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Sleeping with Shoes On

“The world is on fire and the arsonists are in charge.” Naomi Klein

Decade of Fire is a film about the South Bronx burning between the years 1970 to 1980. It burned for 10 years because the City of New York let it. In this part of the city that many African Americans and Puerto Rican immigrants called home, capitalist-landlords and the racist state jointly decided that urban renewal meant, as James Baldwin said, “Negro removal.” The state with its evil genius orchestrated a narrative in which those most affected were also the most vilified. I remember one resident who shared how the unending fires made it natural for her to sleep with her shoes on because you just never know.

“Good Morning Teacher” © Perla de Leon, from the 1980 series “South Bronx Spirit”

A few months ago, I met a woman in group therapy - Californian, blonde, and affluent - who shared how her paranoia of sudden and intense natural disasters recently led her to sleep with shoes on. The climate crisis hovers over many of my recent conversations, but this is only because we who cannot pay our way into survival find it impossible to turn away from the disappearance of life as we know it. The world is burning, we are facing a collective existential threat, but 40 years ago people terrorized by fires were already sleeping with their shoes on. As Mary Annaïse Heglar said, “for 400 years and counting, America itself has been an existential threat to Black people.”

In 1993, Octavia Butler wrote The Parable of the Sower, a work of prophecy masquerading as science fiction. The novel is set in the 2020s where cities and societies have collapsed in the face of climate disaster and neoliberal greed and selfishness. In this future world, water has become so expensive that ‘whole blocks of boarded up buildings are left burning in Los Angeles. Of course, no one would waste water trying to put such fires out.’ —————————————

In 2017, Beacon Rock Golf Course (in Washington State) posted this on their Facebook page with the caption, “Our golfers are committed to finishing the round!”

Related ideas, references and further reading:

1. The Pantone Institute’s primary colour for Spring 2020 is “Flame Scarlet.” WhoWhatWear says, “This confidence-building fiery red is more about determination than Republicanism. This “here-I-am, pay-attention-to-me” shade is more indicative of the women’s movement, Eiseman said. “Obviously, red always gives that voice to women.”

2. Naomi Klein (2019) On Fire.

3. Decade of Fire (2019) Dir. Vivian Vázquez Irizarry and Gretchen Hildebran.

4. James Baldwin, interview from 1963

5. Mary Annaïse Heglar: “I want you to understand how overwhelming, how insurmountable it must have felt. I want you to understand that there was no end in sight. It felt futile for them too. Then, as now, there were calls to slow down. To settle for incremental remedies for an untenable situation. They, too, trembled for every baby born into that world. Sound familiar?” More at

6. Octavia Butler (1993) The Parable of the Sower. Grand Central Publishing: NY. 2017 review:

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