A comparison of the Black Lives Matter movement and Afrofuturism is the undertaking herein and follows. It is extremely relevant in terms of one of the constant ethno struggles persisting in society, nay, the world today. Looking at it in those terms, the subject matter would be relevant any day, and, as Afrofuturism claims, it will remain relevant well into the future.
While the term Afrofuturism is credited to Mark Dery, a cyberculture theorist, attempting to explain the Black culture with internet culture (McNally 2). Afrofuturism is the mechanism that creates and then portrays endless possibilities to the traditionally oppressed to rise above life’s challenges. It is a mode through which imbalances are balances and unfairness turned fair, wrong transformed to right, etc. Remember, the current mindset is that Blacks are not equal; schools are still segregated; whites are especially favored; and the future for Blacks is bleak. Afrofuturism takes that situation and inserts into a futuristic setting – the underlying theme is science fiction. While the setting is similar to the strife and downtrodden status of Blacks, it reconstructs the expected ending from a continued life of suppression to superhero status and overcoming the odds (McNally 3). Dery’s mindset is evident given the question proposed that Afrofuturism attempts to answer: “Can a community whose past has been deliberately rubbed out, and whose energies have subsequently been consumed by the search for legible traces of its history, imagine possible futures?” (3).
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Dery further posits that in order to overcome the obliterated past, a hopeful future must be presented. The challenge here is how to present a past that does not exist, for all practical purposes. Thus, when history is depicted in Afrofuturistic conveyances, they are mythical in nature. Afrofuturism is a dynamic rather than static definition which, at its bare bones, marries technology with storytelling with black. Although, one definition includes a footnote to the effect that Afrofuturism is blind to color, race, gender, etc. It is more a tool with which to reconcile the past with an anticipated future (Priforce).
Another definition of Afrofuturism is proposed in the spirit of sociology. That is, Afrofuturism is literary style which puts Black experiences in the central premise which is demonstrated through fantasy and science fiction (Huddleston 2).
Still another definition suggests that, while the foundation of Afrofuturism is science fiction, it is science fiction written by Africans or Afrodiasporic which may be in the form of art, literature, music and scholarship (Yaszek 1).Â The diasporic nature of the thing promises diversity within a diverse group. The art is premised on a varied conglomeration of Blacks sprinkled around the world through no choice of theirs, but such that there is a spattering of absorbed cultures, but, unfortunately, providing the same results.
Backpedaling for just a moment, another definition is in order – that of diaspora. Diaspora is Greek for to scatter. Used in this context it means a similarly-region-specific population that has been disbursed across different areas but still have active ties based on the similar origins (“What Is A Diaspora? | Idea”). So, African diaspora is that of people from Africa living in other parts of the world. During the transatlantic slave trades, millions of Blacks were relocated throughout the U.S. and the Caribbean (“African Diaspora Cultures | Oldways”)
Yaszek considers Afrofuturism from the perspective of the author, artist or professor. To that end, the main purpose of the telling of the story is, well, to tell a good story – science fiction, or not. The two next best reasons are somewhat political. First, and as mentioned above, Afrofuturism is a vehicle with which lost history may be recovered, and, then, hopefully, understood. Next, it also provides a forum within which hope is inspired for the future (2). This, in a way, is an attempt to circumvent what may be described as foreshadowing or self-fulfilled prophecy in that the Black story is one of doom and gloom – past and present. And, since the future will be the present and the present will be the past, transforming the future (since there really is not anything that can be done in the present) in a positive light (or a powerful one) suggests that not only can history be changed but it challenges the norm.
So, it is not surprising that the roots (no pun intended) of Afrofuturism commenced in the 1880s, alongside science fiction as a genre, with the writings of Charles Chestnutt, Susan Griggs and Edward Johnson. All of whom authored books illustrating the Black plight, issues of slavery, creating a better world, and a society promulgated on Black knowledge and industry (Yaszek 4). As the genre progressed to and through the 20th century, the separate-but-equal-paradigm wove its threads through the world of science fiction. Black authors published in Black magazines and white in white. It is worth mentioning because the distinction was not as the result of the actions of white people but due to the preferences of Black authors. The reasoning should be unimportant, but for the sake of accuracy the claim is that the white magazines were almost too far-fetched and the Black stories were meant to be taken more seriously as story-telling rather than just science fiction entertainment. The afterthought is the perception that the white magazines included racially-motivated storylines.
