DETROIT — One of the first points of discussion at the “HBB from the future” workshop, conducted by Armenian-American weaver Levon Kafafian and Lebanese-American poet and educator Kaymelya Omayma Youssef at Room Project, was the definition of the word “habibi”( حبيبي), often abbreviated as HBB. Translated literally from Arabic, it means “my beloved one,” but like many words or phrases that intimate cultural connection, it can be pretty nuanced. Certain analogies collectively brainstormed by a group of SWANA (South West Asian and North African) and non-SWANA attendees across a range of ages and gender identities included, sis or fam; bitch; azizam or kuzum; or even the way a diner waitress of a certain age calls everyone “hon.” Habibi is a term of relationality, instant intimacy, a sense of being perceived — but it can also be accusatory, cautionary. A term of endearment with someone you don’t know.
Taking time to understand habibi was of course necessary for the presentation, discussion, and activities that followed — all rooted in the notion and development of “habibi futurism.” Kafafian frames all kinds of non-white futurism as rhizomatic, possessing common roots but able to offshoot in non-hierarchical ways, able to regrow and generate new footholds no matter how it is displaced or segmented. It makes sense, then, that the activity portion of the program was parlayed via a card game that shuffled and reshuffled jumping-off points for future narratives as writing prompts to generate SWANA (and non-SWANA) future visions.
“We want a more inclusive futurism,” Kafafian said.
Between the introduction and definition of terms and the card game and writing time, Youssef and Kafafian presented an immersive thought catalog on various futurisms, a swirling mélange of images, film clips, poetry, essay snippets, and news stories. Youssef read aloud from Zaina Alsous, Angela Davis, and Sun Ra; Kafafian jumped to voice Audre Lorde, and echo Serge Mouange’s question, “How do we come from?” Participants took turns reading excerpts from Etel Adnan, Octavia Butler, Kyle Carrero Lopez, and more.
“We all live in this same country called capitalism,” an attendee read, quoting Bong Joon Ho, director of the 2020 Best Picture Parasite.
“We don’t want to operate on ships carrying death,” once said Italian dockworkers on their recent refusal to load arms on ships bound for Israel.
“I had to shut down the love I feel for people [strangers],” said Youssef, on her feeling in walking on the streets of New York City. “Maybe people call that boundaries.”
“Habibi are the people you hold, if a placeholder actually held something,” said Natalie, a participant in the workshop.
There is something about kinship that is involuntary, and there is something about the future that is also involuntary. The night’s discussions about chrononormativity aside — probably the most difficult construct for me to reject, as a time management queen and deadline-driven creature — time marches on in some fashion, and the future becomes the present, whether we imagine it or not. But in our imaginings, we slate a place for the things we’d like to see in the future.
For Levon, it is anti-scheduling; for Kamelya, it is sharing the traditional dumpling technique taught by her grandmother with future generations. Others said: a non-binary gender landscape (Ephemera); us-as-ancestors looking down on our imaginings come true (Diana); the sun always rising (Yasmeen); family all together again (Nasjeen); ecosexuality and the notion of planet as partner rather than long-suffering mother (Cyrah); and the radical becoming commonplace (Calvin). I said hope — I wish to see hope in the future, just any kind of hope. And by the end of HBB from the Future, just three hours later, I gladly report that I have found some.