The political events of the past months have forced me to contend with the stakes of my work as a black feminist scholar and an Afrofuturist in entirely new ways. On the morning after the election, I called my mother in tears. She told me we as black people are particularly good at surviving conditions we were never meant to survive, and that we would do as our ancestors did and endure the unendurable.
Yes, this is the narrative we as black women so often hear and believe about ourselves. Survive today.
Make it until tomorrow.
Endure. Your survival is resistance.
Your presence here, now, in this space, is transgression.
But that narrative grows less comforting to me as I begin to witness palpable terror about the future for black people, and for immigrants, queer people, Muslims, and other people of color. It seems the widespread exercise of speculating the future is neglected until the futures called into being contain violence for us, against our souls and against and our bodies. This muscle of futurity is one we have largely forgotten to flex. We are deeply out of the practice of radical speculation.
Doing the work of imagining black futures is an urgent obligation. It is no longer a luxury. I use this language Audre Lorde gave us in Sister Outsider, when she told us poetry is not a luxury. She says, “It is a vital necessity of our existence. It forms the quality of the light within which we predicate our hopes and dreams toward survival and change, first made into language, then into idea, then into more tangible action.” (36)
Lorde was writing about poetry, but I argue speculative fiction works toward our dreams even more explicitly, sheparding us into conversations about hope and change, making them into language, allowing us space to play in our futures and pasts, and prompting us begin to imagine tangible action.
Fortunately, there are those among us with similar investments who practice speculative thinking as a way of life. Afrofuturists and other black authors of speculative fiction work to imagine futures where we exist and survive. They imagine worlds where we thrive, and histories that never came to pass, and contend with later consequences of current oppressions. They have utterly rejected versions of the future that erase us entirely, whether they come from within science fiction or from white supremacist fantasies. So, in this time that necessitates an urgent black futurity, turning to black speculative fiction authors to inform this project makes sense to to this project which is not solely about black imagination—it also attaches this radical speculation and future play to the current moment, grounded in social technologies and tools black people are using to combat oppression.
Of poetry, Lorde wrote: “If what we need to dream, to move our spirits most deeply and directly toward and through promise, is a luxury, then we have given up the core-the fountain-of our power, our womanness; we have give up the future of our worlds.” (39)
Political Afrofuturism is a refusal to give up those futures.