Returning to the underlying premise, that of a promising future and the potential of Blacks to use science to conquer battles and survive disasters, it is during the 1960s the white-washed science fiction intersected with Afrofuturism (Yaszek 7). Obviously, the timing coincides with the crest of the civil rights movement. In addition, it was a time when science fiction authors wanted to premise their work on societal relevant issues as well as scientifically modeled.
The themes during this time period portrayed hope and a successful integration of two different societies which was reflected in films such as Bloodchild. Other films were cautious and warned about history repeating itself with films such as The Spacetraders and Zulu Heart, both speculating that either Blacks will be deported from earth, chained together on a ship, or a role reversal such that while it is a replay historically it is the Blacks enslaving the whites. Neither of which provides a positive takeaway.
From 1980 to and through today, global Afrofuturism takes the definition a bit farther, technologically speaking. This is a society of Afrofuturistics connected via internet from around the world. The stories are still founded in the future based on the past lost; however, there is a worldwide collaboration such that the resulting stories mix histories, settings, and other region-specific attributes (Yaszek 9).
This is probably the most appropriate place to introduce the Black Lives Matter campaign. It is within this movement where the image of superhero takes on a less science fiction form and demonstrates how technology and black can make things happen, and, yes, possibly change the future.
It has been only since 2013 that Alicia Garza posted the note to Facebook after the dismissal of charges against a white man for shooting a black 17 year old assuring others that “our (black) lives matter.” It was the tipping point at which time Garza and others decided to change the world (not to sound too dramatic) (Day).
This may sound like the atypical rally, protest or bandwagon. Certainly, and unfortunately, the issue is the same as it has been repeated historically year after year after year. However, the approach in this century is very different. There is no single leader. In movements past, male, black men such as Martin Luther King or Malcolm X played a major role in gaining interest and participation. This time, they are all leaders. Further, this movement is not racist – it includes lesbians, women, gay, transgenders and bisexuals. Rather than depending on media or word of mouth on the street to spread the word or organize rallies, Twitter offers a forum upon which news of black injustice may be circulated and Facebook supports the assimilation of rallies. Photos, the ultimate purveyor of effective messaging, are shared via Tumblr and distributed on Instagram. Events that had previously gone unnoticed or unknown were now on home pages and cell phones all over the world, potentially. The audio associated with the gasping of the victim of a chokehold inflicted by law enforcement went viral (Day). YouTube footage of a 14-year-old girl victimized by excessive force by police officers got over 500,000 views. This is pretty strong, effective campaigning. But, more importantly, it is real-time awareness. It is what might change the future. And, it’s technologically based. Science fiction or ???
This is where Black Lives Matter and Afrofuturism intersect. The common thread is technology and the common goal is to change the future. Black Lives Matter offers the here-and-now aspect of how Black Lives Matter which has always been missing from the story. Instead, those stories unfold in history books or in movies long after the fact for obvious reasons. Certainly, these types of things are not new. What is new is realizing how broken society is and that the culture has to change.
The next common thread is the skill with which these groups utilize technology, social networks and artistic media to work together towards a common goal. The potential to complement each other is tremendous.
If Black lives do not count or matter, it is very much like slavery. People who were believed to be valueless and therefore mistreated in that vein. The most important common thread between Black Lives Matter and Afrofuturism is the goal to dissuade racism and white supremacy. And, to further, contradict those that, while not admitting it out loud, believe that Black people have no soul so it is okay to rape them, hang them, murder them, emasculate them, and torture them. It was okay to do all of those things because they were thought of as being soulless and of no essential or true value beyond what monetary price they could bring.
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Another myth that in the past has been difficult to dispel and may have a better chance to dissipating is that of the belier that racism is no longer a factor, especially in the United States because a black President was elected. People may think that this signals a quasi-release from any further responsibility for injustice in our society based on racism. The fact is that while we have a black, there are many ways Obama and his family were disrespected further making the case for racism. Even a perfunctory review of history demonstrates that no other President has been disrespected or disregarded like President Obama.
