On Centering and Afrofuturism

This is really raw and off the dome. I’m going to act like the new kid at the open mic night and ask y’all to bear with me.

I couldn’t wade into that Afrofuturism discussion started by Nnedi Okorafor yesterday because my day was just full of all sorts of meatspace responsibilities that I couldn’t ignore. Also, part of my silence was just being fucking livid at the expressed ideas, and any of my reactions coming from that mindstate would be unfair to the discourse, especially when I’m talking to other Black people. There are certain folks you give respect, even if they are acting with disregard for your feelings. There’s a time to act from anger, and there’s a time to consider your reaction and then try and come correct. If that makes me wrong in this instance, so be it.

I got time today, though.

Any talk on Afrofuturism from an African creator that begins “I feel as if I/the people I identify with have been excluded from the larger movement/definition of Afrofuturism” is valid, and other groups of Black people should take it seriously.

Any talk on Afrofuturism that begins “I think that one group of Black people should be centered over another when defining Afrofuturism or else the whole idea loses credence” is trash. Period point blank.

To see an author whose work I’ve supported and admired say that Afrofuturism is invalid unless it de-centers Black Americans and centers Africans really fucks with me. One of the central tenets of Afrofuturism is that Black creators take lessons and spiritual resolve from their past in an attempt to reckon with their present and create better futures. The idea that the frameworks that my Black American spiritual and literary forebears created to center, guide, and form a collective identity for themselves as creators is wrong because it does not center Africans over other groups of Black folks really fucks with me, and is a gross misrepresentation of what they intended Afrofuturism to be, no matter what people say. History of this shit matters. The context of this shit matters.

I’m not arguing that we’ve done this Afrofuturism thing perfectly. Its definition is still rather muddied. Afrofuturism is not African/Black science fiction, and it’s wrong to conflate the two. Yes, there is still room to debate over whether we need to create a clearer, more unified idea or theory of Afrofuturism. Yes, most of the public discourse around the idea is focused on the Black American conception of the idea. But Afrofuturism isn’t a locked compound. There’s room for whatever Black creator wants to jump in and define it for themselves, as long as they stick to the central tenets of the thing, which have been defined. Over and over again. Yes, the term was created by a white man, but as always, Black creators were doing that work long before there was terminology for it.

The big reason why this fucks with me so much is that the underlying assumption is that Black Americans actively try to decenter, diminish, or otherwise harm African creators in their conceptions of Afrofuturism, when a look at how Black Americans approach Afrofuturism within their own writing and physical communities shows that this is not the truth. Black American Afrofuturists have always tried to pay respect to Africa and the connection that we have to the continent and our ancestors there. That is a foundational tenet of the idea. Afrofuturism for Black Americans has a political, ideological, and philosophical definition that has been defined by our experiences here, from beyond the slave ship until now. Black American Afrofuturist creators have not presumed to speak for African creators on this issue, nor have they openly called for de-centering them. If anything, the Afrofuturist work from Black Americans has been to clearly define what Afrofuturism means for themselves in their own sociopolitical realities. That should be the conversation here. Not one of de-centering and erasure. How can anyone argue that the best course of action to creating a more unified or inclusive definition of Afrofuturism is to diminish and eventually remove people’s experiences and those essential spiritual connections from the entire concept?

That argument also fucks with me because it removes and de-centers other groups of the African diaspora. (Shoutout to Caribbean writers for always providing perspective on this that my privilege as a Black American can cause me to miss). Centering Africans in Afrofuturism de-centers and eventually erases entire groups of people who are neither African nor Black American in identity or their location in physical space, people who because of their own connection to the Africa in themselves might benefit from the lessons and ideas they might generate from it. I thought that our goals here were to remove these barriers between each other, not create them.

I don’t claim to be an expert on Afrofuturism. I’m not in the academy–I’m an autodidact with a hunger to learn and create lasting systemic change. I’m a Black dude who loves Black people in all of our expressions. I’m a regular guy who writes speculative fiction because I always wanted to see myself in the stories I enjoyed reading. I’m a writer who works to create space and opportunity for Black writers everywhere, no matter who they are or where they’re from. I’m a dude who studies Afrofuturism because I see it as a liberation ideology that can create deep political and scientific agency and community shifts (and eventual transcendence…a post-now future text) among Black communities, no matter where they are. But I do know that the Afrofuturism space was intended for all Black people. Octavia Butler warned us about the human tendency to create hierarchy, and how it is like cancer, eating us from the inside and ultimately destroying us (shoutout to Lisa Bolekaja for that reminder). The argument that certain groups of people should be de-centered from our collective idea of Afrofuturism bows to that same white supremacist hierarchical ideal that has fucked up every good thing in the world so far. We should be better than that. 

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3 thoughts on “On Centering and Afrofuturism

  1. I think for me what fucks me up is that we can’t expect folks who are in the same diaspora but live in very different cultures to speak to each other on that level all the time. It is just not possible and the expectation is never going to work out for any of us. Also the idea that if Black Americans are doing us, we are purposefully de-centering other people in the diaspora, what are we actually supposed to do? I love Nnedi’s work but reading that thread gave me a headache.

  2. Pingback: Afrofuturism and Black Panther | The Cafe in the Woods

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