Show notes assembled by Emilie Amrein
Who's who in this episode
Aisha Shillingford is the artistic director of Intelligent Mischief and the Wakanda Dream Lab. She is a visual artist, author, and cultural strategist, originally from Trinidad and Tobago. She is the co-author of Contending for Dreamspace and co-editor of Black Freedom Beyond Borders: Re-Imaging Gender in Wakanda.
“All that you touch
All that you Change
The only lasting truth
― Octavia E. Butler
In this episode and in her own work, Aisha makes reference to the concept of Black utopias and the Afro-futurist movement. These are large topics with long histories worthy of deep inquiry. In my own research, I was excited to find this new book by Jayna Brown and the subsequent article from Yes magazine that may be a good starting point for a deeper dive into these topics. - EA
Black Utopias: Speculative Life and the Music of Other Worlds
ABSTRACT: In Black Utopias Jayna Brown takes up the concept of utopia as a way of exploring alternative states of being, doing, and imagining in Black culture. Musical, literary, and mystic practices become utopian enclaves in which Black people engage in modes of creative worldmaking. Brown explores the lives and work of Black women mystics Sojourner Truth and Rebecca Cox Jackson, musicians Alice Coltrane and Sun Ra, and the work of speculative fiction writers Samuel Delany and Octavia Butler as they decenter and destabilize the human, radically refusing liberal humanist ideas of subjectivity and species. Brown demonstrates that engaging in utopian practices Black subjects imagine and manifest new genres of existence and forms of collectivity. For Brown, utopia consists of those moments in the here and now when those excluded from the category human jump into other onto-epistemological realms. Black people—untethered from the hope of rights, recognition, or redress—celebrate themselves as elements in a cosmic effluvium.
Brown, J. (2021). Black Utopias: Speculative Life and the Music of Other Worlds. Durham; London: Duke University Press.
"In our imaginations and fantasies, how far can we estrange ourselves from current (Euro) ontoepistemologies? What assumptions, including those about the human, about social formations, about sex, can we unearth and unlearn? What do we think are the possible processes of change themselves? Hopefully, and as I wrote this happened for me, reading about and listening to the way others have and are imagining, alone and together, will give us permission and encouragement to do the same, on a daily basis.... To imagine new worlds one has to be imaginative, and imagine with others."
- Jayna Brown, in an interview for the Black Agenda Report
How Black Women Are Reshaping Afrofuturism
Quoting scholar Mark Dery's 1993 essay "Black to the Future," Jonita Davis offers the following definition of Afro-futurism: “speculative fiction that treats African-American themes and addresses African-American concerns in the context of twentieth-century technoculture—and, more generally, African American signification that appropriates images of technology and a prosthetically enhanced future.”
Davis continues, "This subgenre of science fiction is one where Black artists can tell stories of their limited past, intertwined their complex present to see a different future. That future is often more hopeful or at least one wherein we exist as more than junkies, thugs, or the help. Thus, it’s no coincidence that work labeled 'Afrofuturist' includes themes of utopianism and liberation in their depictions of the future. As such, it transcends categories, from literature to music to film and visual arts."