Afrofuturism shows that you don't have to wait for someone else to give you permission. You have to open up the path yourself.
The concept of social representation is important and fascinating. No matter how individualistic we are, everything around us is always teaching us what is permitted and what isn’t. I remember being a little girl, the way in which, without having words for it, I looked for other brown girls to show me what we were allowed to do and to be so I could think of it as an option for myself. I think of all the news I read about the first black person to win an award or achieve a prestigious position. And of course, that's positive. That means we're visibly moving forward. But reading them gives me a bittersweet feeling about the fact that it's still, in 2017, something rare and remarkable. That's why a movement like Afrofuturism is necessary: it shows us that we don't have to wait for someone else to give us permission. We have to open up the path ourselves.
Afrofuturism is a movement that involves many artistic fields united by one idea. The followers of the movement recognize the power of mass media and storytelling to inspire social change on many levels, especially when it comes to racial identities, which are constructed through conflicting views and power struggles. The movement is simultaneously pacifist and provocative because, in essence, it opposes the reality that Eurocentric history books and ideologies want to impose.
Mark Dery was the first person to use the term. In his essay Black to the Future, he wrote about young people's use of science fiction as a tool for understanding. The movement was born from the need to analyze black people’s role in well-known narratives, our absence from them, and our willingness to redefine the roles that we're put in instead of filling the space that others created. Above all, Afrofuturists believe in the creative development of a fair multicultural world, but the themes and esthetics of the movement center on the black cultural experience, which differentiate the concept from other forms of futurism.
Sun Ra is an example of an artist that opened up his path and made it easier for others to do the same. An avant-garde musician, he's considered one of the pioneers of the movement. His daring audiovisual style inspired many artists to experiment with their music, inviting the mixture of old and new sounds. His work became a symbol of the movement and the importance of honoring our heritage, with a necessary emphasis on historical awareness. Only after we understand our past we'll be able to imagine different futures.
Another pillar of Afrofuturism is Octavia E. Butler’s work. She imagined and reflected on different futures while using the science fiction genre to deconstruct not only race but human empathy and conflict in general. Butler became the first black woman to win the prestigious MacArthur Foundation fellowship and succeeding in the sci-fi literary world at a time when few women published fiction in general, especially within the boy's club of science fiction.
In a straightforward way, science fiction deals with the future. But it does that by examining the past and the present, and sheds light on both while doing so. For example, a few writers and critics have compared slavery with alien abduction, using the vocabulary of science fiction to describe events like being taken away by strange creatures in ships. Somehow, it makes perfect sense and it brings clarity to such a hard topic. A movement like Afrofuturism allows us to find innovative ways to perceive and think about ourselves and the way our history has been framed by others.
Science fiction is a genre in which unjust societies are a common theme, in which the characters struggle to find an identity within that alienating framework. For that reason, it's a little ironic that women and people of color don't write all the books. Looking at it this way, our whole history has the structure of a science fiction saga. A very, very long one. The good news is that, in our sci-fi narrative, we have reached the point where a powerful and dangerous tool like the Internet can revive a movement like Afrofuturism, bringing us together to change things up and create more stories together that slowly, but steadily, become a reality.
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