Above is a conversation I recently listened to about escapism in Afrofuturism from Native Thinghood. The conversation stirred my thoughts about the concept of escapism. For I see escapism, or better escape, as having two sides, as with anything else in life. Yes, escapism can be a way of not dealing with the problems of reality, but it can also be a form of freedom or a way to perceive reality outside of the box.
We as human beings have a natural “fight or flight” response built into our bodies. Sometimes there is a need to stick it out and fight and sometimes there is a need to run. Looking up the etymology of escape, it comes from the Latin excappare, which literally meant to “get out of one’s cape, leave a pursuer with just one’s cape” (ex: out and cappa: cape or mantle). It is like a shedding of a skin, or leaving behind something that is holding oneself back or endangering oneself.
I see escape as one way to step into creating the future. It is thinking outside or beyond the limits that are given to us. A few days ago, I attended a Saul Williams show and he spoke about how we often use beliefs and labels to police ourselves and we prevent ourselves from exploring outside of them because it is uncomfortable. As he suggested, sometimes we are so enveloped in the struggle or the suffering that we forget that there is life beyond that. And isn’t the point of the struggle to fight to escape the situation you are in today for a better tomorrow.
In part 1 of this post, I wrote about the importance of transportation within the diaspora and how that included the runaway slave or maroon. For many, running away is a form of fighting back and dealing with the issue. It is a purposeful escape and connects to other concepts of fugitivity and exile, as Mark Anthony Neal discusses in his own work. In relation to fantasy and imagination, together they can allow us to imagine a world outside of the one we are accustomed to and even worlds outside of ourselves and to imagine other possible worlds. Speaking of worlds outside ourselves, escape and fantasy can also be communal in the escape and fantasy found in the traditions of carnival, spirit possession rituals, and artistic collaboration. In these, our spirits strive to escape the physical limits into a collective spirit of the universe, even if its only temporary.
Finally, to address the idea that Afrofuturism is about escaping the past. If we think of circular time or circularity, and not linearity, then sometimes in the escape, we end up going back to the past and we find ourselves again. Look at Sun Ra. He may have appeared to be futuristic, but he borrowed a lot from ancient mythology. Circularity also is in the escaping now to come back later; sometimes the best way to handle a problem is to leave it alone for a while and return in a better mind state. We can be so fixated on an issue from one angle that we may not see it from another or outside of it altogether. It is escaping into a fantasy to come back to the reality. do not want blind escape or fantasy; I believe that they can be used as tools by which we examine our own worlds and change them.