By Lauren Morton. Photography By Deun Ivory.
Our collective upbringing encourages us to put unwavering faith in society to reward us based on merit and tenacity. From cradle to college our classroom décor, books, movies, trainings, and supervisors have tried to convince us that we can all make something out of nothing if we work hard enough and pull ourselves up by the figurative bootstraps. They often fail to acknowledge that many of us are born without said boots. Individuality is praised and appreciated but still policed. The importance of representation and the intelligence of youth have been glaringly underestimated. So many of us are thirsty for positive associations that aren’t directly linked to our unfailing ability to overcome trauma and pain or make up a catchy dance.
I’ve sat through hundreds of movies, televisions shows, plays, and books not realizing how much I was allowing them to shape not only the way I saw myself, but the way I saw others like me. I was born black and am constantly reminded of how to behave according to said blackness. I quickly realized that I was other, and my very existence felt like a separate reality from everyone around me except other 'others'. I remember my interest being dubbed weird and politely being called different. These comments were from the people that loved me the most.
The weight of society’s thoughts, biases ,and opinions transformed how I moved through the world, making me conscious of my steps, my hair, my tone, and my facial expressions. I realized I was never allowed to grow unfettered, but from birth was stunted and squeezed by the dos and don'ts of performing black femininity for the masses; and I was growing tired. This feeling climaxed in college as I sat in classrooms full of white faces who turned toward me like flowers to the sun. Those faces eager to hear my opinion about things my blackness automatically made me an expert in. Debates about racism were like walking across eggshells for the conservatives while left-leaning liberals in the making nodded vigorously eyes wide, enjoying the prejudice porn that was me discussing my black experience. If before I was tired I had now reached exhausted.
I was searching for ways to be well and often ended up frustrated and out of place. Wellness is a booming market that makes anybody with social media feel like they are a stone's throw away from living their best life. If you type in #wellness on Instagram right now you get almost twenty million posts displaying fit blondes, acai bowls, and countless “candids” of people doing sunrise beach yoga. I fell for the trap and reduced being well to clothes, vacations, trendy foods and good skin. I was shocked and disappointed when I had acquired most of these things and felt just as unbalanced as when I started. I donated my yoga mat to the closet and continued to struggle along.
I was always a voracious reader but in my adult years, it had transformed from a leisurely way to spend an afternoon to full-fledged escapism. My friends commended me and almost always added that they too had a reading list but just couldn't find the time. For me, it wasn't optional. It was a direct affront to the mediocre post-college monotony and social media-induced sensory overload that I was experiencing on a daily basis. Long before bath bombs and podcasts guided me through meditation, this was the most accessible form of self-care I had. I immersed myself daily in worlds that had nothing to do with my own, bringing life to characters and universes that could only exist between lines. One day, a friend was leisurely running her eyes over my bookcase and I couldn’t have felt more exposed than if I was standing there naked. ‘You like sci-fi,’ she asked skeptically. I instantly fixed my lips to reply no. Not out of shame, but the term science fiction instantly conjured up images of Star Trek enthusiasts and people who used the term blerd seriously, and that wasn’t me. I looked at my bookcase, saw all of the Stephen King, Toni Morrison, and my one Butler. I reflected on my love of The Twilight Zone and now Black Mirror. I loved exploring the future and possibilities that seemed endless without the current mental mountains that we as humans just couldn’t seem to get over. When I got off from work and chose to get lost these were the worlds I wandered.
There was something so revolutionary about Erykah Badu, Missy Elliot and even Raven Simone in Zenon the Girl of the 21st century that relieved me of the heavy burden of expectation. It allowed me to explore and think outside of the box that everyone seemed determined to plop us in. Seeing women navigate a realm so foreign that their sex and race wasn’t their trapping was validating. Pictures, paintings, and movies of Afrofuturisic society make me swell with pride and yearn for a place that does not exist but one that I personally want to create or contribute to.
Sometimes I feel a faintly throbbing vein that runs through the body of Afrofuturism from others. As if it is a radical act to eradicate all of society’s norms and restraints even in our fantasy. I wish I could explain the importance of slipping off the cloak labeled other even for a moment. I wish I could explain that it does not encourage the romanticizing of a life without or superior to other races but encourages me to daydream limitlessly. Exploring the realms of Afrofuturism is invigorating and allows me to truly see myself in all spaces. I try to carry this with me into my real life by remembering the freedom of my actions and reminding myself that I only I can allow my life to be squashed under the thumb of perceptions and oppression. My faux wellness journey started with kicking carbs and patrolling social media for advice from people participating in paid partnerships. I now define my wellness as the ability to exist in peace.
Long before I learned the language, I knew that certain images evoked a feeling of dreaming and existing without the weight of the world reminding me what I should sound like, look like, and feel like. I remember when Dirty Computer came out and my mom said I needed to listen to ‘Like That’. I spent the next hour playing it over and over and wondering how Janelle Monae had managed to capture the feelings I’d been trying to articulate my whole life in three minutes and twenty seconds. Pioneers of Afrofuturism have been unflinchingly pushing images that were different and begging me for two decades to unapologetically be myself. After twenty-six years I have finally listened.
Lauren Morton is a Maryland native currently residing in Los Angeles with a passion for narrating her version of the black female millennial experience. She is dedicated to breaking boundaries, expanding space, and raising the collective status quo for women of color. She currently works with disengaged youth in downtown LA but spends her free time writing, traveling and eating. She is an avid listener and reader of BGIO using it as another tool in her wellness toolbox. Check her out on Instagram @laurbeev.