Join us on March 9th at the Kheprw Institute for Afrofuture Friday: Replicating Wakanda (in our communities).

We will:
-go over the history of Black Panther in comics
-discuss the impact and themes of the movie
-discuss the role of technology in our communities

As always, there will be food, music (the Black Panther soundtrack), and celebration of community.

Sign up via Facebook or Eventbrite.


I was on a Creating the Future panel a few weeks ago and the topic of Afrofuturism came up. A person there admitted that they thought it meant [depictions of] no white people in the future. In a lot of ways, I do see Afrofuturism as a correction of how rarely black people are portrayed in the future, for example, in the new Blade Runner movie.

Afrofuturism uses art (visual, music, film, literature, fashion) to create a framework to examine our present, that’s rooted in history and looks to the future.

-it mixes sci fi and social justice

-it imagines the future through art and the lens of black experience

-it’s rooted in black people having a better future for ourselves on our terms

Culture critic Mark Dery coined the term in 1994 in his essay “Black to the Future” where he was wondering why so few African Americans embraced sf to tell our stories. By his accounting, there was only Samuel Delany, Octavia Butler, Charles Saunders, and Steven Barnes writing in genre. (Coincidentally, 1994 marked the year I first started sending out stories).

To overcome the way society remains unequal, there has to be visions of a future where the problems are solved. Samuel Delany puts it this way: “We need images of tomorrow and out people need them more than most.”

Afrofuturism critiques the way the future looks today.

Afrofuturism provides glimpses of what this might look like.

In pop culture, Afrofuturism has been most popularly seen in music:

-Sun Ra began in the 1950s, using Afrofuture design and creating an entire cosmology for his work. He links his future self to his ancient ancestors in Egypt and believed that the future for black people could be intergalactic. His album “Space is the Place” (1973) is considered a seminal Afrofuture album.

-Parliament-Funkadelic, in the 1970s, envisioned a world where The Struggle is over and we’ve won. About their seminal album, “Mothership Connection” (1975), George Clinton said this: “We had put black people in situations nobody ever thought they would be in, like the White House. I figured another place you wouldn’t think black people would be was in outer space. I was a big fan of Star Trek, so we did a thing with a pimp sitting in a spaceship shaped like a Cadillac, and we did all these James Brown-type grooves, but with street talk and ghetto slang.”

-Outkast/Andre 3000 ruled the 1990s. One album, Aquemeni (1998), featured the song “ATLiens” (a portmanteau of ATL (short for Atlanta) and aliens). It illustrates OutKast’s feeling of disconnection with the world around them, the world they knew which had been created by the idea of race, but also their desire to celebrate their past in Atlanta. In one verse he says:

If not I’ll wait, because the future of the world depends on

If or if not the child we raise gon’ have that nigga syndrome

Or will it know to beat the odds regardless of the skin tone?

Or will it feel that if we tune it, it just might get picked on?

Or will it give a fuck about what others say and get gone?

They alienate-us cause we different keep your hands to the sky

-Janelle Monae is everything. Her albums will eventually form a seven-part concept series called Metropolis, partly inspired by the 1927 film. The storyline revolves around Cindi Mayweather, a messianic android sent back in time to free the citizens of Metropolis from The Great Divide, a secret society that uses time travel to suppress freedom and love. Her second album The ArchAndroid (2010) and features the song “Violet Stars Happy Hunting”:

I’m an alien from outer space (outer space)

I’m a cybergirl without a face a heart or a mind

(a product of the man, I’m a product of the man)

I’m a saviour without a race (without a face)

The video “Q.U.E.E.N.” from her album “The Electric Lady” (2013), plays like a mini-movie by itself.

But we see Afrofuture imagery in artists such as Missy Elliott, Beyonce, Missy Elliott, Grace Jones, Missy Elliott, Solange Knowles, Missy Elliott, Rihanna, and Missy Elliott.

As we turn to literature, Mark Dery’s lament was that Samuel Delany, Octavia Butler, Charles Saunders, and Steven Barnes writing were basically holding it down for all of us, but in actually, African Americans had been in speculative fiction for a while. Not too long ago, Kheprw Institute had a discussion about the history of African Americans in speculative fiction. Our work has always done this kind of examination. But the four were the modern giants:

*Charles Saunders – Imaro (1981), created a sub-genre that would come to be known as “sword and soul.”

*Steven Barnes – Lion’s Blood (2002) and Zulu Heart (2003) were alternative histories where an Islamic Africa conquers the world while Europe remains largely tribal and backward.

*Samuel Delany’s Dhalgren (1975) reads like the James Joyce of sf.

*Octavia Butler’s The Parable of the Sower (1993) remains a potent classic. While after the 2016 election sales for the book 1984 suddenly spiked, those in the know pointed to Butler’s novel to examine how we find ourselves where we are. Set in the 2020s where society has largely collapsed due to climate change, growing wealth inequality, and corporate greed, a young woman named Lauren Oya Olamina possesses the gift of hyperempathy. She begins to develop a new belief system, which she comes to call Earthseed. Lauren believes that humankind’s destiny is to travel beyond Earth and live on other planets.

We point so much to Butler’s canon of work it inspired the recent anthology “Octavia’s Brood: Science Fiction Stories from Social Justice Movements,” a model of developing systems from themes of Afrofuturism.

We’re actually in the middle of a black speculative fiction boom:

N.K. Jemisin – The 5th Season (2015)

Nalo Hopkinson – The Brown Girl in the Ring (1998)

Nisi Shawl – Everfair (2016)

Colson Whitehead – The Underground Railroad (2016)

Nnedi Okorafor – Binti trilogy, Who Fears Death

Afrofuturist art is the intersection of a black cultural lens, technology, liberation, and imagination. It bridges the past and future to critique the present. It creates awareness, raising consciousness, and maps potential futures. It begins with a journey of self-discovery, exploring black identity. It involves a radical imagining as we break apart systemic baggage. It constantly asks “What future do you want to see?” as it imagines alternative visions of tomorrow. It allows conversations about race and oppression that people don’t know how to have.

Our goal with Afrofuturism Fridays is to create a space to imagine and dream of possible futures. We will build a better tomorrow together. And that’s why Afrofuturism represents hope.