Dreams of a Black Man
Dream: noun, often attributive
1: A series of thoughts, images, and sensations occurring in a person’s mind during sleep.
2: A cherished aspiration, ambition, or ideal.
Growing up, I used to have a recurring dream; in that dream, I would fly above my neighbourhood Ilha do Governador, located on the north side of Rio de Janeiro.
Like an Icarus without reaching for the sun, I flew above all others. From there, they looked rather small, ant-like miniatures of people, trees and roads. Even today, I remember those vivid dreams. I recall feeling the air blowing softly on my face, bringing seaweed smells from Guanabara Bay. Looking down, it felt secure. I felt untouchable. Flying made me truly free.
‘Duerme duerme negrito / Duerme, duerme negrito / Que tu mamá está en el campo / negrito’*
Every morning, the rising sun insisted on challenging me, always bringing me back to reality. Most days, I woke up melting from the relentless humid tropical heat. Horrified, I would jump out of my slumber, listening to the whispers of the Taiwan-made red digital Casio that rested beside my bed.
On this side of the multiverse, there was economic instability, racism and violence. To be awake and Black in the early 1990s was tough for a skinny wingless melanated boy. I could never fly in this reality, for I was shackled with the weight of 500 years of disdain for our people.
A dream is only human.
In Hinduism, a dream is one of the three states that the soul experiences during its lifetime; the other two states are waking and sleeping. Freud theorised dreams reflect the dreamer’s unconscious mind. More specifically, he said that dream content is shaped by unconscious wishes. Carl Jung and others expanded on Freud’s idea that dream content reflects the dreamer’s unaware desires.
The Chinese and the Yoruba believe dreams can be interpreted as good and bad depending on the circumstances. In one form or another, religions worldwide provide many interpretations for our dreams.
And perhaps nothing can be more a sign of the time we live in than our dreams and aspirations.
My great-grandmother probably dreamed of the freedom to choose a roof to live on. My grandmother dreamed of an education for her children. My father and mother dreamed of better education for themselves. Today, I dream of achieving a PhD.
Dreams are volatile, circumstantial and idiosyncratic.
In a way, dreaming is survival. In Latin America, where I grew up, many Afro-descendants dream about what to eat tomorrow. Some of us dream of having a place to sleep. All of us dream of having dignity. Most of us have those dreams constantly denied.
I left Brazil permanently in 2003. My memories of that land are predominantly from the last century.
Back then, dreaming in Brazil wasn’t for us. Who was allowed to dream? Whose dreams mattered?
Reflecting now, that Brazil I grew up in had a clear path for those who could dream. They had to have a certain race, a specific gender, a category of class and assured ability.
Our dreams were seen as subversive, especially in an unequal, sexist and racist society, such as the Brazilian one. Our dreams were their nightmares.
The bourgeoisie controlling the nation had a sole objective: to keep those without power powerless and those with power in control. Dreaming for Afro-Brazilians and other marginalised groups came with terms and conditions.
I remember being in a class in the fifth grade. My teacher, Ms Nancy, with her big green eyes and grey and yellow hair, told me that ‘people like you have good talents with your hands’.
In her view, we could dream of being a footballer, a tradie, or a samba singer, but don’t we dare to be a dentist or a small business owner. That was not allowed.
Recently, I heard a brother say, ‘He always had a dream of being rich and famous’ on a Brazilian television show. To me, he was falling into the trap sold by the neoliberal meritocratic society. Of course, anyone can dream in whichever way they see fit. We have the right to imagine our futures with endless possibilities. Nevertheless, we ought to distinguish two things: what is a dream, and what are the consequences of said dream?
Capitalism sells unattainable ideas of wealth with impossible standards of reality. Aimless dreams of richness and fame are Eurocentric based concepts. Those meaningless principles create sad vacuums of life—a life without communal objectives; a life of individualist achievements that leads the person to an empty existence; a life of pure solipsism.
Rich and famous? For doing what? Why? Recognition and wealth are not dreams but the potential consequence of the dream.
The second definition of a dream is an aspiration—a goal towards somewhere or something. I could say I dream of being happy, but again, this is not the goal. This is the result of my purposes. A person can dream of being a surgeon, carpenter or president, but to get ‘rich and famous’ can only be the consequence of your dream. It is not the dream itself.
Once the dream is dreamed, the dream must be constructed with planning, work, and dedication. The decision to dare to dream and thus to change one’s reality is a brave one. Once it takes sail, it can consume one’s life and eat one’s soul. Changing one’s destiny could mean changing the fate of humankind.
The dream is the process and the journey. The dream is lived on the winding road, built and rebuilt again and again and again. Remember, however: meritocracy is a fallacy, without luck (a whole lot of it), opportunities, dedication, hard work and perseverance, the dream is unsustainable.
Crossing the Atlantic towards the Americas, by force on the Navio Negreiros, our ancestors’ sole objective was to survive. Still, dream they did, but with ancestral technology, love and careful planning. Even in the face of unimaginable adversity and despicable terror, our ancestors dared to dream. They planned and executed their strategy exceptionally well, so we are here. In fact, our ancestors dreamed ‘us’.
As Maya Angelou said: ‘A person is the product of their dreams. So, make sure to dream great dreams. And then try to live your dream.’
Therefore, I shout: Brothers and sisters, dream away!
Dream all you like, but ask yourself:
Where do you want to go?
Why do you want to go?
Who do you want to go with?
There is an African proverb that states ‘Our dreams are the voices of our ancestors.’
What are they whispering for us now? What are we dreaming for ourselves and for the next generation?
* ‘Duerme, duerme negrito’ is a song by Victor Jara immortalised by the voice of Mercedes Sosa.
Guido Melo is an Afro-Brazilian-Latinx multilingual author, poet and literary workshop facilitator based in Naarm (Melbourne). Currently undertaking a Bachelor of Arts in Writing & Digital Media at Victoria University, his words can be found in Meanjin, Overland, Kill Your Darlings, Peril, Colournary Magazine, Mantissa Poetry, Ascension Magazine, SBS Voices, SBS Portuguese and Cordite, amongst others. Guido is a member of the Sweatshop Literacy Movement, a columnist for Negrê and a contributor to Growing Up African in Australia (Black Inc., 2019) and Racism: Stories on Fear, Hate & Bigotry (Sweatshop, 2021).
By: Guido Melo
Issue 1 | Autumn 2022
Abueli duties | De Las Rosas
Entre dos mundos | Lina Andrea Preciado Cano