Afrifuturism: Beyond Afrofuturism?
“Initially, I and other people I know went around calling ourselves Afrofuturists. We’re only now trying to detangle that identity.
Over time, I started feeling uncomfortable calling myself an Afrofuturist. There have been criticisms about Afrofuturism and how it was coined by a white man.
Even though Africans have been producing speculative content for years, it’s like we waited for a white man to just name it.
Speaking with my friend, spoken-word performer Philipp Khabo Koepsell, recently, we noticed that the prefix “Afro-” is the label used all the time to describe anything done by black people. Why can’t we define things ourselves?
(Masiyaleti Mbewe: Moving Past Afrofuturism Interview)
This interview captures what may be an important dichotomy in the evolution of Black Futurism.
In short, Masiyeleti Mbewe, a Futurist Creator in her own right suggests that a distinction can be or at the least ought to be made between Black Futurist works by Africans with a strong Native African Influence and those originating in the Black diaspora.
Fundamentally, she contends that although Futurist works may be produced by Black Creatives, its necessary to recognise the different Cultural influences and experiences reflected in Black Futurist works.
These differences can best be understood as a natural byproduct of the fact that Africans in Africa, and Blacks in the diaspora have different life experiences that stem purely from the fact that they exist in different parts of the world.
Furthermore, she points out that the generally accepted definition of Afrofuturism as ‘a philosophy of science, aesthetic and history that explores the developing intersection of African culture with technology….’ is problematic and at the very least requires reconsideration.
In particular, she points out that the term Afrofuturism itself is not Black in origin suggesting that it may actually be a reductionist interpretation of Black Art that uses the “Afro” prefix as a simplistic signifier of Black Futurist works whilst denying their complexity.
The result is that we have a generic label for describing Black Futurist works but in reality, the term does not cater to the entire spectrum of Black experience and is tailored more towards descrbing Black Futurist works originating in the diaspora.
Such works also bear the subconscious imprint of their origins in what Masiyaleti describes as “spacey landscapes..”
This observation can also be extended to other similar Motifs like Black Comic Book Characters which may potentially reduce Afrofuturism to an attempt by Black Futurists to place themselves within established Sci-Fi narratives rather than going beyond them.
Afrofuturism as an exercise in addressing Black Alienation and Cultural Assimilation in the Cultural Phenomenon of Science Fiction experienced by Blacks in the diaspora is expressed by Ytasha L. Womack In “Afrofuturism: The World Of Black Sci-Fi and Fantasy Culture”:
“…all a result of the obvious absence of people of Color in the fictitious past/future-that seeds were planted in the imaginations of countless Black Kids who yearned to see themselves in warp-speed Spaceships too..”
Potentially therefore, by continuing to use the label ‘Afrofuturism’ we may perpetuate problems in Afrofuturism by inadvertently limiting the scope and motifs of Black Futurist works to those that already exist in the Science-Fiction of the past and present that Blacks feel excluded from, and wish to participate or see themselves reflected in.
Nevertheless, whilst at times it may be possible or even useful to make a distinction between Black Futurist works of the diaspora and those of the African Continent, the reality is such a distinction is not necessary or even desirable provided that Black Creators themselves define their Futurist works on their own terms, and in accordance with their own unique influences.
Both the Native African and Black Diaspora experiences are equally important to the development of Black Futurist works, and perhaps the most critical aspect of the difference between Afrifuturism and Afrofuturism is not to focus on the distinction, but rather to be aware that Black Futurism is a tool to expand on both the Native African and Black Diaspora experience to avoid the pitfalls that Masiyaleti observes rather eloquently:
“Afrofuturism can be very one-dimensional. Globally, the African diaspora is having different experiences, even though we’re all black.
There’s different places where we intersect, but there’s still marked differences.
Most of my travels have been around Africa and I’ve lived in various African countries, so, for me, it’s about pan-African futurism.
It’s based on my experiences in these spaces, based on my exposure to the folklore and mythology of different African spaces and how they’ve affected my life.
But it goes further: for me, the aesthetics associated with Afrofuturism – black people in space, spacey landscapes – is not enough. In the future, when all of us have gone past whatever we’re going through right now, the colonial remnants and whatnot, there should be no concept of gender or race.
All of these things should be dismantled…”