A Black Feminist Listening Practice

The folks you will listen to here are dreaming about and strategizing towards diverse ways out of white supremacy, settler colonialism, heteropatriarchy, ableism, and racial capitalism. We have to learn to listen to each other talk about those dreams. We have to learn to use those sites of sharing as ones of world(s)-building, places where we dream together, critically and deliberately, to build a universe under which many worlds and many bodies can breathe, find love, survive. This essay and guide is my take on that practice.

Audio Version: 35 Minute Listen

We have an opportunity to dream expansively about the future, and it is up to us to do so deliberately and with love, and with a measure of rigor that reflects the stakes of the crises at hand. What world are you seeking to usher in with your love, with your labour? I ask anticipating that each person who reads or listens to this essay possesses their own rendering of that future world. I ask anticipating that there is a way to take pleasure in that difference. Our dreams do not have to be the same in order for them to be powerful or of service to a greater vision of mutual-liberation. In fact, by virtue of their difference they possess the potential to be constellated—we can draw lines between our dreams, trace the shapes the connections make, and out of those constellations we can find doorways .We can build a way out made from the shapes our dreams make when constellated; I speak here of doorways conjured and drawn, based in our capacities to communicate with one another about those dreams, always with love. 

When our dreams are constellated they reveal a topography of the possible—a map upon which to orient our organizing, labour, and love. When our dreams are constellated, we can learn to understand where and when our dreams foreclose others’. We can learn to understand where and when our dreams reflect others’. Then we can begin the labour of parsing just why, and how, and at what cost, our dreams interface with one another.

This is important because how we learn to listen to and share our dreams with one another—how we learn to read and orient ourselves by these maps—matters. For it will prove instrumental in our capacities to bring those dreams of liberation to fruition. Here I lay a blueprint for communicating and listening to one another as a liberatory practice. This is a blueprint for being in critical relation to one another in our dreaming, in our storytelling, and in our sharing. It is in this work that we can learn to listen as a practice of loving witness. And it is through the process of listening that we can learn to be critical and hopeful and deliberate about the worlds and words we build, share, and bring into space. We’ve just got to practice.

So, here we are, together, at the lip of some listening practice that even I do not all the way understand—I only know that it was handed down to me from the women in my bones, an ancestral practice of listening that reflects the love I know we are capable of embodying. It is born from a deep understanding of, and respect for, the interconnectedness of all of our survivals. I respect the intimacy of our freedoms. I understand how none of us will be free until we all are (loved). Which is to say that this is a listening practice that reflects the stakes of the world(s) we are trying to protect, to reproduce, to gestate, to make, to usher into the future. 

The future is your next breath

Alexis De Veaux

Breathe now. I mean it. In through the nose      out through the mouth  if you can. 


And with your next breath, I ask of you: listen to your breathing. 

This orientation of black feminist listening practice, as I propose it, is not about “hearing”, it is about critically consuming information. It is about coming to know the world around you consciously and with love—allowing for deep, unsettling complexity and learning to breathe through it. Listen to your breathing.

Black feminist listening practice is a practice towards (re)membering a world and a future that must be(come) real. And as such, who better to listen with now than those building “impossible” economies and intentional community care infrastructures?

In this oral history project, I asked my narrators to tell me about the worlds they hope to (re)produce, or come to know, through their organizing. In preparing to ask these questions of my narrators, I remember first trying to answer the question myself. I had to try the alchemy and then lend the worlds. For me, ever since I was able to locate language around ancestral maps charting us towards some liberation we dream of, when I think of the world I want to build, I feel this pull in my chest towards the love I feel we deserve. That pull in my chest, I guess I’d call it faith. For it is the evidence of a world and a future I have not seen, but for which I do hope, and in which I do believe. I feel the pull like a tether, vibrating in my chest just now, a c(h)ord pulling me across and through the topography of our dreams, and towards some warm thing, like the sun, or water, or whatever I need to survive. I am pulled towards that world the way I am compelled to take my next breath. 

I am learning to take responsibility for my frequencies. I can lower them to reach you. I can reflect before I speak out. Echolocation is not the same as mind-reading. Some of this magic is just the complexity of being a mammal alive in sound. I can hear what I cannot see yet. I can make a whole world of resonance. And live in it. Swim through it. 

