This is why I love AfroPunk!
‘Crumbs’ – The First Ever Ethiopian Post-Apocalyptic, Sur | Shadow and Act. “Directed by Spaniard Llansó, who actually
lives in Addis Ababa (Ethiopia), “Crumbs” stars Daniel Tadesse, and
tells a story of diminutive superhero Gagano (played by Tadesse), a junk collector, who embarks on a “surreal epic
journey” that’s set against “post-apocalyptic Ethiopian landscapes,” says the press description.”
– By Tambay A. Obenson | Shadow and Act
The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2014 annual report for my blog.
Here’s an excerpt:
A San Francisco cable car holds 60 people. This blog was viewed about 3,600 times in 2014. If it were a cable car, it would take about 60 trips to carry that many people.
In this issue:
Editorial: Speculative Fiction in Nigeria: The Journey to Being: Mazi Nwonwu
The 4:15 Appointment: Rafeeat Aliyu
HostBods: Tendai Huchu
Crocodile Ark: Oluwole Talabi
A Winter in Lagos: Saratu Abiola
Art: Mami Water: Calm Waters: Kelsey Arrington
Interview: The World According to Ibrahim Ganiyu
Essay: The Unbearable Solitude of Being an African Fan Girl: Chinelo Onwualu
Note: this is a work in progress for a Black Studies anthology.
“Strategic Disruptions: Black Feminism and Afrofuturism”
The beginning of the 21st century marked a shift towards a shaping and attempts at cultivating an aesthetic and critical apparatus to respond to an emerging artistic movement within literature, music, and visual art called Afrofuturism. Afrofuturism opens possibilities of developing responses to ideas about where and how people of African descent could position themselves as intricate parts of human collectives and unknown futures, especially as we move towards realizing virtual and digitalized forms of cultural expression. Further, subjectivity and taking personal agency to create imagined worlds where Black people are leaders is a strong challenge to the weakened but still existing stereotypes of Black women and men as non-intellectual or limited in technological knowledge. Development of Afrofuturism as an aesthetic, theory, or as a process is fraught with the many of same critical debates and discursive tensions that continue to permeate through Black Feminism with regard to essentialism, identity politics, performativity, and aesthetic concerns.
Parallel commentary regarding bodies, gender, and race have continued to impact critical responses to speculative and science fiction coming from Afro-Diasporic writers in the 20th and 21st century. “Ironically, African-American critical theory provides very sophisticated tools for the analysis of cyberculture, since African-American critics have been discussing the problem of multiple identities, fragmented personae, and liminality for more than 100 years” Tal (1996). Making connections between two flourishing movements is not so much the issue as it is negotiating the discursive tensions with regard to political and aesthetic concerns. In order to understand these discursive tensions permeating critical reception of gender and race in Afrofuturist culture, this essay will discuss the role of critical debates and critical tensions in Black Feminist theory, as well as its role in the development of Afrofuturism as critical theory.
Stereotypes regarding Black women and intellectual abilities continue to be extremely difficult to unravel in the 21st century by Black feminists who seek to build a counter-text to them. However, as noted earlier, some Black feminist theorists have attempted to take on this difficult task in order to recover Black womanhood from degradation. “Women develop theories, characters, art, and beauty free of the pressures of meeting male approval, societal standards, color-based taxonomies, or run-of-the-mill female expectations. The results are works that some critics call uncategorizable” Womack (2013). Black feminists have persisted in creating fissures in these “bodies” of “knowledge” in order to question and unravel these stereotypes, while opening possibilities for critical inquiry that would traverse new terrain in Africana women’s speculative/science fiction.
