If you watch sci fi (and you’re a minority) you’ve been painfully aware of the fact that there just aren’t many black people in space, in the future, in utopias. Apparently, we don’t make it. There’s 1 or 2 depending on how many galaxies you visit. They may be African, though, and not descending from African Americans. In fact, there are many more space aliens than there are black and brown people.
You know how sci fi authors sometimes seem like prophets?
Is it meant to be some kind of prognostication? Are they predicting that darker people don’t survive the inevitable upheavals of futuredom? Ninety percent (?) of the Earth’s population don’t make it or are left behind? Even as a work force for all that space station, terraforming, and world building? Or are the authors just lacking in imagination? Or are the authors just lazy and live very segregated homogenous lives?
I could see how it could be a demographic or epidemiological prediction. I’ve often lamented our (black people’s) socio-racial PTSD-like paralysis:
“Hey, man. There’s a pack of zombies out there. They’re headed this way. What’s the game plan?”
“First of all. You can’t ‘deal’ with zombies without understanding the social and historical context of zombies.”
“Uh huh. Okay. I’d be happy to discuss social theory with you later but we’ve got a problem right now. Seriously. You want to help me nail some more boards over these windows? Judging by all that moaning I think they’re about to swarm.”
“Moanin’. Like the work song. Exactly. See, the inherent white supremacy of capitalism could only end with mindless slavery and ultimately uprising. The white man created the zombie outbreak to contain the black and brown–”
“What? Look, how are we on ammo? I don’t think the barricades are going to hold.”
“Just like the levees.”
“Okay. Seriously. If we’re going to get out of here alive I’m really going to need you to cover the back windows. They seem like they’re a little smarter when they swarm. Oh crap. We’re in trouble here, man.”
“That’s exactly what I’ve been saying! We’ve been disenfranchised and marginalized. This was their plan all along, brotha! It’s an ethnic cleansing.”
“I’d say more of an extinction level event. Oh crap, I think there’s one in the basement.”
“Exactly. They want the black man gone. You don’t see no armies or National Guard here rescuing people.”
“When they came through a week ago you didn’t want to evacuate.”
“I don’t trust the military industrial complex. Who do you think carries out ethnic cleansing?”
“Well, this is going to be more like the extinction of all humanity. Come on, man! We can make it to the base before it gets dark. Just help me clear the garage.”
“I’m not letting them run me out of my neighborhood.”
“Here they come!” [shotgun blasts]
“Aw, you just killed a brotha! All them white zombies out there and you take down a brotha? That’s just what I’ve been saying. You play their game and become part of the system. Same thing happened with Obama.”
“I’m out! I thought you were going to reload the guns! Where’s my axe? Let’s go!” [moaning gets louder, doors and barricades start to buckle]
Maybe it’s a myopic Tolkien, C.S. Lewis thing. Written from the point of view of an empire, the colonizers.
Maybe I need to look into sci fi authors who aren’t white men? Not that I have anything against them. Seriously. All the classics that you love, I love. I just notice that I’m not present, that I don’t survive, that my value comes from the willingness to sacrifice myself for you, or I’m among the swarthy hoards coming for your riches, your women (call me), and your way of life.
There are some good, diverse authors but I don’t seek them out. I just want thought-provoking, mind expanding reads. Some explosions wouldn’t hurt.
Maybe there aren’t any black people in the future because they’ve been traded for goods and services with an advanced race of space aliens.
When I do find an African American sci-fi or fantasy author, I won’t stick around if it’s blatantly preachy, for lack of a better word. Like Derrick Bell’s “Space Traders” short story or parable.
I mean, it’s an interesting concept and obviously a polemic. You can google it but you’ll find a lot of conservative knee-jerk reactions. “He thinks America was and is racist? He’s obviously a deluded reverse racist who doesn’t love his country.”
Apparently, it came up again in recent years because of some association between Bell and President Obama.
Political drama aside, it’s just not my thing. It’s more commentary in the form of exploratory diatribe than pursuit of a concept or an actual story.
I am very not into that. A lot of writing is exorcising pain and inner demons (to be cliche) so you often find African American authors obsessively exploring race relations and dynamics to varying degrees of effectiveness and relate-ability.
