Black Ideas Matter


This newsletter is designed as an emergent process, addressing a facet of creativity one issue at a time, allowing for ideas to build off of each other and respond to the moment. Though this also means each newsletter is an incomplete picture of creativity; take for instance this statement from my last issue: “The only way to find ideas that liberate all of us is to involve all of us.” While still true, the reality is more complex; collective liberation requires collective action, but not everyone is involved on the same level, nor should they be. Not all ideas are equal. You know this whenever someone tries to give you advice without fully understanding your situation. The same is true for social justice; the best solutions will come from those who understand the problem. As Jesse Williams eloquently stated in his 2016 BET speech: “If you have a critique for our resistance then you better have an established record of critiquing our oppression. If you have no interest in equal rights for black people then do not make suggestions to those who do. Sit down.” (1) Let’s spend this issue breaking that down. 

In a previous newsletter, we learned that creativity is domain-specific, i.e. you need enough knowledge of a topic to come up with creative solutions. So while we each have our specific domains of creative expertise, there is one realm we all are experts in: living. Most of us have surpassed the “10,000 hours” of practice (2) required to master a skill set; we are the authority in what it takes to live our lives. This is why ideas for black liberation need to come from black people; they have the lived expertise to know which ideas are effective. The black feminist group Combahee River Collective clearly asserted this principle in 1974: 

“…we are actively committed to struggling against racial, sexual, heterosexual, and class oppression, and see as our particular task the development of integrated analysis and practice based upon the fact that the major systems of oppression are interlocking. The synthesis of these oppressions creates the conditions of our lives.”

(3) The Combahee River Collective Statement

This is the concept of intersectionality: that oppression compounds for individuals facing multiple systems of injustice (4).  A black queer trans woman experiences the intersection of racism, homophobia, and transphobia all at once. This is why the call for “Black Lives Matter” is so powerful; because a system that values black lives will consequently value all lives: “If Black women were free, it would mean that everyone else would have to be free since our freedom would necessitate the destruction of all the systems of oppression.” (5) This is why I ask my students: Why must we follow the creative leadership of black women in the fight for social justice? The answer I hope you’ve come to is that we need to listen to people who understand what we’re up against; who truly know the taste of a liberatory idea. 

Which brings us back to the very first issue of this newsletter, when we dissected this definition of creativity: Creativity is a new combination of thought that is determined to have value, use, or meaningMeaning all ideas come from combining thoughts based on experience; to have ideas of value, you need to be exposed to useful information. If you are white, you have to actively seek out information about the realities of racism in order to shape your creative lens, but these ideas will never come from an embodied understanding. The way I think has been transformed by over 10 years of education and practice in the field of social justice, but I still continually struggle with the fragility, entitlement, and fear of other conditioned in my white body. I am invested in this fight, but I cannot be the thought leader. As somatic therapist and Black Lives Matter organizer Prentis Hemphill said during the 2020 Explore More Summit (6):

We need to know what liberation feels like to know what we are working towards.“ 

(7) Prentis Hemphill

If you want liberation of black people then you need to uphold liberatory ideas rooted in the creativity of black bodies. And just like this newsletter, allow space in your body for an emergent and reflective conversation with these ideas. 

Living is a creative act,
Evelyn Thorne


Everyday Creativity Tip

As we addressed in the last newslettercentering originality in creativity means also centering ourselves. This relates to how we see leadership. In an interview with Tim Brown, former CEO of design thinking firm IDEO, he stated: “…traditional forms of leadership that have been communicated through us from the youngest age through media tend to get reinforced and emphasized when we’re going through our educational experiences..that leadership is all about leading from the front. It’s all about being the person with the smartest ideas, being the person who makes all the decisions.” (8) As an alternative to this top-down leadership paradigm, he offers three metaphors of leadership: the explorer, the gardener, and the player coach. The explorer is the role of being on the front lines, asking the big questions, while the gardener is the nurturer, cultivating the culture and environment, and the player coach is working alongside the team, learning from the process. This is not a personality test of what kind of leader you are but a challenge to develop each skill set and know which style is appropriate for the context. So I offer these reflective questions to help you assess your role in the Movement for Black Lives (9):

  1. Do you feel most comfortable in the explorer, gardener or player coach leadership role?
  2. Does that comfort come from privilege (i.e. I deserve to be in this role; I know my ideas matter) or oppression (i.e. I’ve been told I don’t deserve to be in that role, that my ideas do not matter)? 
  3. Regardless of your comfort level, what role is most appropriate or needed for you to hold in the Movement for Black Lives? 
  4. What does it look like to cultivate a practice of this role (based on your answer to #3)? For the explorer, how can you put your ideas out there and allow yourself to take up space? For the gardener, how can you create space and structure for black ideas to flourish? For the player coach, how can you be a comrade in the fight, listening and responding to what the team needs? 
  5. Lastly, how can you develop a practice of engagement and reflection so that you know which role to embody? How can you slow down and have patience and compassion with yourself as you lean into the discomfort of learning when to step up, step back, or step aside? 

You’ll know you’re in the right territory when you’re feeling into your learning edge! 


Footnotes

1. BETNetworks, “Jesse Williams Condemns Police Brutality In Moving Speech at 2016 BET Awards | BET Awards 2020”, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B7VPMJcXPGs
2. Malcolm Gladwell, “Complexity and the 10-Thousand-Hour Rule”, https://www.newyorker.com/sports/sporting-scene/complexity-and-the-ten-thousand-hour-rule
3. THE COMBAHEE RIVER COLLECTIVE: “The Combahee River Collective Statement,” copyright © 1978 by Zillah Eisenstein, p.1.
4. Williams, Kimberlé Crenshaw. “Mapping the Margins: Intersectionality, Identity Politics, and Violence Against Women of Color”. In: Martha Albertson Fineman, Rixanne Mykitiuk, Eds. The Public Nature of Private Violence. (New York: Routledge, 1994), p. 93-118.
5. THE COMBAHEE RIVER COLLECTIVE: “The Combahee River Collective Statement,” copyright © 1978 by Zillah Eisenstein, p.4
6. A free online conference dedicated to exploring your pleasure, healing, connection, and body: https://www.exploremoresummit.com/
7. https://prentishemphill.com/
8. Sarah Green Carmichael, interview with Tim Brown, “Teaching Creativity to Leaders”, Harvard Business Review, July 7, 2016.
9. The Movement for Black Lives (M4BL) seeks to reach millions, mobilize hundreds of thousands, and organize tens of thousands, so that Black political power is a force able to influence national and local agendas in the direction of our shared Vision for Black Lives. Learn more at https://m4bl.org/


Originally published June 29, 2020 on the Creativity in Context Newsletter by Evelyn Thorne.


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Living is creative act

Published by Evelyn Thorne

Evelyn is a writer, educator, and facilitator who helps people unlearn misconceptions and limiting beliefs about their creative identities.

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