Black Feminist Theory Early Approaches
Over the course of well over forty years, Black women intellectuals have engaged in theoretical debate and discussion as a means towards building a critical apparatus that would address both aesthetic and political concerns regarding the “place” and “position” of Black women writers, artists, in addition to our presence as academics in higher education. Barbara Smith’s “call to action” for a Black feminist theory during the 1970s, argued for a breaking of racial and gendered silence in understanding Black women writers’ work: “Black women’s existence, experience, and culture and the brutally complex systems of oppression which shape these in the in `real world’ of white and/or male consciousness beneath consideration, invisible, unknown” Smith (1978). For Smith, Black women struggled to be heard and acknowledged as contributors to literary traditions, and as “outsiders,” were subject to marginalization in academic discourse. During the 70s, 80s and 90s, Black Feminism as a form of literary inquiry, or what became known as “Black Feminist Theory,” came into the academic community through the work of Barbara Smith, the Combahee River Collective, Mary Helen Washington, Toni Cade Bambara, Audre Lorde, Michelle Wallace, Beverly Guy-Sheftall, Angela Davis, bell hooks, Alice Walker, Evelynn Hammond, Barbara Christian, Deborah McDowell, Mae Gwendolyn Henderson, Valerie Smith, Patricia Hill Collins, June Jordan, and Hortense Spillers.
Approaches to Black feminist theory during the 1980s were fraught with debates regarding politics of language, which in turn unfolded tensions between what some Black feminists saw as essentialism and what other Black feminists saw as articulation of what had been deemed by the hegemony as unspeakable and unacceptable in an overwhelming White, male, heteronormative academy: the Black female body. Barbara Christian warned of the dangers of becoming entangled in “academic language” that that could not only alienate and exclude, but miss engaging in crucial inquiries: “Academic language has become the new metaphysic through which we turn leaden idiom into golden discourse. But by writing more important thinking exclusively in this language, we not only speak but to ourselves, we also are in danger of not asking those critical questions which our native tongues insist we ask” Christian (1989).
Christian’s concerns were in part a response to Hazel Carby, who debated and disagreed with Christian and McDowell’s critique regarding the direction of Black feminism towards a discursive body infused with dense, Eurocentric language designed to exclude: “For I feel that the new emphasis on literary critical theory is as hegemonic as the world which it attacks” (Christian, 1987). Hazel Carby, paraphrasing Elaine Showalter in her introduction to Reconstructing Womanhood, suggested a model of black feminist theory, which would occur in three phases: “(1) the concentration on the misogyny (and racism) of literary practice; (2) the discovery that (black) women writers had a literature of their own (previously hidden by patriarchal [and racist] values) and the development of a (black) female aesthetic; and (3) a challenge to and rethinking of the conceptual grounds of literary study and an increased concern with theory” Carby (1987). Carby rejected the notion of shared experience between black women critics and black women writers as ahistorical and essentialist. She did “not assume the existence of a tradition or traditions of black women writings and, indeed, is critical of traditions of Afro-American intellectual thought that have been constructed as paradigmatic of Afro-American history” (Carby, 1987).
Carby saw “black feminist” and ‘black woman” as being signs; black feminist theory, in her view, must interrogate the sign as “an arena of struggle and a construct between socially organized persons in the process of their interaction [and] as conditioned by the social organization of the participants involved and also by the immediate conditions of their interactions” (Carby, 1987). Language in black women’s literature, in Carby’s view, was not some universal code of communication or an essentialist vision of communion between black women (Carby, 1987). Carby intersected critical and political aspects of reading which serve to modify poststructuralist models of criticism with the intention of moving black feminist criticism directly in the midst of “the race for theory.” Deborah McDowell noted the importance of the work completed and progress made by critics coming out of Black Arts Movement and the Black Feminist Movement to bring Black female writers into the larger academic discourse McDowell (1990). “ In isolating and affirming the particulars of black female experience they inspired and authorized writers from those cultures to sing in their different voices and to imagine an audience that could hear the song” (McDowell, 1990). Elizabeth Alexander views the 80-90s struggle for theoretical ground as counterproductive to transformation of academic inquiry and academic space: “As “race” became a “category,” and much intellectual energy was put into critiquing “essentialism,” the focus was lost on actual people of color, their voices and contributions, as well as, more practically, the importance of increasing their—out—empowered presence on campuses and in other workplaces. The extreme reaches are not unimaginable: a gender studies without women, “race” studies without black people and other people of color” (McDowell, 1990).
