Love’s Alchemy Will Be the Revolution
by Sade Lythcott
revolution rev·o·lu·tion | \ ˌre-və-ˈlü-shən
A. : a change of paradigm
The call for revolutionary theatre is a call for a paradigm shift—a new pattern of behavior that, like the world “revolutionary” itself, centers LOVE. You can not address the call for revolutionary theatre without addressing the systemic ways we have been trained to deny this love for ourselves and one another. To reverse this order, our revolutionary journey must be forged by an internal one. My visionary of a mother, Dr. Barbara Ann Teer, passed this lesson on to me with a manifesto she chanted from the time I began to gestate in her womb. Even in the most turbulent time of the late 1960s when she founded The National Black Theatre (NBT), she understood that revolutionary theatre must be rooted in a ritualistic practice of loving oneself wholly. She and NBT’s artistic company of Liberators would chant throughout the streets of Harlem and the countries of the diaspora, “I love myself so much, that I can love you so much, that you can love you so much, that you can start loving me.” That, for me, was and still is a call to action and a call to arms. That is the revolution.
B. : a forcible overthrow of a government or social order, in favor of a new system
Too consumed by the capitalistic instinct to build brands and empires, rather than planting seeds and creating safe and sacred places for our people to call home, much of today’s activism overexposes and weaponizes traumatic events. It pedals trauma porn and virtue signaling as a means of cover, rather than a means of change. If, as Octavia Butler once wrote in her prophetic novel “Parable of the Sower,” “God is Change,” then where is God in the movement for Black lives? As artists, we have the distinct privilege of architecting new worlds. We have a uniquely intimate understanding that words matter and affirmations have power, yet this is the very reason why much of today’s activism leaves me scratching my head—specifically, the constant begging for them to stop killing us instead of divesting in systems that were literally and figuratively built on our backs. Don’t let the noise fool you, all of this begging, pleading, calling out, dismantling and diversifying of white institutions is reactionary. And reactionary resistance is only supremacy in disguise; it continues to reinforce an axis of power which places a higher value on whiteness. Affirming “I can’t breathe.” Affirming “We see you.” Affirming the amount of time to the second that George Floyd was choked under a knee while ignoring the decades of humanity that he lived. Too much value is placed on these grand public gestures of reactionary resistance that actually depend on us believing we are powerless. These gestures thrive on us hating ourselves and each other, and fool us into believing that Black death is more valuable than the lives we are living right now. Most insidiously, it centers them! As a generation of Post Traumatic Slave Syndrome survivors, we have adapted and adjusted our movement to the limitation of their imagination and value of us. I would go so far as to argue that you do not even realize the severity of the bend in your back. Or all of the twisting and contorting you have done, yet mislabel as a “stance.” We are so inoculated and addicted to their validation of us or so busy strategizing around their humanity, that we can not recognize how sick we are. When I agreed to participate in this powerful project, it was suggested I write about healing as a powerful component of the revolution. But it is hard to have this conversation when we as a people have not yet made a meaningful decision to be well. Few novels challenge the dichotomy of healing and activism as well as Toni Cade Bambara’s “The Salt Eaters.” In it, she asks us, “Are you sure, sweetheart, that you want to be well?…Just so’s you’re sure, sweetheart, and ready to be healed, cause wholeness is no trifling matter. A lot of weight when you’re well.” If the weight we want to carry now is that of real sustainable change, it is time we ask these questions of ourselves.
C. : the movement of an object around a center
Revolutionary theatre is a call to center ourselves and to relentlessly commit to our healing. It is a call to be so radically in love with ourselves and our communities, that we actually CAN’T SEE THEM ANYMORE. It is a call to build spaces by which we affirm that in fact, we can breathe and we say the names of the living who have helped build and sustain our liberation. Revolutionary theatre demands we acknowledge, honor and create space for our full humanity, including all contradictions and complexities, in order to show up whole and well in this world. It asks us to celebrate intersectionality and to take accountability for our participation in anti-Black activity. The revolution will be fought by folx that have something to lose, not just shit to gain. It will also be won by revolutionists who want to move the needle beyond representation and survival, to have conversations about the sustainable prosperity of Black life. The revolution is coming and it is showing up as a million shades of one all-consuming color, BLACK. The question is, are you ready?
Here is what I need you to know: I love you without condition. From the nigga to the revolutionary, I see you. Every part of you has value and I invite you to reconfigure your psychic space to make room for it all. I invite you to stretch and make peace with all of you. Learn to love the wholeness of you, not just the parts that have been praised by them. Sure, we might already hear the call, but we can not show up for the revolution without centering LOVE. Feel me? Now take a deep breath and repeat after me, “I love myself so much, that I can love you so much, that you can love you so much, that you can start loving me.” Now say it again until there is no them clouding your conscience. Say it until there is only us. The alchemy of love will set us all free. Hold that near and use it as your armor and shield. Use it as your blanket and refuge. Use it as medicine. And most importantly, use it to fuel this fight.