Afrofuturism-inspired Dance Theatre Performance Explores Art, Technology

(Warning: Mild nudity)

“Speech Sounds,” a dance theatre performance choreographed and curated by Makeda Thomas, explores the metaphors for art and technology that come out of Afrofuturist culture.

The dance theatre work calls on improvisation, dances of the Orishas, and Thomas’ “richly-honed” contemporary movement to ask, “What does it mean to be a performer of the present? Of the future?”

“Speech Sounds” gets its title from Octavia’s Butler’s Hugo Award winning science fiction short story about a future world “where the only likely common language was body language.” Three powerhouse performers engage a performative strategy that pushes its elements in, to, over and beyond themselves; and explores the metaphors for art and technology that come out of Afrofuturist culture. It looks at improvisation, as an exploration of the dancer’s self, and how it transitions to a shared experience with the audience. It further asks, then, what does it mean to be a performer of the present? Of the future?

Each performance, each iteration of the work exists in multiple variations, with each variation being characterized by the improvisations of the performers. In this way, the work is imbued with its own autonomous power that engages a more present performer—a future performer—in moments of infinite imaginations and re-creation. Speech Sounds is about the spaces between selves; of how individuals connect and disconnect; of isolation and companionship; of what happens when we lose that which we value the most—be that a person, symbol, idea or name; and, of arriving at a loss of words.

The choreographic work is being underscored by an ongoing global transnational historical research project that seeks new critical understandings of history and identity in the African diaspora. The research navigates through West Africa, Western Europe, the United States, Venezuela, Grenada, St. Vincent, and Trinidad.

The embodied aspects of that research explores how Orisha dance, which bears unique syncretisms of those distinct cultural histories, and as “an earthly manifestation of the divine through human movement,” is embedded into the improvisatory dance practices of contemporary dance artists and creates new choreographic, movement, and performance processes. This research, as “Bring de Power: Orisha dance as a mobile technology of African diasporic identity making,” was presented for Dancing the African Diaspora—Theories of Black Performance at Duke University in February 2014.

“Speech Sounds” is set to make its U.S. debut in Fall 2015, and is being made possible with a Performing Arts Award from Creative Capital and a fiscal sponsorship through Fractured Atlas.

Learn more at

Rasheedah Phillips is a Philadelphia public interest attorney, speculative fiction writer, the creator of The AfroFuturist Affair, and a founding member of She recently independently published her first speculative fiction collection, “Recurrence Plot (and Other Time Travel Tales).”

DIY Musician Gathers Sounds From the Past to Create Soundscapes for the Future

Kanye West; Jay Electronica; David Banner; A$AP Mob; Tyler, the Creator and OFWGKTA; and Jay Z have experimented with and manipulated the concept of God and other unknowns in their lyrics, all to the backdrop of beats and melodies that are often considered dark and heavy, with an undercurrent that may very well be AfroFuturist at heart. Although this may not be the first time this theme has appeared in hip-hop, it seems to be gaining resonance with this generation.

Zoom and focus in on Camae Defstar, also known as Moor Mother Goddess (#MMGZ for short), a multidimensional musician based in Philly. DefStar sings, spits, writes and creates “dark ish… low fi, chill step, Black girl blues, witch rap, whatever you want to call it.” Having “emotionally sensitive receptors,” DefStar connects with energies, leans toward the unseen and pays homage to those who remain nameless. She shares the collective songs of women, children and elders.

Although DefStar isn’t into labels, she can see how she fits under the AfroFuturist umbrella. She figures that the baseline of AfroFuturism is “gathering the past and assembling a future. It should be D-I-Y [Do It Yourself], where the focus is not on having, but creating.” This is why DefStar’s production for Moor Mother Goddess is unplanned, sometimes spontaneous, and all done by (her) hand. She believes that she is able to tap into energies, and draw from the wisdom of Black elders as Moor Mother Goddess, allowing her to acknowledge and remember those of the past in order to imagine a future, all by way of melody. She believes elders are essential in defining Blackness, which is why ageism doesn’t sit well with her. It is no secret that emcees tend to age-out of mainstream hip-hop, usually seen as irrelevant to younger generations.