Black Feminism and Marginality Politics
Other Black feminists furthered the call for theory through series of reshaping and reimagining European theoretical apparatuses, borrowing discursive strategies introduced by Bahktin, Derrida, Freud/Lacan in order to do what Audre Lorde warned could not be done: use the Master’s Tools to dismantle the Master’s “House,” which could be considered as signified through imposition of “theoretical discourse.” For example, Wallace borrowed Houston Baker’s trope of the black hole, in which “black holes may give access to other dimensions…and object …enters the black hole and is infinitely compressed to zero volume…it passes through to another dimension, whereupon the object…reassumes…all of the properties of visibility and concreteness, but in another dimension” Wallace (1990). The dialectic of black women’s art is forced into the position of “other” by white women and black men, who are themselves other to white men (Wallace, 1990).
The trope of the black hole described the dimensions of negation, and described the repressed accumulation of black feminist creativity as compressed mass, negated from existence in the race and production of theory (Wallace, 1990). “The outsider sees black feminist creativity as a hole from which nothing worthwhile can emerge and in which everything is forced to assume the zero volume of nothingness, the invisibility, that results from the intense pressure of race, class and sex” (Wallace, 1990). Here, Wallace attempted to address what Mary O’Connor considered to be “nothingness….as a place of origin for …much of black feminist writing…imposed from without, entity defined by the patriarchal and white world of power and wealth.” Mary Helen Washington declared that black women “have been hidden artists–creative geniuses…whose creative impulses have been denied and thwarted in a society in which they have been valued only as a source of cheap labor” Washington (1974). Through the margin of resistance black women writers encourage others to write, to create works of art, and to break through the “black hole”.
During the early 1990s bell hooks theorized that art created in the margin as radical, saying that “[i]n this space of collective despair resistance to colonization becomes a vital component to the creativity at risk. Space is interrupted, appropriated and transformed through artistic and literary intervention” hooks (1990). Black women’s creative works reached back into the broken and silenced past and re-cover and re-claim the repressed words of their ancestors, while speaking of their experiences and beauty. bell hooks saw aesthetics as a means of inhabiting space or location, a way of looking and becoming (hooks, 1990). “African American discourse on aesthetics is not prescriptive…the location of white western culture is only one location of discourse on aesthetics.” (hooks, 1990). Aesthetics were also formed through encouragement of other black women to write and to express themselves artistically. “The realities of choice and location are confronted in the gesture of “re-vision,” shaping and determining the response to existing cultural practices and in the capacity to envision new alternative, oppositional aesthetic acts” (hooks, 1990). hooks also saw subjectivity in black women as a process towards political radicalness, and that black women writers should resist Western notions of subjectivity, which limit the ability to commit to political upheaval the structures which oppress black women (hooks, 1990). For hooks, although black women’s writing contained radical resistance to racist oppression, many black female writers limited black women characters’ progress after breaking away from oppression instead of becoming radical subjects of resistance (hooks, 1990). Contemporary black women writers linked subjectivity with emotional and spiritual health, ignoring the possibility of commitment to radical politics and the possibility of resisting unity concepts and accepting difference in female experience and in subjectivity itself, reinforcing dominant feminist thought and essentialist notions of black identity (hooks, 1990). Further, hooks viewed marginality as being more than a site of deprivation; for her the margin was a position of political possibility and a space of resistance, and a location of counter-hegemonic discourse which also came from lived experience (hooks, 1990). Black women writers have possibilities of multiple locations of expression. When black women as “other” speaks and writes in resistance, she is no longer a silent object of derision or object of degradation; she is a radical subject of resistance. As a speaking “other” she is not the muted other, but a subject of power, power which is used to deconstruct the structures of oppression. However, like Barbara Christian, hooks warned black feminists regarding slippage between the voice of the oppressed and the voice of oppressor, especially with regard to power relations and domination of the oppressed. (hooks, 1990). Language was “a politicization of memory” which explained the present while articulating the past (hooks, 1990).
