Knowing Utopia: Imagining Perfection Outside of Colonization
By Myles E. Johnson
The most difficult part of being a creative person that is also marginalized was realizing that I was attempting to create perfect worlds that operated as shadows and quick reflections of my desires, but nothing solid or real. It was brought to my attention after many battles with writer’s block that I had not done the hard work of knowing utopia. No matter if I was creating futuristic fantasy or theorizing a more peaceful world, I had not done the work of naming the systems that make these worlds a fantasy, or naming the ingredients that make these fantasy worlds the most conducive to my happiness. What makes the utopia, utopian?
In my exploration of the things that oppress me, what most resonated with me was bell hooks’ naming of the systems that work simultaneously to ensure my oppression in her books and public discussions. Yes, I began naming and deconstructing through critical thought on media and art, the imperialist white supremacist capitalist patriarchy. I was carefully examining how these systems work together. I thought, “Ah, this is misogyny and racism and homophobia and greed with no regard of who is hurt working as a team to make this content possible.” This began to dismantle a binary way of approaching content I found particularly problematic and violent. Breaking the binary was the first step in me knowing utopia.
Binary thinking is a colonial tradition. Either/or, black/white, good/bad, and this/that are not just aggressively simple, but a violent way of erasing truths. It is a way to ensure systems never are dismantled. Let’s dive into fantasy for a better explanation.
Imagine a four-headed dragon that is vicious. Luckily for you, you have weaponry. Although, attached to one body, each of these fire-spewing heads is able to survive without the other. Slaughtering one head does not defeat the whole monster, but you still attempt to, anyway. With sole concentration on one head, you are easily devoured by the other. Even when you attempt to attack two heads at once, let’s call them misogyny and capitalism, you are still devoured by white supremacy while you were preoccupied. You quickly realize in order for this beast to be slaughtered, you must put equal energy into beheading each manifestation of the beast. This is exhausting and requires significantly more strategy, creativity and work than focusing on one head, but it is the only way to ensure the beast is actually defeated.
In critical thought and any type of decolonization/revolution work, deconstructing the imperialist white supremacist capitalist patriarchy is significantly more difficult and exhausting, but is truly the only way one can ensure the system is dead. Surely, I do not know if I will live to see a day where in my daily life these systems are dead, but I do know that I can create content where these systems are not thriving. I can create content for men that does not uphold patriarchy. I can create content for black people that does not glorify capitalism. I can create content for queer people that is not informed by white supremacy. I can create content for diverse audiences that does not romanticize imperialism. And these groups and names can be rearranged in countless ways; there is a utopia to be created in art. There is a way to have a focus or a target audience without damaging others that live outside of that sum. It starts with knowing these systems, naming them, and being aggressive about making sure they do not appear in your art. This practice is not to be seen as limiting your work, but actually liberating your work to be purely entertaining, empowering, healing, and/or touching without perpetuating systems that damage others. It is also my strong belief that art can both reflect and inform. The artist’s ability to know utopia, and then create utopia, can create very real positive changes in the world we inhabit.
Through this constant naming of systems that poison content, I was able to imagine a full world in my imagination. If only in my mind, I was able to witness utopia. Everyone’s utopia, like their art, is subjective and their own. I could taste the sweet, pure air and mango trees with queer bodies of all sizes laughing, reading, and rejoicing together. Everyone spoke in lyrical jazz poetry, and with every sip of water, a year was added to your life. Everyone’s skin was not a reminder of pain, domination, or danger, but what their ancestors had to go through so they might be able to speak beautifully and breathe sweetly. Love was not just love, but the sum of all purpose. The Earth was happy with us and there was no perpetual existential questioning if there was a paradise or divine deity in physical death, because paradise and purpose was here and now.
This imagining of a world that I might never be able to know told me about who I am. It told me about what I truly desire, and forced me to imagine a paradise that was not somebody else’s oppression. Surely, the physical person may never know their utopia. What is even surer is that the artist can create utopia through work. This creation can double as a blueprint and a form of healthy, cathartic escapism necessary in a violent world. Knowing thyself and knowing utopia is the artist’s first step, I believe, in making decolonized, transformative revolutionary artwork and content.