I guess what I’m saying is that when I stumble upon a writer who happens to be black I’m looking for someone whose outlook and experience aren’t entrenched in the pre- or peri-civil rights era. At the least I hope it’s multi-dimensional because life is multi-dimensional and people are multi-faceted.
If you want to check out sci-fi with unique perspectives from African Americans that encompasses much more than racial trauma, check out Octavia Butler (RIP). There are black people in the futures and pasts she writes about.
Although, her stories will depress you. Seriously. They’re hard to take in. Themes of rape, violation, survival, slavery/servitude, and atypical empowerment. She will break your heart. Despite the black women protagonists, publishers sometimes created cover art portraying them as white women under the assumption that “certain” people wouldn’t buy a book by and about a black woman.
- Parable of the Sower
- Parable of the Talent
I wish Walter Mosley would write more sci fi:
- Blue Light (1998)
- Futureland: Nine Stories of an Imminent World (2001)
- The Wave (2005)
- 47 (2005)
There are more authors out there but those are the two I’ve read and followed.
IN THE FUTURE
So I guess my goal is to make it to the future. Okay. So far, so good.
On occasion I lament that I think that black people — rhetorically assuming that you can lump us all together — are flirting with social and economic obsolescence. 12% of the population mired in racial angst, devoting 80% of our non-survival mental energy on what’s-racist-today while the world passes by. Also disproportionally damaged by economic forces and downturns and social ills.
The Latino population is growing quickly. Immigrants from around the world are doing their thing. A lot of them come to America and hit the ground running or at least grinding.
Not to mention the diversity of mixed-ethnicity people and families. I look forward to a future where enough of us come together that it gets too confusing to be prejudiced and racist based on race and ethnicity.
But take a look at recent sci fi and you’ll see the cultural zeitgeist. Socioeconomics and the struggle for and over resources. Haves and have nots.
Maybe it’s assumed that black people will be a permanent underclass and therefore not relevant to these stories, fantasy tomes, sci fi epics and space operas.
And then what about everyone else? Women are doing better these days, I think. Some a lot better than others, though, as far as having a voice. Although, women are still used as a plot device. The ice queen inevitably thawed by the right anti-hero and his johnson (“Riddick”, “Happy Hour in Hell”). No matter how bad-ass these women are for most of the story they end up having to be saved. Their purpose is to provide motivation — anger, revenge, possessive or obsessive love — for the male protagonist. They are lady-props. Boo to that.
What I’m saying is that there are more stories waiting to be heard other than the adolescent wish fulfillment of — let’s just say it — white guys.
Or the adolescent wish fulfillment of what I assume are white women capitalizing on Twilight and such — so many vampire, werewolf, witch romance series. They also seem to have cornered the market on sorting hat stories, which also tend to be “special snowflake” narratives. You’re so special. You’re the chosen one. The gods have chosen you. The universe has chosen you.
YOU ARE A LIVING REPOSITORY OF OUR COLLECTIVE HUMANITY
Think about all of the great sci fi and action stories you’ve read and watched. Add them all up in your mind like a giant library of storydom and an archive of the way we view and interpret the world around us — the current realities, the foreshadowing and predictions, the fantastical elements.
Now. Who saves the galaxy/universe/world/city? What does the savior of humanity look like? Who is up for the task, according to these narratives? If an alien race came to Earth (like in “Galaxy Quest”) looking for a mighty warrior to fight for their cause and the only info they had to base their choice on was entertainment media, what would they look for?
May you live in interesting times.
I think it’s time to clean up O-World. It’s kind of a mess.
NICE RAY GUN! YEH, HI. I’M HERE, TOO.
But despite the (for-now) majority culture’s hold on media and the stories that reflect and also define us and shape what we believe, I will be here in the future. We will be here.
The dark people of the world will be around and sharing in the adventure. One billion Chinese. One billion Indians. The African continent and all of its diversity. Central America. South America, despite the glaring absence of a large part of the population — afro-latino, mestizo(?), mulatto(?) — in their media and beauty pageants. (Seriously, Brazil. How the heck can you have butt pageants with no afro-latinas? Y’all trippin’.) The Middle East. The Pacific Islands.
You can’t ignore us much longer. Your conveniently homogenous period pieces are cool and all but …
With love and respect, it’s a big world for a big future and we’re in it.