Mae Gwendolyn Henderson referred to this articulation as a sort of “speaking in tongues, ” an ability of black women through their location as marginalized to see and speak more than one language as reader Henderson (1989). Henderson proposed a discursive strategy that “seeks to account for racial difference within gender identity and gender difference within racial identity. This approach represents [her] effort to avoid ….the presumed `absolute and self-sufficient’ otherness of the critical stance in order to allow the complex representations of black women writers to steer use away from `a simple and reductive paradigm of otherness.’” (Henderson, 1989). To Henderson, critical theory in the dominant hegemony negated the multiplicity of voices of subjectivity within black women’s writing, which was in “dialogue with the plural aspects of self that constitute the matrix of black female subjectivity”, and was in “dialogue with the aspects of “otherness” within the self” (Henderson, 1989). Henderson’s critical model proposed the existence of heteroglossia in black women’s writing, borrowing from Mikhail Bakhtin’s “notion of dialogism”, in which “voices of the other(s) `encounter one another and coexist in the consciousness of real people”…that speaks to the situation of black women writers in particular, `privileged’ by a social positionality that enables them to speak in dialogically racial and gendered voices to the other(s) both within and without” (Henderson, 1989).
Henderson saw black female creative writers as “enter[ing] simultaneously into familial, or testimonial and public or competitive discourses….that….enter into testimonial discourse with black men as blacks, with white women as women and with black women as black women…..[and]…enter into a competitive discourse with black men as women, with white women as blacks, and with white men as black women” (Henderson, 1989). Henderson suggested the development of “an enabling critical fiction–that it is black women writers who are the modern-day apostles, empowered by experience to speak as poets and prophets in many tongues….signify[ing] a deliberate intervention by black women writers into the canonic tradition of sacred/literary texts” (Henderson, 1989). She argued that Black women were in a unique position of possibilities as prophets, as with the Hebrew prophets of old, who were in a unique position of being the mouthpiece of God.
Conversely, Michelle Wallace offered the caveat that romanticizing or privileging marginality as a primary theoretical/political strategy would lead to a reaffirmation of the white hegemony through reinforcement of the image of the silent “strong matriarch” who is “already liberated” from her oppression (Wallace, 1990). These and other images could be used by the hegemony to silence the process of resistance (Wallace, 1990). “It seemed to me the evidence was everywhere in American culture that precisely because of their political and economic disadvantages, black women were considered to have a peculiar advantage” (Wallace, 1990). For hooks, a strategy of building a critical apparatus that would resist a fixed position or singularity of identity that could be co-opted; rather, it would open possibilities of opening inquiry on multiple experiences and voices. “A radical aesthetic acknowledges that because of changing positions and locations, there can never be one critical paradigm for evaluating African American art” (hooks, 1990).
Still, other critics like Deborah Chay, whose essay “Rereading Barbara Christian: Black Feminist Criticism and the Category of Experience” constructed a strong theoretical rebuttal of the notion of “experience” or “representation” as theorized by Barbara Smith, Barbara Christian, and other early Black feminists, offered a blunt observation that the dilemma faced by Black feminist critics was one that was brought on their dependency on a paradigm that was itself self-evident of a need for them to transcend its limits and traps: “I would like to suggest that it is precisely to the extent that the grounds for their differentiation cannot be maintained that black feminists may make their strongest case for both the continuity and the importance of their critical project. That is, the conditions which continue to make an appeal to experience as a logical, appealing, and invisible foundation themselves constitute the most powerful argument for the continued need for “black feminist critics” to organize and inventively challenge the apparatus and terms of their representation Chay (1993).” In other words, the strategy of relying on “experience” or “representation” as a theoretical foundation exposed a theoretical flaw that would and did, in time, prove to become intellectual traps for Black feminists.
In addition to critiques on the limits of identity-based theory that focused on race and gender, significant contributions were published by Black feminists who felt the need to address what Hortense J. Spillers and Evelynn Hammonds referred to as “silences” in mainstream feminism with regard to Black female bodies and sexualities. For instance, Spillers argued that mainstream feminism’s silence towards Black female tended to perpetuate dominant ideological paradigms that continued to perpetuate oppressive impressions of Black female sexuality. “I wish to suggest that the lexical gaps I am describing here are manifest along a range of symbolic behavior in reference to black women and that the absence of sexuality as a structure of distinguishing terms is solidly grounded in the negative aspects of symbol-making. The latter, in turn are wed to the abuses and uses of history, and how it is perceived.” Spillers (2003). Spillers asserted a need for Black feminists to pursue a discursive strategy to correct “official” histories of Black female sexuality that would reposition us as a disruptive force to counter hegemonic influence: The aim, though obvious, might be restated: to restore to women’s historical movement its complexity of issues and supply the right verb to the subject searching for it, feminists are called upon to initiate a corrected and revised view of women of color on the frontiers of symbolic action” (Spillers, 2003).