The coalition of Black Lives Matter broadens the conversation around state violence to include all of the ways in which Black people are intentionally left powerless at the hands of the state, society and other individuals. To an extent, Black lives are deprived of basic human rights and dignity. Black poverty should be considered as violence or an assault. So, too, are 2.8 million Black people that are incarcerated the victims of a violent, oppressive condition. Black Lives Matter brings those circumstances to the forefront and makes them relevant.
Forgetting for the moment contributions made by Black people that are sometimes overlooked. Society would have been deprived of a president. Daniel Louis Armstrong’s jazz and “scat” would never have been heard. George Washington Carver would have never improved agriculture or invented adhesives and dyes. Charles R. Drew would never have come up with the idea of blood banks and a system for preserving plasma long term. W.E.B. Dubois would not have written Charlotte’s Web. Chicago may not have been founded if not for Jean-Baptiste-Point Du Sable. William Henry Johnson’s art would be nonexistent. Martin Luther King, Jr., would be silent. Contributions to the law and Supreme Court cases by Thurgood Marshall would be mute. Elijah McCoy could not have improved the rail system or coined the phrase, “The real Mccoy,” meaning the best of the best. Traffic signals and gas masks would go uninvented without Garrett Morgan. If Rosa Parks did not get on the bus, this conversation may not be heard. Mind blowing!
Society can only make an educated guess on the number of contributions it missed because racism held back a talented black person or the contributions that the Black person killed by law enforcement may have contributed in his life. Based on the black people that managed to break the bonds of racism to exhibit their talents, assumedly, society has missed out on millions of inventions, novels, songs, professionals, politicals, etc. It is something that will never be known as there is no way to know which one of the black men sitting in prison may have invented the cure for leukemia. This, for all intents and purposes, is part of the movement of Black Lives Matter and Afrofuturism. A posit to realize the potential from within and without of the Black community. A reminder that Black Lives Matter does not exist solely on the Black but on other oppressed groups such that it is the true belief that the most profound worth of the black man is that of every man that walks the earth. Every single human being has potential. The potential to contribute to the community, whether that community is diasporic or not; the potential to contribute to their own wellbeing and promotion whether in the name of culture, gender, ethnicity or sexual preference; and, the potential to matter.
Just think for a moment of the results of forces joined between Afrofuturistics and Black Lives Matter members! One would have the opportunity to exposure to Black history outside the white wash. The other could contribute to changing the future by interacting with the real-time, present. Or, science fiction creations could promulgate the future “stories” with real facts assimilated without any white washing. Afrofuturism recovers the histories of counter futures created by hostile societies disapproving the diaspora that is Black. Regardless Afrofuturistic individuals strive to redefine, translate, rework, restructure and then relate the future without the white-washed lens and based on what should have happened historically such that it could be repeated in the future (Eshun 301).
The possibilities are limitless – and that returns to the current definition of global Afrofuturism which contends that “in this reframing (Science Fiction) of history and policy, those who are systematically oppressed are capable of transcending their less-than-desirable situation. Nothing — not even the sky – is limiting.” (McNally 2).
“African Diaspora Cultures | Oldways”. Oldways. N.p., 2017. Web. 24 Mar. 2017.
Day, Elizabeth. “#Blacklivesmatter: The Birth Of A New Civil Rights Movement”. the Guardian. N.p., 2017. Web. 24 Mar. 2017.
Eshun, Kodwo. “Further Considerations Of Afrofuturism”. CR: The New Centennial Review 3.2 (2003): 287-302. Web.
Huddleston, Kayla. “Afrofuturism As Applied To Self-Perception: An Experimental Vignette”. University of Washington (2016): n. pag. Print.
McNally, Cayla. “Fighting For The Freedom Of A Future Age: Afrofuturism And The Posthuman Body”. Lehigh Preserve (2017): n. pag. Print.
Priforce, Kalimah. “Is Technologyâ€Š-â€ŠA #Blacklivesmatter Superpower? Recognizing #Afrofuturism”. Medium. N.p., 2017. Web. 24 Mar. 2017.
“What Is A Diaspora? | Idea”. Diasporaalliance.org. N.p., 2017. Web. 24 Mar. 2017.
Yaszek, Lisa. “Race In Science Fiction: The Case Of Afrofuturism”. A virtual introduction to science fiction 1 (2013): 1-11. Print.
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