One — just one — of my main issues with the overuse of the term Afrofuturism is that, in many ways, the future is already here, in the present. The origins of Afrofuturism was (in part) a question about a perceived lack of African American sci-fi writers. Now lots of things in music are said to belong to Afrofuturism, including Sun Ra, who relentlessly talked about the present even if he used different modes of expression to do so. But I don't want to talk about Sun Ra today. I want to talk about the present, the habitual, and the remote future.
Most philosophical movements in the emancipation of Africana (or Afrodiasporic) peoples have been led or greatly supported by women1 from our communities. This is not to denigrate the work done by the figures we normally talk about. But when we consider the work of writers like Anna Julia Cooper, there has to be — at least, I hope there has to be — an admission that Black women have created the scaffold for thinking about our issues, even as they have lived under history's longest running death threat.
So it should be unsurprising that although a young man started the Black Lives Matter launch in Derby, the women in Derby came together and organised, and critically engaged to write the manifesto which was launched last Friday. It's important to recognise this achievement, and to recognise that this engagement follows a line and level of engagement that is not talked about enough.2 In ways visible and invisible, there are many women, trans, and non-binary people in our communities who, alongside the men we mention, risk themselves every second to make things better for everybody. There is a lot about that that we all have to learn and acknowledge.
That is the present. I am going to talk about the future in the present, and the habitual. But first I'm going to talk briefly about allies.
Have you heard of Linda Creed? She was a lyricist. Among other things, she wrote "Betcha By Golly Wow", "Stop, Look, Listen", and "The Greatest Love of All", originally sung by George Benson. She was white, and worked with black artists. But not in an Irving Mills way, popping her name onto other people's work; she did the work.
Anyway, the first three lines of "The Greatest Love of All" that I want to focus on are
I believe the children are our future
Teach them well and let them lead the way
Show them all the beauty they possess inside
These lines are important. Children are our future. If children are present, the future is already here. Black youth can grow up to be anyone they want to be, and no one should limit or suppress their voices in that journey.
So what I saw at the manifesto launch on Friday was deeply, deeply disappointing. I actually couldn't help but think about my niece, who is just too young to speak, but now old enough to stand. Standing and speaking. How important that is. A young girl on Friday was about to stand, and speak. And what happened?
She was stopped from speaking because someone had decided that a white woman should speak first. And what did this woman speak about? Her interests, her politics.
The reason why this was so offensive, I hope, should be clear: the privileging of an adult's voice over a child; the privileging of white voice over black voice; the discarding of the future in favour of a harmful and insidious present and past. In that moment, the voice — and the life — of that young black girl did not matter.
I complained to the organisers at the time; but nothing has been said — and that is why I am writing now. If we rigidly agree with the adage that being silent is being complicit,3 then this isn't a time to be silent about the racism of that moment.
Who was involved is less important than what this represents for us in the habitual sense; that, even at an event that proclaims that black lives matter, it's actually really important to reflect that, and for us to not maintain the system, so phrases like "that happens all the time" (this is the habitual aspect) become less common; to not undermine the power of seeing black women front-and-centre, speaking for us and saving us.
The system of racism is a tightly woven web of behaviours, some of which we as black people are bound into. We have to shake ourselves from the habitual (to paraphrase Bob Marley). Black Lives Matter is a redundant statement in some ways; that we have to say it shows how pernicious the system of racism is. We should matter in an equitable society. My question is how do black lives matter to those of us in the black community. Not in the racist nonsense of "black on black crime", but how we ensure that our futures are given a sense of pride to make it easier.
I have a lot more to say on this, but sit with this for a while, and comment below. I'll be back to visit.
I've sloppily used a gender marker here, and I am leaving it in to show transparency; I own my messes and lack of knowledge when I make them, because I'm an academic, not an expert. Experts say they know things; academics talk about what they have been able to locate. I am not personally a massive fan of Western binary gender categories. I know there are female-identifying and non-binary people within this work as well; I just don't know enough yet. I'm working on it. ↩
Rose M. Brewer, "Theorizing Race, Class and Gender" in "Theorizing Black Feminisms" ed. Stanlie James & Abena Busia (Routledge). ↩
I do not agree that being silent is the same as being complicit. There are many types of silence. Some silences, such as the silence encountered on the Grenfell Silent Walk, are very much about powerful protest. ↩