In addition to Spillers’ call to Black feminists, Hammonds also proposed a much more decisive and unequivocal discursive strategy for Black feminists. She saw Black feminists’ reluctance to pursue a theoretical direction that included discussions on lesbian eros as an exclusionary tactic that exposed a privileging of heterosexual desire, as well as the presence of the excluded lesbian text: “Since silence about sexuality is being produced by black women and black feminist theorists, that silence itself suggests that black women do have some degree of agency. A focus on black lesbian sexualities, I suggest, implies that another discourse—other than silence—can be produced Hammonds (1994).” Hammonds believed such discourse to be crucial to the development of Black feminist criticism that would contend with Black women artists and writers articulating from a previously missed context that needed to be explored in order to address sexual difference and multiplicity. For Hammonds, breaking this silence was a decisive move that could not be ignored by Black feminists. “Disavowing the designation of black female sexualities as inherently abnormal, while acknowledging the material and symbolic effects of the appellation, we could begin the project of understanding how differently located black women engage in reclaiming the body and expressing desire (Hammonds, 1994).
Black Feminism and Intersectionality
In the 21st century Black feminism has continued to engage in a series of complex struggles to engage a rapidly changing academic and theoretical landscape challenged by instabilities and uncertainties with regard to political and cultural alliances. For some Black women, disengaging themselves from the limits of a feminism aligned with a singularity of racial identity while remaining committed to dismantling oppressive ideological frameworks entailed developing and encouraging a critical strategy that promised a much more complex engagement: intersectionality. Jennifer C. Nash defined intersectionality as “the notion that subjectivity is constituted by mutually reinforcing vectors of race, gender, class, and sexuality, has emerged as the primary theoretical tool designed to combat feminist hierarchy, hegemony, and exclusivity” Nash (2011).
Nash’s essay “rethinking intersectionality” criticized intersectionality’s tendency to persist in Black feminism’s theoretical problem of “continuously and strategically jamming the workings of binary thinking” by “continu[ing] in the tradition of black feminism with the addition of a new name for conceptualizing the workings of identity” (Nash, 2011). For Nash, intersectionality as a truly useful and progressive theoretical apparatus needed to undergo a critical overhaul that would correct its ambiguity as to how it distinguishes itself from previous versions of Black feminism, whether it remained a part of Black feminist theory as a revised or emergent version, or whether it served as a critical strategy that completely “departs” from it (Nash, 2011). Nash asserted that “[i]n conceiving of privilege and oppression as complex, multi-valent, and simultaneous, intersectionality could offer a more robust conception of both identity and oppression” (Nash, 2011). She suggested an intersectionality strategy that would study “race and gender as co-constitutive processes and as distinctive and historically specific technologies of categorization,” which would in turn allow a much more robust intellectual engagement that would result in “insights that far exceed imagining race and gender as inextricably bound up” (Nash, 2011).
By 2011, Nash takes her call to reconsider intersectional analysis in a critical and political direction that seems to anticipate and invite what I would refer to as a theoretical “bridge” for those who would seek to engage in Black feminism beyond identity traps, especially for those who seek to connect Black feminism with Afrofuturism. Her essay “Practicing Love: ‘Black Feminism, Love-Politics, and Post-Intersectionality’” takes on Audre Lorde’s theory of the erotic in her (1983) essay “Uses of the Erotic” and remixes it with affective theory, proposing a Black feminist love politics that would expose “the existence—indeed, vibrancy—of multiple black feminist political traditions” through “a radical conception of the public sphere” and through “a new relationship to temporality generally, and to futurity” (Nash, 2011). Nash asserts what I would consider a theoretical bridge that invites an Afrofuturist vision of Black feminism when she theorizes that “love-politics practitioners dream of a yet unwritten future; they imagine a world ordered by love, by a radical embrace of difference, by a set of subjects who work on/against themselves to work for each other” (Nash, 2011).
