapbox session at East 4th Street and Bowery (NYC); eruptions of laughter in my Grandmother Emma’s living room as the elders’ conversation sails from the exploitation of seeds and people by big agriculture lobbies to memories of my Great Aunt Buck on the farm as a child and back to Black environmentalism (née resourcefulness) with the grace and precision of a circling eagle.
While it is not lost on me that this journal is about the effects of racialization on Black dancers, when I truly untether my creativity, the phrase “Black Space” also reminds me of the celestial realm of the cosmos. My imagination races to images of literal black space instead of to the race theory in which I am steeped through my work as a community organizer and choreographer intent on undoing racism. In my mind’s eye, I see facsimiles of photographs sent to Earth by NASA. I see vast blackness dotted by points of light. What dances might we create in a void, if it were possible to be inside of emptiness, within a vast swath of space so dark that it is actually black? “Black Space” brings to mind “chaos” or formless matter. Perhaps the concept of matter that is tangible and real, but at the same time changing and amorphous applies to both literal black space and to [Racially] Black Spaces.
I have created a dance, Attend Me, based on some of Black lesbian poet Audre Lorde’s essays and on love of all kinds between Black women. As part of my research for Attend Me, I found Lorde’s contention that: “It is sometimes both the curse and the blessing of the poet to perceive without yet being able to order those perceptions, and that is another name for Chaos. But of course it is out of Chaos that new worlds are born.” Indeed, the wombs from which we were born are literally black spaces, homes for our formless matter until we are formed enough for the outer world. We are born from chaos, and Black Spaces are similarly chaotic, incubating and holding our un-formalized, de-formalized selves until we must again foray into non-Black Spaces. Scientifically speaking, black holes are areas wherein gravity pulls so much that even light can not come out. They are not immediately perceptible, and scientists use special equipment to find them. They are thick, full, and strong. While Black Space, within the context of this journal, is not meant to refer to the galaxy’s workings, the description of black holes may offer insight into our sistagirl sleepovers. It may also describe our noisy family reunions, our barbershop debates, and our dance rehearsals, which can be sacred ritual, sweaty work, and fellowship hour all at once. Some sleep on them, but that does not mean the Black Spaces are not there functioning as black holes do: pulling, folding in, re-membering, recovering, and be-ing.
Our self-fashioned respites are sites of becoming and places of being. Rather than finite sites of compartmentalization, Black Spaces spring up anywhere for varying lengths of time, or, more accurately, within various spirals of time. That “being” and “becoming” are present participles makes sense since Black Spaces live in the -ing space that is the realm of those parts of speech. They are not fixed; they are oozing, becoming, and morphing, and so are the people within them. Other types of spaces ask and, at times, demand that people show up in just one incarnation of themselves or show up as only a task to be fulfilled. In non-Black Spaces, I am a dancer, a woman, a choreographer, a queer person, a teacher, one at a time or maybe two at a time in more progressive arenas. Black Spaces allow me to be businesswoman, daughter, sexual being, and community organizer at the same time. They are locations in which children chase one another in circles and adults handle serious matters, without demand of compartmentalizing. In some of the Black Spaces I am part of, rigorous dance rehearsal, a phone call, breastfeeding, resting, and homework-completing can all happen at once. The people executing those actions do them excellently and without demand that they “put away” the multiple parts of themselves. We are not bothered by the fact that others are spending time there in a different way from us. Time is not absent, but is more liquid than in non-Black Spaces. Our transformed rooms and stretches of sidewalk are co-created and can contain seemingly disparate parts of ourselves at the same time. There is time and room for it—a unique version of space-time, perhaps related to the cosmos after all. Black Spaces are holistic and therefore are constantly in flux. Be-ing and become-ing are spoken and unspoken themes within Black Spaces.
Black Spaces are not all the same, but the array of Black Spaces I know about, participate in, and co-create can and do hold the pregnant intersections of being Lesbian, Scholar, Artist, and Black; Disabled, Mother, Healer, and Black; Gender-nonconforming, Virtuoso, and Black; Vegetarian, Dancer, and Black; Transgender and Black; Woman, Bicultural, and Black; Queer and Black; Artist, Entrepreneur, and Black, with room to spare. The permutations and versions are as endless as are the ways to brag and holler after winning a game of [Black] Spades. These pregnant intersections and many more find room to be, to breathe, to whoop and holler, to laugh, to cry, to imagine, to rest, to act, and to be birthed in Black Spaces. Our spaces hold being male, female, or neither, at the same time. They are spaces at once paying urgent attention to current events and to our ancestors’ wellbeing, without infringement on either reality. They hold youth and elderhood alike with respect and room for mistakes—and for correction. The kitchens, dance studios, living rooms, galleries, hotel rooms, park benches, and stoops that we fashion into Black Spaces honor multiple Blacknesses. Bicultural Blackness, Latina Blackness, Indigenous Blackness, Caribbean Blackness, American Blackness, and African Blackness are in conversation with each other in Black Spaces. Sometimes that conversation erupts into shouting or folds into whispering, but it remains a conversation, an exchange, a double-dutch of possibilities always looking for new ways in. Within our sacred spaces, multiplicity is not the same as “mutually exclusive.” Multiplicity simply is. Like black holes, Black Spaces are thick and full without being overcrowded; there is space in the space and that space has space and there is yet more space in the spaces within the space.
Are Black Spaces reliably utopic? No. But that is another essay. Plenty of energy has already been wasted clawing at Blackness and fingering its wounds. Like black holes, Black Spaces elegantly and simply absorb all of it and pull varying matter in. There is space here.
And so it is.