For the last two years, the bold, young Swedish environmentalist, Greta Thunberg, committed herself to saving the world from advancing a climate change disaster. She made individual lifestyle changes that would make a big difference on her carbon footprint. For example, she stopped eating animals, she started re-using and up-cycling, and she even stopped traveling by airplane. Her powerful words travelled all around the world and she made us all think about the condition of our planet. She made us question what we were putting down for future generations. She made us ask ourselves what were we doing for posterity.
Today, because of the state of the world in May 2020, many of us are now forced into the lifestyle changes that Greta implored us toward just months ago. Cattle ranchers, poultry farmers, and dairy growers are under pressure so supermarkets go under sourced. By default, more people are eating fewer meats. With many retail business unable to open their doors, sales are down and home repairs and up-cycling is up. What shopping remains, is primarily online. With tele-working at peak-levels, airports looking more like ghost towns, and roadways empty, local and global air pollution rates are at record lows. Environmental activists like Greta Thunberg and the planet Earth are the big winners.
But not all Earthlings see it this way.
Today, while many of us are still on stay home/ lock down orders, some of us are desperate to return to normal. “Return to normal” is a phrase that has been tossed around a lot this year, but what does “return to normal” even mean? Return to pollution? Return to consumerism? Is that what we want? I know that I don’t want that. So what does “return” mean? “Return” means to “go back,” but that doesn’t work logically. As a matter of fact, it doesn’t work chronologically either. You see, time moves forward, or at least that’s how we think of it in the West. We think of time as linear: past, then present, then future. So, to return would mean to go back to the past. To return would mean to go against the forward direction.
Everyday we see friends, co-workers, and loved ones on pixelated Zoom display windows. We try to make this physical distancing work, but the frustration invariably slips in and someone always utters those exasperated, illogical words: “I just want everything to go back to normal.” Trust that I don’t mean any insult in my acknowledgment that these wishes are illogical; I just mean to say that we can’t go back. We can’t go back to pre-COVID-19 functionality because experience has changed us. We can’t go back to pre-coronavirus because going back won’t bring back those who have lost their lives to this virus. The phrase “return to normal” is a triumph of nostalgia over chronological sense, and it is what many of us are clinging to.
But there is also something that we know as an African sense of time. In this purview, time is a circle where the past, present, and future all exist at once. Maybe this collision of times is — in some twisted racist irony — how in 2020 Megan Thee Stallion and Beyoncé can be celebrated as self-proclaimed “savages” on the one hand, while on the other hand, a black man by the name of Ahmaud Arbery can be savagely murdered by two white men because they thought he was a criminal, a deviant, a savage.
Yes, maybe 2020 looks like this because the past is our present and it is our future. In too many racial and political ways 2020 still feels a lot like the pre-emancipation days of 1820. And when we see smart phone footage of these savage attacks against black men, black women, black trans folks, I have to check the date stamp closely, because it feels too much like the lynching postcards and videos of yesteryear. This collision of the imperfect past and the tense future is heavy. It’s certainly a burden at times. And maybe because time always tick-tocks between a horrific then and an unsteady now, maybe that is why we invest our energy and time into making Tik Tok videos. Maybe this is why we trap what’s savage, remix it into power, and Tik-Tok-loop into the future, because it’s all we can do to keep from crying sometimes.
We Tik Tok into the future because we know the trap. We’ve been here before. And like Kendrick Lamar, the good bard of Compton once said, “We hate po-po/ Wanna kill us dead in the street for sure, nigga/ I’m at the preacher’s door/ My knees gettin’ weak and my gun might blow/ But we gon’ be alright.”
We keep the faith just as Jah9, the wordsmith raised in Falmouth, Trelawny reminded us: “To cast the seeds of my imagination and know with certainty that fruit is on the way/ There is a way/ It takes knowing to trust the unknown.”
We remain humble just as the big woman Lila Iké out of Christiana once proclaimed, “Pray for health and strength, a life of length and peace of mind/ Good people and good vibes, yes we give thanks every time.”
Yes, Lila Iké is right. When we look at where we’re coming from, we give thanks because history lights the way forward. Yes, Kendrick Lamar was right, we gon’ be alright because those who came before us survived. Yes, Jah9, we know with certainty that fruit is on the way. We have security in knowing that our parents and grandparents were able to innovate with less than what we have now. Their posterity is our security. So saddle up.
No more fearing the future. Time is tick-tocking. We have work to do.
Continue riding this riddim by listening to my podcast For Posterity. Episode 7 continues “Future Tense, Past Imperfect” from a slightly different angle and features my guests Valerie and John. Here are convenient links to For Posterity on Spotify, Apple, Google Podcasts, and Anchor.