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Ask the Expert: What is Afrofuturism? | MSUToday

“Ask the Expert” articles provide information and insights from MSU scientists, researchers, and scholars on national and global issues, complex research, and topics of general interest based on their areas of interest. expertise and academic studies. They may present historical information, backgrounds, research results or offer advice.

Michigan State University professor Julian Chambliss is widely known for his scholarship on Afrofuturism, dark imagination, and black superheroes, particularly within the Marvel Cinematic Universe. , and it runs a dedicated website called AFROFANTASTIC. Her research interests focus on race, identity and power in real and imagined urban spaces. His work on digital humanities intersects with the MSU Department of English, MSU Libraries and the MSU Museum. Additionally, he teaches undergraduate courses on Afrofuturism and his engagement with the subject extends to community outreach.

As part of Michigan State University’s Juneteenth Celebration, Chambliss will speak about Afrofuturism in her keynote, “Not Only Darkness: The Legacy and Future of Black Speculative Practice.”

“Afrofuturism” was first coined by author and cultural critic Mark Dery in his 1993 essay, “Black to the Future.” Since then, Afrofuturism has grown as an art form, practice, methodology, and field of study. Here, Chambliss delves into what Afrofuturism is as a practice, as well as how it manifests itself in culture and artistic work, often most easily identified through the visual arts and music.

Professor Julian Chambliss

How would you define Afrofuturism?

I define Afrofuturism as the intersection between speculation and liberation inspired by the concerns of Afro diasporic peoples. It tends to interweave issues of science, technology and knowledge creation geared towards a more liberating framework.

At the heart of Afrofuturism is a focus on creating a more equitable system with a central goal of collective care for all.

Since Afrofuturism is theorized in opposition to the development of the exploitative system linked to colonialism, it considers how “modern” institutions do not always care about everyone due to hierarchical structures that use race and gender as means of control. Often Afrofuturism really asks us to think about how the system we know can be made safe for everybodyand I think that’s part of the reason it’s so appealing to so many people.

What does speculative fiction mean in relation to science fiction and Afrofuturism?

Speculative work offers alternative paths and different ways of thinking about individual, community and societal structures. These speculations can be broad or very narrow.

These types of speculations have distinctive styles, but the goal is always to tell an interesting story. Thinking of the tradition of speculative fiction, the stories are socially relevant and speak to the potentialities for the progressive transformation of society.

When I talk about Afrofuturism, I think the political element is rooted in the reality of the politicized nature of society. Arguably, whenever people of color speculate in the public sphere, it’s political because their speculation will reflect their concerns, and their criticism fuels public discourse about unjust systems and stigmatizing practices.

Using sci-fi writers as an example like Octavia Butler, who was really concerned with hierarchy, race, and trauma in her work, then we can see models for a better kind of community practice. Her “Parable” series (“Parable of the Sower” and “Parable of the Talents”) imagines an equitable community with a focus on sustainability, gender equity and mutual respect built around collaborative action.

Butler creates these systems as a reflection of how our real-world practice fails. She speculates on this failure and examines how the hierarchies in our society create inequitable systems and practices. It is important to recognize that these speculative ideas were born out of consideration of the lived experience of women and people of color. This is why these imaginary worlds are so important.

What are common misconceptions about Afrofuturism?

The most common misconception of Afrofuturism is that it is essentially future-oriented, that it is exclusively about black people in spaceships or black cyborgs.

The easiest way to think about it is that at all times, especially in the context of the western hemisphere, there has been a black person who has thought and speculated about liberation. They think about liberation or speculate on different paths, so they have to think, literally, outside the system. For them, this system is oppressive, so they have to imagine another way. It’s not new.

If you consider historical liberation movements of any kind, at some point someone must have the political imagination to imagine reform. One could argue that the United States is perfectly suited to realize a liberating vision because the system is run by people who vote and hold those in office accountable.

What are some of the important nuances that are part of Afrofuturism?

The obvious nuance is this idea around the future. In fact, Afrofuturism is very much concerned with the past, and that’s one of the reasons time is so important. We tend, especially in the Western context, to think of time in a very linear way: past, present and future. Whereas present, past, future is a more accurate way of describing how Afrofuturists think about time. This gives rise to a constant concern to recover the things that have been lost in the past, to understand the nature of the loss in the present and to build a better future.

The nuance around the trauma is also very important. There are things from the past that people want back, but Afrofuturism also emphasizes truth and reconciliation. One of the things Afrofuturism does is it emphasizes understanding the truth of past traumas so that we can recognize their legacy. There are things from the past that we need to understand are rooted in an oppressive system. There are also things lost because of this oppressive past that we must recover.

All of this grew out of the disruption, displacement, and erasure associated with the assumption of settler colonialism. There are many groups of people, particularly in the context of the Americas, who strive to remember the past in a way that ensures that the current generation and future generations have an identity that supports and affirms their existence.

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