On a recent visit to my mom’s house, I found my old scrapbook tucked away in a corner with other cherished readings from my pre-teens. Almost two decades later, I swept away the worn pages taped with tape. Each turn revealed a layer of the fascination of my early years: Hannah Montana, chocolate … a page stuck to my eyes longer. On a double page spread, I had pasted printed photos of several successful blacks, from Nelson Mandela to Martin Luther King and Oprah. The moment felt like a meeting with my younger self, my present self and the future that I have always dreamed of.
Growing up, Black History Month was exciting for me: a young black nerd. The black centering in our program, even for just a few weeks, was thrilling for a young girl who would otherwise have been oblivious to the history and greatness to which blacks have contributed. I remained intrigued as our class watched videos of Mary Seacole, Rosa Parks, and others. An introduction to black excellence that will always stay with me. But now, 16 years later, the adult moi feels the need for a new narrative.
Black History Month was always going to have its limits. Using a month over an entire year to celebrate something as nuanced as black history trivializes it, which makes it simplistic. Many black people have helped shape the civilization and modern life we enjoy today, and we should be talking about celebrating these people all the time. Some have even dared to imagine a world so different from theirs that they are called futuristic. See a world without prejudices, which challenged the ideas of their time. Through them, we have the proof that we can continue to imagine a progressive future for blacks, without hanging it on the narrow constructions of the past.
We can envision a future that exists beyond dark trauma. Dark stories don’t always have to be about pain.
Invented by the cultural critic of the 1990s, Mark Dery, Afrofuturism was featured in his essay “Black To The Future,” where he defined it as “a speculative fiction that deals with African-American themes and addresses concerns. African-Americans against the backdrop of twentieth-century techno. culture.’
And now reclaiming black history has come to involve the revival of Afrofuturism, where looking back is not enough. Instead, we can envision a future that exists beyond dark trauma. Dark stories don’t always have to be about pain. Instead, the culture and notions of Blackness can be redefined for the future.
Afrofuturism also gives more space to beliefs that are not Western. It liberates blacks through a cultural lens that reinvents their identities. He doesn’t ignore history, but he doesn’t allow history to narrow his narrative, giving people of African descent greater roles in science, technology, innovation and science fiction.
One example is the 2018 film Black Panther, which popularized Afrofuturism by using the future to talk about the present. It brought together the cultural aesthetic that represents Afrofuturist technology, innovation and healing. At one point, T’challa King of Wakanda is treated with African drugs after his fight in the crown battle against villainous Killmonger.
Hollywood movies usually have dark trauma tales, so focusing on African healing instead just seems revolutionary. It represents an antidote to black suffering – using the past to heal the future, looking back to look to the future while maintaining traditions.
Hollywood movies usually have dark trauma tales, so focusing on African healing instead just seems revolutionary.
The Matrix and Avatar are earlier films that provide a glimpse into Afrofuturism – although Avatar has received a backlash for having undertones of white messiah, it’s an example of films that are starting to incorporate elements of multi-ethnic casting that come together. stand out from the predominantly white representation. in science fiction. The Book of Eli (2010) with Denzel Washington also takes a step closer to representation; while Will Smith ushered in an era of representation in his sci-fi roles such as After Earth, where he played Cypher Raige, Kitai’s father.
Beyond cinema, Afrofuturism is an aesthetic that can be found in all aspects of creative mediums, including music. Started by Sun Ra in the 1950s and 1960s, when jazz and avant-garde work were in the spotlight, music with Afro-futuristic themes – produced by figures such as Jimi Hendrix and Afrika Bambaataa – epitomizes the problems culturally relevant of the time, challenging them while focusing on darkness.
Artists such as Michael Jackson also had aspects of Afrofuturism interwoven into their music. In the Scream clip (released with his sister Janet), Jackson appeared in a hyper-modern spaceship in a futuristic squash court – prompting later musicians to accept the image of Afrofuturism by creating an image of black people literally in spaces that were also visually common. For a more recent example, check out Janelle Monáe’s Dirty Computer [Emotion Picture] , where she confidently portrays Afrofuturism.
In the world of literature, Octavia E Butler rose to fame for leading Afrofuture writing. His books show what happens when you put black people in the authorities where they create alternative stories. In her book Wild Seed, she uses the characters of Doro – an immortal colonizer who raises people for his seed villages – and Anyanwu – who represents the double struggle that black women wage in the fight against patriarchy and racism – to create a gripping sci-fi story. of time travel, where themes of race and female identity are explored.
Butler’s work is empowering and groundbreaking as she uses her own identity as a black woman to create characters that reflect the struggles of black women in society. Anyanwu’s dedication to his people through healing and humanity is something I recognize as innate in many African societies. Butler’s characters exist in a timeless construction, but only a black woman could have brought them to life, embedding all of her experiences of subjugation and those that came before her.
None of this is to say that Afrofuturism is limitless. Mark Dery, who coined the phrase in the first place, is white and articulates the phrase on the phrase about whiteness. Continuing with this narrative means that Afrofuturism only exists to counter white narratives. What it should do is allow us to appreciate the creativity and power of black people to imagine a world for themselves as opposed to resistance and the constant response to racism.
Viewing Afrofuturism as an authentic black expression empowers black people. It allows black people to assert themselves in a real and imaginary landscape where they can claim their future and the one they want and not the one that society has created because of race. It is a way of criticizing the future today, while opening up to what it could be tomorrow.
Much like looking at the pages of my old childhood scrapbook, it brought me back to the nerdy kid that I was, bold enough to hold back time by putting together pictures of those who inspired me. The lessons of the past exist in the future. Drawing on the past can be used to reinvent the future. There are still more pages to write – and the black stories have shown the need for other perspectives that we write.