“Preta Velha,” one of Moor Mother Goddess’ 12 EPs, calls on these elders, and the names of other mystical people. Tracks spanning over a minute or so, DefStar relays experimental soundscapes, layered with freestyles. A few of these tracks, as well as over 100 others produced by her, can be heard on the #MMGZ Soundcloud and BandCamp. Her latest mixtape release, “Asunra Sunya Sifr,” offers another example of a signature sound that steadfastly fuses past and future to a present experience. Through metaphysics channels and travels, Moor Mother Goddess created a soundtrack where every note originates from Sun Ra and his Arkestra, with no added instruments. She uses different pieces from different Sun Ra albums, creating new equations from his work that can be executed again and again, timelessly.

Add to Moor Mother Goddess’ portfolio an avant-garde music video, featuring apocalyptic scenery on an abandoned, dilapidated space, where DefStar deftly engages with taboo imagery. Filmed and directed by D1L0 DeMiLLe and The L. Park Project, scenes include Moor Mother Goddess smearing blood along walls, physically rising from floorboards, and being suffocated by plastic bags. The narrative is a visual monologue, a stream of consciousness. Much of this imagery may make folks uncomfortable, and that’s kind of the point. “Blood represents womanhood, sacrifice. Blood is taboo,” says DefStar. The intention of the music video was to experiment with the aforementioned ideas, as well as suffering and death. However, throughout the narrative, Moor Mother Goddess willfully navigates this dangerous space, and she rises through it. These sentiments often silenced in larger society and culture, are relevant to the past, definitely the present, and possible the future. The video asks us to face these fears, and to think long and hard about what makes us uncomfortable.

When DefStar isn’t channeling sounds through Moor Mother Goddess, she is an educator, event curator, and poet. She also organizes Rockers!, an event that has been running in Philadelphia for nine years, showcasing POC and lgbtq artists from across the country and providing a home to her political punk rock band, The Mighty Paradocs. Her creative work also includes writing poetry about life in Philadelphia, and she has self-released several poetry zines, and two collaborative zines dealing with domestic violence and quantum metaphysics. She has created workshops for children and adults about creative writing as a way to learn about one’s community, history and future.

The bottom line is that Moor Mother Goddess is Pro-Black, Pro-Woman, and Pro-Man. In that, DefStar believes that there is a mythical past that must be conjured. And as it concerns a people, Black people, the mythical energies that all genders bring are important the evolution of culture and the human race. Black people, who she refers to as Moors, are “the mothers and fathers of mankind and we are an essential part of restoring the balance of energies on Earth.”

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Photography by Nema Etebar.

Rasheedah Phillips is a Philadelphia public interest attorney, speculative fiction writer, the creator of The AfroFuturist Affair, and a founding member of She recently independently published her first speculative fiction collection, “Recurrence Plot (and Other Time Travel Tales).”

South Side Chicago Author Helps Give New Life to Afrofuturism and Caters to Blacks Interested in Sci-Fi, Fantasy Literature

As Afrofuturism continues to grow in popularity, one author from Chicago’s South Side is helping the movement take shape and offering a guide to sci-fi and fantasy newcomers.

For quite some time it seemed like the vast, imaginative worlds of sci-fi and fantasy arts had room for everything except for Black people.

Even today, as more comic book creators and sci-fi filmmakers make conscious efforts to boost diversity in their works, Black actors and characters often receive less than warm welcomes.

That’s where Afrofuturism comes in.

Afrofuturism is a term that describes the harmonious blend of science fiction and fantasy with aspects of Afrocentricity.

Afrofuturistic works not only aim to entertain, but they also hope to provide insightful critiques of racism and re-examine historical events.

While the term was not coined by Mark Dery until he published his essay “Black to the Future” in 1992, Chicago author Ytasha Womack was always living her life as a proud Afrofuturist.

The culture left such a substantial impact on the Chicago native that she began penning the book “Afrofuturism: The World of Black Sci-Fi and Fantasy Culture” after she graduated from Clark Atlanta University.

She graduated from the HBCU back in 1997, but it wasn’t until 2013 that Womack’s revolutionary book would hit the shelves.

The book was created as a bit of a launch pad for Blacks who were new to the sci-fi, fiction universe but always had an interest in it.