Bridge Towards Afrofuturism
The rise of Afrofuturism in the 21st century, a name first articulated by Greg Tate in the mid 1990s, can be considered as an aesthetic and critical process existing at the side of and through the development of Black feminism and its critical companion intersectionality. It is inclusive of science fiction, fantasy, and speculative fiction, as well as visual art, music, and technological infusion into Afro-Diasporic cultures. Jewelle Gomez refers to “speculative fiction,” as new landscapes and life experience are imagined beyond the limits of the so-called real: “[s]peculative fiction is a way of expanding our ideas of what human nature really is, allowing us to consider all aspects of ourselves; it is important that a diverse range of writers, Black lesbian writers included, participate in this expansion” Gomez (1991). D. Denenge Akpem, discussing the 2011 Afrofuturism Conference in Chicago Art Magazine, describes Afrofuturism as “an exploration and methodology of liberation, simultaneously both a location and a journey…[w]e are alchemists in this city of steel, akin to the Yoruba god Ogun, fusing metal to metal.” As “alchemists,” Afrofuturists invoke the past as a means towards imagining a future that is not only inclusive of us as participants but as shapers of worlds that embrace new permutations of existence, as well as new permutations of expression, artistically. “Afrofuturism as a movement itself may be the first in which black women creators are credited for the power of their imaginations and are equally represented as the face of the future and the shapers of the future” (Womack, 2012). Like Black Feminists, Afrofuturists engage in a recovery and retelling of the presence of people of African descent as contributors to cultural production and articulation. “Afrofuturism has evolved into a coherent mode not only aesthetically but also in terms of its political mission. In its broadest dimensions Afrofuturism is an extension of the historical recovery projects that black Atlantic intellectuals have engaged in for well over two hundred years” (Sdonline). Rather than following dominant cultural assumptions of Africana culture as being in opposition to a digitalized future or present, Akpem invokes an Orisha who symbolizes humanity’s changing relationship with those elements that provide us with the tools for innovation, invention, and advancement. Ogun, the God of iron, shapes not just spears and guns, but railroads, locomotives, cars, and ships. His “children” are not just warriors, but also inventors and drivers.
Afrofuturism is also a reclaiming of space previously assumed to be alien to us; it is not so much about being included in someone else’s cultural and technological conversation, as it is a reclaiming of authority to speak as creators and inventors. For Black feminists, such a process surpasses socio-cultural codes demanding containment. “While Afrofuturist women are obviously shaped by modern gender issues, their creations and theories themselves emerge from a space that renders such limitations moot” (Womack, 2012). This process intervenes and interrupts what Alondra Nelson refers to as “the racialized digital divide narrative” in a collection of essays on Afrofuturism called “Future Texts,” a special edition of Social Text (2002):
The racialized digital divide narrative that circulates in the public sphere and the bodiless, color-blind mythotopias of cybertheory and commercial advertising have become the unacknowledged frames of reference for understanding race in the digital age. In these frameworks, the technologically enabled future is by its very nature unmoored from the past and from people of color. Neocritical narratives suggest that it is primitiveness or outmodedness, the obsolescence of something or someone else, that confirms the novel status of the virtual self, the cutting-edge product, or the high-tech society Nelson (2002).
Racialized tropes that dominate the “public sphere” have been flooded with the notion that a digitalized or highly technological space cannot exist or flourish in a future populated with people of color because they/we are outdated, or of a past existence. Cultural expressions coming from such ideological paradigms assume a future free of those populations that signify a racialized limitation, as well as a past with a very limited or dim view of racial others. Nelson sees writers like Ishmael Reed as an example of a futurist vision that counters the hegemony’s script: “Like [Ishmael Reed’s] critique of the dominant mythos of “Western civ,” his anachronistic use of technology in Mumbo Jumbo begs the question of what tools are valued by whom, and to what ends. With his innovative novel as an exemplar, Ishmael Reed has supplied a paradigm for an African diasporic technoculture (Nelson, 2002).”