Alexis Pauline Gumbs

Listen to your breathing because the future is your next breath.Listen to the future and remember this: it is possible to hear what you cannot yet see. Listen:

“What We Imagine Matters”, Introduction by Taylor Thompson, narrative by Tania Maree Giordani, of NourishNYC. Transcript here.

When you listened to Tania Maree and me, did you remember to listen for your breath? You must. For this practice is about holding in your mind: the future you imagine (and the future you inhabit with your next breath) as well as the narrators’ imagined future, all at once. That is the work: to hold multiple worlds/futures—that may not look, or feel, or be commensurable—and allow each of those futures to breathe. You must negotiate a relationship with each. And I can’t tell you what the relationship should be, but I can tell you that it must stem from an understanding that there can be multiple ways of knowing the world, and future—and one way does not have to dominate another in order to be brought into existence, to be legitimate and necessary. 

This is not to say that when we listen to people, broadly, talk about their imagined futures, we should always read those futures as benevolent. For example, there are speculative futures held in the minds of many that demand my death and probably yours. I cannot recommend that you listen to those violent worlds with the same hope. But I can recommend that you listen analytically to them as well. When you can, and when it feels it would be useful to you, a black feminist listening practice can also facilitate the expository engagement and subsequent abolitionist strategy necessary for dismantling those worlds and futures that demand our deaths.

The futures that the narrators advocate for in this project are loving. I believe that the narrators are growing always in their understanding of what it is to build worlds outside of white-supremacy, settler colonialism, heteropatriarchy, ableism and racial-capitalism. Which is to say that the worlds that the narrators offer here are worth listening to; they are worth being taken seriously and borne witness to with love.

The form of listening I propose we practice is a rigorous one. What I ask of you now, I do not take lightly. I implore you to engage with this speculative archive because I am interested in what it means to learn to sit with diverse worlds and diverse hoped-for-futures, and to hold space for those worlds as a measure of expanding our stamina, and capacities, to think about what must be(come) real. What must be(come) real, that we might bring into being a pluriverse, a world where many worlds are possible—under which we all have what we need to survive and be loved. Know this: in listening to others’ imaginations, we hone our own. Remember to breathe:

Trasonia, Queens Liberation Project. Transcript here.

When the narrators speak, we can learn to listen in and to multiple dimensions—multiple registers, if you will.  I argue that listening—critically consuming information—can be a complex and textured experience, in which there are many facets to feel out, many threads to pull. For example, the words that the narrators are speaking are just one thread in the experience of listening. The mental image of that future that they conjure in you is another thread. Your very breath is another. The way your body reacts to the narrators’ worlds and words, another. The first thought you have upon hearing their voice, another. In the next audio portion you listen to, I encourage you to explore those threads and facets—ask those questions of yourself. For the facets, the threads, go on, and on, and on. And what I suggest here is that we can learn to embrace the texture of deliberate listening, even when it may chafe and it may grate. In other words, we can build stamina in our listening practices and resist the urge of oversimplification.

Learning to isolate and identify those different threads and also let them be woven together is a method of reading and coming to know, the complex texture of freedom. This practice is one I attempt to embody with the specific purpose of honoring the communities, the literature, the people who brought me to this space in which I am able to embrace our ability to imagine otherwise. To imagine better. To imagine the world(s) we deserve. This is listening as ceremony, as study in how we get free. Remember to breathe:

Catie, Astoria Mutual Aid + Astoria Food Pantry. Transcript here.

You may try to translate their worlds and futures into your own vocabulary, your own experiences, your own epistemes and I argue, you have to be prepared for there to be no direct translation. Be prepared for that world not to adapt to your own understanding of reality. You can trust that the world the narrator calls for, and are called to, may be a world that you will never come to know, just as you can trust that it may be a world that you will want to come to know. Both options are okay. I purpose that this listening practice opens us to a reality and a world where many worlds can exist, incommensurable but nonetheless loved and respected, for this is a study in loving witness.

The form of listening I propose we practice is a rigorous one. And I am not asking you to leave this page good at it, or even totally liking the idea. I simply ask that you practice, if only once, and remember the feeling. I am still growing in my understanding of the type of listening I am called towards. So I am practicing too. This is a space for experimentation. This is a space for stretching and training.