“A lot of my friends from college were really immersed in these ideas,” Womack said, according to DNA Info. “But when they graduated they didn’t know what to do.”

Womack hopes her book will help address that problem for many other Black people interested in sci-fi and fantasy works.

In addition to serving as a launch pad for Afrofuturism newcomers, the book will also aim to be a sort of history book for the sub culture.

Womack said she hopes the book is able to “preserve the movement for future generations,” DNA Info reported.

Since her book’s 2013 release, Womack says college students and professors have been constantly reaching out to her and now the book is being used to help educate students on a variety of topics including feminism and African diaspora.

The Afrofuturism book came after she wrote another book in 2010 titled “Post Black: How a New Generation Is Redefining African American Identity” and just before she released a fictional novel titled “Rayla 2212” in 2014.

The book follows the life of a woman named Rayla who lives on a former earth colony 200 years in the future.

“The idea [of Rayla] became really compelling when I was writing the Afrofuturism book,” Womack said.

Both of the works were contributing factors that helped inspire the Race in Space Conference at Duke University in October of 2013.

The conference combined science fiction with science fact and allowed seasoned researchers to give more insight about the possibilities of more advanced space exploration.

Afrofuturism has also been used to help get more Black students interested in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) careers.

Black Speculative Tech – Uses of Technology in Black Science Fiction, Part 2

While history books would have us believe that scientific and technological advancement suddenly sprang forth during the Age of Enlightenment in late-17th century Western Europe, a deeper dig into the matter reveals that the institution of African enslavement has an inextricable connection to the development of the Western scientific establishment. Scientific experimentation and studies on enslaved Black bodies became the justification for continued enslavement. In her book Medical Apartheid: The Dark History of Medical Experimentation on Black Americans from Colonial Times to the Present, Harriet A. Washington provides a history of medical experimentation on African-Americans, presenting the first full account of the gross mistreatment of Black people as forced subjects of experimentation.

Because of institutional racism and our positions as mere subjects of science, Black people have typically been excluded from the mainstream scientific establishment as actors, practitioners, researchers and policymakers. Black scientific and technological innovation and achievement have gone virtually unrecognized, save for the handful of Black scientists and engineers who get their acknowledgments during Black History Month. Contrary to perceptions of Blackness as divorced from tech and science, we have a long and well-documented history, present and anticipated future of technological development behind and ahead of us. In this series, we continue to explore the expansive realm of Black speculative technologies in music, art and literature.

8 Books of Critical Analysis and Essays on Black Speculative, Science Fiction, Superheroes and Horror

Books of critical analysis and essays on Black speculative, science fiction, superheroes and horror:

1. Black Comics: Politics of Race and Representation edited by Sheena C. Howard and Ronald L. Jackson II (2013) is an analytic history of the diverse contributions of Black artists to the medium of comics. Covering comic books, superhero comics, graphic novels and cartoon strips from the early 20th century to the present, the book explores the ways in which Black comic artists have grappled with such themes as the Black experience, gender identity, politics and social media.

2. Black Space: Imagining Race in Science Fiction Film by Adilifu Nama (2008) is the first book-length study of African-American representation in science fiction film. Black Space demonstrates that science fiction cinema has become an important field of racial analysis, a site where definitions of race can be contested and post-civil rights race relations (re)imagined.

3. Race in American Science Fiction by Isiah Lavender III (2011) offers a systematic classification of ways that race appears and how it is silenced in science fiction, while developing a critical vocabulary designed to focus attention on often-overlooked racial implications. These focused readings of science fiction contextualize race within the genre’s better-known master narratives and agendas.

4. Horror Noire: Blacks in American Horror Films from 1890s to Present by Robin Means Coleman (2011) presents a unique social history of blacks in America through changing images in horror films. Throughout the text, the reader is encouraged to unpack the genre’s racialized imagery, as well as the narratives that make up popular culture’s commentary on race. Offering a comprehensive chronological survey of the genre, this book addresses a full range of black horror films, including mainstream Hollywood fare, as well as art-house films, Blaxploitation films, direct-to-DVD films, and the emerging U.S./hip-hop culture-inspired Nigerian “Nollywood” Black horror films.

