By Edward Austin Hall
I was introduced to the concept of Afrofuturism by the late artist Charles H. Nelson, Jr. Science fiction scholar Lisa Yaszek defines Afrofuturism by saying,
As Mark Dery argues, Afrofuturism is a process of "signification that appropriates images of technology and a prosthetically-enhanced future" to address the concerns that people of colour face in contemporary culture. . . . First and foremost among these concerns is the representation of history. Whatever medium they work in, Afrofuturist artists are profoundly interested in identifying those histories of the past, present, and yes, even the future that deny the black Atlantic experience. They are also profoundly interested in the power of the Afrofuturist artist to generate counter-histories that reweave connections between past, present, and future in a new practice of technoscientific storytelling.
When I learned that Edward Austin Hall, a mutual friend of Charles’s and mine, had co-edited a well-received collection of speculative fiction titled Mothership: Tales from Afrofuturism and Beyond (Rosarium Publishing, 2013), I asked him to write a brief commentary on the ideas surrounding the book. We present his response here in both written and audio form as part of The Art Section’s ongoing commitment to bringing worthwhile works of literature to the attention of our readers. --Deanna Sirlin
Let’s talk about prejudice.
In my youth, “prejudiced” was the worst thing a person could be. And the sort of prejudice we meant, in those last days of the Civil Rights Movement, was never in doubt. We all always understood the one word to stand for “racially prejudiced.”
Years and learning let me realize that prejudice doesn’t always involve ill will. One can be favorably prejudiced toward a type—or a group.
I labored under the bad kind of prejudice when I wrote my introduction to Mothership: Tales from Afrofuturism and Beyond, an anthology I coedited with the novelist Bill Campbell. It reads as follows:
Only after the Sci-Fi Channel rebranded itself as Syfy did I finally understand a connection I had long sensed between science fiction and blackness. My own physical ambiguity in a racial sense—people of almost every ethnicity you can think of have wondered (or decided) what I am—taught me the truism that others “like” you when they presume you are like them. The confusion I fostered in white folk and black folk as I grew up in Mobile, Alabama, during the 1960s and ’70s helped make me a writer by letting me know that few people outside my kin perceived me as “like them.”
Fine. Be that way.
I retreated into science fiction, read way too much of it, studied its history, and met its creators. I read that the New York Times reputedly banned the reviewing of fantasy or science fiction in its weekday pages—the same New York Times that employed book critic Anatole Broyard, another racially ambiguous American of black ancestry, under the impression that he was … well, something other than what he was.
In certain precincts, always, if a work of art is good—i.e., if a critic likes it—it cannot be science fiction. Excuse me, sci-fi. Um, sorry, I meant syfy. Similarly, years ago a white bigot whom I had just met revealed himself amid our affable conversation after I identified myself as black. He said, “You’re not black!” I laughed and walked away from him.
When Bill Campbell invited me to be part of this project, with its open-arms, fantasticated-tales-by-and/or-for-and/or-about-people-of-color approach, I knew the book I had been waiting a lifetime to assemble lay ahead of me.
And now here it is.
And there it was, complete with its misapprehension about SyFy’s motivation for changing the spelling of its name. A generation ago, “sci-fi” was pejorative to my mind. Even now I resist that particular shorthand in favor of the briefer “sf” or the full-length term, “science fiction.”
Turns out that the network switched to “SyFy” because its old “Sci-Fi” version was considered generic and, so, not trademarkable. See what kind of bone-headedness prejudice can breed?
So: glad we rectified that mistake. Next time, let’s talk about racism.
Alabama escapee Edward Austin Hall creates the Super Visions blog for Fresh Loaf and serves as operations editor for its parent publication, CL Atlanta. His other writings have appeared in BurnAway and the Dictionary of Literary Biography. Hall is a graduate of Tulane University and co-editor of the anthology Mothership: Tales from Afrofuturism and Beyond. His recent short fiction appears in the online journal eyedrum periodically; his forthcoming first novel is titled Chimera Island.
For more information on Mothership, please click on the image above.
To hear Ed Hall read his text, please click on the player above.
Photo: Ann States