On Afro-Futurism: Or “I’m a Black Woman from the Future”

“The future belongs to those who prepare for it today.”

~Malcolm X

These days I’ve been enjoying the stylings of Erykah Badu, Bootsy Collins, and Janelle Monae.  I enjoy their songs because they appeal to my desire to embody a state of consciousness that transcends the tragedies that my eyes perceive.  No, I’m not talking about getting high.  I’m talking about a reprieve from the supposed pathologies of Blackness.

When you hear/read/see the works of musicians/artists/writers/thinkers like

  • Sun-Ra [musician]
  • Octavia Butler [science-fiction writer]
  • Parliament-Funkadelic
  • Samuel R Delaney [novelist, Black nationalist, thinker]
  • Jean-Michel Basquiat [playwright, artist]
  • Renée Cox [photographer]
  • Gil Scott Heron
  • DJ Spooky
  • Alice Coltrane
  • Mae Jemison [author]
  • William Gibson [poet]
  • Gloria Naylor [writer]
  • Andre 300
  • Toni Morrison [author]
  • Erykah Badu
  • Ralpha Ellison [novelist]
  • Saul Williams
  • Michael Jackson
  • Janelle Monae
  • George Clinton
  • Bootsy Collins
  • Afrika Bambaata
  • Jimi Hendrix
  • Ishmael Reed
  • Flying Lotus
  • Digable Planets
  • Prince
  • Massive Attack
  • …even the movie trilogy The Matrix [which was written by a Black woman named Sophia Stewart]

There is the unmistakable sense that they- the artists- occupy a consciousness that transcends race consciousness.  See, when you’re from the future, your possibilities are vast.  When you’re in the now, your potential is contingent and relational to the whims of hegemony.   We might have arrived here by slave ship, but that doesn’t mean we can’t board a space shuttle and leave.

See, Afro-Futurism is more than being “weird”, “out there” or “high.”  It’s not an elitist movement.  It’s not about having different tastes or following different trends, but it is about exploring the boundaries of who we can be external to societal constructions of Black masculinity and Black femininity.  A Black woman can travel through time, speaking as an equal to the white man who owned her body [but not her soul.]  A Black man can be King without being a brute.  A Black woman can explore the physical expressions of her feminine form without being sexualized and animalized.  A Black man can just be a man, and not a Black man.

Looking back, in most things I’ve read, most advice I’ve been given, and most stories I’ve heard, the one theme that’s almost universal among black people is “elevation.” You are more than what you appear to be, you will be more than you are, what you are now is only the beginning, and so on.

If you put some thought on it, it makes sense. Slavery stripped blacks of almost every possible form of identity. National, familial, religious, and tribal identity were completely wiped due to the slave trade. At that point, what history do you have left? Not much of one, right? What do you do when you don’t have a past?

You embrace the future.

I can’t speak to the specifics of Afro Futurism, but it’s a common trait amongst a lot of black thought. Boiled down, it’s all about being more than what you are, because what you aren’t isn’t that much at all. We aren’t slaves– we’re kings and queens. We came here on slave ships, but we’re gonna leave on space ships.

What’s getting high? Getting lifted.

[see: I call my Brother "Son" Because He Shines Like One"]

“Boiled down, it’s all about being more than what you are, because what you aren’t isn’t that much at all.” I just LOVE that.  The scope of possibility is so broad!  It’s time for us to wake up and cast off the chains and limiting constructions of Blackness!  What society tells us we can and cannot be is invalid.  Their opinions need not to limit our scope of possibilities!   Yes, we can be color-conscious, while transcending the low expectations set for us.  Heck, let’s elevate the bar!  The glass ceiling doesn’t exist- I eat glass for breakfast!

I urge you, dear reader, to reformulate your potential with new ideas.  Don’t focus on the now, focus on the future-present the future that isn’t far at all.  You are that future- you embody purpose, hope and potential.  Go out and be- live with purpose and confidence. Tomorrow may not be promised, but the future is now.  Take a leap of faith.

See also:

Pathways to Unknown Worlds: The Afrofuturism of Sun-Ra

I Call My Brother “Son” Because He Shine Like One

What is Afrofuturism?: An Interview with Artist/Educator D. Denenge Akpem

UC Santa Barbara: AfroGeeks: Global Blackness & The Digital Public Sphere

Afro-Netizen

14 Comments

  1. Saw your ping-back from our site and was wondering if you might like to be a contributing writer/editor for Afrofuturism.net. Drop me an email or post a comment on the site if you’re interested.

    1. Thank you! :D I’m glad you liked my blogpost =D

      I will be emailing you this week.

  2. Afro-Futurism? Love it. What I love most, however, is that more and more black women are speaking on this very subject. We used different words, but the message is the same: we must transcend the limitations of the identities that have been forced upon us, especially by our families, communities (black community included), nations, cultures, etc. and seek out our potentials.

    1. Thank you for reading my blog! :D

      Yes, I’m seeing this idea articulated by more and more Black women and it is SO refreshing!

      Ditto to everything you said. I could not have said it better. =)

  3. don’t forget J*Davey and OutKast on your list….i’m sure there are others too!

    LOVE this blog post, i’m still sharing it with even more folks two days later!

  4. Great post! Particularly glad to see the Flying Lotus reference. What do you think of Cosmogramma? For me, it simulates and stimulates the very “elevation” you speak of — the “elevation” to cosmic consciousness.

  5. Hi — would love to talk to you about an edited volume on the future of race in the US (if things went really “well”). Drop a line if you’d like to hear more; I think you could make a very interesting contribution.

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