“Afrofuturism is me, us, as Black people, seeing ourselves in the future. Being as magical as we want to be … We get to paint a different world, on our own terms. I get to be whatever I want to be through Afrofuturism.”Janelle Monae
It’s always a valuable exercise to take stock of who you are outside of the hot buzzwords of the day. I was asked recently to sum up my faith without using any Christian jargon. I said that what I believe in is “a living hope.” The idea of that being the core of my belief weighed on me because of how profoundly it resonated with me. The more I thought about it, the more I realized that idea undergirds who I am not only as a person of faith but as a community organizer and as a writer.
Afrofuturism. Africanfuturism. Caribbean Futurism. Afritopia.
No matter what it’s called, it’s the intersection of the black cultural lens with art, technology, and liberation. It’s the African diaspora creating a framework to critique the past and dream of possible futures. As a bridge connecting the past to the future, Afrofuturism embraces the concept of Sankofa, a word in the Twi language (Ghana) that means “go back and get it” or “it is not taboo to fetch what is at risk of being left behind.”
As a part of my community organizing work, I host a monthly conversation called “Afrofuture Fridays” where we use Afrofuturist art to carve out room to dream about where we want to be as a community. It’s what black artists—black people, period—have always done, long before the term Afrofuturism was coined in 1994. Our art ponders the questions “Where are we now?” “Where do we want to be?” and “How do we get there?” It’s rooted in black people imagining a better future for ourselves, on our terms, as we design blueprints to find new ways to not only understand ourselves but the world around us.
“We need images of tomorrow and our people need them more than most.”Samuel Delany
Which brings me to this issue of Apex Magazine. I could call it our Afrofuturist issue, but I think of it as an identity issue. The stories build awareness and raise consciousness, as identity stories do, as we explore who we are. They begin with a journey of self-discovery (like in Suyi Davies Okungbowa’s “Dune Song”) and the importance of defining ourselves (as Troy L. Wiggins addresses in “Let’s Talk About Afrofuturism”). Sometimes it’s simply about our right to be and live (as in LaShawn M. Wanak’s “Sister Rosetta Tharpe and Memphis Minnie Sing the Stumps Down Good”).
The stories allow space for conversations about race, our humanity, and the insidious nature of oppression that people often don’t know how to have. Be it critiquing the politics of today (in Tananarive Due and Steven Barnes’ “Fugue State”) or in mapping possible ways for us to move forward as a people (like Tobias S. Buckell’s “N-Coin”).
Most importantly, we dream. Together (thus Wole Talabi’s “When We Dream We Are Our God”).
“Sometimes it’s an act of resistance just to portray ourselves with a future.”Tananarive Due
In doing community organizing, in any struggle to break apart systemic baggage, no matter where you find yourself or how you do it, what you’re up against can loom so large, the battle can seem hopeless. There are many dark nights of the soul, when you lay awake wondering “what’s the point?” and are tempted to give up. The only thing that keeps you going is a living hope. A radial (re-)imagining. Daring to dream of a better future, which is the first act of resistance. Our audacity.
There is more to life than just survival. Part of what it means to truly live is to have something to believe in. On the last day of Kwanzaa, the principle we celebrate is Imani, which means faith. It means to believe with all our heart in our people, our parents, our teachers, our leaders, and the righteousness and victory of our struggle. It, too, points to a living hope that informs and infuses us. Sometimes life is about imagining the possibilities of what could be. Believing in the promise of things that could be. Just as part of recognizing our humanity is realizing that we deserve to simply … be. No matter what that looks like. We deserve to live. And we deserve to dream.