I love Parliament/Funkadelic and Janelle Monáe, and the science-fictional elements of their music. I’d been aware of the term Afrofuturism, but I hadn’t thought about it much until reading Inda Lauryn’s article “Wave My Freak Flag High: Afrofuturism, Imagination, and Impostor Syndrome” in The Toast last week:
Parliament/Funkadelic－their brand of extraterrestrial play did more than embrace blackness. George Clinton took the freakery associated with blackness and transformed it into an intergalactic carnival with the funkiest of soundtracks. In one song with two words, Parliament/Funkadelic embodies the very essence of how I see afrofuturism: the past informs the future. Or, as the old adage says, you have to know where you been to get to where you’re going. This is what Mothership Connection means. Clinton also brings me back to the question of how afrofuturism gives a means to create the self and transcend the limitations and common myths about the black body. However, this embracing the alien has its own tinge of freakery. I’m not sure if it is better to be one type of freak (alien) than another (cyborg), but I wonder what it is about this transcendence that makes that body “acceptable” or at least acceptable in the arena of the stage. It comes back to the contradiction of the hypervisible but invisible black body: everyone loves blackness/black culture, but not when it comes with the black body. To say that afrofuturism takes away or makes blackness less visible ignores the intersection of race and how that still affects the way afrofuturists are seen. After all, the press constantly referred to Erykah Badu as a flake for her presentation of blackness that did not fit into the acceptable performance of blackness for mainstream consumption. We accept this other freakery onstage, but do not transfer that acceptance to everyday black bodies on display in other contexts.
As someone who spends a lot of time in online communities that embrace animation, anime, scifi, the speculative and the paranormal, that imagination I tried so hard to suppress as a child has come back with a vengeance these days and works to inform a good part of my existence. It dares me to see myself as a writer, one who can make an impact, whether I make up stories about family or go ahead with the space opera that’s been in the works in the front of my mind for the past couple of years. Embracing this sense of imagination means I can see a world better than the one in which I currently live, as well as the ways in which I can work to achieve that world. This is what afrofuturism does. Even in a dystopian context, a creator has imagined how the ills that currently affect us will eventually be our undoing, so dystopia effectively works to help us find out what we are doing wrong and how we should go about fixing it before it’s too late.