Reed’s depiction of “technology” serves as a subversion of the dominant tropes by revising and reimagining stories of both our past and our future from a vantage point of one who is able to see our presence as both inventors and users of technology. As Nalo Hopkinson notes with a certain joy, speculation in fiction offers Afrofuturist writers a means towards “shaking up” the hegemony: “Science fiction and fantasy are already about subverting paradigms. It’s something I love about them” Hopkinson (2010). Teresa Goddu asserts that African American writers who have ventured into speculative fiction featuring horror or the fantastic engage in a counter-text or counter-theoretical mode of writing about the past, where the “horror” of the slave institution, Jim Crow, and the aftermath provide rich, fertile ground upon which to imagine supernatural or preternatural figures who exist in a world already rife with evils of racism, subjugation, and dehumanization. She asserts that “[f]rom Morrison’s vampiric Beloved, who sucks the past out of Sethe, to Eddie Murphy’s Vampire in Brooklyn (1995), which replays Dracula’s landing in England as the entrance into New York harbor of a crumbling Caribbean slave ship populated with corpses, the African-American vampire reminds us that the American gothic travels from elsewhere and is burdened by the horror of racial history” Goddu (1999).
Kodwo Eshun’s theorization moves in a direction similar to that of Nelson’s trajectory, in that he also sees Afrofuturism as interrupting the old version of the story of the future Eshun (2003). Further, Eshun views Afrofuturism as an emergence of “temporal complications and episodes that disturb the linear time of progress” which “adjust the temporal logics that condemned the black subjects to prehistory” (Eshun, 2003). Put another way, Afrofuturism is a process or performative that disrupts and erupts commonly understood sequential order of things, or what we have understood to be history, or even fact. For novelist Nalo Hopkinson, the speculative possesses a political vehicle that allows writers to explore racial and social class performativity: “So one might say that, at a very deep level, one of the things that fantasy and science fiction do is to use myth-making to examine and explore socioeconomically configured ethnoracial power imbalances” (Hopkinson, 2010). According to Herman Gray, Afrofuturist writers like Octavia Butler, Samuel Delaney, and others inspire this movement in such a way that encourages an imagined existence in the African Diaspora beyond colonized borders and the legacy and terror of slavery and its aftermath. Gray asserts that “Afrofuturists claim that blacks scattered across the Atlantic world are aliens in an alien land, ever on the lookout for clues and resources that point the way out of alien nations and conditions of bondage” (Gray, 2005). Linking Afrofuturist fiction to Afrofuturist music as similar movements away from these limits, Gray contends this movement as a significant step towards liberation, where the liminal could produce innovative modes of fashioning the African diasporic self: “It is possible to rebuild old and make anew different diasporic connections, as well as to imagine possibilities for inhabiting the spaces and identities about which Sun Ra wrote” Gray (2005).
Afrofuturism positions the master narrative about the past, present, and future into one of instability and uncertainty, which is, without a doubt, a critical and political strategy that can align and inform with that of a Black feminist process that seeks to develop a discursive strategy that complicates and disrupts those narratives and myths that depend on a singularity of timelines or more importantly, identity politics. Afrofuturism and Black feminism are both vital critical apparatus vehicles for Afro-Diasporic women and men who seek to enter and disrupt an otherwise homogenous ideological framework.
1.) Tali, Kal (1996) Life Behind the Screen. Wired. Retrieved from http://archive.wired.com/wired/archive/4.10/screen.html
2.) Womack, L. Yatasha (2013) Afrofuturism: The World of Black Sci-Fi and Fantasy Culture. Chicago, Illinois. Lawrence Hill Books.
