A Critique of Afrofuturism…and more

A good friend left the following response on my Facebook page where I had posted a link to my previous post on Afrofuturism, the Studio Museum etc. As I didn’t explicitly get his permission to repost his comment here I won’t name him but he raises some compelling points. While I might agree with some of them I think the main thing is that Afrofuturism is about fantasy, a fantasy of shedding a troublesome past as the two tweets by @StormSaulter indicate. By no means is it a substitute for investment in scientific research or a so-called scientific outlook. So I don’t think the existence of what we call Afrofuturism is at the expense of scientific inquiry or even a placeholder for it. In fact it’s the opposite, an artistic impulse that is futuristic in orientation. Anyway…what do YOU think? Is it a ‘timewank’ to borrow a phrase from Irvine Welsh or is there more to it?

Thanks for heads up on the show. It would be interesting to read whatever texts accompany it to see if at last anyone has finally put forward an articulate, intelligent thesis of what exactly they mean by Afrofuturism beyond inchoate mentions of computers, Octavia Butler, and Africa.
Of the tweet excerpts that you reproduced in the blog there’s only one seriously intelligent line, and it isn’t from the Afrofuturists. It is from Greg Tate where he asks: Well, what isn’t futurist about being Black in America? That’s the first brick of theory at long last, the first spark of serious philosophical thought. The rest is humdrum rehashes of anecdotes and George Clinton.
The fact is that futurism (as most Afrofuturists appear to still understand it) without a serious culture of scientific adventurism is like the proverbial faith without work: it’s meaningless and dead. And, the other fact is that African cultures, no matter where they are, have yet to embrace scientific inquiry let alone adventurism. So, the science fiction remains fiction without a chance of transforming into fact the way Western science fiction consistently transforms into fact, and the utopia is nothing but dystopia.
In my thinking only Tate’s twist in the tale promises to open up a meaningful philosophical platform for defining and understanding the idea of an Afro futurism: one that isn’t about “I’m interested in using gadgets and looking weird, so, I’m an Afrofuturist”, but broaches the comprehensive philosphere of a culture that survives on dreams.
It’s interesting to wear Fula robes and kaftans (not even Dogon) and plastic sunglasses and perform alien descendants of Dogon astronomers visiting Earth. It would be even more interesting for people to emerge from within the culture(s), that is, African cultures be it in the West or on the continent, who have the mindset to invent Google Glass. If you see what I mean. Otherwise, to me the futurism stuff remains mostly a pitiful, mannerist “our ancestors built the pyramids” give me a break, quite frankly.
(PS. Notice the peculiar dissonance between European Futurism–Russian, Italian–which was about dynamism, speed, ascension, the future, and streams of Afrofuturism that seem to be about the past, the Dogon, alienation, hurt memory, or at best, mere consumerism, and hardly about ascent or the future!)

Well, as I said, some cogently argued points there although the rage is perhaps misplaced. The following tweets  articulate some of the reasons for the fascination with Afrofuturism:

Storm Saulter @StormSaulter
–nowadays deep seated issues of race, class, slavery etc. are mashing up with modern life and expectations of what life should be

–it’s refreshing 2 imagine a future where Afro culture/style exists in highest beauty w out always connecting it to a painful past

Ytasha Womack @ytashawomack
–The imagination spurs creativity and  scientific inquiry alike #afrofuturism

–triggers the imagination & helps many see beyond convention.

4 thoughts on “A Critique of Afrofuturism…and more

  1. Well I understand his critique, I feel as if he is only look at it from one view. People’s relationship to Afrofuturism is varied and wide, polyphonic as DJ Spooky said. Afrofuturism did starts as a way of looking at the cross between science fiction and black culture. There are those who highlight Dogon, the pyramids, the alien abduction nature of slavery, etc., but it also highlights people who are black STEM who often go unrecognized, like Mae Jeminson, and issues involved with black people and technology, for example, I have written about Black Girls Code and shares articles about the lack of black people in technology from Colorlines and NY Times. So it is much more wide that he thinks.

  2. This critique is very wrong, though written in a sweet way its still surprisingly backward, the writer says, “Notice the peculiar dissonance between European Futurism–Russian, Italian……”, and “it’s refreshing 2 imagine a future where Afro culture/style exists in highest beauty w out always connecting it to a painful past”.
    I ask the writer and such other thinkers, are we always going to be taking European ways as the yardstick for other people’s cultural production, and shall our understanding of past present and future be always be borrowed from the Eurocentric camps. honestly I do not think so. The culture being addressed here is a culture that will not speak of the future without a past, thats our own psychology. that future which the writer dreams of when we shall not speak of our past, not even that type of consumerism that affects us everyday and has its shadows already cast in the future may never come.
    Scientific inquiry is not greater than rituals and processes/ passages of exorcism; you may understand these better if they a labelled ‘quantum theory” right?, so yes sometimes people fail to see this connection, considering that all popular art history and theory are based on the Eurocentric approaches. To a large extend it is the scientific inquiry thats killing creativity and the levels intuition that go with it. Black people in the diaspora can take from the Afrikan continent and that should not be an issue at all, considering where they came from, it is indeed similar to how white artists can go and quote a french/german/russian from the 15th century. In fact its so common to see some Leonardo da Vinci, Michaelo Angelo appropriation in western contemporary art…so..!

    • Thanks for your comment! Just a correction, the second comment “it’s refreshing 2 imagine a future where Afro culture/style exists in highest beauty w out always connecting it to a painful past” is not by the writer of the first long comment. It’s by Storm Saulter and is attributed to him, and i placed it there as an defence of Afrofuturism in contrast to the first comment.

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