Afrofuturism, Black Superheroes & Black Diaspora Assimilation
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The Black Superheroes promoted by Afrofuturism have been used as a means for the assimilation or inclusion of the Black Diaspora in Western Society which has consequences for the meaning and purpose of Afrofuturism.
This can be seen from the success of movies like Black Panther which essentially place Black Superhero Characters in situations that would normally have been played by White Superheroes.
The desire for Black people in the Diaspora to see Black Superheroes reflecting themselves shown in the same situations as their White Superhero counterparts is evident in this passage:
“…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..” (Ytasha L. Womack In “Afrofuturism: The World Of Black Sci-Fi and Fantasy Culture”.)
The above quote is taken from the opening chapter of the Book ‘Evolution of A Space Cadet’ in which she describes her childhood fascination with ‘Star Wars’ expressed in her dressing up as Princess Leia on Halloween. However, due to the absence of substantive Black Characters in Sci-Fi, she always felt the lingering feeling of exclusion because of a lack of representation.
The drive to create Black Superheroes in Afrofuturist works therefore came at least in part, from the desire to fill the gap of Black representation within Sci-Fi.
To my mind, this raised the question whether the Black Superheroes in Afrofuturism are simply an exercise in filling the Pop Culture gap, or on a more fundamental level, if it is the extension of the struggle for Political integration symbolised by the Civil Rights Movement into the Cultural realm?
There can be no doubt that the problem of Black underepresentation in Sci-Fi is a legitimate cause of concern.
Part of Black Panther’s success is that it catered directly to the need for Black people to see Black Superheroes that represented them on Film.
However, the question remains whether in the final analysis the Black Superheroes of Afrofuturism amount to more than a struggle for inclusion within the Framework of established Sci-Fi narratives.
From this perspective, the Black superheroes of Afrofuturism’s ‘Afro-aesthetic’ are merely a Cultural device for inclusion in the narrative of the broader Western Culture rather than an effort to redefine it.
In as much as the Civil Rights Movement was a struggle for Political inclusion within the American State, Afrofuturism may be understood as an extension of this same struggle in Popular Culture.
As such, it may be possibly contended that the Black Superheroes of Afrofuturism do not in essence re-define Culture, but merely include the Black diaspora as Participants in this Culture.
Ultimately, if the Black Superheroes of Afrofuturism aspire merely for inclusion, Afrofuturism is in essence an exercise in Black diaspora Cultural assimilation.
It would perhaps be useful to remember that Afrofuturism’s aspirations should not be limited merely to Western Cultural inclusion via an Afro-aesthetic guise, but also to actively redefine the underlying narratives and issues within Sci-Fi in order to re-imagine the genre.
As a result of these drawbacks in Black Diaspora Afrofuturism which present challenges for the overall meaning and purpose of Afrofuturism for Black people in the Diaspora and elsewhere, there is an emerging movement in African Futurism which seeks to use Science Fiction as a means for imagining Black Futures beyond the limitations or desires engendered by Western Society which show up in the Black Superheroes of Afrofuturism.
All in all, Ytasha L. Womack’s “Afrofuturism: The World Of Black Sci-Fi and Fantasy Culture” remains a seminal work on Afrofuturism, and if you havent read it you can get it on Amazon here.
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Peep the Dr Reynaldo Anderson discuss Afrofuturism and its possibilities for creating new dimensions and avenues for exploration.