"Armed with the knowledge of our past, we can with confidence charter a course for our future."
- Malcolm X
Afrofuturism, a cultural and political practice that's both new and old alike, peeks out from a quote by Malcolm X. Though he certainly never attended a conference himself on the social movement that Afrofuturism seems primed to become, Malcolm X's words still sketch an Afrofuturist outlook - even as the scope and possibility of this emerging and complex outlook transcends his words. As its name implies, Afrofuturism can encompass science fiction written by or about black people, but it ranges much further. This is because of its typically dynamic, ever-changing artistic and social nature. Afrofuturism - through its various guises, calls attention to the present-day challenges that people of color face by encouraging them to remember and remake past historical events through their writings, music, art and politics. Remakings of the past can offer us a new and fresh awareness of our present delights and dilemmas which can, in turn, inspire us to truly visionary approaches to present-day systemic injustices. When speaking about the African diaspora, long has been the suggestion that people of color have no real future (that the end of chattel slavery succeeded only in creating an "obsolete" race) and, too, that they have no real history to speak of (that the experience of same successfully annihilated that self-awareness). Afrofuturism challenges such claims through critical remakings of the past to inspire us to imagine and create an audacious future.
In February 2015, the first-of-its-kind Afrofuturism conference, Midnight Vistas, will bring together artists, writers, scholars and activists from across the United States - and throughout the world - to convene on the campuses of Pomona and Scripps Colleges, part of the Claremont Colleges Consortium, the group hosting the event. They will gather for a series of unprecedented opportunities. For several days, these dynamic individuals will share their insights through scholarship, the visual arts, poetry readings, film screenings and musical performances. This groundbreaking event will gather these renowned authors, hip hop artists, academics, griots, dramatists, and activists as they come together to engage, listen to and learn from one another as well as from the pioneering ancestors of Afrofuturism, remembering and remaking those such as jazz innovator Sun Ra, funk musician George Clinton and writer Octavia Butler, among others. With the impressive body of scholarship that has emerged to date on Afrofuturism, the time is right for a large-scale gathering of visionaries who want to explore how Afrofuturism interconnects with grassroots social movements and how those bonds can be strengthened.
In 1993, cultural critic Mark Dery first coined the term "Afrofuturism" and since then, this past-informed, futuristic activity that is steeped in the conditions of the present-day has gained traction. When Dery first created the name, he was commenting on the growing number of blacks using modern technology. He went on to point out how blacks themselves were once used as a form of "technology." In slavery, exploitative systems of business and commerce viewed black bodies as machines that fueled the power and might of an imperialistic Western world. In the early 1990s, Derrick Bell, the first tenured African-American professor of law at Harvard Law School, wrote about the ways in which U.S. laws were deceptively created so as to exploit certain groups and classes of people while maintaining a plausible veneer of equal protection for all. Bell explained legal matters through his writing of so-called "chronicles," an innovative combination of science fiction allegory and critical race theory. In doing so, he extended the exploration of themes that probed how people of color utilize modern technology to roam the cosmos in a quest to find justice and equity.
Southern California's Midnight Vistas: Afrofuturism in Conference will include people from all walks of life, and not only individuals of the African diaspora. Afrofuturism matters, whether you're black or you're green, besides or between. The future is for us all.