Using Afrofuturism to Power New Modes of Tech – Interview with Blogger Sherese Francis (Futuristically Ancient)

“Because the mask is your face, the face is a mask, so I’m thinking of the face as a mask because of the way I see faces is coming from an African vision of the mask which is the thing that we carry around with us, it is our presentation, it’s our front, it’s our face.”

– Faith Ringgold

What do we think of when we think of science and technology? Living currently in our high-tech, digital world with computers, the Internet, techies and laboratory scientists, many of us separate ourselves from science and technology as if they are not part of our everyday lives. Do we think of a mask as technology? I want to explore that idea.

A few weeks ago, I began reading Tempestt Hazel’s Black to the Future Series in which she interviews artists and intellectuals about Afrofuturism and Afrosurrealism. While reading some of the answers of the interviewees, I recognized a subtle framing of and at times distancing from Afrofuturism based on electric and digital technology of the 20th and 21st century. Phrases like “I’m not a techie,” in a sense undermines how much science and technology are embedded in the creation of our lives and that they have existed longer and have a wider reach than we normally think. As the aesthetic movement of Afrofuturism gains recognition, we need to break down the boundaries of what we describe as science and technology.

Last year, I attended The Festival of the New Black Imagination where futurist Nat Irvin II gave a lecture on the importance of futuristic thinking that included a history of science and technological advancement, beginning with the Agricultural Revolution, which could also be called biotechnology. He claimed that only now we have reached an age of hybridity where man and machine are coming together.

Thinking back on that claim, I have come to disagree. We have always been hybrid creatures or cyborgs as Amber Case discussed in her lecture about prosthetic culture and cyborg anthropology. To say that only now we are, is to think in the same linear Western sense in which racists tell societies they consider primitive that Western culture brought them science and technology.

Science and technology are much more than machines and computers. If you look at the definition of both terms, their meanings are more inclusive. Science is the knowledge or a system of knowledge covering general truths or the operation of general laws. Technology is the science of the application of knowledge to practical purposes or applied science.

Machines and computers are tools and instruments, which are all applied knowledge for specific purposes. Referring back to the theme of my post, how does that relate to the mask? Since technology is an application of knowledge, or, in other words, an extension and expression of one’s abilities and thoughts, then so is a mask, in both its creation and use.

Robert Pruitt’s Towards a Walk in the Sun

Many of us may think of a mask as only art or an object used in a religious ritual, but it is a tool or instrument applying some sort of knowledge as well. Like the mask, technology works as a medium; they let us do things we would not be able to do without them. A mask is an alternate face similar to prosthetic limbs, electronic pacemakers and even musical instruments that extend our bodies’ abilities. Astronauts and scuba divers basically wear masks and costumes that allow them to go where a normal human being would not be able to go. The mask shows us that we are cyborgs (cybernetic organisms). We are part natural and part created; we have been since as early as the agricultural revolution. This is the reason I disagreed with Irvin; any tool we have used has been an extension of us.

Rethinking of science and technology can also help us to rethink our views of our bodies and on religion. Think of it in terms of the Lucius Brockway’s line from Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man: “We the machines inside the machine.”

Often art, the body and religion are positioned as the opposite or outside of the realm of these things, but I agree with ethnomusicologist Kyra Gaunt when she said in Games Black Girls Play that musical instruments and bodies are also forms of technology. Our physical bodies are manifestations of thoughts, knowledge, memories, experiences. Since we take in information from the world, the mind analyzes it and the body evolves accordingly. The development of our opposable thumbs, which allows us to create all the technology we have, can be considered a technological development.

In terms of religion or cosmology, for those who believe in a god or some sort of divine consciousness, creator or designer, and for those who believe we are spirits having a physical experience, our body then can be considered a tool or medium of a spirit of God. And if God is a creator or designer much like we are, then it is not perfect, but constantly experimenting and re-inventing itself based on its experience. This can connect creationism and evolution together. Also, depicting ourselves as both spirit and body represents another form of the hybridity that I discussed earlier.

