During this pandemic, there is a lot of discussion of an apocalypse. “Apocalypse” implies the world didn’t already end.
In A Billion Black Anthropocenes or None, Kathryn Yusoff expands on the impact of colonialism, particularly since contemporary groups of people were sold for their bodies and labor. She places the first transatlantic slave voyage at 1492. If you’re making some connections to what they teach in American history classes about somebody “sailing the ocean blue,” that’d be what I’m highlighting. I’ve said “contemporary” groups of people here because our futures are built on the backs of these people. If you were told repeatedly your life was made only to act as a laborer, the world already collapsed. If your land was occupied by boats and boats of settlers who erased your ancestors’ history, the world already ended for you a long time ago. Someone is living on your “borrowed time” and you float by, observing as your epigenetic nerve center tells you: something is “off” here. For those who’ve faced interpersonal violence and domination, you feel drained from fear, flashbacks, struggle with the effects of setback, but you have to bear witness to the success of those who caused harm.
As “The Anthropocene” is an era defined as the culminating impact of the human influence on this geological age, it is generally implied that, as many books are prefaced with this cliché, we are living in “unprecedented times” which call for “extreme measures” to restore the pollution and environmental stress we’ve caused.
While many people can agree on pulling together for the environment, it seems people less readily agree on the history of capitalist conquest, the communities it has destroyed, and the people it has displaced.
Franny Choi’s poem “The World Keeps Ending and the World Goes On” provides elucidation:
Survivors of trauma, violence have already experienced the end of the world.
To imply the world is only just ending now for humans provides a sheltering “flyover” effect on groups of people who’ve pleaded for centuries now that their world was being destroyed.
Post-apocalyptic fantasies acknowledge the futurescape of possibilities. Lives full of cooperation, not domination.
Stories like popular The Walking Dead show more of a present day conundrum: extreme fear, no way out, futures with violent ends.
Yet for many, the world has already met a violent demise. When will it begin again? I know many creative people who must continually imagine this possibility of starting over.
Mauve Perle Tahat is the founder and executive editor of TERSE.