Afrofuturism

I knew we’d miss something when we put together issue 245 of Vector on movements and manifestos. And miss something we did: Afrofuturism.

Afrofuturism started out as a mailing list (owned by Alondra Nelson) with the following remit:

The AfroFuturism listserv will explore futurist themes in black cultural production and the ways in which technological innovation is changing the face of black art and culture.

Discussions on the mailing list developed into a series of manifestos and people – in particular the author Mark A. Rockeymoore in his article on the subject – started to ask the question ‘What is Afrofuturism?’:

Afrofuturism is not science-fiction. It is not a mechanical, technology driven vision of the future because an afro ain’t never been about anything constricting or orderly, in the hierarchical sense. Rather, an afro is free-flowing, loving the wind. Changing, shifting and drifting on the breeze, bending this way, puffing out or just plain swaying gently from side to side, following the whimsical inclinations of the melanated person upon who’s head it is perched. An afro can be taken from, it can be added to, yet it still retains its own natural structure, its own spiral and bouncy nature. It is flexible, yet patterned. It is about synthesis and holism. It is about accepting the kitchens and working the waves on the crown. It is about dreading, locking and following the patterns of nature where they lead, yet following a laterally delineated order. It is about the interplay between dominant and recessive genes. It is about diversity. It is about knowing purposes and determining the placement of diverse variables within their proper context.

Then author Nalo Hopkinson questioned the wisdom and accuracy of referring to Afrofuturism as a movement:

[T]here’s definitely useful perspective to be gained from looking at the complex of society, culture, science, technology and the future through an Afrofuturist lens; I was sure thrilled to find other people who were doing so, and to have an online community where we could palaver. I just fear that the “there” is being mislabelled. Calling Afrofuturism a “movement” at this point feels imposed from the outside, and implies a different kind of project than what I witnessed.

My objection does in part hinge on how I understand the word “movement,” and I’m aware that some uses of the phrase “Afrofuturist movement” seem perfectly fine to me. I only start to kick when it’s used to imply a codification of practice that I don’t think exists, or a unified direction and intent that do not jibe with my experience of the discussions of Afrofuturism that I’ve witnessed or in which I have participated.

I think she’s got a point. A lot of the science fiction movements that were mentioned in issue 245, such as the New Wave and Cyberpunk movements, were all about trying to do something new. They were about getting away from established genre conventions and making their own rules. If the movement then becomes the established convention it loses the whole spirit in which it was started. The problem with most movements is that they’re all about change, and as soon as you pin them down and define them they stop being about change, and so stop being what they are. As soon as movements require you to follow rules rather than break them, they’re dead. Movements are only interesting and useful if they open up the possibilities that are open to genre writers. As soon as they become restrictive they lose their value as movements.

One thought on “Afrofuturism

  1. Excellent, concise recap. It’s always good to see some mention of Afrofuturism and that special time of the netvolution. Blessings.

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