As we look at our cultures through the lens of Afrofuturism and encourage younger generations to learn more about science and technology, I also encourage that expand on these to explore our cultures’ pasts, presents and futures. Re-evaluating our scope of and how we relate to science and technology could benefit us in the long run. They are more than the current advancements that developed in the industrial and post-industrial eras and that are exclusive to dominant cultures, upper classes and capitalists. All types of science and technology, whether it be in the form of a mask or a computer, allow us to fantasize about, explore and experience possibilities as well as understand ourselves and the world around us better.


1. How do you define technology? How do you define Afrofuturism? How do you participate in Afrofuturism?

My definition of technology came from reading Kyra Gaunt’s book, The Games Black Girls Play: Learning the Ropes From Double-Dutch to Hip-Hop while writing my undergraduate thesis on The Percussive Approach in Hip-Hop. In her third chapter, Mary Mack Dressed in Black: The Earliest Formation of a Popular Music, one of the subsections was the “body as technology.” Here she describes her view on technology in terms of black musical production:

“In this way and others, the body is a technology of black musical communication and identity. Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary defines “technology” as “the practical application of knowledge, a manner of accomplishing a task (i.e., identifying with blackness, the African Diaspora, Africans), using a skill or craft, a method or process” (1999). Extra-somatic instruments … are acceptable media of artistic technology. The social body as a tool or method of artistic composition and performance, however, continues to be overlooked in the study of music … ” (59).

She continues to say how extra-somatic musical technology are extensions of what our bodies and voices naturally can do. Reading her words broadened my scope of what technology is and part of the inspiration for my post, The Mask as Technology. Technology is the application of knowledge and wisdom through the invention of extensions that compensate for our needs and desires and that reach across limitations and boundaries.

For centuries, Black bodies have been exploited as forms of slave/capitalist technologies, designed for the desires of white hetero-patriarchal cultures. Although I don’t tend to give Afrofuturism a specific definition as it means different things to different people, I view it as a tool, a kind of technology as well. I use it to reclaim our whole bodies (physical, mental, spiritual) through the exploration of various possible futures and presents in addition to revising or revealing (the meaning of apocalypse) various pasts of the African Diaspora using tropes of current speculative fiction (science fiction, fantasy, myths, legends, folktales, fairy tales, historical revision), magic(k), spiritual systems, science and technology.

I participate in Afrofuturism through my writing and studies, including my blog, Futuristically Ancient. I see myself as a kind of archivist, linking the past and future through recording the arts and cultures of the Diaspora that the mainstream may ignore or degrade to show Blackness and the Diaspora outside the box of expectations in which they are placed. What we have been told about who Black people and African descendants by others are filled with untruths used to control us and the imaginations of ourselves and what we can be and do; I want to show the various possibilities of Blackness and Black people that has already existed, still exist and will exist if we fight for it.

2. One criticism about Afrofuturism is that it does not advance technology or dream up novel technologies that can have practical, real-life applications. What are your thoughts on this critique? How does Afrofuturism/Black futurism inform your research and real-life work?

I wonder how Afrofuturism is perceived or used in their questioning. Are they using it as a singular movement or word in which they see only a small segment or its mainstream advocates, and then ask why they do not see a specific aspect there that they would like to see? Or do they see it like I do, as a tool to explore various areas and ideas of cultures of Black people and African descendants in and out of the mainstream that could result in those inventions. I know that there are people out there who are imagining or inventing new technologies because we are humans and humans are constantly engineering new technologies. We are inventive people who survive in times of necessity and within oppressive societies, in music, food, spirituality, electronics (think early days of hip-hop and rewiring the streets to power turntables), etc.

The focus should be redirected from inventing new technologies, because that will always come, to the cultures, spirituality, ethics and values around those technologies. How do we shape minds to think outside of the boxes of the oppressive cultures in which we live and develop responsible technologies? How do we cultivate cultures and critical thinking that will foster new technologies? How do we make available access to information, spaces and tools that will help people to create new technologies? It reminds me of Amiri Baraka’s essay, Technology and Ethos, where he says our machines are extensions of us, the creators, so they reflect our core values. Why does the typewriter look the way it does and why does it not function in another way? he asks. A lot of how we see technology is steeped in Western thought of efficiency, progress and making capital and not how it enriches our lives, the lives of other animals, plants and the Earth. We still have a lot of unlearning to do.

