Hello and welcome!
I wanted to start a blog series discussing Afrofuturism because I’ve been writing my senior project as a literature major at SUNY Purchase. My initial plan was to write my project on the representation of people of color in Science Fiction literature. When I first started writing, I realized that writing about all people of color was too broad so I chose to write about black people, my people.
While doing research, I kept reading about the term Afrofuturism so I decided to pick up the book Afrofuturism: The World of Black Sci-Fi and Fantasy Culture by Ytasha L. Womack. I fell madly in love. I spoke to my teachers and advisors about this book and this genre and they were just as excited as I was. This is a genre that we didn’t know a lot about which was exciting because that meant I got to read more about black people and black culture.
My intention for this series is to educate myself and other people about this amazing genre and to connect with Afrofuturist creators and other people interested in the genre. I plan on going to events and reading books about this topic.
If anyone has any recommendations or information on this topic, please share it!
Okay, without further delay, let’s introduce ourselves to Afrofuturism!
“Afrofuturism is an intersection of imagination, technology, the future, and liberation,” says Ytasha L. Womack author of Afrofuturism: The World of Black Sci-Fi and Fantasy Culture. “I generally define Afrofuturism as a way of imagining possible futures through a black cultural lens,” says Ingrid LaFleur, an art curator, and Afrofuturist.” (9)
The term was coined in 1993 by Mark Derry in his essay Black to the Future. An essay that I recommend you read because I will be reading it as well.
I first discovered Afrofuturism while reading. I was surprised to find that the genre also appears in other forms of media such as art and music. One popular creator is Janelle Monae. Have you seen Dirty Computer? She created a short film based off of her album. The film was based in a dystopian future where people get penalized for their expression. Such a clear piece of Afrofuturism. In an interview with New York Times, she says, “The songs can be grouped into three loose categories: Reckoning, Celebration, and Reclamation. “The first songs deal with realizing that this is how society sees me,” she said. “This is how I’m viewed. I’m a ‘dirty computer,’ it’s clear. I’m going to be pushed to the margins, outside margins, of the world.” The beautiful Janelle Monae continues to put black people and black experiences into her art and I love it!
My favorite thing about the term Afrofuturist is that it’s science fiction but BLACK! It’s seeing us in the future as heroes instead of side characters. I’m a huge lover of Star Wars but how can we travel through time and space seeing aliens and androids but not see people of color? As if seeing us in the future would be more surprising than seeing someone move objects with the force!
Speaking of music and space, while doing my research, I was surprised to hear about an artist named Sun Ra born Herman Poole Blount. He was a jazz musician who forgo his past and created a persona named Sun Ra or Le Sony’r Ra. Sun Ra “…drew from Egyptology, black Freemasonry, Biblical exegesis, science and science fiction and most anything else that lay outside the traditional domains of scholarship.” says National Public Radio writer Patrick Jarenwattananon.
Sun Ra’s influences are the main focal points of an afrofuturist piece. Sun Ra was known for creating his beats with the sound of hard bops, claiming to be an alien from Saturn on a mission to preach peace. Throughout his career as a musician, he publicly denied ties to his prior identity. Most people would view his persona as a form of insanity but Sun Ra was before his time. He has a vision that would make his work and his style and icon of today.
Please do yourself a favor and listen to his music here. I plan on discussing the GREAT Sun Ra in a future post so please, prepare yourself!
In Afrofuturism: The World of Black Sci-Fi and Fantasy Culture, Ytasha L. Womack writes:
Whether through literature, visual arts, music, or grassroots organizing, Afrofuturists redefine culture and notions of blackness for today and the future. Both an artistic aesthetic and a framework for cultural theory, Afrofuturism combines elements of science fiction, historical fiction, speculative fiction, fantasy, Afrocentricity, and magical realism with non-western beliefs. In some cases, it’s a total re-envisioning of the past and speculation about the future rife with cultural critiques.
For example, Octavia Butler one of the first black science fiction writers, who wrote Kindred, a story about a young girl who travels back in time and gets a first-hand experience in slavery. Butler granting her main character the ability to travel through time makes it such a timeless piece of Afrofuturism. Although the main character has no crazy technical time traveling device, her going back in time and seeing how her ancestors lived makes it science fiction.
On my journey discovery what Afrofuturism is, I’ve discovered so many interesting things and I am so excited to share them all with you. I’ve gained a connection within myself and my culture. When discovery Sun Ra, I had nights sitting on the couch with my parents as they relived their own experiences with such an outrageous artist. I’ve visited the Smithsonian National Museum of African-American History and Culture and was able to see all that black people endured and how we are still thriving. I’m so excited to begin this series and I hope you enjoy it too.
Here are a few links to articles and information mentioned in this post:
Featured image is from Into the Spider-verse. It’s my boy Miles Morales