3.) Smith, Barbara (1978) Towards A Black Feminist Criticism. Wofford College. Retrieved from http://webs.wofford.edu/hitchmoughsa/Toward.html
4.) Carby, Hazel (1987) Reconstructing Womanhood: The Emergence of the Afro American Woman Novelist. Oxford University Press. 15-18
5.) McDowell, Deborah (1990) Reading Black, Reading Feminist: A critical Anthology. Ed. Jr. ,Gates Louis Henry. Meridian Book. 91-115
6.) Wallace, Michele (1990) Invisibility Blues: From Pop to Theory. Verso
7.) Washington, H. Mary (1982) “Teaching Black Eyed Susans: An Approach to the Study of Black Woman Writers” All the Women Are White, All the Blacks Are Men, But Some of Us Are Brave. The Feminist Press of City University New York
8.) Hooks, bell (1990) Postmodern Blackness. Retrieved from http://www.africa.upenn.edu/Articles_Gen/Postmodern_Blackness_18270.html
9.) Henderson, G. Mae (1989) “Speaking in Tongues: Dialogics, Dialectics, and the Black Woman Writer’s Literary Tradition.” Changing Our Own Words. Ed. Cheryl Wall. Rutgers University Press. Retrieved from http://sfonline.barnard.edu/sfxxx/documents/henderson.pdf
10.) Chay, Deborah (1993) Rereading Barbara Smith: Black Feminist Criticism and Category of Experience. The John Hopkins University Press. 635-652
11.) Spillers, J. Hortense (2003) Black, White, and in Color: Essays on American Literature and Culture. The University of Chicago Press. 8
12.) Hammonds, Evelynn Differences: “Black (W)holes and the Geometry of Black Female Sexuality” A Journal of Feminist Cultural Studies 6.2+3.
13.) Nash, C. Jennifer (2011) Practicing Love: Black Feminism, Love-Politics, and Post-Intersectionality. Retrieved from http://www.academia.edu/3435967/Practicing_Love_Black_Feminism_Love-Politics_and_Post-Intersectionality
14.) Gomez, Jewelle (1991) “Louisiana 1850” The Gilda Stories. Firebrand Books. 149
15.) Womack, Yatasha (2012) Afrofuturism: An Aesthetic and Exploration of Identity. Ethical Technology. Retrieved from http://ieet.org/index.php/IEET/more/womack20120104
16.) Nelson, Alondra (2002)Future Texts. Duke University Press. 1-15 Retrieved from http://muse.jhu.edu/login?auth=0&type=summary&url=/journals/social_text/v020/20.2nelson01.pdf
17.) Hopkinson, Nalo (2012) Report from Planet Midnight (Outspoken Authors) PM Press. Kindle Edition. 30-88
18.) Goddu, Teresa (199) Vampire in Gothic. Retrieved from http://www.ravenndragon.net/montgomery/vampiregothic.pdf
19.) Kodwo Eshun (2003) Further Consideration on Afrofuturism. Retrieved from
20.) Gray, Herman (2005) Cultural Moves: African Americans and the Politics of Representation. Ewing, NJ: California UP
A timely excerpt from Gangrey.com’s post of Bill Marvel’s book introduction:
“Compassion seems simple enough. It requires we be aware of our subjects’ feelings, that we write in a way that, if possible, minimizes their distress. If the revelations become awkward, we try to balance the good the story does against the harm.
The obligation to be sensitive likewise requires us to be aware of our subject’s needs, for example, for security and privacy. Subjects who don’t know better need to be warned of the consequences publication of a story might bring. We might tell a subject, “If there’s anything that you don’t want your boss or family to know, tell us ahead of time so we can figure out how to handle it.” What we write should never expose children to ridicule, exploitation or danger.
Compassion and sensitivity thus tell us how to approach our subjects from the outside.
Empathy, the word Lee Hancock murmured that morning, is more difficult. Because empathy requires that we approach our subjects from the inside. We try to enter into the emotions, thoughts, the very lives of those we write about. We try to imagine what it must be like to be them. Only by living in their skin at least briefly, by walking in their shoes, can we begin to see that person as he or she is. This requires moral imagination. It is what the good fiction writer does. And it is, I argue, what we writers of nonfiction must do.
There are learned people who will argue that this is impossible, and they may be right. How can we ever fully know another person? But the impossibility does not erase the obligation to try. That obligation demands that our actions as journalists not only be ethically sound, but — taking a word from Janet Malcolm — that they be morally defensible. Ethics is the rules of the game: fairness, honesty and disclosure. Morality is what we owe one another, not as writer and subject, but as fallen human beings. It demands self-knowledge, humility, and charity.
This, I think, sets the bar on its highest peg.”