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Beyond Black Panther: Visions of Afrofuturism Educate About Climate Change

According to the New York Times “This year, fans of Afrofuturism will see a bumper crop of comics and graphic novels, including the first offerings of a new line devoted to Black speculative fiction and reissues of Afrofuturist titles from comic-book houses like DC and Dark Horse.

Afrofuturism, whether in novels, films or music, imagines worlds and futures where the African diaspora and sci-fi intersect. The term was coined by the Bostonian writer and critic Mark Dery in 1993 and has since been applied to the novels of Octavia Butler (“Kindred”), the musical stylings of the jazz composer Sun Ra and Janell Monae and films such as “Sankofa ”, “Blade Trilogy”, ”Fast Color” and “Black Panther,” which presented a gorgeously rendered vision of the technologically advanced, vibranium-powered nation of Wakanda.

Black science fiction books, Afrofuturistic stories, or short stories by Black authors were once unfortunately uncommon, but as of late there have been a lot more fantastic novels to introduce some diversity into this historically homogeneous genre/classification. There’s certainly been more books with wide-spread marketing efforts, which is critical, too. Especially when it comes to empowering young minds and combating stereotypes so often seen in modern programming.

A witch, more machine than human, judges the character of the wicked and hands out justice in a ravaged Chicago. John Henry wields his mighty hammers in a war against machines and the undead. Frederick Douglass and Harriet Tubman rule a country of freed slaves that rivals - and often bests - England and France in power and technology. You will find all this - and much more - between the pages of Steamfunk, an anthology of incredible stories by some of today's greatest authors of Science Fiction, Fantasy and Steamfunk - African and African American-inspired Steampunk.

Editors Milton Davis and Balogun Ojetade. Black Coral co-Founder Michael Thierry had the great pleasure of speaking with Mr. Ojetade and Mr Davis while a Graduate student at Westwood College in Atlanta Ga. about where this fast growing genre was heading. Afrofuturism evaluates the past and future to create better conditions for the present generation of Black people through the use of technology, often presented through art, music, and literature. Yet a key difference in the essence of Afro futurism is its fundamental connections to spirituality, social change, and nature!

This is essentially what matters Author and Afro futurist Educator Nsambu Za Suekama explains; “Working class and Black, Brown, Indigenous, and otherwise marginal communities, disproportionately impacted by the detriments of environmental pollution and climate change, will not be saved by the political, economic and cultural machinery of the colonizers. We are on the front lines of ecocide, yet we’re being pushed aside by dominant modes of “sustainability.” This tells me that the new climate panic is really about finding new technologies to preserve massa’s house. (the status quo)”

Suekama points out that the new media fervor about climate change ignores the real villains and instead points the finger at populations with the least impact or power to make change, Its like how the oil companies in the seventies convinced middle class white America that recycling actually made a difference when the real answer was to switch to biodegradable containers!

“But, Black people have neither time for nor interest in the prevailing idealistic, exclusionary, and often boring ecology or environmental science, 'says Suekama. Especially not while white environmentalisms are (among many other things)”:

  1. trying to mobilize the punitive/carceral state against the use of plastic straws, a total disregard for the effects on disabled and Black, Brown, Indigenous communities this will have, and a measure whose basis is a questionable source of research, again pinning blame for ‘unsustainable’ practice on individuals as opposed to the larger system of capitalism and imperial-colonialism.

  2. deploying ‘overpopulation’ arguments to pathologize the poor, either putting emphasis on teaching Third (and Fourth) World families to have less kids or pushing xenophobic policy, all in the name of preserving ‘finite resources’ from our (supposedly irresponsible) use thereof. This is even despite the fact that these very same communities experience structured lack of access to resources, or that wealth more likely correlates with negative environmental impact

  3. erecting wildlife preserves and other conservation initiatives that marginalize and even criminalize indigenous peoples on their ancestral lands, on top of instating profit-driven, Eurocentric designations for which plant and animal relationships should exist within their confines (excluding other formations).

The first time I’d ever seen Afrofuturist media with (explicit) environmental themes was Wanuri Kahiu’s Pumzi. Set in East Africa, Pumzi deals with the political effects of water scarcity for the dystopian community young Asha lives in. Asha’s dreams and a mysterious note lead her to believe that plant life has survived beyond their walls and she quests to prove it. Later I came across an essay by Fikile Nxumalo and Stacia Cedillo that suggested using “Black speculative fiction in… co-creating with children… environmentally attuned literary representations.” The authors suggested this as a strategic way to resist exclusion of Black children from environmental narratives.

Currently there are organizations that are moving this agenda forward like The Institute of Afrofuturist Ecology which is a land-based eco justice organization serving at the nexus of Black culture, land and technology. Founded by regenerative farmers, artists, healers, technologists and academics, it is a millennial think tank, cross pollinating a diversity of practitioners to dramatically improve the lives and livelihood of disenfranchised black families by helping them to become self-sustaining. Our mission is to advance economic and racial justice, to solve environmental problems and to create better opportunities and outcomes for a more just and sustainable future. Sheena Howard, an African American studies professor at Rider University and an author whose work often focuses on people of color, recently wrote a story that appeared in "Wonder Woman Black & Gold," released as part of the superhero's 80th anniversary.

While Howard's story stays true to some of the original Wonder Woman mythology, her story features African American Wonder Woman Nubia, one of DC Comics' first African American characters, and her sister, Diana, as they take on King Poseidon. The story takes place in the predominantly Black neighborhood of Eastwick in southwest Philadelphia, where Howard grew up and still lives. Afrofuturism can be used as a mode of ecological and social justice thought, with the emphasis on creation, change and radical hope it is also environmentally-conscious such as in the case of the comic book “Earth Girl Won’t Stand For it” The comic centers on Mayah, a young Black girl who discovers that a corporation plans to transform a vacant lot in her urban neighborhood into a toxic waste storage facility.

Although the term Afrofuturism was coined by Mark Dery in 1993 it was birthed in the minds of enslaved Africans who prayed for their lives and the lives of their descendants along the horrific Middle Passage. The first Afrofuturists envisioned a society free from the bondages of oppression—both physical and social. Afrofuturism imagines a future void of white supremacist thought and the structures that violently oppressed Black communities. Afrofuturism evaluates the past as well as the future to create better conditions for the present generations of humanity, it is ever inclusive, empowering and truthful even technology is presented through a spiritually purifying lens of art, music, poetry and literature.

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