Afrofuturism has centered my thoughts, giving me an angle from which I could process them and research new ideas. It has allowed me as a writer to explore outside of conventional, singular narratives of Blackness, of gender, of sexuality, of culture, of religion and spirituality, of science and technology, of the construction of narratives themselves and so forth. Through it, I have a fresh way to look at the cultures of the world, including my own as an Afro-Caribbean-American woman, not through the mainstream’s eyes, but with eyes of understanding and connection. For example, I see now the genius of African-derived spirituality and religions like Vodou, which is often demonized and simplified through Christian morality and racist philosophy (and I was guilty of that as well); my research into it formed the basis of my upcoming essay, ‘The Electric Impulse:’ The Legba Circuit in Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man. Afrofuturism was also the basis for my interest in mythic studies and mythic literacy, much of which has influenced my poetry writing as well.

3. What experiences and inspirations led you to create your blog? How has technology and the Internet revolutionized the way we share and participate in cultural phenomenon, such as Afrofuturism? What challenges are created by technology and the Internet?

The inspirations for my blog, Futuristically Ancient, came during my junior year in college. At that time, I was in a blogging class with Bridget Davis and the final assignment was to start our own blogs. I was thinking about what kind of blog I wanted to do, and I remembered watching a small portion on Youtube of John Akomfrah’s The Last Angel of History and I liked the connections it made between the past, present and future of the Diaspora through the investigation of memory, music and digital technology. So, I centered my blog around those ideas at first before I even knew the term Afrofuturism. But as I began to research more into related materials to his film and while doing research for my thesis, I came across the term Afrofuturism, and then my blog developed into what it is now. The name of my blog actually comes from a phrase someone had used to describe poet Aja Monet and it stuck with me, so I used it in addition to Aker, the Egyptian god of the horizon representing yesterday, today and tomorrow.

Technology, especially the Internet, has played a significant part in the spread of information about Afrofuturism and other cultural phenomena. Personally, as a blogger, writer and researcher, it has allowed me to voice thoughts and ideas that I rarely saw in popular spaces and share them with others in ways I would not have been as easily able to do before; it has allowed me to connect with others who are working in similar fields or whose work has similar tendencies; it has allowed me to more easily find materials and information, especially rare ones, to share on my blog and to use for research. So, it has been helpful to a person like me, who is introverted and kind of shy, to be able to put myself out there on my own terms. Like me, others have benefited from the more accessible information and connection to people all over the world through new technology and the Internet, which has allowed ideas about Afrofuturism to spread fast.

However, as with anything, there are downsides to technology and the Internet. People will use technology and the Internet to try to discourage us, to attack us because they see what we are doing as a threat to their way of life, to try to silence us especially if they have more capital and power to do so, to use our ideas to sell their own agenda without crediting us or to use our ideas against us. In some ways, old oppressions are magnified through the Internet and new technology because of how quickly and easily information can spread.

4. Where do you see Afrofuturism 10 years from now? How can marginalized communities and youth gain more access to Afrofuturism?

Ten years from now, Afrofuturism can go in different possible ways. It could become bigger and go mainstream to the point it is diluted and appropriated so much that it lacks power and we move on to the next movement, term, idea or whatever. Maybe it will have another or several names 10 years from now. Or hopefully, it can evolve and grow along with the changes in our cultures and technologies, which is why I like that it does not have a fixed definition. I want us to continue defining it for ourselves, especially with the controversy over the origin of the term. I want Afrofuturism to change and shape shift into various meanings depending on the different localities it reaches and how it can best benefit them. As Octavia Butler wrote, “God is change,” let Afrofuturism do that as well.

As for marginalized communities and youth gaining access to it, gatekeepers who have closer access or are in more privileged spaces need to continue sharing it and the ideas within it with those who are more marginalized or younger. For example, in the art world, much of the art tends to stay in higher-class institutions that are either out of reach or out of the means of more marginalized groups. That is why I like to go to events at museums or other institutions and review them, so at least some of the information discussed is available online for others who may not have access to them can learn.

But in the opposite direction, marginalized communities and youth should be encouraged to explore outside of the boxes that are placed on them. Our cultures need to not limit our freedom of expression and questioning, as I have seen in some spaces, like often the church. Explore the world around you, the worlds alien to you, in any way you can, whether it is traveling to another town or to a place in your neighborhood you never went before, going to the library and getting a book that is outside of what you normally read, or even thinking an unconventional thought on a common thing. Keep an open mind to the various possibilities of the world outside of your own direct reality.