Self-Guided Reflection Questions 

As you listen to the segments, as well as the mixtape, try to navigate these questions after, or during the selected clip.

  1. How did your body move, change, or feel while listening to the narrator? How did your face move, change or feel?
  2. What did you think as soon as you heard the narrators’ voice? 
  3. Who did the narrator make you think of and why? What face did you see in your mind?
  4. What did you think of immediately after hearing the narrative? 
  5. What hopes do you have for the narrative?
  6. What questions do you have about the narrative?
  7. What do you make of the criticisms, hopes, and questions you hold about the narrative, and why? 
  8. Use your senses: did the statements bring any images, tastes, sounds, smells, to mind?
Djoulie, Queens Liberation Project. Transcript here.

This is a study in loving witness. Which is to say it is not the place for a debate on plausibility or possibility of a dream. Critique of the dreams presented here does not need to be pursued immediately, rather the origin of your own need for critique must be interrogated. I suggest that you interrogate that place in you that demands you debate the plausibility of a dream. I implore you to ask that place in you the critical questions that you must. Where does that demand come from, who taught you? That’s a start.

Emmett, Queens Liberation Project. Transcript here.

Do not listen to these clips just one. The capacity to navigate the guiding questions, your own breath, and the content of the clips is one built from practice. Repetition is key for resonance, to honing a deliberate frequency. And resonance is the way we pass on what must be known; a wave is just a pattern remembered. Breathe. Listen. Practice. Repeat.

It all comes down to vibration, agitational roughness. Everything living and dead, everything animated and immobile, vibrates. Vibration is the internal structuring logic of matter…If everything moves with its own velocity and force, everything sounds out, every object participates in the ceaseless pulse of noisemaking. This embodied refusal to be stilled will have a gift, the gift of flesh, the gift of otherwise possibilities for thinking, for producing, existing. This refusal of stilling has its discordant and harmonic registers, its choreographic-sonic force.

Ashon Crawley

I have not asked you here to believe in these worlds as I do, or to hear them as testimony and truth. All I ask is that you learn to hold these worlds, and that you love and listen to them with intentional practice. I believe that alone could open radical new avenues for living. But to tell you why I believe, I will tell you this: our very surviving flesh—the vibrational logic of our matter refusing capture, always on the cusp of flight, and constantly reaching for relation—is the testimony that there is a way out; the flesh declares victory before we can even see it, hears what we cannot yet see. Crawly calls it “embodied refusal,” I call it “embodied knowledge”: that pull in my chest that lets me know that the love we deserve exists, if only elsew(here). The only grace you can have is the grace you can imagine. What I mean is, what we hear before we can see, what we are pulled towards, what we craft, what we imagine, matters.

And this history project matters because when we collect stories of what people imagine through oral history, we collect stories of the flesh, we listen aurally to vocal cords’ vibrations coming into our bodies, we watch as someone uses their hands or bodies to communicate what the voice may not. My job as a black feminist oral historian becomes about recording the “embodied refusal” and “embodied knowledge” the flesh carries, and knows, and hears, and feels, sometimes long before our conscious minds can catch up. Breathe:

Lauren, Femme Defense Fund. Transcript here.

I hope to archive what I hear, because although the archive is fraught, and complex, and not always what I want to see, I know that when built deliberately, it can (re)member and (re)cover what it must. It can pass on. It can leave breadcrumbs for sustenance, and maps. It can leave gleaming constellations and reverberant echoes. The archive lets you feel a vibration through time. Like the way stars that have died long ago, produce light waves that travel so long and far through space they only now reach our eyes. Those stars are alive and not alive, breathing fire and extinguished all at once—always already waiting for a witness. That’s the way the archives work too, in my experience, they have let me feel love through time and space previously thought insurmountable.

I work and live, now, as a feminist, trusting that I will learn to love myself well enough to love you (whoever you are), well enough so that you will love me well enough so that we will know, exactly where is the love: that it is here, between us, and growing stronger and growing stronger. 

June Jordan

So to quote June Jordan, I work and live, now as a black feminist oral historian, building a practice and an archive, trusting that I will learn to listen well enough to love you (whoever you are), well enough so that you learn to listen to me so that we will know, exactly where is the love: it is here, in the practice, in the vibrational logic of our matter, between us and growing stronger and growing stronger.