What Is Next For Us?
18 year old Nubia Assata's follows up to her authorial debut Silent Screams with new book What Is Next For Us? Delivering radical Black thought for the Gen-Z audience
Nubia Assata is a generational voice. Her debut publication, the poetry anthology Silent Screams, explored how the lived experience of Blackness shaped her mental health. Rampant progressions in technology over the past 30 years, mean that the concept of a "generation" has changed. It's never been a given that our parent's experiences will resonate with us. Now the cultural chasms that emanate from whatever the dominant social media app is, make even 5 intervals passages of seismic change. Growing up on Tumblr vs. TikTok feel like they are decades apart. The few of us in media who occupy Black sociopolitical issues in adulthood, are not necessarily attuned to the sensibilities of the young Black people we proclaim to be trying to build a better future for. We owe it to them to do better in that regard. Particularly as the anti-climactic aftermath 2020's BLM explosion, risks further disillusioning people who have the worst evils of neoliberalism and a climate disaster to inherit.
2020 and the pro-BLM media explosion may have ended, but Blackness is forever. In the wake of the protests, corporate promises to do better and public gestures from politicians - Black people still remain victim to the same structures that facilitated the murders of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor and George Floyd. Now that the Black squares on Instagram have been archived, the British government is back to embarking on some of the most racist policies imaginable, that all racialised people are prey to. Effectively criminalising the existence of travellers, paying families to house Ukrainian refugees whilst sending refugees to Rwanda and the continued deportation of British residents to Commonwealth countries shows the British state is as committed to upholding white supremacy as ever before.
In the wake of a concrete reality that would tempt anyone to defeatism, Nubia's next book What Is Next for Us? offers an alternative to abjection. The chapter titles read like a track list of every innate concern Black people have felt specifically over the past two years. A future beyond the Nation State, Which first, Political or Economic Liberation?, Dampening in a Collective Political Spirit. There is a temptation to describe Nubia as "wise beyond her years" but that would be lazy. It's more than that. The Black intelligentsia, irrespective of age, is often incapable of engaging Black people from Cambridge to cunch. We sometimes forget that is the whole point. Nubia Assata's new book is here to bridge that gap and we were lucky enough to speak to her about it.
Now the dust has settled from 2020's focus on BLM, what material change do you think has been achieved as a result of it?
Unsurprisingly, not enough. Unfortunately BLM is an example of reactionary politics and inadvertently due to the nature of its re-emergence in 2020 being across social media due to the pandemic, its efficiency did not/does not transcend beyond social media sensationalism. What it did achieve was on the surface level it enforced a form of pseudo-accountability that corporations and institutions could not avoid, but did not have to live up to due to the unthreatening undercurrent of the “movement”. BLM in reality lacks the true movement and physical progression it assumes as instead of moving, it reacts. What I do acknowledge is that Black Lives Matter filled a political void that has existed since the breakdown of effective radical Black political activity during the latter end of the 20th century, however on its own its usefulness is limited as if a political concept is not threatening enough to the status quo it lacks true utility against the system it claims to oppose. Unfortunately BLM being reactionary means that it relies on external actions, and re-accelerates in response to an event as opposed to persistently functioning in the framework, flaring up in paroxysms instead of functioning on its own accord.
It'll be covered more in the book, but what are some of the most obvious limitations of Black liberation in your mind?
In the West there are: Diaspora wars and barriers to entry. Whereas within the African continent: it is the lack of sentimental and economic integration between governments. What this does is create a need to rely on former colonial powers for basic needs. Throughout the book you will see countless references to the term “collectivism’” and the lack of such is demonstrated in both the lack of understanding between different members of the global Black diaspora. It is also shown in the gatekeeping within academic spaces that prevents young and non-academic members of our community from accessing and transforming spaces and discourses that will determine our collective future. Progress cannot be manifested if these conversations are continuously populated by the same demographic of Black people… meaning old, academic and middle class. Meanwhile, global progress can not be manifested without a collectivist sense of like-mindedness that transcends beyond the colonists' invention that is the nation states we reside in and come from.
The marketing surrounding this book feels distinctively Gen-Z. What is the importance of marketing literature specifically to this age range?
Because a movement doesn't move if a conversation doesn't grow. I have paid particular attention to my generation's mannerisms, and social dynamics in order to ensure my book was accessible and not intellectually intimidating. Collectivism means all of us or none of us and so casting a wider net means bringing members of our people who have been consistently excluded from a conversation right into it and making political concepts accessible but still challenging. I had to be understanding. I even cut down the word count from 45,000 to just over 20,000 as I did not want to add to a shelf of pre-existing books. Gen Z is obsessed with aesthetics and thus I had to ensure that the cover was bright, attractive and unassuming, that my shoots were done in film and not digital. I had to ensure that the dimensions of the book were small enough to throw in a tote bag or a telfar and that topical sections within the book were well compartmentalised to adjust to our shorter attention spans. So much thought went into everything. Ultimately the truth is that some of my closest friends are in prison whilst some study at Oxbridge or do medicine. I have grown up in a multitude of environments and thus I wanted my target market to represent that. My objective was to redesign academia and political discourse.
What gives you optimism for the future of the global Black diaspora?
Via social media I have noticed a re-emergence of mutual respect and intent of understanding each other within the diaspora. Whether that is simply being afrobeats played and Jamaican independence celebrations or seeing our attempt to learn each other's languages whether that be Twi, Patois, Yoruba, Lingala, Creole or Swahili. Likewise on an intercontinental paradigm we can see a similar sentiment with Ghana enabling easy visa acquisition for members of the Caribbean or the developments in economic integration within the African continental free trade area. Things are happening but we must do all we can to facilitate their trajectory and to ensure it's a positive one.
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We sit down with teenage author Nubia Assata to discuss Silent Screams. The poetry anthology comprised of poems about the Black experience through the fresh eyes of a 16 year old