Those ideas to me are already inherent in Afrofuturism – the need to explore and to invent, even if it is only in your head. Afrofuturism is just a new term for many of things we already do, but are either told we don’t do, suppress them or don’t realize it. We use our memories of our pasts and traditions of our cultures, reshape them and build new futures out of them in the new places we disperse and in the face of new crises and limitations of survival.

Rasheedah Phillips is a Philadelphia public interest attorney, speculative fiction writer, the creator of The AfroFuturist Affair, and a founding member of She recently independently published her first speculative fiction collection, “Recurrence Plot (and Other Time Travel Tales).”

Afrofuturism: Black Presence in Sci-Fi Worlds of Technology, Magic, Fantasy

The term “futurism” typically calls to mind a forward-looking aesthetic or theme that envisions the prospective future of humanity. If popular speculative/sci-fi media, art, literature, and film are any indication, the images that people typically draw to mind when envisioning the future involve post-apocalyptic aesthetics and landscapes, highly advanced technology, and interplanetary or outerspace travel.

Glaringly absent from these visions of the future, however, are diverse cultures and complicated, intersectional identities. Although creators of speculative fiction have been able to successfully conceive of novel technologies, map out the future of humanity, and envision new worlds in science fictional narratives, traditional sci-fi has, on the whole, failed to transcend the social hierarchy, supremacy, and privilege that plague our present-day realities.

In a traditional speculative world, these narratives replay over and over, where the marginalized are virtually non-existent or play exceptionally minor roles, seemingly due to inferior genetics and an inability to adapt to changing social and environmental conditions.

This is where afrofuturism as a genre, lens, community, and practice becomes important, not as a response or reaction to the lack of representation, but as testament to the fact that not only have Black folk (along with other marginalized groups) already made it into the future, we are, in fact responsible for shaping it.

The term afrofuturism, coined in the 1993 essay “Black to the Future” by cultural critic Mark Dery, is today generally understood to be one of the umbrella terms for the substantial Black presence in the worlds of sci-fi, technology, magic, and fantasy.

Distinctive from other notions of genre-based futurism, afrofuturistic concepts of sci-fi, fantasy, myth, and speculation bind both the past and future, delivering them to a “now” in visual, literary, musical terms, and any other mode of expression that one sees fit to attach the lens to.

Afrofuturism is visionary and retrospective and current all at once, recognizing time as cyclical, spiral, revolving, and usually anything but linear, much like the space-time traditions of our ancestors from the motherland. In this way, afrofuturism creates a perpetually accessible bridge between ourselves, our ancestors, and our descendants, between our futures and our pasts, reminding us that we are a part of the future that our foremothers and fathers shaped because their experiences remain embedded in our experiences and give context to our choices.

Under this interpretation of afrofuturism, I find it to be a potent– even if at times imperfect — platform upon which I can launch my own science fiction/science possibility stories and practices. The community, imagery, theory, and language that I came across in afrofuturism and Black sci-fi inspired the creation of my own organization, The AfroFuturist Affair.

Founded in Philadelphia in 2011, The AfroFuturist Affair was formed to celebrate, strengthen, and promote afrofuturistic and Black sci-fi culture through creative events, community workshops, blogging, and creative writing. We use proceeds from events to fund the Futurist Fund Community Grant, which serves underserved members of the community in need of emergency assistance funds.

Afrofuturism has also helped me to find very natural connections between the work I do as a legal services attorney providing free legal assistance to poor Philadelphians, my own experiences growing up as a young Black nerd, and the speculative fiction phenomenon.

Over the next six months, my pocket of space-time on Blerd-Out will explore the intersections of technology, speculative fiction, Black/African-American culture, and their roots and ties to ancient African traditions of technology, science, and cosmology.

R. Phillips is a Philadelphia public interest attorney, speculative fiction writer, the creator of The AfroFuturist Affair, and a founding member of She recently independently published her first speculative fiction collection, “Recurrence Plot (and Other Time Travel Tales).”