What Is Afrofuturism? Part 7: From Urban Afrofuturism


Urban Afrofuturism posted on tumblr why afrofuturism is important to him:

“This started out rambling thoughts on my thoughts on Afro-Futurism. What it’s become is a long rambling essay/poem (!) on my worldview, my religious thoughts, and what I think of humanity and existence in general. I think I’ve finally found a framework that fully articulates all my thoughts while leaving so much room for growth and evolution. I’m very very happy with it. 🙂

I’ve been wondering as of late why I’ve been so attracted to to the idea of of Afro-Futurism and what that means for me personally.

And as of late, I’ve been framing Afro-Pessimism and Afro-Futurism as flip sides of a coin, kind of the two halves that form the whole of my personal philosophy and can sort of describe my experiences. I’ve appropriated the term Afro-Pessimism here – it refers more specifically to the condition of Africa, especially post 1980’s and the economic declines the continent faced then, or at least it was formed in that context. But that’s neither here not there for me. For me, how I conceptualize it is in relation to this quote by Frank Wilderson (obviously taken out of a wider context),

‘“[The Afro-Pessimists argue] that violence toward the black person happens gratuitously, hence without former transgression, and the even if the means of repression change (plantation was replaced by prison, etc.), that doesn’t change the structure of the repression itself. Finally (and this is important in terms of the self-definition of the white person), a lot of repression happens on the level of representation, which then infiltrates the unconscious of both the black and the white person…Since these structures are ontological, they cannot be resolved (there is no way of changing this unless the world as we know it comes an end…); this is why the [Afro-Pessimist relational-schema] would be seen as the only true antagonism (while other repressive relations like class and gender would take place on the level of conflict—they can be resolved, hence they are not ontological).”

Or essentially why I’m a misanthrope. I believe socially structures across the globe, while varying across the globe, will always situated to keep blackness and those of the African diaspora down. And by a wider extension, what I think this means is kyriarchal structures will be an ever present reality. I do not believe racism will ever disappear or not be a problem. I do not believe sexism will ever disappear or not be a problem. The same for any number of oppressions – cissexism, ableism, whatever, you name it, I think this are ever present realities. I do not believe that humans are inherently good.  For me these are ontological claims. This simple is the way the world is, these are conditions of our existence. This is reality

And the truth is reality depresses me, but I also think it bores me. As much as I claimed to be a physicalist (a position I occupied until literally a few days ago), the implications of that position, and the reality that we occupy bores me. And this is on several scales – from the mundane: really, my future is predicated on the arbitrary scaling of my academic efforts on a scale from 1 to 4? Really I have to spend the rest of my life trying to accumulate capital just to live in this society?; Or, to the more abstract: we are still judging and oppressing people based on their skin tone or gender presentation or sexual orientation? This is institutionalized?

We, as humans, could do so much more, could beso much more! But simultaneously, it is our humanity that limits us.

On the other hand, Afro-Futurism is the theoretical space that we could occupy – what we and the world would look like if we fulfilled the potential that humanists cite when talking about greatness we could achieve, the world that the anti-oppression fights for, the world that the scientist imagines. For me as a black man, that’s a world of constant redefinition, where I don’t have to give up my historical identity, but I don’t have to be limited by it either. Right? Black is the color of the cosmos, the black man is the cosmic man (Sun-Ra). It flips the existential absurdity of what it means to be black in a world that would deny me my humanity, and flips it on its head. It embraces the absurdism! What? I exist? I occupy physical space? I affect the universe, I AM the universe? That in and of itself is amazing. I am not human, I can be transhuman, I can be greater than human, I am a part of a whole that is greater than humanity. It deals with potential.

And so those who engage with afro-futurism, the artists, the musicians, the poets, the scientists, the anti-oppression warriors, they are the ones who explore the spaces of our potential – what we could be, what we are from different perspectives. Astronauts, aliens from outerspace, androids, Dust, stardust, atoms, ancestors and descendants, angels and demons, kings and queens and pharoahs, bois, grrls,. They take the historical, and the contemporary, and explore the possibilities. This isn’t about race, it also creates futures for genders, for sexualities, and it’s greater than all of that. And every venture into the afro-futuristic space is a small glimpse of that potential. Every subversion of the norms imposed on us is an exploration of that space.

¿Como el realismo mágico, el género metalingüístico?  Es el mismo.

And paradoxically it’s an exploration of our humanity. Because humans make this happen. Sun-Ra, Octavia Butler, Janelle Monae, Colson Whitehead, Terence Nance, Audre Lorde, Malcolm X, Barry Jenkins, Nicki Minaj,  – these are all people. All flawed – but there’s something greater there too right? Taking the parts, and making something greater than the sum.

And why Urban? For me, I’m a product of the city (urban youth, the metropolis kid). And the city, both real and imagined is where all of this coalesces. It represents the best and the worst of us – a monument to that potential that we have, so many people in concentrated physical spaces, so much technical and engineering achievement, structures that scrape the sky!, so many minds in one place, so much community, and yet simultaneously, always the cite of festering squalor, of high crime, of segregation, of apathy and antagonism. The urban environment, real and imagined, is the physical home of humanity, what we’ve done with nature.

I don’t believe in a God, and I don’t believe in the supernatural. But I do believe in something bigger, and when I say bigger I mean beyond human conception. But just because we can’t conceive of it doesn’t mean we aren’t a part of it. (My goodness…have I discovered religion? ( ._.)) Maybe it’s irrational, but I’ve ceased to define everything irrational as inherently bad. Epistemological Claims.

It’s the little things.

NewModelMinority always says #BlackGirlsarefromtheFuture. And that makes me happy.

Sun-ra says the black man is the cosmic man. And that makes me happy.

There’s so much more that I can’t even begin to list. 

But this is what Afro-Futurism means to me.”

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