WTF IS HOPEPUNK? AND WHY ALLIES SHOULD FIND OUT
By Awa Gueye
June 28, 2019
It was a Wednesday morning, when I first heard of it. I was scrolling through twitter and saw an article about something called “hopepunk”. Naturally, I kept it moving because with the amount of random information available online, it is near impossible for most of it to stick. But another minute into my feed, I found myself taking a U-turn because, “WTF is Hopepunk?”
Hopepunk is a literary movement born as a counter to Grimdark. If grimdark is dystopian, amoral or violent, hopepunk is its utopian, moral and peaceful balance. As Vox explains, “In the era of Trump and apocalyptic change, hopepunk is a storytelling technique for #resistance — and hanging onto your humanity at all costs.” OK – I’m into this.
It only took nine words for hopepunk to catch fire. As with many current progressive movements initiated by the people, it was born on social media, this one on tumblr. In July of 2017, a writer from Massachusetts named Alexandra Rowland used her platform to post a simple message sparking movement: “The opposite of grimdark is hopepunk. Pass it on.” And the people did.
Rowland’s description of hopepunk appealed as a response to the Trump election’s dystopian “what now?” aftermath. It became an answer for some, reminding them “how to act when faced with what seems to be encroaching darkness.” Rowland cited political examples like Jesus, Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr., Robin Hood and John Lennon as “heroes who chose to perform radical resistance in unjust political climates, and to imagine better worlds.” (To make this concept as clear as possible to anyone new to it: though The Handmaids Tale is dark, its protagonist’s resistance qualifies the Margaret Atwood novel and the Hulu show its based on as an example of hopepunk.)
So where does hopepunk exist in a Black world? At first I attempted to find examples in Black entertainment — and there are plenty. I think Rowland would approve of Get Out as a hopepunk film thanks to the lead character’s tenacity to get himself out of a hellish situation. The truth is, hopepunk might just be the formerly unnamed way of life for Black people. Perhaps its finally been given a name because in the Trump era, the oppression club has revealed some new non-Black members. Loud, aggressive oppression is no stranger to Black people; but those who had not experienced its blatancy until the current regime’s rejection of quiet polite discrimination, are learning to navigate. Seeing that oppression includes them and is the status quo, they’ve found a word to name their resistance.
While I stand for what hopepunk represents — and appreciate the sentiment — I do not think it is for us. Black people don’t need a name for unwavering hope and perseverance because it’s always been a part of us! We practice Hopepunk every single day, it comes natural to us. We communicate it through our head nods and locked eyes. Hopepunk exists in our shady smiles, in the way we run in circles and fall to the ground when we laugh, in the clever rhymes we think of while we stamp our boots on the streets with picket signs, in our babies and our grandparents who still look like babies, in our purple box braids and our shaved heads, in our lack of volume control at movie theaters, in our music (especially when deciding that it should top the country charts when we feel like it), and in our fashion that they can’t help but steal. Our, our our.
So even though this movement is not for all, it is a better narrative to see from our allies than the ones we have been since November 2016. There is no room for people with privilege to have no hope — that in itself is a privilege. Remember: those who do not have access to fundamental human necessities, are not afforded the time or energy to just not care. They have hope, it is not an option — and it keeps them alive. To the allies-in-training, horrified by those who look like them: channel that rage to radical hopeful resistance. Maybe read what hopepunk is about and apply it to your life.